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Learn to Sew: The Market Bag

Learn to Sew: The Market Bag

​Did you know that worldwide, we use and discard half a trillion plastic bags each year?

Make a difference  by creating your own reusable tote bag to take with you to the grocery store or the farmers' market!

A perfect project for a beginner sewist, this unlined tote features straps that wrap around the tote to reinforce the bottom of the bag, and a large front pocket for extra storage!  



You'll need: 

  • ½ metre of woven cotton, like quilting cotton or canvas
  • 1 Fat Quarter for the pocket
  • 3m of webbing or twill tape


Prepare your fabric:

Trim the selvedges from your half metre fabric piece.
Trim the selvedges

Fold your fabric in half so that the cut selvedge edges are together.

Use something with a right angle (either a ruler or a big book) to square up the folded piece of fabric by marking the sides at right angles to the selvedge edge and the fold.

You may need to trim a bit from the sides to make them square.

Then iron the fold so that you have a crisp line.

Cut your folded fabric into two equal pieces, along the folded and ironed crease.

When you’re done, your pieces should be about 21.5” by 19.5”. They do not need to be exactly these measurements. Just make sure that both pieces are the same size and that they are a little taller than wide.

These will be the bag body pieces.

Cut an approximately 10.5” by 16” piece out of your FQ. This will be your pocket.

Cut your webbing or twill tape in half so that you have two 60” pieces. These will be the bag straps.

Hem the Pieces

Hemming isn't always the last step!

Iron the top edge (the 19.5” side) of one of the body pieces down by 1 inch toward the wrong side.

Make a 1 inch fold

Once your first crease is set nicely in your top edge, open it up. Now fold the raw edge in towards the ironed crease. Iron this half-inch fold.

Make a half inch fold

Now fold the fabric along the first ironed crease, hiding the raw edge. Folding and ironing twice like this makes a smooth even hem. Pin it in place. 

Using a straight stitch, stitch down your hem to hold it in place. Try to sew close (about 1/8th of an inch) to the open side of the hem. Use the inside or outside edge of your presser foot as a guide to keep the seam straight.

Hem the pocket at 1/8 inch using the presser foot as a guide.

You’ve made a hem!

Set the body piece aside and repeat the steps above on the remaining body piece and your pocket piece. Be sure to hem a short side of the pocket piece, not a long side.

 Add the Pocket to a Body Piece

Next you'll add the pocket to the bag. This method makes it easy to make sure the pocket is centered on the body piece.

Iron the pocket and one of the bag pieces in half lengthwise.

Lay the pocket right side up on one of the bag pieces. Line up the bottoms of the body and pocket pieces, and line up the ironed crease at the top and bottom of the pocket piece with the ironed crease on the body piece. (I left the selvedge on my pocket piece, it will be hidden by the bottom seam.)

Place the pocket on the body piece.

Pin the pocket in place, angling the pins so that they are easy to pull out as they approach the presser foot.

Sew the sides of the pocket in place with a zigzag stitch. The zigzag should be close to the edge of the pocket.

Be sure to use a backstitch at the top of the pocket for extra reinforcement. Don’t worry about the raw edges; they’re going to get covered with the straps.

Zigzag the pocket edge

 Attaching the Straps

Now you'll attach the straps.

Start with the pocketed body piece first. Lay the strap on the body piece, lining up one end of the strap with the bottom of the body piece, and centering it on the pocket stitching.

Pin it in place, all the way up to the top hemmed edge.

Repeat this with the other end of the strap, ensuring that the strap is not twisted as it goes up one side and down the other. Pin the other side in place.

Sew the strap in place using a straight stitch. Use the inside or outside edge of the presser foot as a guide to make sure your stitching is straight.

Start by sewing up one edge of the strap from the bottom all the way to the top of the body piece. Use the inside or outside edge of the presser foot as a guide. 

Here's how to "turn a corner". It seems complicated but it's really not. You can do it!

