Monday, August 1, 2011

Making a Shopping Bag with Pockets (Tutorial with Photos)

I like making purses and shopping bags from upholstery fabrics.

I'm going to show you step by step, how to make a shopping bag.

Are you ready?  Here we go.

Paper or Plastic?  No Thank You.  I brought my own bag.

This 15" bag has two 8" pockets wide enough to hold your Kindle snug and bottle of water upright--ready to grab quickly.  Those are two things I want to have in their own conpartment rather than swimming around at the bottom of the bag.

This is a simple bag to make, and you can alter the dimensions to make any size bag you need.

1- Selecting Fabric

I found 1-3/4 yards of the window pane upholstery fabric in the clearance bin.

And a solid gray-brown linen fabric for the lining too, and purchased 2 yards.

I have enough material from these two hunks of fabric to make (4) shopping bags.  One for me, and three for gifts for friends. 

Great colors for fall.  Ice blue and gold squares, wrapped with a bit of burnt sienna, and framed in a gray-brown.

Tip: When I took the fabric to the cutting table,
I asked the clerk for her advice:

What do you think about this upholstery fabric to sew a shopping bag?

Will I need a special machine needle? 

Could you clip a small piece of the fabric so I could test it for fraying?  (raveling threads)

Do you think this fabric will fold and press well?  (to make handles)


2- Layout and Cutting Fabric

I layed the fabric out on my kitchen table, with the selvages at top and bottom.  The frayed edge shown in this photo above is the selvage edge.

Most upholstery material is 54" to 60" wide.  My fabric is 54" selvage to selvage.

I'm in luck, the window panes on this fabric are dead on straight, and I use my scissors to straighten the end of the fabric (right).

I measure 15" with a simple ruler and using the window panes for a guide, I cut the entire fabric with scissors from selvage to selvage.

Fold the fabric, join selvages.  Hand press across the bottom and use scissors to cut the fabric into 2 pieces.

The result is (2) pieces of fabric 15" wide, and 27" long.  With these (2) pieces of fabric I will make two identical shopping bags . . . (best use of fabric and my time).

Above photo:  I fold each piece in half, and set them aside. 

Above Photo: Cutting the handles

To make (2) shopping bags, I need two strips of fabric 4" wide.  I measure with ruler, and cut the 4" strips using the window panes as a guide

At this point, you'll have (2) bag exteriors cut, and (2) handles cut.


3-Layout and Cutting of Lining with Pockets

I decided to use the 15" x 27" window pane bag exterior fabric as a template.  First, fold the brown linen fabric in half, joining the selvage ends at the top, and the fold at the bottom. 

Lay the bag exterior on top of the brown linen fabric and with a ruller and pen, mark cutting lines left and right. 

Before removing the window pane fabric template, 
measure 8" to the left with a rule and draw straight line with a pen. 
Cut only  one 8" strip to make (2) shopping bags.

Remove window pane fabric template.  At the fold at the bottom, cut lining fabric in half. 

At the fold line at the bottom of the 8" strip, cut fabric in half. 
Fold pieces and set aside.


Two Bag Cut Outs Finished

Above photo: fabric pieces folded in half for (2) shopping bags

2 - window pane exterior bags
2 - window pane handles
2 - solid brown linen liners
2 - 8" deep pockets

4-Serging Handles and Pocket Fabric

Serge all four sides of the pocket and handle fabrics.
If you don't have a serger, using a zig zag stitch.

Secret: serging or zig zagging is an important step!


The solid brown linen fabric wants to ravel as soon as finished cutting the 8" strips.  To stop the raveling, you must serge or zig zag stitch the edges. 

The serged line also serves as a 1/4" turning guide.  You'll see what I mean as we continue on.
Detail of finished serged edges

5-Sewing the Pockets

Put one strip of the pocket fabric on the ironing board.  Turn 1/4" serged edge and press.  See photo below.

Next, fold the pocket in half, right to left.  The fold will be on the right.

