Tutorial: String Patchwork Tote Bag

I hate patchwork.

Or to put it more accurately – I HATE huge, time-consuming patchwork quilts and never want to make one again. I bet a lot of you have been there too – when you’ve finished something epic and you can’t face another minute of stitching blocks, pressing seams, adding sashing, putting on borders, making that quilt sandwich, trying to decide how to quilt…. ugh, I feel tired just thinking about it…

But I love patchwork! And I love getting on to my next sewing project – so that’s when I turn to something small, fun, and quick-ish to do like this tote bag.


A little bit of easy patchwork (a really fun technique called string patchwork, if you don’t know it), but no quilting, some cheater’s fusible fleece, and lots of stitching in nice straight lines, and NO 250 inches (or more! – horrors!) of binding to sew. Hope you enjoy it too, if you give it a go.


Pattern notes:
The finished bag is 16in wide and 16.5in tall.
The seam allowance is 0.25in unless otherwise noted.
If you feel like putting a pocket in this bag, you can use my tutorial for making internal zipped pockets.
Here’s a PDF version of the pattern if you’d like to print it out.

You will need:
10in by 13in pieces of 7 different print fabrics in coordinating colours for the patchwork panel (I used a selection of fabrics from my lovely sponsors, My Fabric House)
2in by 16.5in fabric for the trim
0.5m fabric for base and main body of the bag – I used Essex yarn-dyed linen in black
0.5m fabric for bag lining
5in by 21in fabric for the handle outer
5in by 21in fabric for the handle lining
0.75m iron-on medium weight interfacing – I like Vilene G700, it’s a bit pricey, but worth the extra I think.
0.5m fusible fleece – I use Vilene H640, which gives a nice firm finish.
freezer paper

Cutting list
For the patchwork panels:
Cut each of the 7 print fabric pieces into 6-8 strips measuring not less than 1in wide by 13in long.

Cut the trim fabric in half to create 2 pieces measuring 1in by 16.5in.

From the main body fabric cut:
2 pieces measuring 7in by 16.5in
2 pieces measuring 2.5in by 16.5in
2 pieces measuring 2.5in by 21in (for the handles)

From the lining fabric cut:
2 pieces measuring 16.5in by 17in (16.5in is the width of the bag, if you have fabric with a directional pattern)
2 pieces measuring 2.5in by 21in (for the handles)

From the fusible fleece cut:
2 pieces measuring 16.5in by 17in

From the medium weight iron-on interfacing cut:
2 pieces measuring 16.5in by 17in
2 pieces measuring 2.5in by 16.5in
2 pieces measuring 2.5in by 21in

Step 1: Make the patchwork panels
Stitch the cut strips together in a random order to create 2 pieces, each measuring 13in by about 20in (no less than 19in). The edges might get a bit wobbly – don’t worry about it. Press the seams to one side – don’t skimp on the pressing!


Cut a piece of freezer paper measuring 4.5in square and iron it, shiny side down, onto one of the strippy patchwork sections – as shown in the picture (sorry, I lost my photo of the first placement, but I’ve marked where you need to place it).


Cut round the freezer paper, to create a square with diagonal stripes.


Peel off the freezer paper and then position and press the freezer paper into place to cut the next square, as shown:


Cut out, peel off the freezer paper, and then position again, as shown:


The next pictures show the positioning for the fourth and fifth squares:



Continue until you have 8 squares. I usually cut a second piece of freezer paper at this point, if the first one is losing its stick.

Repeat this whole process for the other set of strips, so that you have 16 squares in total.

Arrange 8 of the squares as shown below, on your work surface.


Join the squares to create 4 columns of 2 blocks like this, and press the seams open


Take the first 2 columns, and pin, right sides together, making sure that the centre seam is nicely aligned – you can do this by putting a pin through the seams:


Stitch these together, and press the seam open. Then stitch the other 2 columns together in the same way, then stitch the 2 sections together to finish the first patchwork panel.

Repeat that process to create other patchwork panel.

Step 2: Making the bag outer

Fold the trim fabric in half lengthways, and pin to the top edge of the right side of the patchwork panel:


Adjust the stitch length on your sewing machine to a nice long stitch and baste the trim into place, inside the 0.25in seam allowance:


Take one of the 7in by 16.5in pieces of main body fabric right sides together with the patchwork panel, sandwiching the trim in between, and pin, then stitch into place:


You should end up with something that looks like this:


Press the seam to the side, away from the patchwork panel.

Take one of the 2.5in by 16.5in pieces of main body fabric, and apply the corresponding piece of iron-on interfacing (adding this interfacing will give the base of the bag more strength). Put right sides together on the other edge of the patchwork panel, pin, then stitch with a 0.25in seam. Once more, press the seam to the side, away from the patchwork panel. The finished side of the bag should look like this on the back:


Apply fusible fleece to this bag panel, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Top-stitch the seam above the red trim for a really stylish finish:


Repeat step 2 for the other side of the bag.

Step 3: Completing the bag outer
Stitch the 2 completed outer sections together round 3 sides. Trim fusible fleece/batting out of the seam allowances to reduce bulkiness. Press the outer, pressing the seams open.

