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Pocketful Zippered Picnic Tote: Outdoor Living with Fabric.com

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Today, we're rounding out our week of Outdoor Living with a super tote for the ultimate summer excursion: the picnic! You simply cannot let the season slip away without at least one day of dining al fresco! We've had several requests for picnic carryalls, and think this is one everyone will love. It's lightly insulated with thermal batting to help keep your food warm or cold. There are plenty of interior pockets, in a variety of sizes, all in easy-care PUL. And the inset zipper across the top provides a secure closure so even if the tote tips, your picnic doesn't spill.

As with the rest of our Outdoor Living with Fabric.com projects, this picnic tote features a bold exterior print in indoor/outdoor fabric for wipe-clean care. From Richloom, this fabric's design has a great retro feel and cool colors that makes it pretty enough use every day.

Speaking of all those other projects... did you know all the related articles within any series are listed at the bottom of each project page? Simply scroll to the bottom to find a handy list.  

This tote zips closed. But if regular zippers make you shiver, and the thought of an inset zipper makes you want to run screaming from your sewing machine, we are here to calm your fears. Of course, we have full tutorials on standard and invisible zippers, and today's step-by-step instructions show you an inset zipper is easier than you ever thought. That's always our goal here at Sew4Home: demystifying and deconstructing to prove you can do it!

All five days of Outdoor Living have been sponsored by our friends at Fabric.com and we thank them for their support. Each project in the series is designed to give you both sewing and shopping inspiration. If you've never visited Fabric.com or haven't been back in awhile, there's always something new to discover, like the Deal of the Day on their home page as well as the Just Arrived section for the newest bargains. 

Our bag finishes at approximately 15" high x 18" wide at the base and 23" wide at the top x 5" in depth with 11" handle loops.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies


NOTE: Inventory shifts constantly, and some fabric may not be in-stock when you first visit. However, there are other color options as well as re-stock dates listed for each fabric. 

Getting Started

  1. From the fabric for the exterior (Wilder in Graphite in our sample), fussy cut the following: 
    TWO 24" wide x 18½" high rectangles for the main tote panels
    TWO 9" wide x 11" high rectangles for the exterior pockets
    NOTE: We fussy cut our pocket panels to match the center motif of our fabric. This is optional. 
    TWO 24" x 2 strips for the top facing
    FOUR 24" x 1½" strips for the inset zipper
    TWO 4" x 2½" rectangles for the zipper tabs
  2. From the fabric for the lining (Ivory PUL in our sample), cut the following:
    TWO 24" wide x 17½" high rectangles for the lining panels
    TWO 36" wide x 9½" high rectangles for the lining pockets
  3. From the interfacing, cut the following:
    TWO 24" x 18½" rectangles
    TWO 9" x 11 rectangles
  4. From the thermal batting, cut TWO 24" x 17½" rectangles.
  5. From the fusible fleece, cut TWO 1½" x 1½" squares for the zipper tabs.
  6. From the webbing, cut the following:
    FOUR 18½" lengths for the body straps
    TWO 30" lengths for the handles
  7. Cut the fold over elastic into TWO 24" lengths.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Fuse exterior panels

  1. Find the two 24" x 18½" exterior fabric panels and the two 24" x 18½" interfacing rectangles.
  2. Following manufacturer's instructions, fuse an interfacing panel to each fabric panel. 

    NOTE: The interfacing will likely not completely adhere to the indoor/outdoor fabric since your iron's temperature setting should be lowered for this type of fabric. That's okay, just press it enough to get it to stay in place. It will be secured within the seams.

