Tote Bag Tutorial (or, What To Do With Hundreds of Upholstery Samples)

A couple of weeks ago I received a phone call from the woman who owns the drafting shop where I get my pattern sheets printed. We’ve gotten to know each other over the years. She said that her parents were closing their furniture store, and would I like to have the upholstery samples? Well, sure, why not?! Not exactly your typical heirloom or garment or quilting fabric, but it’s fabric, right? So my husband took the pickup and picked up four big packing boxes full of upholstery samples! And by big, I mean about 40 pounds each!


Textures, colors, patterns, oh what fun! But what in the world could I do with all those samples? I thought on it for a while, then sorted out about half of the fabrics that were too heavy (and too many browns!) for what I might have in mind. That left two big almost-full boxes of lovely fabric.

I know that many of my sewing friends do a lot of charity sewing. There are my friends from the Florida Sewing Sew-ciety; the SAGA Wee Care program; Threads of Love; Quilts of Valor; Project Linus, and many other groups, not to mention all the individuals who sew, just to give to those less fortunate. They are a very generous group! So I thought that if I could write up instructions for a simple tote bag, someone or some group might want to use the upholstery fabric for totes for women’s shelters, homeless shelters, etc.

I stitched up some bags, working on the instructions in my mind as I made them, then posted to my friends on facebook that the samples were free to a good home for anyone who could pick them up or would pay shipping. I’d even throw in instructions for the totes. Within minutes the fabric was spoken for!

These are not couture totes, but they are very nice. The fabrics are sturdy, and the construction is solid. I designed them so that they would be easy to sew, but also so that they would look good enough that anyone would be proud to carry one.


I thought that others might also like the instructions. So here it is…

The Upholstery Sample Tote Bag Tutorial

Each bag requires: Two approx. 18″ squares of upholstery fabric, 3/4 yd. quilting cotton, polyester sewing thread, size 90 or 100 (14 or 16) jeans machine needle. Optional – glue stick, 2″ wide blue painter’s tape

Seam allowances are 3/8″ to 1/2.” Accuracy is not critical!

Do not press the upholstery fabric with an iron. Some of it is very heat sensitive (ask me how I know!)

If using regular fabric instead of upholstery fabric for the outer layer, it should be interfaced with a medium-weight woven interfacing.

Choose two upholstery fabrics that coordinate. Trim them to the same size, if necessary.tote-1

You can just make one side of the tote from one fabric, and the other side with the other fabric. But you can also make it more interesting by piecing the fabrics so that it looks like you’re supposed to be using two fabrics! Place both fabrics right sides up, and cut through both layers. This cut can be vertical, horizontal, or diagonal (see finished totes photos above.)


Pair the bottom layer from one side of the cut and with the top layer from the other side of the cut, and vice versa.


Place the two pieces for one side of the tote right sides together and stitch; repeat for the other side of the tote.


Now, remember, you can’t press some of these fabrics. So just fold the seam to one side, and topstitch from the right side on both pieces.tote-5

Now it’s time to make the straps. I made these to go all the way to the bottom of the tote, for more support. Straps just stitched to the upper edge are more likely to pull out.

Get out your quilting cotton. Cut enough 4″ wide strips to equal two lengths, each about 1-1/2 yards long. Seam these together if necessary to get the length needed. Several inches shorter or longer is fine, too.

Press the strips in half lengthwise, right sides out, then open the strip back up. Press the long raw edges in to almost touch the fold. Then fold the strip in half again along the original crease. You will have a 1″ wide strip that is 4 layers of fabric thick. Use a little glue stick to hold the final folds in place; it makes stitching much easier. Press to dry the glue.tote-6

Stitch close to both edges of both strips.tote-7

Place one end of one strip 4″ – 5″ from the side edge of one tote side, with the short end even with the lower edge of the tote side. Use a ruler as shown below to make this easy. Use some glue stick on the back side of the strip, but don’t put any glue at the top edge. Place a strip of 2″ wide blue painter’s tape across the top, even with the top of the tote fabric edge, as shown. This not only holds the upper edge of the strip in place, it creates a stitching line for the next step.tote-8

Bring the other side of the same strip around, and glue and tape to the other side of the same tote side. Make sure the strap isn’t twisted.tote-9

Starting at the lower edge, stitch with the needle down, along the previous stitching line from the bottom until you just touch the blue tape.tote-10

Pivot and stitch right next to the tape until you get to the other side of the strip.tote-11

When you reach the stitching line on the other side of the strip, stop and pivot again. tote-12

Stitch down about 1/2″ ( I counted five stitches.) Stop and pivot again, and stitch across the strip.


