A Large Tote bag for a Sewing Retreat


In preparation for my fourth Thread House Retreat one essential make was a large tote bag. For those who’ve been to a retreat or really any sewing experience away from home then you will know just how much stuff needs to be taken. Not quite the kitchen sink but sometimes you feel that’s needed as well.

I have never successfully cracked this. I always end up with multiple bags that all get messy however much I try to be organised. Last year on retreat was the worst however.

I had the ‘bright idea’ of using one of those bags you get when you buy pillows with the see through panel. You can see it at the front of the pile of stuff that went last year. As you can see the cats were very intrigued and wanted to be on the action!

But it was a disaster! It was so floppy that everything heaped at the bottom and then it looked dreadful to boot. I cast my eyes round at all the other tote bags and mine fell way short.

So this year it was a priority to make a bag that worked. It needed to be large and structured so it stood up and looked smart as well.

Using a typical shopping bag from Morrison’s I tested whether the size would work with what I needed to take. The size worked well. Of course I could have just taken this bag but it’s a sewing retreat for goodness sake, I would have been drummed out!!



I used some stiffish upholstery fabric I had bought as a remnant. I had just enough linen lining fabric although one of the side pieces had to be constructed Frankenstein style. So everything from stash so tick for that.


I used headliner, the poor mans Annie’s Soft and Stable, as interfacing. I didn’t have enough fabric for the base in either the lining or outer fabric but in any case I didn’t want to use fabric. The floor at this retreat gets absolutely filthy. Honestly if I were a cleaner there I’d cry every time I went to work. The problem isn’t messy people it is the chalk chippings surrounding the conference centre. It’s always wet at this time of year and people track in white residue. I didn’t want that on my new bag’s bottom! I had some vinyl in stock for just this purpose and it worked a treat.

I didn’t use a pattern but winged it. Now this isn’t meant to be a tutorial but for those used to making bags this is a really very simple construction. It will also serve as a useful reminder to me if I want to make another.

For the outer shell I cut 2 times 18.5” by 15” for the front and back and then 2 times 8” by 15” for the sides. And the same for the lining pieces but I reduced these measurements by .5” for a snugger finish. The outer vinyl base was 8” by 18.5” and the inner base .5” less on each side. I also cut out headliner pieces the size of the outer pieces. This made a bag with a finished height circa 14” and width around 17.5”. It’s big!

I used .5” seams. I glue basted the headliner to the outer pieces. The 4 outer pieces were assembled and sewn from the top to the bottom on each side but leaving the last .5” unsewn at the bottom.Then I sewed the base to the outer pieces. It’s probably best to mark where the .5” comes so you don’t sew too much or too little.

The inner lining is sewn exactly the same way but with no headliner.

You now need to join the outer and inner bags. So to do this the outer shell is turned inside out so the right side is on the inside. And the lining is also turned inside out and placed inside the outer bag so now the right sides should be facing each other. Sew round the top of the bag leaving a 8” gap along one of the long sides. Turn the bag inside out and sew along the top sewing up the gap.

Then sew down the edges as shown in the picture below. This makes a nice rigid edge and keeps the bag upright. However for the first time ever my sewing machine could not cope with the thickness. Even needles for Jeans broke. But I persevered….

I used the vinyl for handles which was a doddle as it doesn’t fray of course.

It is more than large enough and I enjoyed filling it with all the items I needed for retreat as I gathered them together. There were some great workshops to attend but each needing a kit of supplies.

But disaster struck more of that in the next post…..shall we say it never got tested!

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