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The Quintessential Plaid Tote

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Quintessential: representing the most perfect or typical example of a quality or class. We may be blowin' our own horn a bit here, but we absolutely love this plaid tote, and we really believe it has all the traits needed to rocket to the top of the charts for cool and classic totes. We found our perfect plaid at Fabric.com. It's reminiscent of a vintage Pendleton® "49'er" jacket. We also show you its companion plaid in shades of pink. Precision cutting – both straight and on the bias, piping accents, and corded handles are just a few of the styling particulars that give our tote its iconic appeal.

We've pictured the tote relaxing in countryside locales as well as shopping in the urban hustle. It obviously has the fashion muscle to look great in any situation. 

Thanks to our easy instructions, classic does not automatically mean complex. Though we recommend reading through the instructions carefully before beginning, and taking care with the stitching details, we still feel the project is appropriate for even newer sewers. 

In additional to this beautiful blue and tan palette, this same plaid is available in a pink and camel combination.


The tote finishes at approximately 17" high x 18" wide x 5" deep with an approximate 8" handle loop.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

  • 2 yards of 54"+ heavy-weight wool-style plaid for the exterior; we used 54" Mirage in Stillwater (52% cotton/48% polyester) from the Pennington Plaid I collection by Kaslen Home Decor
    NOTE: The yardage recommendation above is based on our plaid selection and includes extra for the pattern matching and bias cutting for the base, flap and handles.
  • 1 yard of 44"+ wide quilting-weight cotton for the lining; we used 44" Kona Cotton in Parchment 
  • 1½ yards of 45"+ wide medium weight fusible interfacing; we used Pellon Décor Bond
  • 1½ yards of 20" wide lightweight fusible interfacing; we used Pellon ShirTailor
  • 1 yard of 1½" piping cord** (also called welt); we use Conso cotton piping in a size #8, purchased locally
    NOTE: **At these larger sizes, we found two distinctly different sizing methods. Some companies used the diameter of the cut end, which is this case is ½". Others used the circumference, which for our sample is 1½". 
  • 1 yard of ¼" boning - this is optional, but is what allows the handles to stand up on their own; we used Dritz ¼" white boning
  • TWO packages (3 yards) of ½" inch piping in a coordinating accent color; we used Wrights Maxi Piping in Black
  • ONE 9" standard zipper to match the lining fabric; we used a tan polyester zipper, purchased locally
  • ONE magnetic purse snap; we used a Clover ¾" Snap in Antique Gold (#0334117) from Fabric.com
  • All purpose thread to match fabric
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Tape measure
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Straight pins
  • Hand sewing needle

Getting Started

  1. From the plaid for the exterior, precisely fussy cut all the pieces. We've included an illustration above, which shows you our cutting plan. Remember, not all plaids are perfectly square. Pick your center point, then always measure both horizontally and vertically to both sides to plan your cut. 
  2. When cutting the pieces on the bias, you will also need to be very careful with your measuring; you cannot simply measure through the center of the plaid assuming it is square and the diagonal is a perfect 45˚. It is most important to make sure the "triangle" that will be at the center front of the bias cut base section perfectly aligns with the straight plaid section directly above it. On our bag drawing above, you can see how we lined up a blue "triangle" of plaid with a tan "square" of plaid.
  3. The exterior cuts are as follows:
    TWO 10" high x 24" wide rectangles for the exterior top
    TWO 5" high x 24" wide strips for the facing of the lining
    TWO 11½" high x 24" wide rectangles, on the bias, for the exterior base
    ONE 10½" high x 5" wide rectangle, on the bias, for the flap

    TWO 3½" high x 19" wide strips, on the bias, for the handles
  4. From the fabric for the lining, cut the following:
    TWO 16½" x 24" rectangles for the main lining
    ONE 11" x 16" rectangle for the lining pocket
    ONE 5" x 10½" strip, on the bias, for the flap lining
    NOTE: We recommend also cutting the flap lining on the bias so it curves just as nicely as the exterior plaid.
  5. From the medium weight fusible interfacing, cut the following:
    TWO 10" x 24" rectangles
    TWO 11½" x 24" rectangles
    TWO 5" x 24" rectangles
    ONE 10½" x 5" rectangle
  6. From the lightweight fusible, cut TWO 16½" x 24" rectangles.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board