With the needle down (in the fabric), raise the presser foot.
Turn the bag 90 degrees and lower the presser foot. Stitch across the top of the strap.
Leaving the needle down, raise the presser foot again, and turn the bag again.
Lower the presser foot and sew down the other side of the strap, all the way to the bottom. 

Sew the strap to the other side of the pocket in the same way.

Next you'll add the strap to the other bag piece.

Lay the two body pieces on the table with their bottom edges lined up (one top hem on one side and the other top hem on the other side). Use the position of the straps on the pocketed piece as a guide to pin the strap onto the un-pocketed body piece.

Line up the straps on both sides of the bag.

Measure from the edge of this strap to the side of the body piece as you pin the strap in place to make sure that it is straight.

Measure from the sides to ensure the straps are straight.

Once pinned, sew the strap on in the same way you sewed the first strap.

Reinforce the Top of the Strap (Optional)

If you’d like, you can reinforce the top edge of the straps by stitching an X in the top inch of the strap. This seems like a lot of steps, but I've gone into a lot of detail to make it easy!

To sew a reinforcing X, start by sewing across the strap close to the top hem. Count the number of stitches it takes from an 1/8th of an inch from one edge to an 1/8th of an inch from the other edge.

Leave the needle down, raise the presser foot and turn the fabric and strap by 90 degrees.

Lower the presser foot and sew the same number of stitches down the strap.

Leave the needle down, raise the presser foot, rotate the strap again, lower the presser foot and sew across the strap using the same number of stitches.

Repeat for the other side of the strap, ending where you started sewing this square.

Now, leave the needle down, raise the presser foot, rotate the strap and fabric by 45 degrees and sew a diagonal in your square.

Sew across the bottom of the strap and sew another diagonal in the square. Backstitch a few stitches and cut your thread.


The reinforcing X at the top of the strap.

 Sew the Body Together

Pin or clip the sides of the body pieces together, right_side-to-right_side, making sure that the edges of the body pieces are lined up.

Sew the sides of the bag together, using a half-inch seam allowance and a straight stitch. Use the 4/8 line on the metal plate of your sewing machine to guide your half inch seam allowance. 

Don’t worry if the bottom edges don’t line up exactly, the next step will fix that. Don’t forget your locking stitch at the beginning and ending of your stitching.

Finish the raw seam allowances by running a zigzag along the raw edge of the fabric.

Lay the bag flat and smooth. Pin the bottom edge of the bag together, keeping it flat. If the bottom edges don't line up exactly, don't try line them up, just pin it flat.

The bottom hem, showing that the edges don't line up

Sew the bottom of the bag as you did the sides. Go slow over the webbing or twill tape, it’s thick but should sew up just fine.

Zigzag the bottom of the bag. 

Finished side and bottom seams.

Wow, you sewed a nice bag!! Let’s take it a step further and give it a flat bottom!

Make a Flat Bottom Bag

You get a flat-bottomed bag by pinching a square out of the bottom of the bag, then sewing it. You can just pinch, but it’s easier to cut out the square

With your bag inside out, lay it out so that it’s all nice and smooth and lying perfectly flat, with the bottom of the bag facing you.

Using a ruler, a seam gauge or a measuring tape, draw a line 2 inches from the bottom seam.

Measure and mark a 2 inch square at the bottom corner.

Draw another line 2 inches from the side seam, to make a square.

Now carefully cut out this square, I know this is scary, but trust the process, it'll work!

Cut out the marked square.

Measure, draw and cut another square from the other bottom corner of the bag.

Now hold the corner of the square you cut from front of the bag between two fingers of one hand. Then grasp the corner of the square you cut from the back of the bag between two fingers of your other hand.

Pull the corners into a straight line.

Pull the corners apart gently until they make a straight line, and pin or clip these raw edges together. Fold the seams in opposite directions to reduce bulk.

Pull the cut square sides into a straight line.

Sew the seam with a half-inch seam allowance, and finish the raw edges with a zigzag stitch.

Finished corner

Voila!! You now have a Market Bag!!