School Bag Tutorial

2:05 PM

For those that loved the owl school bag enough to try it out for themselves, here are instructions to make your own.  I hope it all makes sense, if you have questions or I did a poor job of explaining anything, I'm happy to try to help, just email me:  I would also love to see your project when your done!
I made the red toadstool tote for this tutorial.  The only things that are different if you want to make the owl instead are given at the points that vary from the red.  So follow along, the owl differences will come along as needed.

First off, here are some ideas that could make the project easier if you want:
-DON'T MAKE HANDLES, BUY THEM: you can buy the nylon strapping by the yard.  Usually it's around $1-2 / yd and there are a variety of patterns, widths, and colors.  I find it near the ribbon by the yard.  You would just weave it through tote body, sew the ends together, and save quite a few steps.
-SKIP THE STRAP and BUTTON: the tote is large enough and deep enough, you probably don't NEED a strap to keep it closed.  mainly for looks, you could just leave it off
**I'm sure you may find tricks or short cuts to make the process better, easier.  Please let me know if you did anything to improve my instructions!

Also, this tutorial is for personal use only.  I ask that you respect my design and the time to put this tutorial together and only use the totes you will make for yourself, family and friends, not for commercial use/ profit.  Thanks!

So here we go:

1 yard fabric for main tote
3/4 yard fabric for lining 
scrap for contrast strap
interfacing just a bit
ribbon 3"
freezer paper, fabric paint

only shown in photos for the post.
Here is the image for the OWL if that's what your'e painting on your tote

Cut the following pieces, I chose to have white contrast for the bottom half of the handle.  The tips for cutting the angles on the triangular sides are later.

The lining is pretty much the same as the body of your bag, except no handles.
For the sides of the bag, you make your own triangular pieces.  So you'll start with 2 rectangles each from your lining and exterior fabrics, 16" tall and 5 1/2" wide.  Measure 2" from each side on the top, and 1" up from the bottom.  Cut the angle between these two points to form the sides.
Choose which fabric you want your pockets.  I chose to use the red so they will contrast the lining.  If you want to cut them from the lining, maybe get a full 1 yard just to be safe.
For this tote, I chose to have 3 little toadstools like I made for this project.  So I just sketched them and the simple instructions are in the photos.  **Wisdom from my Mistake: I chose the red ribbed fabric for the tote to add texture, but the ribbing made my toadstools look crummy.  I should have painted an image with less detail on the texture fabric.  The owl would have been a better choice for this red fabric. 

If you would like to have the owl, here is a PDF to have the owl image. Just cut your freezer paper 8 1/2" x 11", load in your printer paper side up, print it out, then follow the freezer paper stencil instructions.
After your done painting, don't forget to iron your image when dry to seal the fabric paint. If you've never done the freezer paper fabric stenciling, click on the link above for more in depth instructions on that.

AT THIS POINT you can do the next 3 steps in whatever order you want, but I'll show them the order I prefer

1. The first step is to serge all 4 sides of your pocket pieces.  Don't worry if you don't have a serger, you can just zig-zag right on the edge instead.
2.  Fold over the top of each pocket 3/4", and press.  Topstitch the fold over with a decorative stitch, I chose a basic zig-zag.

3. Flip pockets over, and iron down the sides and bottom 1/4" or just past the serged edge.

4. Pin the 2 small pockets on a 16x20" lining piece.  Measure 3" up from the bottom, and 3 1/2" from the side.  Pin in place.

5. Start on one side, sew down, across the bottom, and up the other side.  Sew the other pocket on.

I went along the outside of my straight stitching with a narrow zig-zag to further secure pockets on.  Optional.

1. Measure: 1" from left edge.  I made 4 pencil/ pen pockets, then one larger 2" wide scissor pocket.
 2.PIN: Measure 3" up from bottom on your other lining 16x20 piece.  Start from one side and measure 3 1/2 to 4" from edge and pin pocket on.  When I pin the pencil and scissor pockets, I use a pencil between each pocket to make sure I have enough slack so they will fit in.  As you work your way to the edge, make sure the lining is flat underneath the pockets as you pin along.

3. SEW on the pocket.  The image describes the way I choose to sew it on.

I forgot to take a photo of the strap in the original cut photo.  Sorry.  It is on your cut list to print.  Cut 2 pieces 3"x 8".  You'll sew one end in a point.