  1. The amount of interfacing needed is somewhat up to your personal preference and the weight of the plaid your select. 
  2. For our sample we followed manufacturer's instructions to fuse the medium weight interfacing to the wrong side of all four exterior panels, the two facing strips, and the flap lining. We then followed manufacturer's instructions to fuse the lightweight interfacing to the wrong side of the two lining panels.
  3. The handles and lining pocket were not interfaced, nor was the front of the flap.
    NOTE: In some of the photos below, you may see non-interfaced panels. This is because we sometimes experiment with various interfacing options as we build our prototypes. We are not always able to capture photos of all these options. The fusing notes given above and the cuts shown above in the Getting Started section are what we recommend for our specified fabrics. 

Create the exterior bag

  1. Find the four exterior panels: two plain and two cut on the bias. 
  2. Cut TWO 24" lengths of piping. Place one length along the bottom raw edge of each plain exterior panel, aligning the piping's insertion tape with the raw edge of the fabric. Machine baste the piping in place.
  3. Place the fabric panels right sides together as two pairs: one bias and one plain in each pair. Align the bottom raw edge of the plain panel with the top raw edge of the bias panel. Pin both pairs in place.
  4. The piping will be sandwiched between the two layers.
  5. Using a Zipper foot, stitch across both pairs, running your seam as close as possible to the piping. Press open the seam allowances.
  6. Place the two sewn exterior panels right sides together, aligning all the raw edges and carefully matching up the horizontal seams. Pin in place along both sides and across the bottom.
  7. Attach a standard presser foot. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners. 
  8. Create 5" box corners, which means your "box" will be half that size or 2½".
    NOTE: If you are new to this technique, check out our tutorial: How To Box Corners.
  9. Turn the exterior bag right side out, push out the corners and press well.
  10. Cut a 48" length of piping. Pin it around the top raw edge of the exterior bag. We finished our ends along a side seam. As with the other lengths, the insertion tape of the piping should be flush with the raw edge of the fabric. Pin in place.
    NOTE: If you are new to working with and/or finishing the ends of piping, check out our full step-by-step piping tutorial.
  11. Using a Zipper foot, machine baste the piping in place, running the seam as close to the piping as possible.
  12. Press back the top raw edge so the raw edge is hidden against the wrong side of the fabric and the piping creates a finished top edge all around. Press well. You can also lightly pin the folded edge in place.
  13. Set aside the exterior bag

Create the lining pocket

  1. Find the 11" wide x 16" high lining pocket panel and the 9" zipper. Measure 3" down from the top raw edge of the fabric panel and cut across horizontally, dividing the panel into two sections. The zipper will go between the two sections. 
  2. Place the small top section right sides together with the top edge of the zipper. The zipper should be centered side to side. Pin in place.
  3. Using a Zipper foot and a ¼" seam allowance, stitch across through both layers.

    As with most zipper insertions, start with the zipper half way open. Stitch to the middle, where you can start to feel you're approaching the zipper pull. Stop with your needle in the down position. Twist your fabric around slightly and carefully close the zipper. Re-position and finish sewing to the end. 
  4. Press the fabric up and away from the zipper.
  5. Repeat to stitch the top edge of the large bottom pocket section to the bottom edge of the zipper. 
  6. As with the small section, press the large section away from the zipper teeth. Edgestitch along both sides of the zipper.
  7. Fold up the bottom edge of the pocket panel to align with the top edge. The pocket panel should be right sides together. Pin along both sides. 
  8. Re-attach a standard presser foot. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch the sides. 
  9. Trim the seam allowances back to just under ¼". 
  10. Turn the pocket right sides out and press. Using a ¼" seam allowance, topstitch along each side. 
  11. This seam encloses the unfinished edges of the pocket so there are no exposed edges inside the pocket. A bit like a French seam, but in reverse.

