Tutorial: Family Vacation Tote
Hello Friends! Happy Summer!
When I was growing up, every summer our family of 5 (plus Grandma) would pile in the VW van and drive somewhere cross-country on a family vacation. My mom had a tote that my dad called her "Bottomless Canvas Bag". I'm guessing it was probably a vintage version of this.
It truly was bottomless. She would pull all sorts of stuff out of that bag. Last minute necessities. Car activities. First aid. Snacks. The family joke is that once she even packed a head of lettuce. Whenever we bring it up (rolling eyes appropriately) her defense is that she thought someone might want a leaf of lettuce on a sandwich. I sure don't remember ever having sandwiches in the car, but I totally remember the dang head of lettuce.
So, fast forward to today, I've made a few oversized totes like that one and they are very handy! For the pool, weekend trips, knit night, and of course, the cross-country family vacation in the van. I have 3 in my Personal Tote Bag Collection, and I've gifted a few to Very Special Teachers. This spring when I made the 2 birdie totes seen here, I took photos so I could give you a tutorial. Just don't expect me to give you a leaf of lettuce.
Family Vacation Tote
Finished Measurements: 16" wide x 9" deep x 14" high. Straps 23" long.
You will need:
Heavy cotton canvas fabric* with pattern (main fabric), 54-60" wide, 1 1/4 yards
Canvas fabric in matching solid color (contrast fabric), 54"-60" wide, 1 1/4 yards
Optional: Wonder-Under or similar fusible web
*I purchased all of the fabrics shown in this tutorial at Joann Fabrics. The bird fabrics were in the "Outdoor Fabric" section. The solid canvas fabrics in black and grey are called duck cloth and were in the "Utility Fabrics" aisle. You can use any heavy weight fabric such as duck cloth or upholstery fabric.
1. Cut out fabrics:
From the main fabric cut 4 pieces:
Main bag piece: 39” length by 26” width.
The 39” is the “up and down” way that your pattern will be facing and the 26” is the width, so place your pattern accordingly. If you have a pattern that looks the same right side up and upside down then you have a “non-directional fabric”. If you have a fabric like mine, where, once you folded the fabric in half, the birdies would be upside down on one side, then you need to cut it in half, reposition it, and sew it back together. See the picture below where it is cut and repositioned:
That is explained more in depth in step 3. In this case, you need to cut your main bag piece 40” x 26”, or two pieces 20” x 26”.
Straps: 24” x 1.5” (cut 2)
Pocket: 7" (wide) x 8" (high)
From the solid color cut 4 pieces:
Lining: 39” x 26”
Contrast bottom piece: 17” x 26”
Straps: 24” x 2.75” (cut 2)
2. Press all your pieces.
Especially if you have creases from where your fabric was folded on the bolt. It is so much easier to get those folds out now then when your bag is finished, and it will look much more professional!
3. Center bottom seam.
If you are using a directional fabric as I explained in step 1, you need to cut it in half length-wise(so now you have 2 pieces 20’ x 26”. Turn one around so both fabrics will face “upward”, place right sides together and sew bottom seam. This seam, and all seams throughout, will be ½”. Press seam open. If your fabric looks the same from both ends, then you can skip this step.
4. Bottom contrast piece:
Press the 26” edges under ¼ inch. Place those edges together and finger press a crease to find the center (see photo).
Do this on both raw edges. Place the contrast piece, right side up, on top of the main bag piece, also right side up, and match the center crease with the bottom center seam of the bag (if you don’t have a seam on the main bag piece you will just have to mark the center bottom with a pin).
Pin around all 4 sides, pinning the raw edge together with the bag on the short edges and the and pin the hem down across the bag on the long edges.
Sew the contrast to the main bag. On both of the 26” sides, topstitch right at the edge of the contrast fabric, and again ¼” away from the first stitching. On both of the 17” sides, baste the contrast to the main bag ¼” from the raw edge.