Think of the photo above as an "L". 
Start at the top of the L and sew down to the bottom,  Then sew the bottom of the L.
Do not sew the top

After you sewed the "L", turn the pocket right side out. 

Use the eraser end of a pencil to articulate the corners.  The corners are a bit stubborn when turning and need just a bit of fussing.

Above Photo:  Turning the pocket right side out.

Once you've turned the pocket right side out . . .

Fold the pocket in half, right to left.  Press the entire pocket.

Pressing the pocket produces a crease line at the fold, and the crease line will be your sewing guide line as we continue.

Tip: pressing as you go produces the best possible results on any sewing project.

The next time someone says, "wow, you are such a great sewer", you can raise your right eyebrow, and smile to yourself because you know the secret to being a great sewer--PRESSING as you sew.
Open the pocket and notice the crease line in the center. 

Notice in the photograph above the right corner is needs a bit more fussing to make a better corner.  Do it now while you have an opportunity.

Above is the solid brown linen liner for the bag.  Serge the top and bottom of the fabric (short ends) as shown in the photo above.  (I folded the fabric to photograph the short ends serged).

With the lining folded in half--the fold will be at the bottom. 

 Press the fold to make a crease line for pinning pockets to the lining.  The crease line is also the bottom of your shopping bag! 

Open the lining of the shopping bag.

See crease line.

Pin pocket 3" above the crease in the shopping bag.

Make sure the pocket opening is placed at the bottom (see photo above).

Begin sewing pocket to lining.  Start in the center, using crease line in the pocket as a sewing guide.  Sew two lines of stitch on either side of the crease.


Use the illustration below.  Think of sewing the pocket to the lining as sewing a BIG "U".

Starting at the right *, sew from the top corner down to the bottom of the pocket.

At the bottom of the pocket, pivot* and sew acoss the bottom of the pocket to the left corner. 

At the left corner*, pivot and sew finishing the  BIG "U"

Clip all the threads (front and back)

Fold the bag in half.  In this photo the bottom of the bag is shown at the top of the photo.
Sew (or serge) the side seams (left and right).

At the opening of the bag, fold a cuff 1" or so, and PRESS.

Set the lining aisde.
6-Sewing the Exterior Bag

Serge the top and bottom (short ends) of the window pane bag exterior.  The short ends are 15" width.

Turn the fabric inside out

Fold fabric in half.

Join the serged ends (short ends 15")

Sew (or serge) side seams, left and right.

Turn the fabric 1" or so, to form a cuff and PRESS.

Open the bag, and turn the bag inside out.

Above Photo: Turning the Bag Inside Out.


7-Inserting the Lining into the Bag

The bag is turned to its right side.  Now is the time to use a chop stick or eraser end of a pencil to articulate the corners of the bag. 

Stick your hand inside the lining, and insert lining into the window pane fabric.
Begin at the side seams.  Nearly match the side seams of the lining and the bag.  If you were to match them exactly the two thick seams would be too bulky to sew over. 

Pin the lining fabric to the exterior bag fabric.  Nearly match the folded cuffs.  I like the 1/8" reveal as shown here. 

Set the bag aside. 

8-Constructing the Handles

Remember those 4" strips you cut? 

Get ready, we're going to make them into handles for your shopping bag.

You've already serged all four sides of the 4"handle strip. 

With a rotary cutter, measure and cut 3-1/4" inch strips of crisp interfacing.  Get heat fusible, (iron on) firm weight interfacing to make handles.  The handles will be the work horse of your shopping bag.

Iron the 3-1/4" strips of fusible interfacing to the backside of the window pane fabric.

Using the 1/4" serged edge as a guide, turn the edges and press.

In the next three photos, you'll see me folding the strip in half, and pressing it again.

Now you're ready to sew two lines of top stitching to form the handles.

At the sewing machine, (left) the first row of top stitching is done.  Now I'm top stitching the right side.

