Quick Calico Tote with Optional Applique

calico bag tutorial
Finished size: 25cm wide x 33cm tall (10” x 13”) plus handles.


Main Bag

38.5cm x 45.5cm (15.25” x 18”) x2 in calico or other main bag fabric

15.25cm x 45.5cm (6” x 18”) x 2 in contrasting fabric (we have used Dashwood Floral Christmas fabric and Riley Blake’s Christmas Essential’s fabric).


6.35cm x 66cm (2.5” x 26”) x2 in calico or other main bag fabric PLUS x2 in contrasting fabric

Applique (Optional)

Scraps of fabric for applique shapes, for the reindeer head you need 20cm x 11cm (7.8” x 4.25”), for the two trees 10cm x 14cm (4” x 5.5”) plus 17cm x 13cm (6.75” x 5”) plus a scrap for the star.

Heat n Bond Adhesive, sufficient to iron on to the back of the fabric scraps being used.



Cutting Your Main Fabric Pieces

Take one of your main bag pieces and draw 7.5cm (3”) squares in the bottom left and right corners (see image below).

Cut out the squares.

Repeat with the 2nd main piece.


Making the Straps

Iron 12mm (1/2”) seams, along the long sides of each strap piece (4 pieces in total, 2 in calico (main fabric), 2 in contrasting fabric).

Pin two strap pieces together, one in the main fabric, one in the contrasting fabric, wrong sides facing each other, and top stitch, 6mm (1/4”) in from the outside edge, on both long sides.

Repeat with the second pair of strap pieces.


The Main Bag

Iron a 2cm (¾”) hem onto the back of one of the contrasting pieces of fabric, along one long edge.

Place this piece of fabric on top of a main fabric piece, right sides facing each other, so that the un-folded edge of the contrasting fabric is lined up with the top of the main bag piece. Pin into place.

Sew together using a 12mm (1/2”) seam allowance.

Iron, pushing the seam allowance onto the contrasting fabric side of the seam line.

attaching contrasting-fabric-calico-tote-bag-sewing-tutorial
Repeat with the second main and contrasting fabric pieces.


Attaching the Handles

Unfold the top of one of the main fabric pieces.  Pin a handle into place, so that:

  • the raw edges of the handles are lined up with the raw edges of the main piece,
  • each handle starts 12.5cm (5”) in from the closest left or right edge,
  • you are looking at the contrasting fabric side of the strap (see images below).

Sew 6mm (¼”) seam across the top of the handle to hold the ends in place.


Turn the fabric over and fold the contrasting fabric section down, so that 6.5cm (2.5”) of the fabric is folded onto the back (measuring from the top fold line down to the bottom fold line – see images below).

Iron the new top crease line into place.  Fold the handle up so that it sticks out of the top of the bag, making sure the handles are straight and the crease lines at each end of handle line up with the existing crease line at the bottom of the contrasting fabric (see images below) – pin into place.

Turn the fabric back over and sew ‘in the ditch’ (along the seam line between the main bag fabric and contrasting fabric).


Take out the pins and press.

Looking at the back of the bag piece, pin the handles back into place.  Top stitch 6mm (1/4”) in from the top edge, all the way along the top of the bag piece, securing the handle in place.

Repeat these steps with the second bag piece and handle.



Applique (Optional)

If you want to add applique to your bag, do it now.  The easiest method is to:

  • draw or print your images onto the back of heat n bond ultra-adhesive (the images need to be back to front),
  • cut out and iron the shapes onto the back of your applique fabric.
  • Cut out, peel the backing paper off and iron your applique onto your bag. When positioning your applique bear in mind that the left, right and bottom edges of the bag will reduce by 3 inches each ( draw an imaginary line up from, and across from, the cut out corners to see the area you are working with).

You can finish with an applique or zig-zag stitch around the edges of your shape/s, but this is purely decorative as the adhesive is permanent.



French Seams

Because this bag is unlined, we are going to use French seams when we sew the two sides together.  French seams hide all the raw edges, making for a neat finish that won’t unravel.

Pin the two main pieces of fabric together, wrong sides facing each other.

Sew a 6mm (1/4”) seam along the left, right and bottom edges, missing out the corner cut-outs (see image).

Trim the seam allowances back as far as you feel comfortable.


Turn the bag inside out and iron to ensure the seam lines are at the edges.

Pin the two sides of the bag together and sew a 12mm (1/2”) seam along each of the sides you previously sewed (left, right and bottom, missing out the cut outs on the corners).

attaching contrasting-fabric-calico-tote-bag-sewing-tutorial
Turn your bag back out, all your seams will be hidden.


Looking at the bottom left corner, push the left and bottom seam lines together, lining them up inside the bag.  Pin together and sew a 6mm (¼”) seam.

Repeat on the right corner.  Trim both seam allowances back close to the sew line, and iron to one side.

Turn your bag out, so that you are looking at the wrong side.

Looking at the bottom left corner, with the seam line at the fold, iron flat.  With the bag in this shape, pin the sides together and sew a 12mm (1/2”) seam.

Repeat on the right corner.

All your seams are now hidden and your bag is finished!

Click here for a printer-friendly version of these instructions.

Click here to download the applique templates.

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