Create and attach the exterior pockets

  1. Find the two 9" x 11 pocket panels and the 9" x 11" interfacing panels. 
  2. Following manufacturer's instructions, fuse an interfacing panel to each fabric panel. 
  3. Only the top and bottom edges will be finished; the sides will be hidden under the straps. Along the bottom edge of each pocket panel, fold up the raw edge ½" and pin in place. 
  4. Along the top edge of each pocket panel, fold back the raw edge ½" and lightly press. Fold an additional 1" and pin in place, creating a full hem.
  5. Topstitch the top hem in place, running the seam close to the inside folded edge.
  6. Find the two interfaced exterior panels. Place them right side up and flat on your work surface. Place a pocket right side up on each exterior panel. The pocket should be positioned 3½" up from the bottom raw edge of the exterior panel and centered side to side, which is 7½" in from each side. Pin each pocket in place, bringing all pins to the right side of the fabric. 
  7. Edgestitch along just the bottom folded edge of each pocket. 
  8. Find the four 18½" lengths of webbing. 
  9. Position one length over each raw side edge of each pocket. The webbing should be centered over the pocket's raw edge, which will put the outer edge of the webbing 6½" from the raw side edge of the exterior panel. The ends of the webbing lengths should be flush with the top and bottom raw edges of the exterior panel. 
  10. Pin the four lengths of webbing in place, leaving the top 2-3" loose.
  11. Find the four D-rings. 
  12. At the top of each length of webbing, slip a D-ring into place. 
  13. Fold the raw end of the webbing down over the D-ring, hiding the raw end behind the webbing itself. There should be 2" from the top raw edge of the fabric panel to the top folded edge of the webbing. 
  14. From the base of the D-ring, measure down 1" and place a pin horizontally. This marks the top ending point of your webbing stitch line. 
  15. Repeat to place a D-ring at the top of each of the four lengths of webbing. 
  16. Re-thread the machine with thread to match the webbing in the top and bobbin. 
  17. Lengthen your stitch. 
  18. Topstitch each webbing strap in place, staying just ⅛" from the edge. Start at the bottom, stitch up one side.
  19. Stop at the 1" mark, pivot, stitch across - stopping ⅛" from the opposite edge. We stitched back and forth at this horizontal line several times as it will be a key stress point for the strap. Pivot, and stitch down the opposite edge to complete. 

Create the inset zipper unit

  1. Find the zipper and the four 24" x 1½" zipper trim strips.
  2. On each zipper trim strip, fold back each end ½" and press in place.
  3. Place one trim strip right side up on your work surface. Place the zipper, also right side up. The trim strip should be centered on the zipper. The raw edge of the strip should be flush with the edge of the top zipper tape.  
  4. Find a second trim strip. Place this trim strip wrong side down on the zipper. You have sandwiched the zipper between the two strips. The two trim strips are right sides together and their folded ends are flush with one another. Pin in place through all the layers along just the top edge.
  5. Stitch through all the layers along the one side. As with most zipper insertions we do here at S4H, start with the zipper about half way open. Stitch to the middle, where you're approaching the zipper pull. Stop with your needle in the down position. Lift up your presser foot. Twist your fabric around slightly in order to be able to carefully close the zipper. Re-position your fabric and finish sewing to the end. 

    NOTE: We used our regular presser foot and shifted our needle position to the left to get close to the zipper teeth. You could also use a Zipper foot, but with the "chunkier" sport-type zipper, we wanted to be a bit farther away from the teeth (about ¼" from the teeth) than with a more standard zipper, and we found using the edge of our regular presser foot was a good guide to run along the edge of the zipper teeth. 
  6. Fold the two trim pieces away from the zipper teeth so these two pieces are now wrong sides together. The remaining long raw edges should be flush as should the folded-in ends. Press flat. We also pinned the raw edges together; it helps keep everything in place when working with the heavier indoor/outdoor fabric.
  7. Repeat to attach the remaining two zipper trim strips to the opposite side of the zipper, taking care to make sure the ends of this second set of trim strips are exactly aligned with the first set. 
  8. Stitch this second side of the zipper unit in place.
  9. Press both sets of trim pieces away from the zipper and lightly pin to hold in place.
  10. Along both sides, edgestitch across the folded ends, then pivot and edgestitch along the zipper seam. You are stitching through all the layers.
  11. Find the two 4" x 2½" zipper tabs, and the 1½" x 1½" fusible fleece squares.
  12. Place a fleece rectangle on the wrong side of each zipper tab. It should be ½" from one short end and centered side to side. Following manufacturer's instructions, fuse the squares in place. 
  13. Place one tab right sides together with the wrong side of the stop end of the zipper. The tab should be centered within the zipper strip and the end of the tab should be flush with the actual metal stop at the end of the zipper teeth. Pin in place.
  14. This is the positioning as viewed from the back (the wrong side) of the zipper unit.
  15. This is the positioning as viewed from the front (the right side) of the zipper unit.
  16. With the zipper facing up (so the tab is underneath), sew the tab to the end of the zipper. Run the seam right below the folded and edgestitched ends of the zipper tape. You are just stitching across the width of the zipper itself.
  17. Fold up the tab then fold in the sides of the tab so they are aligned with the width of the zipper. Then fold down the top raw edge to create a final finished edge and fold the tab in half. The folded-down edge of the tab should sit just below the folded and edgestitched ends of the zipper unit. Adjust the fold of the tab as necessary to create this placement. The folded side edges of the tab should also be flush. Pin in place.
  18. Edgestitch around all four sides of the tab to secure.
  19. Repeat to attach the remaining tab to the opposite end of the zipper, trimming away the excess zipper tape ends as necessary.

