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A Romantic Retreat with Rowan & Free Spirit Fabrics: How To Box Corners

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Okay - true confession time. In school, I was a theater rat... always in plays and musicals, always taking artsy-fartsy classes, including "How To Mime" or, as I remember it, "How To Pretend You're Stuck In A Box And Look Foolish Doing It." It's true, unless you're Marcel Marceau, you look really silly doing mime. So... no mime today. But, we are still making a box. In particular, a boxed corner. This is a sewing technique everyone should have in her/his arsenal. The boxed corner creates space in something that would otherwise be flat. For example, in a tote bag, you have a lot more room to put all your stuff if you create boxed corners. Basically, any sewn corner can be turned into a boxed corner with a few simple steps. 

If you sew two squares together, then turn them right side out, the square is still flat. If you were to stuff it with some filler, it would make a nice knife-edge pillow. If you want to turn your flat square into something with more dimension, you can add boxed corners.

We love the box corner here at S4H. Below are just a few projects made more appealing and functional thanks to their boxed corners. 

Kitchen Chair Cushions 

Vinyl Color Block Tote 

Structured Fabric Baskets 

Grocery Bag 

Toiletry Travel Bag

The basic box corner

We always use a light colored fabric with a bright colored thread so you can clearly see the steps of our technique tutorials. You would use the fabric of your choice with coordinating thread. 

In this example, we're assuming we’re working on a project that has sewn corners and is shaped like a square or rectangle. If you’re following a pattern or tutorial, the boxed corners (as well as the exact measurements) will be indicated.

  1. Place the fabric right side together.
  2. Using a straight stitch, and the indicated seam allowance, sew the side and bottom seams, pivoting at each corner. We used a ½" seam allowance.    
  3. With the sewn fabric still right sides together, match the side seam with the bottom (or adjacent) seam to create a point or "peak." Place a pin in the seams to hold them together. It is very important that you exactly match the seams; that is what will make the lines of your finished corner look good. 
  4. Mark the depth of the boxed corner with a fabric marking pen or pencil and a straight ruler, positioning your ruler so the depth is measured from side to side at the base of the "peak." Our boxed corner depth is 3” (more on how to determine measurements below).
  5. Sew across the peak on the drawn line. Be sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of the seam.
    NOTE: Depending on the project you’re sewing, you may want sew across the peak two or three times to reinforce for added strength at corner. This would be an especially good practice for a bag.
  6. Trim away the peak to ¼" - ½" from the line of stitching.
  7. Gently pull apart the corner at the seamline to see the boxed corner take shape.
  8. Turn the fabric right side out to really see what your finished boxed corner looks like!

Cut-out box corner

As with many sewing techniques, there’s an alternate way to create a boxed corner. Some people prefer to cut a square from each corner, then bring the seams together to sew the corner. You get the exact same finish as above, just in a different way. You may find this to be a better approach to sewing a boxed corner with heavier-weight fabrics. 

  1. Place the fabric right sides together on a flat surface.
  2. Measure, mark and then cut equal size squares from each corner. In our example, we cut 2" x 2" squares.
  3. Using a straight stitch, and the indicated seam allowance, sew the side and bottom (or adjacent) seams separately (because you just cut away the corner you would have pivoted at!). 
  4. In the same manner as the basic box corner above, carefully match the side seam with the bottom or adjacent seam.  Pin in place.
  5. Sew along raw edge of the corner, using a straight stitch and the indicated seam allowance. Be sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of the seam.

    NOTE: Interestingly enough, you will sometimes see pockets shaped like this (with the two bottom corners cut out) except they use just one layer of fabric. Think about a cell phone pocket inside a bag; you need depth in the pocket for the phone... solution: boxed bottom corners.

Measurements

If you’re not following a pattern or tutorial that tells you the proper measurements, you will need to do some calculating to determine the size (or depth) of your boxed corner. It’s recommended you start with a shorter distance and go from there; you can always increase the size of box corner (especially if you’ve already trimmed away the fabric), but ya can't go smaller after you've made your cuts. As always, we recommend testing any new technique on scraps prior to starting on your project.

Basic box corner

With a basic box corner, the distance from one folded edge to the other at the base of the peak is the depth of the box corner. Remember, in our example above, we sewed 3” across the peak from fold to fold, which yielded a 3" box corner.

The farther away from the peak that you draw your line and sew, the deeper the box corner will be. Using a ruler to mark the stitch line will help you determine the depth, plus it helps you stay consistent on the other corner(s). 

Cutout box corner

When you plan to use the cutout box corner method, you need to pre-determine the size of the box corner. The most important thing to remember is: the size of the square you cut away is half the size of your finished box corner. In our example above, we cut out a 2" x 2" square, which resulted in a 4" box corner. 

The other detail to remember is seam allowance. You want to use the exact same seam allowance across the box corner seam as was used for your side and bottom (or adjacent) seam allowance.

As always, accuracy in cutting is key so the box corners are consistent in size.