Keeping the outer section wrong sides out, pull the sides of the bag apart and pinch the side seam and base seam together, aligning them at one of corners. You will create a triangle shape with the seams running down to the point.

You will see a line of stitching where you sewed the base section earlier. Mark a line just above this line of stitching, perpendicular to the seam, pin, then stitch along the line, reverse stitching at either end.


Cut off the little triangular corner piece, leaving a 0.25in seam allowance. Repeat for the other corner of the outer bag, then press this section.

Step 4: Making the lining section
Interface both the bag lining pieces. Pin the 2 pieces right sides together and stitch the 2 17in sides and the 16.5in base. Leave a turning hole measuring 5in-6in in one side of the lining, reverse stitching at either end of the gap. Create the flat bottom in the lining following the instructions in the last part of step 3, measure 2.5in from the corner to mark the line where you need to stitch.



Step 5: Make the handles
Take the two 2.5in by 21in lining fabric pices and interface with the corresponding pieces of iron-on interfacing.

Take one of the interfaced pieces and one of the pieces of outer handle fabric and pin right sides together and sew down one long edge, and press this seam open:


Fold the long edges into the middle and press:


Then fold closed down the middle:


Stitch the open edge closed and then top stitch the other side to match.


Repeat for the other handle.

Step 6: Finish the bag
Turn the outer section right side out. Measure and mark 4in from the left hand and right hand side seams.


Place the outer edges of either end of one of the handles on these marks, right sides together, with a 0.5in overlap with the raw edge of the bag. Pin and baste or zigzag the handle ends in place (keep the stitching within the 0.25in seam allowance).


Repeat with the other handle on the other side of the bag.

Keep outer section right side out, and put it inside the lining, right sides together. Pin together round the top edges, matching side seams, and making sure the handles haven’t been moved out of position.


Stitch all round the top edge.

Pull the bag through the turning hole and check everything is ok. If you are happy, stitch up turning hole with a slip stitch. Press the bag, then top stitch the top seam, and you are all done.

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20 thoughts on “Tutorial: String Patchwork Tote Bag

    1. Hi there Marian – so pleased you like the bag. Thanks so much for your suggestion about the strip rulers… I have to say that although I have heard of all the different fancy rulers for quilters, I have never tried any! I am so behind the times, lol, and probably miss out on loads of really good shortcuts. If you do have a go making the bag with the strip ruler then let me know, I’d LOVE to hear how you get on. In the meantime, I think it’s time for me to start investigating some gadgets! 🙂

  1. Hi Ali, yet again a wonderful tutorial and a great bag. I am definitely going to make one. But which fusible fleece did you use? I have found that Vileness do 2 types.

    1. Thanks so much Barbara, and thanks for telling me about the Elm Street Quilting event, I am definitely going to submit a bag or two, so I really appreciate you passing on the info. 🙂

  2. I totally agree on the quilts, I am just about to hand quilt a king size one, and have decided never again, I have made more than enough quilts over the years. But, like you enjoy patchwork and making smaller things. The bag is great, and you can never have too many bags!! I am really looking forward to making it, your instructions look so clear. The jars of fruit and booze are coming along nicely too!!

    1. Oooh Glynis, I am so excited to hear about your fruit/booze combinations! We have been making sloe gin this weekend, and then a friend has just told me where to find some wild damsons locally…! Thanks for your kind words about my bag, and I totally agree, you can always make use of another one. 🙂

  3. Thank you very much for taking the time to write up this tutorial. I especially like the trim, not only does it add a pop of colour but also makes the bag look somehow more “finished”/”polished”.

    1. Thanks so much Anna-Marie. I completely agree about the trim.. it was a last minute decision to add it to the pattern, and I do think it makes a huge difference. Appreciate your kind words.

  4. Hi Ali! This is fab.I knew I could rely on you, I have been in a real dip re my sewing, have been doing patchwork and appliqué blocks for the Splendid Samplef and have learned loads, I am now fed up as don’t know what I will do with all those blocks, I made a quilt last year and that was satisfying, but no more.Your tutorials are amazing and I now have new enthusiasm and will try your tote,thank you so much for sharing this with us.By the way I made you tomato sauce recipe and it’s now in the freezer,five boxes exactly as you predicted.x

    1. Oooh, I am so impressed that you have been doing the Splendid Sampler. That is such a lot of work.. and I bet a really good learning experience, but yes, sometimes smaller projects can be reinvigorating! Thanks so much for your kind words about my tutorials, I really appreciate it. And yay for the tomato sauce!

  5. Thank you for introducing me to to a new and very effective technique. As ever, such a clear and well explained tutorial which must have taken a lot of time. The red, white and grey fabrics go so well with the Essex dyed linen and I love the red edging fabric, it really adds a great “pop” of colour. Lovely project!

    1. Thanks so much Deborah.. I love doing string patchwork, you can get such fun effects without trying too hard. I am really pleased that you like the bag – that trim was a last minute addition which I am very pleased with.

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