How to use simple embroidery on bright polka dot fabric and then turn it into a sweet little tote bag.
Red and white polka dot is a favourite pattern of mine, and a while ago I was lucky enough to win some red and white polka dot fabric. I made a top for myself and with some of the leftovers I thought I'd make a little unlined tote bag for my niece and embellish it with a little embroidery.
Let me show you how to make it.
Polka Dot Embroidered Unlined Tote Bag with French Seams
If you are a complete beginner and just thinking about taking up sewing as a hobby then you might find the article I put together on “What you need to get started sewing” helpful. I list all the equipment that you’ll need, the essentials that you can’t really manage without.
To make an embroidered polka dot tote bag you will need:
1 x piece of polka dot fabric 36cm(14") x 77cm(30") for the main body of the bag
2 x pieces of polka dot fabric 10cm(4") x 61cm(24") for the handles
Embroidery thread in your choice of colours, mine are DMC 3824, 3753, 3819 and 973 but you can chose any of course.
A sharp needle, scissors, sewing machine, sewing thread
Embroidering on Polka Dot Print Fabric
First you need to decide on a design and where you want it to go.
This bag is made up of one long strip of fabric which makes the front and the back in one piece.
I did an area of embroidered flowers placed near the top of the bag on the front with a centralised band of running stitch continuing down the bag and back up the other side. This is a gift for my niece so I added her name to the back too just as a personalised touch.
You can alter the placement of course but just make sure any fancy design element is a minimum of 3" (and ideally about 5”) away from the short edge of the fabric or it will get in the way of the top hem later.
The embroidery is worked with 3 strands of thread throughout.
Starting in the centre of the short side, stitch about 5" (12cm) of running stitch then lazy daisy flowers on 3 dots in a row, then continue with running stitch the full length of the fabric. Use the size of the dots to help keep your stitch size even but don’t stress over it too much, this is hand stitching so a few minor imperfections are what make it unique and extra beautiful.
Then pick another colour and repeat the process, doing the same number of rows each side of your original central one.
I did 3 lines of each of my 4 colours so 12 lines in total. To add the name on the back I used a water erasable marker to write in a fancy font where the last line of stitching was due to go, then worked it in backstitch.
I then waited about for nearly 3 months and this birthday was imminent to make it up into a bag. You don't have to wait this long of course!!
Sewing the tote bag together
So, now it's time to turn your embroidered piece into a tote.
We are not lining this bag so we will use French seams to keep the inside nice and neat and avoid any raw edges.
Start by pressing everything with the iron, then fold the main piece in half WRONG SIDES TOGETHER and using a small seam allowance (1/4" or 1/2 cm ish) sew up either side. Now turn the bag inside out, press the edges flat and then stitch these seams again, this time with a larger 1/2" or 1.25cm seam allowance.
This makes a french seam which is a great way to make the inside of your bag nice and tidy, especially for people like me who don't have an overlocker (serger). Turn the bag back out the right way and admire your lovely neat seams.
Fold and press a narrow hem at the top open edge then fold over again an inch (2.5cm). Pin but don't sew yet.
Now make the handles, make both the same. Fold and press a narrow hem on both long sides of your handle pieces, then fold in half, lining up the edges.
Top stitch down both sides.
Tuck one end of one handle under the hem you made on the front of the main bag piece, 5cm (2") in from the side seam.
Fold it back up on itself and secure with a pin or two. Repeat for the other end of the handle on the other side of the bag, making sure your handles are smooth and not twisted.
Top stitch round the top of the bag, just away for the hem edge. Repeat another line of top stitching around the top edge of the bag. The handles are doubled up under the wide hem and so will be nice and secure.
See how nice and neat that french seam makes the inside - makes me so happy!
More ways to adapt this basic unlined tote bag pattern
This is an easy and versatile basic tote bag pattern. You could make it in many different fabrics, with or without the embroidery.
This pattern will work with any light to medium weight fabric; cotton, poly cotton, old bed sheets for an upcycle etc are all ideal. You could use a chiffon or organza if you want to or even an old net curtain, the french seams will give it strength and neatness inside. A really fine polyester fabric will be quite robust and has the advantage of rolling up really small so idea to tuck in your pocket as an emergency shopping bag. I wouldn’t recommend anything too thick or heavy, a denim or upholstery fabric would be difficult to manage.
You can embellish your fabric in any way, it doesn’t have to be embroidery. It is easier to do before you make up the bag and the simple design of this pattern means it’s simple to work out placement of any elements you might want to sew, applique, block print etc.
The way the handles are attached with 2 lines of top stitching makes them really secure. And speaking of the handles, you can make them longer or shorter if you prefer.
Have fun with this basic bag pattern and make it your own.
I’ll be sharing this bag pattern and some of these link ups