Complete the lining

  1. Find the two 16½" x 24" lining panels and the two 5" x 24" facing strips (which are in the exterior fabric).
  2. Place one lining panel right side up and flat on your work surface. 
  3. Place the finished pocket along the top edge of this panel. Center the pocket side to side and align the top raw edge of the panel with the raw edges of the pocket. Pin or hand baste the pocket in place.
  4. Place one facing strip right sides together along the top of the lining panel, sandwiching the pocket between the layers. Pin in place. 
  5. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch across through all the layers.
  6. Press the seam allowance up towards the facing.
  7. Topstitch ¼" from the seam within the facing strip. We used our Quarter Inch Seam footThis helps secure the seam allowance in position and offers some extra stability for the pocket at the seam line. 
  8. Repeat to attach the remaining facing strip to the top of the remaining lining panel. 
  9. Place the two lining panels right sides together, aligning all the raw edges, being especially careful to match up the facing strips. Pin along both sides and across the bottom. 
  10. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners. 
  11. As above for the exterior bag, create 5" box corners in the lining. 

    NOTE: As mentioned above, If you are new to this technique, check out our tutorial: How To Box Corners.

Create the flap

  1. Find the interfaced flap lining and the flap exterior. 
  2. Measure and mark the position for the male end on the magnetic snap on one end of the flap lining. The position should be 1½" up from the raw edge and centered side to side.
  3. Make small slits and insert the male half of the magnetic snap. 
  4. Secure on the wrong side of the flap lining.

    NOTE: If you are new to inserting magnetic snaps, check out our full step-by-step tutorial: How to Insert a Magnetic Snap Closure
  5. Place the flap lining right sides together with the flap exterior. Pin along both sides and across the bottom where the magnetic snap is placed.
  6. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners. The opposite end remains open and raw. 
  7. Clip the corners and turn the flap right side out. Press flat.
  8. Lengthen the stitch and topstitch along the seam, using a ¼" seam allowance. We used our Quarter Inch Seam foot
  9. Set the finished flap aside.

Create the handles

  1. Find the two 3½" x 19" bias cut fabric strips, the piping cord, and the boning (if using boning). Cut TWO 13" lengths from the cording and TWO 19" lengths from the boning. Tape all the ends of the piping cord to keep them from unraveling.
  2. Press one fabric strip in half lengthwise to set a center crease.
  3. Press in each long raw edge to meet in the middle at the crease line.  
  4. Unfold the strip flat so all three crease lines are visible. 
  5. Re-fold the strip right sides together. Measure 3" in from each end and place a pin. 
  6. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch from each pin mark out to the end of the strip. So you now have a strip with a 3" seam on each end.
  7. Press the two short seams open, then continue pressing the length of the strip, following along your original crease lines. You've created a casing sleeve for the handle. Turn it right side out. Press again if necessary.
  8. Slip one end of the cording into each end of the handle sleeve. Each end of the cording should sit approximately ½" beyond the seam stop. 
  9. Hand stitch the cording in place. You just need a few tacking stitches.
  10. Repeat to secure the opposite end of the cord in the same manner. Make sure the cord lays flat prior to hand-tacking the second end.
  11. Fold the entire sleeve so the two folded edges meet. The cording should slide to one side, allowing you to pin the edges together. The fabric is thick, so you'll need to futz with this step a bit. Fold in as close as you can get to the cording then pin in place. 
  12. Using a Zipper foot, edgestitch the along the length of the sleeve, starting and stopping the seam at the ends of the cording or approximately 2½" from each sleeve end. 