Assemble the exterior front and back and box the bottom corners

  1. With right sides together, pin together the front and back exterior panels, carefully matching the webbing ends along the bottom.
  2. Stitch both sides and across the bottom, using ½" seam allowance. Remember to pivot at the corners.
  3. With the bag still wrong side out, the next step is to box the bottom corners. Our bag is designed to have 5" sides and base. To create this width, we figured our corners at 2½"
  4. If you are new to boxed corners, check out our tutorial for step-by-step instructions. We recommend a double line of stitching to reinforce the corners of the tote.
  5. Fold back the upper raw edge of the exterior bag ½" and press. Lightly pin to hold in place. 
  6. Set the exterior bag aside.

Create the lining and its pocket panel

  1. Find the two 24" x 17½" PUL lining panels and the two 24" x 17½" thermal batting panels. Place a PUL panel on top of each batting panel. Lightly pin together the layers. These two layers will be quilted together. 
  2. With your clear ruler and fabric pencil, create stitching lines across each panel. To do this, start at the right 17½" side, measure in 3" and draw a vertical line from top to bottom.
  3. Draw a second parallel vertical line 2½" to the left of of the first line. 
  4. Repeat to draw an additional SIX parallel vertical lines at 2½" intervals. The final line should be 3" from the opposite raw side edge. There should be EIGHT drawn lines total on EACH panel.
  5. Place horizontal pins along each drawn line to hold the layers securely.
  6. Lengthen your stitch. 
  7. Stitch along each drawn line. We used our Janome Walking foot to keep the layers from shifting. 
  8. Set these quilted panels aside. 
  9. Find the two 36" x 9½" PUL pocket panels. Lay them flat on your work surface. 
  10. Find the two 24" lengths of fold-over elastic. 
  11. Find the center of each elastic and the center of each PUL panel. Align these two points to match up an elastic to each panel.
  12. Fold the elastic over the top raw edge of the PUL, and stretch the elastic so it lays evenly across the top. Stitch the fold-over elastic in place, using a ¼" seam allowance. This is gather up the top edge of the pocket panel slightly. Repeat with the second panel.
  13. Along the bottom edge of each PUL pocket panel, fold back the raw edge ½" and pin in place. Machine baste the fold in place.
  14. Run a gathering stitch across this entire bottom folded edge on each panel
    NOTE: If you are new to the techniques, check out our tutorials on machine basting and machine gathering
  15. Find two quilted lining panels. Place them right side up and flat on your work surface.
  16. Place a pocket panel right side up on each base panel. The bottom edge of the pocket panel should sit 3½" up from the bottom raw edge of the quilted panel. Pull the pocket panel's gathering stitch evenly until the two panels align side to side. Pin each pocket panel in place through all the layers across the bottom. Then, make sure the raw side edges of the pocket panel and the quilted panel are flush pin along each side.
  17. Edgestitch along the entire bottom of the pocket panel to secure it to the base panel.
  18. The quilting lines of the base panels will become the guides for the pocket panel's dividing lines. 
  19. Follow the drawing below to create four dividing lines on each panel. The dividing lines should be identical on each panel. This way, when the panels are sewn together, the pocket sizes will be opposite one another, ie. larger pockets opposite smaller pockets. This will help keep the bag evenly balanced when loaded.
  20. As above with the quilted panel, place horizontal pins along each drawn line to hold all the layers in place. 
  21. Using a Walking foot if possible and with a lengthened stitch, sew along each drawn line. 
    NOTE: For a professional finish, we stitched up to the base of the fold over elastic with thread to match the PUL, then re-threaded with black to match the elastic and stitched that final small section. 