4. Turn the strap right side out.  Shove a pencil or something in it to make the end a nice point.
5. Topstitch right along the edge of the strap, I chose to zigzag it again, and I failed to take a photo of the finished strap at this point.
**my fabric didn't have a right/ wrong side, make sure if yours does, to sew right sides together.
at this point set the strap aside


First we make the lower half with the white handle pieces.  You basically make a strap out of the white strip.
DISCLAIMER:  I think for future totes I will double the width of the contrasting strip to be 4" wide to start, and the finished would be 1" wide.  The toadstool tote strap was just a little too thin for me.

The last step is to sew the strap shut, making it a 1/2" wide, flat strap. **My future straps will be 1: wide

1. Place the white strap on the right side of two of your handle pieces.
2. Next, put the other two handle pieces on top, right side down on the white piece.
3. Just mark the angles from the edges of the handle to the white strap sticking out.  I just drew them on, no measuring.
4. Sew down the side with 5/8" seam allowance, turn and sew the angles, across white strap, and back up the other side, making sure not to accidentally sew the white strap in your side seams.
**Notice how I went back and forth to secure the crap out of the white strip. 

5. Trim off corners as we did on the strap. 
6.  Reach in the tube we've created, and grab the white strap.  Use the white handle to turn the handle tube right side out. 

7. Once both your straps are turned right side out, topstitch the down one side, angled down to the white strap, and back up the other side.  Once again I used a zigzag.  As you sew along the edge, you have pull out the seam before you topstitch along, because it has a tendency to stay rolled inside the tube.
IMPORTANT:  You need to leave 2-3" at the end of the red handle with no top stitiching.  Later, you'll be connecting the open end of your tube with the raw end of the white strap to make a full circle, and it's easier to do if you haven't already topstitched.

The shape of the tote is basically a narrow box.  Kind of like a short, wide cereal box.  So we'll have the bottom, then 4 sides. 
You'll follow the same procedure for the lining and the tote exterior, photos just demonstrate the lining on mine.

1. Sew the bottom (20x 5 1/2") to the bottom of one of your pocketed lining sides.  Place right sides together, use a 5/8" seam allowance. 
2. Repeat with your other pocketed side, making sure to put the bottom of the pockets to the bottom piece.  I'd hate for you to get finished and realize your pockets are upside down in your tote. 

So at this point we need to add the sides of our box.  You will have the two triangle shaped sides.  Pin right sides together, to the side of the bottom piece. 
Next, take the other side of your triangle, and the other side of the large lining.  Place right sides together, and sew up the seam.

At this point you repeat the same steps with your other triangle lining piece on the other end of the bag, sewing across the bottom and up one side first, then the other side second.


Repeat these steps with your exterior bag pieces.  Before you sew the outside together, just a reminder to have your image already painted on, dried, and pressed to seal the paint.  You also want to pay attention to top and bottom when you sew the base on so your owl isn't upside down.

When we sew on the extras to the outside of the tote, use 1/4" seam allowance or less.  Also, I backstitch and go over it a couple times to strength these seams to make sure they're strong.

1.At this point, make sure your tote exterior is right side out.  Make sure the lining is inside out.  You are going to put the exterior inside the lining, making right sides together. 

2. Pin the side seams together, exterior to lining.  I flatten the seam allowances out, so the triangle side piece would be totally flat.  Pin both side-seams.

3. Pin along the top of the tote, matching up the lining and exterior.
NOTE: Make sure the ribbon and strap are inside, and lined up

4. Start in the center of one side, and sew along the top of the tote, with 5/8" to 1/2" seam allowance.  Sew all the way around tote, except for about 5" or so.
THIS IS IMPORTANT:If you sew all the way around, you won't be able to pull the tote out.  It's not the end of the world, you'll just have to unpick...gross.  I hate unpicking!  So instead, just leave the last 5" unsewn.

Take the strips of interfacing, and iron them on the lining.  It is the wrong side of the lining, so it will be hidden secretly inside your bag, and helps to reinforce all the buttonholes.
I just plopped it on about 1" down from the seam.
Turn bag over and iron it on the other side too.
*Make sure you check to put the glossy side down, so you don't have sticky crap all over your iron from ironing the interfacing to the iron rather than the me.

This is my favorite part of the project.  I don't know why, it's not that exciting.   But all the sudden you get a finished looking bag, fully lined, with no raw seams in sight!   I hate raw seams! So rather than explaining, I made another little lame video if you want to watch.
WARNING: I look like bonch and it's late, and you can tell I'm feeling like a dork recording myself. [don't know the definittion of bonch? just watch the video]


First, we need to take care of the hole.