    NOTE: As with the folding step above, this seam is tricky because of the thickness of the fabric and the dimension of the cording. The good thing is that both the fabric and the piping cord are soft, allowing you to "mush" them to one side as you SLOWLY stitch the seam (yes, "mush" is a highly technical sewing term). We also reduced the pressure a bit on our presser foot to allow more flexibility. 
  13. Repeat to create the second handle. 
  14. If using boning, thread one length through the open end of each sleeve, gently working it around until it comes out the opposite end. Try to keep the boning resting against the edgestitched seam. If necessary, you can lightly pin each end in place against the fabric. 
    NOTE: Remember, the boning is optional, but it does allow the handles a bit more rigidity so they easily stand up on their own. Boning is actually kind of fun to work with, and it is meant to be sewn across, so don't sweat it when you stitch your final topstitching seam. 

Insert the second half of magnetic snap

  1. Find the exterior bag and the finished flap. 
  2. Measure from side seam to side seam to find the exact center of the bag front. Mark this position with a pin.
  3. Center the flap against the front of the bag. There is some flexibility in exactly where the flap in placed. We accounted for ½" for a seam allowance at the top raw edge of the flap plus an additional 1" of "play" to allow the flap to bridge from the back to the front of the bag. So our flap extended 1½" above the top piped edge of the exterior bag. 
  4. Our snap center point (as matched to the flap) is now 7" down from the top piped edge of the bag. 
  5. We marked it on an intersection of the plaid, and inserted the female half of the magnetic snap.

    NOTE: As mentioned above, if you are new to inserting magnetic snaps, check out our full step-by-step tutorial: How to Insert a Magnetic Snap Closure.


  1. Find the lining bag. Turn it wrong side out. 
  2. Press back the top raw edge ½" all around.
  3. Find the exterior bag. It should be right side out. 
  4. Slip the lining inside the exterior so the two are now wrong sides together. Align the side seams and bottom boxed corners. 
  5. Along the top, the folded edge of the lining should sit right below the piped edge of the exterior. If it does not align, adjust the lining fold all around as needed for a perfect fit. 
  6. Find the flap.
  7. Slip the raw end of the flap between the exterior and lining at the center of the tote back. The end should be inserted approximately ½" down between the layers. Pin in place.
  8. Find the handles.
  9. Curve one handle into a loop. Slip the ends between the exterior and lining so there is approximately 1½" from the inner edge of the handle to the outer edge of the flap. Each end should be inserted approximately 1" down between the layers. Pin in place. 
  10. Repeat to attach the remaining handle at the center front of the tote, being careful to match the position of this handle with the back handle. Pin in place.
  11. Lengthen the stitchi and topstitch all the way around the top of the tote. To keep our stitching straight, we used our Quarter Inch Seam foot, running the guide along the piping. You could also use a Zipper foot to get in close to the piping. 


Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Leah Wand


Comments (8)

MEMERE said:
MEMERE's picture

Loved the plaid tote! Can I sew it on my Skyline S5 which does not have the AcuFeed?  

My mother taught me years ago plaids HAVE to match.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@ MEMERE - The Skyline S5 should work great, but you may want to use a Walking foot if you have any issues with the plaid shifting. This plaid is lighter weight so we didn't need a Walking foot, but if you choose a thicker plain, it may be a good idea.

wisconsingal said:
wisconsingal's picture

Beautifully constructed project. On my "to do" list for certain!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@ wisconsingal - fabulous! So glad you are inspired. Let us know how yours turns out!

dollystar@gmail.com said:
dollystar@gmail.com's picture

Fantástico o tutorial Dessa sacola. Obrigada por compartilhar!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@ dollystar - thank you - so glad you like it!

bobbie jo said:
bobbie jo's picture

What a beautiful bag! Need to get a 1/4" seam foot without a doubt now.  I use Dritz WashAway Wonder Tape all the time (I use it on zippers EVERY time) - it sould work well on the piping, too.

Thank you for all the consistently awesome content.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:

@ bobbie jo - so glad you like it... it's one of our very favorites. Yes!!! Get a Quarter Inch Seam foot - love them!

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