A few additional helpful notes to remember about box corners

  1. The deeper or larger the box seam, the shorter or more narrow the project.
  2. The smaller or shorter the box seam, the less depth you will have overall.
  3. If you’re making a tote bag, make sure to create identical box corners on your lining.

Contributors

Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly

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Comments (84)

Barbra Ann said:
Barbra Ann's picture

I like this tutorial and have looked at many including videos.  One thing I have not found is how to figure out what size to cut fabric based on desired height and length...and including depth.  I am trying to make a book pouch.  The size of the book is: 9 1/2 L x 6 3/4 Width x 1 5/8 Deep.  Please Help

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

@ Barbara Ann - ufortunately, there isn't an one-size-fits-all chart for figuring that out. There are so many variables that could affect it, such as: fabric weight, whether you want to add batting or other stabilizer, if you want to carry anything else, do you want it super snug or a loose fit. What we usually suggest is to plan a pattern using the item, the book in your case. You can cut out panels to make a prototype out of a muslin or another inexpensive fabric you have on hand - we sometimes use just plain paper or papertowels. It is not only a good way to re-engineer a project, making a prototype is also a great practice run through the steps of construction.

Barbra Ann said:
Barbra Ann's picture

Thanks for responding.  I am stuck.  I just made two book covers and neither one of them fit, both came out too small....I know it's due to the box bottom.  I just made a one layer cover (no lining or batting...that will come after I figure everything else out).  I am using 1/2" seam allowances.  I put a simple zipper to close the top, again using a 1/2" seam.  If I could just figure out how much the box bottom takes away from the height and width, then I could add those figures into the pattern and it would fit...I have a notebook full of scribbling where I have tried to do the math....Oh well, if anyone knows or even has an example I would REALLY appreciate it.

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

@ Barbra Ann - What you need to remember is that a box corner takes up both width and depth. If you want finish with a 2" box (a 2" seam that you see along the base), you need to add that amount plus your seam allowance to both the height and width of your main panel. For example (and not accounting for what you are doing along the top of your bag), if you want to finish with a bag that is 11" high x 8" wide, your panels would need to be 13-1/2" high x 10-1/2" wide (again - plus whatever you need at the top for your zipper or whatever). I can't get much more detailed than than when troubleshooting long distance.

Barbra Ann said:
Barbra Ann's picture

Thank you, that helps me to understand it a little better.  One more question, the finished width of 8...2" is added because of the 2" box, I get that part, but you have the panel cutting width as 10 1/2 instead of 10, and I'm assuming the extra 1/2 inch is for seam allowance: But, wouldn't you add 1" instead of 1/2" because there is a half inch seam allowance on "both" sides for width?

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

@ Barbra Ann - Ha! Yep - you're right, 1/2" on both sides. Working too fast when troubleshooting long distance -- another pitfall... and another great reason for always making a prototype.  Good luck.

Bethany said:
Bethany's picture

Could you explain step 3 a little more?  I am a bit confused on how to fold my fabric to get it right.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
  1. Using both hands, pinch and pull apart one bottom corner.
  2. As you keep pulling, the fabric will begin to make a little peak with the corner point at the top and a seam line running down the middle of both sides. Fold one seam allowance to the right and the other seam allowance to the left.
  3. Precisely match the two seams front to back. Work first from the wrong side, then look down inside the box/basket to see if your seams are lining up.
esta said:
esta's picture

Glad to see this tutorial.  I had made these previously many, many years ago but now I just couldn't figure out what to do.  Thank you. 

mayamagic22 said:
mayamagic22's picture

Thank you so much for this tutorial. I knew how to do, but wasnt getting the numbers right. As i needed to know the finished product size. This tutorial helped me figure out. I have a tote bag to make..:)

Taja said:
Taja's picture

I'll be making a variety of travel bags, pouches and totes for holiday gifts this year. I favour the cut-out box corner method, as everything is ready to sew after it is cut.

Seriously missing my fabric stash that I sold/donated when I downsized two years ago! Both the Free Spirit and Rowan collections offered in the giveaway are gorgeous! I can see many gifts--even a few for myself! :)

ChristyL said:
ChristyL's picture

I recently made the Sew4Home toiletries bag for my sister, loved that tutorial.  I've used the basic and cut-out box corner methods and I like them both, though I do tend to instinctively go for the basic method for some reason.

toreapage said:
toreapage's picture

I've been wanting to make some travel bags, so this will be a big help.

ASH Designs said:
ASH Designs's picture

Is there an easy way to determine the original width that I need to cut in order to create a certain depth of a corner? thanks.

jkern said:
jkern's picture

The width of your resulting bag would equal the hypotenuse of the cut-out square.  If the side of the square= 'Q', your hypotenuse = Qx the squre root of 2, or  = Qx1.41.  So if you want a 3" wide bag, the sides of your square need to be 3/1.41 = 2.12, or about 2 1/8 inches.  Then subtract your 1/2" seam allowance from your cut, and your square sides should need to be about 1 5/8".   I think.  This is just my geometry-based answer.  I haven't tried it out.  But desired length/1.41, minus seam allowance should be close.