5. Sew the side seams.
Fold up the bag, right sides together and sew the side seams.
It is very important to check that the edges of the contrast fabric match exactly, so place a pin there and double check as you are sewing.
If the contrast fabric doesn't match at the side seam, it will be very noticeable later. If the sides don’t match exactly (top to bottom with the contrast meeting at the same place) and you need to fudge it, make it uneven at the top edge and trim it later.
Press seams open.
This is the most difficult part to explain so please refer to the photos. As I explained in the Dishtowel Tote Tutorial, it is where you change the shape of your bag from a flat “file folder” to a three-dimensional “cereal box” shape. Make sure the bag is inside out. Push out the bottom corner of one side of the bag, and lay the side seam flat to match the bottom center of the bag. You need the side seam to match the bottom center line.
Measure across at 9” for the bottom of the triangle. The side seam should be exactly at the halfway point, 4.5”. Mark it and pin it.
Sew across that line and trim. Now repeat on the other side of the bag.
8. Pocket and lining:
Turn under ¼ on all sides of the pocket and press. Turn down top edge again, this time 1” and press.
Sew across top hem. Place pocket on lining piece, centering it across and placing it about 3” down from top edge.
Sew around sides and bottom, close to the edge.
Finish the lining. Sew sides seams exactly as you did for the main bag piece (step 5) except obviously you don’t need to worry about matching up the contrast fabric because you don’t have that in the lining. Sew gusset the same way you did for the main bag piece (step 7).
Optional: apply Wonder-Under to the lining. I like to iron a rectangle of Wonder-Under to the bottom and sides of the lining. Size is not important, let's say: 5" x 7". Once pressed together with the fabric, the Wonder Under will make the 2 layers stick together and the lining will stay in place, instead of shifting around and getting sloppy. I think it especially makes a difference under the pocket and at the bottom of the bag. But if you don't have any Wonder-Under lying around, don't stress. It's optional.
You will only press one side of the Wonder-Under on to the bag lining right now, leave the paper on, you will deal with that later. Press one piece in the middle bottom of the lining, and one on each side. Right under the pocket is a good place.
Fold long edges of solid color straps under a scant ¼”, press, fold again ¼” press. Place strap on table, wrong side up. Place pattern fabric strap on top, right side up. You are sandwiching them together with wrong sides together and right sides showing. Tuck the raw edges of pattern strap inside the hem of the contrast strap.
Topstitch the hem right along the edge, on both sides. Repeat for second strap.
Note: there are many ways to make straps. You could just sew 2 strips of fabric together and turn them inside out and topstitch the edges. You could just cut strips of heavy webbing or twill tape. My method is a little more involved, but I really like the way it looks so I make the extra effort with my straps.
Now you are done with all the fiddly parts of the bag and almost there! Time to put it all together!
Step 10. Sew it all together.
Place the main bag and the lining right sides together and pin all around the top. Place straps down inside the bag between the main bag and the lining. The pattern side of the strap should be right sides together with the pattern side of the bag and likewise with the solid sides.
Placement is a personal preference, but I put mine 7“ from the side seams. Check to make sure they are not twisted. The strap raw edges will be even with raw edges of the bag. Place 2 or 3 pins where the straps meet the bag, to be sure they don’t shift during sewing because it is easy to get them slanted and you want them to come out of the bag nice and straight and not slanted.
Sew around the bag, leaving a 5-6” opening at one side. Now you take off the Wonder-Under paper, if you used it. Turn the bag right-side out, pushing out corners, making sure the lining matches up with the bag, making sure straps are straight.
Press around the top edge. Sew the opening shut by hand. Topstitch around the top—right next to the edge, and again ¼” away from the first stitching.
Press the sides and bottom of the bag where you positioned the Wonder-Under to adhere the lining securely to the bag. You are done! Now fill it up with all your stuff and go show off your beautiful (and roomy!) new bag!