DIY Sewing Tutorial

DIY: (Almost) Zero Waste Tote

Hi everyone, today I’ve got a new tutorial for ya and it’s sew fun to make and can serve many purposes. This summer, my kids and I will be visiting our local library a lot, and we often find ourselves juggling tons of books on the way to the car after our visits. I decided to make dedicated library bags for each of them, so that way we could eliminate that little issue. I started digging through my stash for some fabric and found some cotton canvas I’d purchased a while ago for a project I never made. I pulled it out and sat it on my cutting table, hoping to get to it soon. Later, I happened to glance at it sitting there folded in half, and the idea came to me to figure out a way to use almost every scrap of it, hence the title was born. For those who don’t know, zero waste sewing is pretty much that…the intent is that the yardage specified for the project results in no (or very, very little) waste, and the project can be completed from measurements, so no paper pattern is needed.

For this project you will need 1 yd of fabric. The strip of velcro is optional. My seam allowance will be 1/2″ for most pieces, but up to 1″ on others so I wouldn’t have waste, but you can sew with a larger or smaller one, as desired. My finished measurements are approximately- height: 12″ width 13.5″ on one and then two made with wider canvas had a finished width of ~14.5″. One of them was 44″ wide, the others were 45″. Depending on how straight your fabric was cut, there may be a small amount of fabric wasted to make your fabric even or trimmed off to get rid of majorly frayed edges.

I’m using cotton canvas for this tutorial and it was prewashed, as it was intended for something else. As a result it shrunk about an inch. These instructions are for a full yard, but please don’t fret if you find yourself in the same boat, missing an inch or two 😉). I trimmed away one of the selvedges because it would have shown outside the seam allowance, and it was a contrasting color to the bag. This resulted in my first scrap of waste. If your selvedge is the same color as your fabric design and not as noticeable, (as the other one that I didn’t cut), you can leave it attached.

Below is the layout I used to cut out all my pieces. I pressed my fabric in half from selvedge to selvedge, then folded in half from top to bottom and pressed again. This gave me nice defined cutting lines to begin with. I then measured as illustrated for each section and drew on the lines with tailors chalk. Note: depending on the measurements of your fabric, you may find it better to tweak these to your liking. This is intended to be a guide to help you create a zero waste tote. In subsequent bags, my width changed a little. I just started with the strap sections first and then moved over to the bag section. I used my mat and rotary cutter to cut through all 4 layers at once, but you could also use scissors, just make sure your layers don’t shift. Start with the straps, since they will utilize the entire length of fabric, then cut the body and pockets. On the outermost strap (since it’s on the fold) you will need to open it and cut along the pressed line so that you have two separate straps. On the bag body pieces, you will need to cut them apart along the bottom pressed edge to separate the pieces and make 4 instead of 2 tall pieces.

You should have 4 bag body pieces (~14.5″ wide x 13″ tall), 4 strap pieces (~3.5″ wide x 36″ long), and 4 pockets ~14.5″ wide x 5″ tall).

I decided to show 2 different pocket styles that could be created with the size scraps we have. I ended up using the closed one with velcro flap on the bag outer and the open one on the bag liner. These pockets will not be deep, since we are limited to what’s leftover in the yardage, but they will still be functional, especially the velcro pocket. On one of my other bags, the pockets ended up creating a little waste because the top raw edge was so badly frayed, I had to trim it down to fix. You might find you have to do this, too. Note: Depending on what size seam allowance you plan to use to close your bag bodies, you may wish to make your pockets a little smaller than my measurements. Place each one on the bag before closing it up, to make sure it’s not too wide for the bag with your intended seam allowance.

For the open pocket, place two of the pocket pieces right sides together and pin or clip around all edges, marking an opening in the bottom for turning right side out. Sew, leaving the opening, and trim away the corners so they are neat when turned. This results in the first required bit of scrap. Though I only used 1/2″ on the side seams, I advise to use a little larger so that your pocket is smaller than the bag. I ended up going back and folding over some of the pocket so it looked better on the bag and wasn’t so close to the side seams. This will end up in needing to trim the seam allowance down, creating small scraps. Turn the pocket right side out and press well. If you’re like me and accidentally left the opening at the top, topstitch along the top of the pocket to close it before attaching to the bag body. If it’s on the bottom where it was intended, it will be sewn over when attaching to the bag body. Position where desired on the right side of your bag body (outer or liner…your choice) and pin in place. Sew along the sides and bottom, backstitching or adding bartacks to the corners. Additionally, if you’d like your pockets in sections, sew vertical lines to create them. I chose three, evenly spaced.

