When my girls started preschool (i.e. Fall 2010), the school requested an open-top cloth grocery bag-type tote as their school bag. I had one week to make them and meant to make a simple, lined tote and asked the girls what color they wanted. They kept changing their minds, naming every color they could think of. So I thought hey why not incorporate all those colors? So I made them each a patchwork pocket tote bag, personalized with their names and a special applique on the back.

As in my sketches, I planned to make a smaller, lower pocket and the applique up top.

In the end I decided to put the name up top (The girls requested that I make a bag for myself too. Don’t ask my why MAMA has an H at the end. Well, perhaps it sounds whinier, so maybe that is in fact the correct spelling in this house).

And as I further played with the design, I liked the proportion of a bigger pocket.

So I put the applique on the back. This way, if the totes are turned around, I can tell whose tote is whose.

I would discover later that my girls appreciated this too. They still can’t quite recognize their names yet, and because they chose their own applique, they now can recognize their own bags that way as well. “I’m Sarah, and I have the sun!” “I’m Sophie, and mine is the heart!” Okay, on with the tutorial.

How to Make a Patchwork Pocket Tote Bag

Original Post Date: Fall 2010

Supplies for the Pocket

  • Six different fabrics for the patchwork part, cut to 2×7 inch strips
  • One piece of fabric for the top of the pocket where the name will go, cut to 9×4.5 inches
  • Fabric scraps for the name and applique
  • Fusible webbing such as Steam-A-Seam2
  • Medium weight interfacing, cut to the same size as the pocket (the total size of the strips plus the top of the pocket sewn together, about 9×11 inches)
  • One piece of fabric for pocket lining, cut to the same size as the interfacing
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and self-healing cutting mat and ruler/straight edge
  • Not pictured: Sewing machine, thread, tear-away stabilizer

Supplies for the Tote Bag

  • Two pieces of fabric for outside of tote (I used duck cloth), cut to 15×18 inches
  • Two pieces of fabric for lining (I used a vintage sheet), cut to same measurements as above
  • Two pieces of fabric for straps, cut to 4×20 inches
  • Not pictured: Sewing machine, thread

Directions for the pocket

For the pocket, I used a 5/16″-inch seam allowance (the edge of my presser foot).

1. Line up all your color strips in the desired order.

2. Sew together the six strips

3) Press the seams to one side

 4. Sew the top of the pocket to the top of the strips. I used a vintage sheet here as well as for the lining. Press the seam to one side.

5. Cut out your letters for the top of the pocket with fabric and fusible webbing. Click here for more detailed instructions on one of my previous tutorials, or just follow the directions on your fusible webbing package.

6. Center the letters onto the top of the pocket and fuse, following the directions on your fusible webbing package.



7. Fuse the pocket lining with the medium-weight interfacing. With right sides together, pin the lining/interfacing with the front of the pocket and sew together, leaving a hole for turning.

8. Turn the pocket right side out and press

9. Position the pocket onto one of your duck cloth panels. I centered it and then raised it an inch or two because you’ll be squaring the bottom of the tote which will lower the center, if that makes sense. Pin with big pins. Be sure all horseys and piggies are cleared away before pinning.

10. Top-stitch the pocket to the duck cloth panel, first along the edge and then about 1/8 inches away (I followed the tick marks on my presser foot). Leave the top open for the pocket and back stitch at the ends to secure.

A peek at the inside of the pocket.

I’m glad I made the pocket big. It’s big enough for this book! We now put our items for sharing time in the front pocket (easier access=less frustration).

10. Sew the applique on the other duck cloth panel. You can use anything, but I quickly made my shapes with cookie cutters and a jar of pomade. I used  fusible webbing to fuse the pieces together as well as to fuse them to the back duck cloth panel, and with a piece of tear-away stabilizer in the back, I sewed a satin stitch around all the edges.

Directions for the Tote Bag

First, pin the two duck cloth panels right sides together and stitch around the sides and bottom, leaving the top open. Do the same with the two lining panels. For the duck cloth panels, make sure the pocket and applique are facing the right direction!

Then square the bottom of the tote by pulling the two sides apart at the bottom and matching up the side and bottom seams. Mark about 2 inches from the corner and draw a line. Stitch along the line. Do the same with the other corner as well as with the lining.

Make the straps by pressing the two ends towards the middle and folding it closed. Top stitch it closed, and then top stitch the other side.

Now we’ll sew all the pieces together…turn the lining right side out and stuff that inside the duck cloth which is still inside out. Pin them together with right sides together. When you get to about 2 inches from the sides, pin the straps in place. Sew all the way around, leaving an opening for turning up top.

Pull the lining and the duck cloth all the way through the hole and stuff the lining inside. Press the seam, and top stitch all the way around, closing the opening. Note: A more detailed tutorial to make a lined tote bag will be posted soon, which you can use to make this tote.

And we have two tote bags for two preschoolers.

Sarah’s Sun

Sophie’s Heart



Hanging on our “School Station”. The little box on the shelf has their hair brushes, ponytail holders, clothing labels, and sun block.

Let me know if you make some on your own! – Steph

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