For my tote, I topstitched 2 rows of zig-zag, just for looks.  I'd use a seam allowance between 1/4" and 5/8", or whatever you think is best. 
Pull the strap flat to sew that in place as shown. 
With the ribbon, the owl bag, I topstitched it at this point down into the bag, but on this toadstool tote, I just left it up and out, like the strap.

 I hate buttonholes.  They're just annoying to me.
That being said, sorry you will have a boat-load to sew.
But first, to measure and mark all the buttonholes.

Basically, it's 10 total buttonholes on each side, and they are in pairs--5 sets.  One set in the center, 2 on the right, 2 on the left.  Measure 1" between each pair, 1 1/2" between each set.  The white strip is 1/2" wide, so 1" buttonholes may be too large.
Ughh...that was a lot of measuring.  Now for the other side, it's a lot better:

So now you have to measure the buttonhole for your button on the strap.  I don't have a photo, but I just centered it with the point, and marked it.  For my button, I used a 1" buttonhole.

We just need to get those handles on the bag, sew the ends together, and your tote is done.  Almost there!


6. Topstitch the white strap into the main handle.  I sewed it on in red, zig-zagging across a bunch to reinforce it.  You want it to be strong, especially if you need to carry a bunch of stuff.  After I felt it was secure, I went back over it with the white contrasting zig-zag for looks.

LAST STEP: Lay your bag flat, fold strap over, and decide where you need your button.  Handsew your button on.

I hope everything made sense. 

There are a few things I'm still debating about changing. 
-The owl tote straps were kind of too thick for the buttonholes, and the toadstool were too thin.  I think my next tote I may try to keep the 1" buttonholes, but cut the white/ contrast strip double the width, so it is 1" wide also. 
It all has to do with the scrunch of the bag.  The owl had a hard time scrunching, and the toadstool scrunches too easy for what I'd like.  So that will take some tweaking.  Let me know if you find a combo you love!

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  1. YAY! I'm excited to make one of these. The bag I just made for myself isn't working exactly as I'd hope and would be better for something else. This will suit my needs beautifully. THANK YOU! I'm going to start tonight.

  2. Jessica!
    This is so amazing!! I absolutely have to feature this tonight!
    Thanks for sharing it with me {and of course the owl is my favorite}!

  3. Thank you so much for making a tutorial! I can't wait to make one of these. Now I just have to decide which fabric to use....

    LOVE IT & Thanks again!

  4. Thanks to taking all that time to post your tutorial...I can't wait to use some of your ideas on my bag!!

  5. This is such a cool bag!! I blogged your tutorial over at Craft Gossip Sewing:


  6. Thank you SO much for this!! I am excite dto try it. I think it is so amazing that you paint things on the bag. How amazing are you!! I will definitely post pics as soon as I make this...hopefully sooner than later ;)

  7. Wow! This is amazing! I've added it to my 'To Do' list and shared it on my blog with a link here. Thanks so much for the great tutorial!

  8. Ouuu I love it! I love the owl picture, I never thought to paint one on, I'm always thinking applique, but I'm not great at that. I'm def going to use some of these idea's for my new diaper bag, thanks!

  9. That is way cute! SO many fun customization opportunities! Thanks so much for this, I'll be linking.

  10. Your bag is beautiful.
    Thank you.

  11. Thank you! I can't wait to try this!

  12. LOVE it!!

    Come share your creation at my party: Thursday's Treasures!

  13. This was very thorough and creative, nice job! Bag came out nicely!

  14. So cute! I linked the tutorial on my blog!

  15. Good dispatch and this fill someone in on helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you on your information.

  16. i love this bag! i actually want to make one for a beach bag this summer. has anyone tried vinyl lining it yet? just curious... i want to try it!! thanks for sharing the great tutorial and i'll let you know when i try it! thanks!

  17. such a cute idea! I love cute bags!

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  19. LOL, you are so funny. And I give you props for recording yourself.. something I dont think I could do! and, I LOVE the new word, bonch. Totally stealing it. :)
    Thanks for a GREAT pictorial! Im a new sewer, so lots of pictures is very helpful!

  20. I featured this awesome bag on my blog! It is alongside some other beautiful bag tutorials! Everyone loves it!

  21. Love you bag have added to my too do list LOL

  22. this is certainly a different way to buying school bagsschool bags that most people are used to in the west! but probably just as good value or better!

  23. if you are looking for bags for school Then you'd better look for something better than this!

  24. unless you are just looking for childrens bags for school Then you're ok.



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