For the closed pocket with velcro flap, fold the top edge of one pocket piece 1/4″ to the wrong side and press. Fold again another 1/4″ and press, then sew across the edge to hem. Next, finish the bottom raw edge with a serger or zigzag stitch (if desired), then fold the bottom 1/4″ to the wrong side and press. Keeping the bottom folded, fold the sides 3/4″ and press, then fold again 3/4″ and press. This will create the pocket portion.

For the flap, fold the other pocket piece from top to bottom with right sides together. Sew the sides with a 1″ seam allowance. To avoid creating scraps, fold the seam allowance toward the flap, the flip it right side out. At this point, check to make sure that the pocket flap is wider than the pocket. If it’s not, flip your pocket wrong side out and sew one of the seams a little more to make it smaller. Press pocket flap and the corners should look very neat. Finish the top raw edges of the flap with a serger or zigzag stitch. Fold this edge, 1/4″ to the wrong side and press well.

Cut a piece of velcro that’s to your liking and position one side on the pocket and the other on the flap. I placed mine about 1/4″ from the bottom, wrong side of the flap and about 1/2″ from the top, right side of the pocket. I also stuck them together to make sure I liked the look before settling. Pin them in place and sew around the edges to secure. Position the pocket where desired on the right side of your bag body (outer or liner…your choice) and pin in place. Sew along the sides and bottom, backstitching or adding bartacks to the corners. Additionally, if you’d like your pockets in sections, sew to create them. I divided mine into two pieces, which was the perfect size to hold a library card. One another bag, I made one big section and one small, so I could fit my library card in one side, and then a pen and other longer things on the other. Attach the velcro strips to one another, and then sew along the top edge of the pocket flap to attach it to the bag. Make sure to backstitch or add bartacks at the edges.

Once your pockets are sewn to the bags, it’s time to to create and attach your straps. To create the straps, take two strap pieces and put them right sides together, then sew along the sides of each set. Turn each strap right side out and press well, then topstitch 1/8″ from each edge for a neat finish. To attach them to the bag bodies, find the center of the bag body outer pieces and mark with a pin or clip. Measure 3″ away from each and mark with pins or clips. With right sides together, position your straps so that the center of the straps aligns with your pins or clips. Sew to attach and do the same with your other strap and bag body outer.

To create the bag bodies, place the outers right sides together and sew the sides and bottom. Make sure to keep straps out of the way. Place the liners right sides together and sew the sides and bottom, but leave a 3-4″ opening in the bottom or side to turn the bag right side out later. Trim the corners to make it easier to make the corners neat. These are your last scrap pieces or waste created from this project! Turn the liner right side out and leave the outer wrong side out. Tuck the straps inside during this step. Insert the liner into the outer and pin or clip together around the entire top opening. Sew around to close. I used a 3/8″ seam allowance for the bag bodies.

Reach into the bag and pull the liner out. You will see your opening you left in the bottom or side. Turn the bag right side out through that opening. Pin or clip the opening closed and sew. You can hand stitch this if you prefer it to be invisible, but I just used a straight stitch on my machine very close to the edge since it”ll be inside the bag. Tuck the liner back into the bag and make sure the top edges are flat. Topstitch around the entire top to finish the bag and give the straps a little extra security.

Remember the almost zero waste component to this project? This is all that I removed from the yard of fabric in each bag! I’m calling it a win! Woot woot!

The finished bag ended up being a perfect size for both kids, and I even made myself one bc I had random one yard cuts of canvas I forgot I bought, and really liked this sewing themed one haha.

The kids had enough space to get all their books for the week and I like having the little velcro pocket to keep the library cards in!

Alternate usage of fabric sections:

For a taller bag, omit the pocket section of the yardage and extend the bag body all the way to the top. This will give you an extra 4-5″ in height. Consider using other scraps from your stash if you still wish to add pockets. Alternatively, you could try using 1.5″ yds instead of just 1. This will also make the straps longer.

For a wider bag, Make your straps thinner and add width to the bag from the strap section of the yardage.

For tall pockets, use fabric from the strap section of the yardage to cut lined pockets and consider using ready-made webbing or other scrap fabric for the straps.

What suggestions do you have for keeping this bag mostly zero waste, but making it different? I’d love to hear! Use the hashtag #HeyShantelle on IG if you make a bag using this tutorial. I’d love to see what you come up with!

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