Selvedge Tote bags

These bags are small totes, good for a paperback novel and a bottle of water. Or maybe a pair of shoes!

I've always hated the idea of cutting off the selvedges when sewing and quilting. I keep thinking, "What a waste." Some of the fonts with the design information are beautiful, and the finished edge doesn't need to be turned under, so why not use them in string piecing?

What you'll need:

No special tools, rulers or math are required for these bags. All you need is some fabric to use as a foundation (which will also be the interior fabric), a pile of strings (or selvedges), thread, a rotary cutter and a 24 inch ruler.

For these bags, I use whatever leftover fabrics I have, in whatever dimensions they may be. Specifically for this tutorial, I had an extra wide (about 110") piece of muslin about 13 inches long, so I cut it into 3 pieces to use as foundation for the string piecing. I didn't measure anything, but my guesstimate is each foundation is about 35x10 or so.

While I've used this technique for string bags, this time I decided to use selvedges because that bin was getting kinda full. I figure if you've got it, use it - this mantra works in so many situations!!

String piecing basics

I really wish technology was working with me only 2 pictures of string piecing aren't letting me upload or edit....please bear with my text and hopefully I'll get some images on here to make it clearer soon!

Lay out the foundation piece and decide how you want the strings to run. I used two layouts, one on about 45' diagonal, and one mostly straight up and down. I didn't want to measure, I just wanted to sew :)

To use the diagonal layout, starting at the bottom right corner, take a small piece of selvedge and lay it right side up completely overlapping the corner with the machine finished edge toward the corner. Lay a second selvedge right side up, overlapping the cut side of the first strip, with the machine finished edge toward the corner and top stitch in place. Because I'm topstitching, I sew pretty close to the edge of the fabric - something like 1/16 from the edge or about 3  threads. Scan down a bit further to see some of my top-stitching if you'd like!

Continue adding strips until the entire foundation fabric is covered.

I don't take time to pin - but if you do great! I just eyeball about a 1/4 inch overlap and stitch the strips down. I also don't take the time to iron every strip as I go, but feel free if you want to!

You can use regular strings instead of selvedges - Start with one strip face up on the foundation, lay a second strip face down over the first and sew 1/4 seam. Press the string open, then lay another sting on top and sew down. Because we're using a large foundation, you do have to press each strip to keep everything laying flat and even.

Here's a picture (that would upload!) showing the foundation side - see how each string extends past the edge of the foundation? See how I started at the right side (top corner in photo) with a small bit and each strip has the machine edge towards this corner?

foundation string piecing back side

When you've covered the entire foundation fabric with strings or selvedges, you'll have a rather interesting piece of quilting with uneven edges. Trim off the overhanging bits, squaring up the corner as you go.

Next lay the fabric out right side down, then fold one side to the other so the two short sides are together. Take a length of selvedge about 1-1/2" wide and lay it face down, cut side to this edge. There will be at least 5 layers here so a walking foot is a good idea and sew a generous 1/4" to 3/8" seam. (You should be sewing with right sides out for this step!)

You now have a tube with the inside one piece of fabric, pieced on the outside. The seam is on the striped side, and needs to be covered up! That's why you added that piece of selvedge!  Fold the selvedge over the seam and top stitch it down. Go slowly because it is a tube and easy to catch extra fabric!

Be careful when stitching because you'll have to turn the bag inside out as you progress along!

turn the bag inside out as you sew the seam - that prevents you from catching extra fabric!

Check your work - make sure the seam lays flat, and you didn't bunch up the fabric as you were sewing.

Turn the bag so the right side is out, and arrange the covered seam to where it will look best. In some cases, it might be best along the side, other times in the back centre. Line up the top and bottom edges, trim if necessary, then sew a 1/4" seam.

first step of french seam. Stitch right sides out!

Clip the beginning and ending of the seam allowance.

Turn the bag inside out and finger press the bottom seam. Sew a 3/8" seam to enclose the cut edges. If you need more details on this step, see my tutorial here. You should have a french seam which looks like this:

French seam

You need to bind the top edge of the bag.  Use your favourite binding technique, or follow try using selvedges!! I used a minimum 1" wide selvedge for this step. Sew the strip right sides facing to the inside of the bag, then turn the strip over to the front and top stitch it down. Easy, right?

Where should the handles go?

Because each bag is a different size, I lay the handle fabric at the open edge where it looks good, then measure the distance to each side. Use the same measurements for the second side of the bag! I tend to misplace things like measuring tapes, so I use my hands for reference. Most bags look great one hand width from the side seam.

Next add handles. I used minimum 2" selvedges for this. Fold the cut side over about 1/4", then fold the selvedge on top and pin along the edge. Fold under about 1/2" from the end and pin at the measurement you determined from the side, and about 1 inch below the binding. Taking care not to twist the handle, pin the other end of the handle to the bag. Repeat for the other side.

Sew the handle, beginning at one pinned end at the binding. Sew across the handle then make a large X to secure all the ends, then stitch along the handle length to the other end and make another X. Continue sewing the handle around to the first X.

It sounds complicated here, but you'll see it when you sit down at the machine - trust me!

Repeat for the second handle and admire your work! Congratulations! Another project finished, and you've used some scraps from the bin, yay!!

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