The strip you top-stitched is 54" long.  Fold it in half lengthwise, and with the scissors cut to form 2 handles. 

You have two handles for your shopping bag.  Measure 1-1/2" from the end of each handles.  Mark in this manner with a pin.  There will be four ends.

9-Insert Handles into Bag

Start at the (right) the exterior bag, measure 3 inches, and mark with a pin.

Take the handle, and insert it BETWEEN the window pane fabric and the lining fabric. See next photo.

Insert the handle until the yellow pin matches directly under the pink pin.
See next photo to illustrate.

With your left hand hold the handle firmly in place, and lift the handle upward and lay it on the surface of the bag.

Lifting upward, put a pin where my thumb is--this will hold the handle in place.

Below, the pin is put in place.

Below: measure 3" from the left side seam, place a pin to mark, and insert handle.

Lift handle, to expose lining and place a pin to hold handle in position for sewing.

Make sure the handle is arch correctly.  Here's how to check.

Lift handle upward at the center.  The inside curve of the handle should be one fluid line.

Another vision test to make sure handle is on correctly. 

Lay bag down, and pull at the center of the handle.  Look at the inside curve of the handle to make sure it is one fluid line with no twists.

Now that you have one handle pinned in place, we'll use their position as a guide to insert the second handle.


Flip the bag over

Insert the second handle BETWEEN the window pane fabric and the brown linen lining.

Do the handle test again, to make sure the inside curve of the handle is one fluid line.

The bag is ready to sew the lining and the handles.  One operation!

I've lifted the camera so you can see the brown linen lining with pockets.



10-Finishing the Bag

Begin sewing at the side seam, BUT chose to start an inch before the bulky side seam, or an inch after the bulky seam.  Remember: a smooth start makes for a smooth finish.

I stitch 1/4" from the window pane fabric.  Why?  Because there is a 1/4" guide imprinted on the sewing foot, and it is easy for me to see.  Because the brown lining is pinned 1/4" from the window pane fabric, I end up with a precise 1/8" line on the lining.  Nice look.

Here is a closer look.

A second row of stitching catches the handle fabric, giving the handles extra carrying strength.

I remove pins as I go along.  The pins are placed about every three inches.

Tip:  Stitch 3" at a time.  Stop, remove pins, and straighten fabric, and handles. 

If you follow the three S's,
Stich 3"
Stop and remove pins
Straighten fabric

You'll sew perfect garments every time!

After the second row of stitch, clip threads and turn the bag right side out.

The finished bag needs some pressing, but otherwise its ready to go.

Hope you like the tutorial and photos.

If you want to see a bag made with a closure (tongue).  Let me know.  I'll add more photos to the tutorial.


  1. I am in awe of your ablilties! I use to be a decent seamstress but not anymore!

  2. Ms. D. Oh thanks for stopping by my latest post. I am so glad your house tour went well. It is awful scary when you have never been there and done that before. I am sure you could pull it off easily now!I did a post about my china, a few posts back. I have a few sets, not as many as a few bloggers, that do table setting blogs. I am sorry I did not go back and look it up, but it was titled, Get out the good dishes, the Preacher is coming. If you take a minute to scroll back in my older blogs you will find it. I do not have a lot of antique or vintage cookware items. But, the few I have might make for a post. I have been trying to come up with new ideals, I seem to be running out. I think the time you took to show the steps in making the bag is amazing. My sister who does not blog, does sew and she often makes bags and purses for people. I am going to make sure she sees this. Thanks so much for being a blogger friend, comments and friends mean so much to me. Richard at My Old Historic House.

  3. This is a wonderful tutorial. Thank you so much.

  4. Wow, Awesome bag and tutorial. It looks great!

  5. This is so cool! It seems so easy to make a bag and so simple, but the things you show just add to the durability of the bag. I appreciate you showing the tools in action because they sell alot of tools in sewing shops and I don't know what most of them are for. Awesome!