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

@ ASH Designs - I'm sorry, but I don't quite understand your question. Are you asking about how to determine what size corner to make? If so, that is up to you based on your project (if you are designing your own item) or will be noted on a pattern or in a tutorial if you are following one of those. As we noted above, the two rules of thumb for corners are: 

  1. The deeper or larger the box seam, the shorter or more narrow the project.
  2. The smaller or shorter the box seam, the less depth you will have overall.

You could also look at something similar that you already have and measure the corner of it. 

If this was not what you were asking, I'm sorry. You could re-submit your question. 

gibbylet said:
gibbylet's picture

Thank you SO much, I tried box corners for the first time last month and I got them wrong.  This helped me figure out what it was I didn't do right, now I will feel able to try them again!

SewSealy said:
SewSealy's picture

Thank you for providing this fabulous tutorial!  Now, I can make totes, boxes, etc of ANY size and put the concepts to work.  I can't wait to make some of the samples that you provided at the beginning.  I plan on making the vinyl color block tote and the toiletry bag.  Gosh, you give us some great patterns/tutorials.  All at no charge!  This is wonderful!

Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture

I've really been in love with boxing corners lately. Seems like everything gets boxed, even my last pillow, haha. This is a great resource, I'll be bookmarking this article.

Pam @ feastsandfabrics.blogspot said:
Pam @ feastsandfabrics.blogspot's picture

Great tutorial!  I have made box corners with the 2nd method, but not the 1st.  Always good to learn a new way to do something!

Evelucia said:
Evelucia's picture

The tutorials on this site are ALL so great!  Thanks!

Hunchback said:
Hunchback's picture

I already knew that one, but thanks for all the other helpful tips and tuts. I did use loads of them. And I love all the amazing fabrics - unfortunately not or at least not easy to get in germany. But always inspirational - and sooo beautyful! Thank you!

Heidi - Grizz 'n' Dove said:
Heidi - Grizz 'n' Dove's picture

I love boxed corners! Thanks for the extra tips!

jrando said:
jrando's picture

boxed corners are amazing! i haven't seen one this good yet! Can't wait to try out the tolietry bag. Also love all the bright fabrics!

maddymazestudio said:
maddymazestudio's picture

Thanks for the great tutorial. I've never really had aproblem, but its nice to see another great way of doing something.

jane @rickrackandpolkadots.com said:
jane @rickrackandpolkadots.com's picture

Great tutorial on technique that can be used in many applications.  Thank you once again!

vanishinghitchhiker said:
vanishinghitchhiker's picture

Can't wait to try this technique out for myself... now all I need is an excuse.

elcrisovan said:
elcrisovan's picture

Thanks for the great tutorial! This technique will be great for making reusable grocery bags.

mlewisbirdbrain said:
mlewisbirdbrain's picture

I've made lots of grocery bags using both types of boxed corners.  Good advice to make them the same, I"ve messed up before and had a lopsided bag.  Still works, but not as pretty.

Christina C. said:
Christina C.'s picture

Thank you so much for this tutorial! I love the help I get from you!

Kathyatemily said:
Kathyatemily's picture

It is amazing how one little technique can add so much dimension and space to an item.  I use this when I make purses.

melody coltrane said:
melody coltrane's picture

  LOVE this tutorial!  I quickly made a lined basket with the ric rac and it turned out beautifully.  I love this site.  It is easy to go thru all the well detailed steps.  I look to see what is new daily.  Keep up the good work

luvdafroggy said:
luvdafroggy's picture

So many fantastic ideas!  Love Free Spirit fabrics; can't wait to get to my sewing machine!  Thanks.  =)

karenward17 said:
karenward17's picture

I am new to sewing and I find your tutorials extremely easy to follow and very inspiring!  I love the fabric collections from Rowan & Free Spirit because they take the guess work out of the equation for me.  I have sewn several bags for family and friends so the box corners info is especially helpful going forward.

Susan K Joyce said:
Susan K Joyce's picture

This is so helpful, my bags should turn out much smoother now!  Beautiful fabric, here's hoping!

Susan K Joyce said:
Susan K Joyce's picture

This is so helpful, my bags should turn out much smoother now!  Beautiful fabric, here's hoping!

Michele0704 said:
Michele0704's picture

This is a great tutorial !!  Can't wait to try the box corners on a new tote!

Bamom23girls said:
Bamom23girls's picture

I have fallen in love with your inspirations! My daughter isgoing to love making these!

Wendy Mrak said:
Wendy Mrak's picture

How do you enter the contests? I love your web site.Such wonderful ideas!!!!

run2thruhike said:
run2thruhike's picture

Thanks for the tutorial! It makes bags so much more spacious!

run2thruhike said:
run2thruhike's picture

Thanks for the tutorial! It makes bags so much more spacious!

meyerslemon said:
meyerslemon's picture

Wow, great tutorial--I will use on making grocery totes for sure!

Janet Pierce said:
Janet Pierce's picture

Great tutorial.  Can't wait to make the storage boxes.  I have my fabric ready to go on this one.  Going to use black and lime also.  Thanks for the ideas.

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