Attach the zipper unit to the lining panels

  1. Find the zipper unit. Place it right side up on the right side of one of the lining/pocket panels. 
  2. The zipper unit should be centered side-to-side on the lining panel with one side of the zipper unit flush with the top raw edge of the panel. 
  3. Find one of the two 24" x 2" facing strips. Place it right side down over the zipper unit. The ends of the facing should be flush with the sides of the lining and one side should be flush with top raw edges of the lining and zipper unit. Pin in place through all the layers.
  4. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch across through all the layers. 
  5. Repeat to attach the remaining raw edge of the zipper unit to the remaining lining panel. Sandwiching the zipper unit as above with the remaining facing strip. 
  6. Place the two lining panels right sides together, sandwiching the zipper unit between the layers and matching the ends of the facing as well as the sides and bottom edges of the panels. Pin in place along both sides and across the bottom.
  7. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners. 
  8. Following the same steps as above for the exterior tote, measure for and make 5" boxed corners.

    NOTE: Again, If you are new to boxed corners, check out our tutorial for step-by-step instructions.
  9. Fold down the top raw edge of the lining facing ½" all around. Press in place.
  10. Again because of the thickness of the indoor/outdoor fabric we machine basted this fold in place to hold it securely. 
  11. With the lining still wrong side out, find the exterior bag, which should be right side out. 
  12. Slip the lining inside the exterior bag so the two are now wrong sides together. Smooth the lining all the down into the exterior bag so the bottom boxed corners are aligned.
  13. Carefully align the top folded edges of both the exterior and the lining. If they are not perfectly flush, re-fold as necessary and re-press. Pin the layers together around the entire top opening. 
  14. If necessary, re-thread with thread to match the exterior fabric. Lengthen the stitch.
  15. Topstitch around the entire top opening, using a ¼" seam allowance. We used our Quarter Inch Seam foot.
  16. Remove the machine basting from the facing.

Add handle loops and zipper pull

  1. Find the two 30" handle loops.
  2. On the bag front, slip each end of the handle loop through the top of a D-ring. Insert from front to back so the raw end will be hidden to the back of the webbing. Pull each end through 1½" and pin to secure. 
  3. Double check that the webbing hasn't twisted on itself. You want a smooth loop.
  4. Re-thread the machine with thread to match the webbing in the top and bobbin. 
  5. Pull the webbing away from bag and zig zag across the back of the webbing to secure each raw end in place. 
  6. Repeat to attach the loop on the back bag panel.
  7. Find the 12" length of thin ribbon. Fold the ribbon in half and slip it through the hole in the zipper pull. Loop it back on itself – as if attaching a gift tag. Cut the fold so there are four thin tails. 


Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Debbie Guild

We received compensation from Fabric.com, and some of the materials featured here or used in this project were provided free of charge by Fabric.com. All opinions are our own.



Comments (5)

Whitney said:
Whitney's picture

I can't help but notice this project is very similar to the guilded chevron tote. My question is, they both finish at about the same size, but the panels for this bag are 1" narrower. Was this a correction of the Chevron tote, or was this an error on this one? I love making these for family and friends so I just want to make sure I have the measurements right.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Whitney - the design of the two projects is similar. The sizes are correct for each. The Gilded Tote is meant to just be a shopper, so there is a bit of extra space to either end of the inset zipper, which allows for a flatter finish, but does leave slight openings at either end. For the Picnic Tote, we wanted the zipper to close as fully as possible (as fully as you can with an inset zip) so its thermal capability was as intact as it could be, and so narrowed the panels. 

Momo said:
Momo's picture

It's a lovely project, but our local fabric store, the big chain we all know, only carries the PUL that is specifically for babies, nothing else.  I am reluctant to mail order fabric, and shipping costs are prohibitive.  

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Momo -- this is standard PUL; you could certainly use the fabric classified for baby items. Ordering fabric online is really easy and we love it - to each their own, but Fabric.com has always been stellar to work with. Shipping is free on orders of $35 or more. 

Sewandsewon said:
Sewandsewon's picture

Awesome. Thanks so much.  You guys have done it again and gone over the top.

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