How To Make….A Tote Bag with Plaited Handles


Aah, the humble tote bag! Practical, dependable, robust….and essential in the days of the carrier bag charge! Use it for shopping, trips to the library, days at the beach – whatever the occasion, a tote bag is a useful item to have around and this tutorial shows you how to make your own.

You don’t need a lot to make it – you may just need to raid your fabric stash, or if not, have a wonderful excuse to visit your local fabric store! The ideal material to use is either a medium weight craft cotton or a curtain fabric as they can handle a bit more of a load. I always use contrasting fabrics for the outer and lining and the pretty plaited handles make it a little stronger and enhance the stylish but functional theme.

Now to get started! You will need:

80cm fabric for outer and handles

80cm of fabric for lining and handles



Matching thread

Sewing machine



Marking pencil

Knitting Needle or Loop Turner

First cut 2 squares measuring 50cm from your main fabric. Repeat for the lining.

For the handles you will need to cut 3 strips measuring 8cm width x the length required (I would recommend a minimum of 65cm).


Take the  main fabric pieces and place with right sides together. Stitch 3 sides to make a U shape using a 1.3cm seam allowance. As you get to a corner, stop stitching leaving the needle in the fabric, lift the foot, pivot the material, lower the foot and keep stitching.


Place the lining fabric right sides together and stitch 2 L shapes, back tacking at the end of each ‘L’. The gap between stitching needs to be big enough to fit your hand through.


With right sides together, take one of the bottom corners of the outside bag and pull the front and back apart to make a triangle. Press the triangle making sure that the side and bottom seams line up.


Draw a line 8cm from the point of the triangle with your marking chalk and then stitch along this line.

Repeat this step for the other corner and for the lining.


Trim off the extra fabric  leaving a small seam allowance and press.

Now it’s time to make the handles!

Fold your strips in half along the length and press.


Now take one of the strips and stitch down one of the short sides from the folded edge (using a 6mm seam allowance). When you are the seam allowance away from the edge, stop stitching leaving the needle in the fabric, lift the presser foot, turn the fabric, lower the foot and begin stitching to the end of the long side. Repeat for the remaining 5 strips. Don’t forget to backstitch at either end!


This is how the ends of your strips should look. Now turn them all right side out using your knitting needle or loop turner. Press.

Take 3 strips (mix them however you want!) and stitch together (one on top of the other) at one end using a 6mm seam allowance.

Ask someone to hold the stitched end while you plait the strips, then stitch the other end using a 6mm seam allowance. Repeat for the remaining 3 strips.

Your handles are now made and you are almost there!


Take the outside of the bag and turn it right side out. Pin the handles in place (the ends of each handle should be 10cm in from the bag side seams). The raw edges of the handles should line up with the raw edges of the bag.


Keep the lining wrong side out and place the outside of the bag, including handles, inside. Make sure the raw edges and the side seams for the lining and outside match up and pin in place. Stitch it all together around the top edge using a 1.3cm seam allowance.


Grab the handles though the gap at the bottom of the lining and pull the outside of the bag through.


Pull the lining out and press the bottom edge. Fold under the edges of the opening at the bottom and hand stitch closed (use tiny stitches or blind stitch if you want to make the bag reversible).

Put the lining inside the bag and press all around the top edge.

Top Stitch Hem

Stitch all around the top edge using a 6mm seam allowance.

All done! Once you have made your first couple, you can usually whizz through one of these in about 45 minutes to an hour! I’ve made about 8 so far and really do love how this everyday accessory is a bit more special because I have made it using fabric that I love.

Happy Sewing!

Written By

Sarah, Web Assistant




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