Stitch to the line going up to the blue tape, and stitch up  and across again, reinforcing that stitching. Then pivot and stitch down the other side of the strip to the bottom of the tote. Repeat for the other strap placements.

Right sides together, stitch the front and back tote pieces together at the lower edge. Fold the seam to one side and topstitch.tote-15

This is now your pattern for the lining! Cut a piece of quilting cotton to the same size.tote-17

Fold the tote right sides together and stitch the side seams. tote-16

At one lower corner, bring the side seam to meet the bottom seam. The corner will be at the tip of the point. Stitch across the point about 1-1/2″ from the tip. Backstitch well at each end.


Similarly, stitch the side seams of the lining except leave a long opening on one side seam. Press back the seam allowances of the opening. tote-19

“Box” the lower corners of the lining the same way you did for the outer layer.tote-20

Don’t cut off these corners on either the lining or the outer fabric.

Turn the lining right side out, and slip it inside the outer layer, which is wrong side out. Match up the side seams and pin (these are the only two pins you need for this project!) Now, working from the inside of the circle, with the outer fabric against the bed of the machine and the lining on top, stitch all the way around the upper edge, making sure to not catch the straps in this stitching.tote-21

Reach your hand through the opening in the lining side seam, and pull the entire bag right side out through the opening. Reach through the opening and push out the boxed corners of the outer fabric.

Line up the edges of the lining opening, and stitch close to the folded edges.tote-22

Push the lining down inside the bag. Now grab the bottom of the bag (both outer fabric and lining) and turn the entire bag inside out. Working again “inside the circle” with the lining against the bed of the machine and the outer fabric on top, topstitch the upper edge. Keep the straps out of the way. You’ll have to work the fabric with your fingers to get the seamline to lie along the edge, but just work a few inches at a time.tote-23

Finally, turn the bag right side out. Finished!tote-a






Ruffle Fabric Grab Bags (and instructions for a ruffle skirt!)

Four or five years ago, I discovered ruffle fabric, and had a great time using it in girls’ clothing. So much fun that I purchased a lot of it and sold it, along with an idea booklet. Well, I’ve lost interest, and I need the space (for the upholstery samples I’ve been given!)

So, I’m offering grab bags. I can fit at least 2 yards, and probably more, plus some nice soft waistband elastic, in a USPS Tyvek mailing envelope. $12.00  plus $5.00  shipping $8.00 shipping (I’m sorry, I just shipped my first batch of orders, and the shipping was a lot more than I estimated) The fabrics all sell for $15/yd. or more. The value of the fabrics and elastic will be at least $35.00. US domestic shipping, only. If you’d like to order, go to my contact me page on my website here, let me know what you’d like, and I’ll send you a Paypal invoice.

You’ll get at least two colors, maybe more. Some pieces may be small, but you can use small pieces for trims. But here’s the catch – no color requests. The choice is mine, and when a fabric is gone, it’s gone. But all the colors are pretty. There are solids, floral prints, tie-dye effects, and a netting fabric with rosettes.


Also, you’re on your own for sewing the stuff. It’s not difficult. No hems required! I apologize in advance, but I just don’t have time to answer individual questions on how to use it. But if you’re a little adventurous, you can have a lot of fun for just a little money!

Here are some ideas…

A simple skirt with an elastic waistband (instructions at the end of this post.)


A purchased t-shirt cut off, with a ruffle skirt added, and purchased leggings with a strip of ruffles sewn on at the bottom.


Bodice made from the rosette netting, and skirt from ruffles.


A woven cotton skirt with elastic waistband, with a strip of ruffles at the lower edge.


A dress with sleeves cut from ruffle fabric, and a single ruffle at the neck edge.


I have a limited number of idea booklets left, for an additional $5.00. You can see it here. But like the fabric, when they’re gone, they’re gone; I won’t be printing any more.

Here are those instructions for the 30-minute ruffle skirt!

30-Minute Ruffle Skirt by Susan Stewart

Make this quick and easy skirt for any size using knit ruffle fabric. This amazing fabric is a poly/spandex fabric with knit-in ruffles! No hems or seam finishes required! Most of the design work and embellishment is done for you! Just think of the twirl possibilities!

For this skirt you will need two measurements – the waist measurement where you want the elastic to sit, and the length of the skirt from the bottom of the elastic to the lower edge.

You will need:

Desired length plus ½” of ruffle fabric

Waist measurement of 1½” decorative waistband elastic


  1. Add ½” to the desired skirt length, and cut this length (or as close as possible) across the width of ruffle fabric. For a girl’s full skirt, use the full width of ruffle fabric. For a slim skirt, measure the fullest part of the wearer’s hips, and add 2” or 3”. Cut the fabric to this width.
    1. When cutting between the rows of ruffles, fold the ruffles out of the way so you cut through the backing fabric only. Most ruffles have a sheer strip and a heavier strip of fabric behind each ruffle. This gives a nice line along which to cut for most applications. The sheer strip is below the top of the ruffle, and the opaque strip is below the lower part of the ruffle.  
    2. Length measurements can only be approximate, as the fabric must be cut in between rows of ruffles. When in doubt, make it a little longer. To shorten the garment, all you need to do is cut off a ruffle or two!
    3. Make sure the ruffles are lying in the correct position when cutting across rows of ruffles.
  2. Before you stitch the seam, you need to hold the ruffles in place, so they don’t get bunched up or flipped up in the seams.   “Tame” the ruffles by pinning, serging or zigzagging, or use blue painters’ tape to hold the ruffles in place.
  3. Right sides together, stitch the short sides together, matching rows of ruffles, and using polyester thread and a stretch needle. While seams can be serged, I usually prefer to simply zigzag them. Why? Because if a ruffle is caught in a zigzagged seam, it’s easy to open a few stitches, release the ruffle, and re-stitch. If it is caught in a serged seam, it may be cut off! Zigzag (approx. W = 2.0, L = 2.0) on the seamline, and again about ¼” from the first stitching, within the seam allowance. Trim seam allowance close to second stitching.
  4. With a lengthened straight stitch (L = 4.0) and slightly loosened needle tension, stitch two rows of gathering threads around top of skirt, one row about ⅛” over the top edge of the upper ruffle, and the other about ⅜” from the first row, within the seam allowance. Fold skirt in fourths and mark the quarter points.
  5. Measure elastic to fit snuggly around waist, by measuring around the wearer, if possible. If that is not possible, then cut the elastic an inch or so shorter than the waist measurement.
  6. Stitch cut ends of elastic together. Fold the waistband in fourths and mark the quarter points.
  7. Pull up the bobbin threads of the gathering stitches to make the skirt top edge fit the waistband. Match the quarter points and adjust the gathers evenly.
  8. Pin the lower edge of the waistband over the gathered edge of the skirt so the edge of the elastic just meets the top of the upper ruffle (for the floral ruffles, let the edge of the elastic cover about ⅛” of the upper ruffle, which is white instead of printed.)
  9. With the skirt inside out, stitch the waistband to the gathered fabric. You should not need to stretch the elastic to fit the fabric, as the fabric is gathered. There are several ways to do this stitching, which must stretch:
    1. Use a 6.0 double needle. Use a second spool of thread, or wind an extra bobbin, for the extra needle. The bobbin thread will zigzag between the needle threads and provide the needed stretch. Do some test stitching to determine if the tension needs to be adjusted.
    2. Stitch with a multi-step zigzag, about 6mm wide. Test and adjust the length so the points of the zigzags are about 4mm apart.
    3. Stitch two rows of a “lightning stitch” or a straight stretch stitch about ¼” apart.
  1. Pull out the gathering threads so the skirt can stretch. On the wrong side, trim off any excess skirt seam allowance above the waistband stitching, if necessary.

And that’s it! Your twirly, ruffly skirt is done!