I have a stack of Tea Towels that I bought on various trips. Souvenirs mostly from the UK. They just sit in a drawer and never see the light of day.
The thought occurred to me to make totes bag out of them! I have tons of tote bags, but these would be unique and made into something useful.
I wrote up this tutorial so that other people might make their unused tea towels to use too. :)
First pick out a coordinating fabrics for handles and facing and iron them and your tea towel. (Launder all fabric/tea towels before beginning.) I found this nice blue swirl and a dark blu blend hiding in my fabric stash.
If your pattern is a non-directional pattern or you don’t care about one side of your bag having upside down pictures, skip down to Handles.
If your Tea Towel is directional and you want the pictures to be right side up on both sides of your bag, cut in half.
*Pinning… You may notice a distinct lack of pins in the pictures. I don’t pin unless I have to. If you need to pin before sewing, please do so. This is the last I’ll say on pinning…. so if you need pins please use them!*
Sew a roll hem in each of the edges that you just cut. One on the top edge of one piece and the other on the bottom of the other piece.
Cut two 3 inch strips from the fabric you’ve picked for the handles. Make the handles as long as you want. I wanted this to be a shoulder bag, so my handles are longer. To include a seam allowance for anchoring your handles inside your bag, be sure to cut them at least 2 inches longer than what they will measure finished.
Because my dark blue fabric was a fat quarter, I needed to piece the handle strips which is why I have 4. If you are using a fat quarter or need to piece follow along below.
If you don’t need to piece your handles skip down to “Fold your handles in half long ways…”
With right sides together, sew 2 handle pieces together along the short sides. 1/4 inch seam allowance.
Iron open the joined handle seams
Top stitch along the edge of the seam to tack down the seam allowance. This adds some stability to the handles.
Fold your handles in half long ways right sides together. Sew only along the long edge. 1/4 inch seams.
You now have 2 fabric tubes that are inside out. There are many methods of turning fabric tubes. I use a bodkin. You can buy one at any fabric retailer in the notions department. I have used a safety pin in the past, but I have managed to stab myself one to many times for my liking… so a bodkin is what I prefer.
Once your tubes are right side out, Iron them flat. Trust me. Iron them flat before trying to topstitch.
Then top stitch along both long edges of the handle straps very close to the edge… about an 1/8 of an inch.
From your facing fabric, Cut a 2 pieces 4 inches x the width of your tea towel. (no picture.)
Sew a roll hem on one of the long edges (width of tea towel) of each of the facing pieces. (This will become clearer in a moment.) Sew the Roll hem around to the back side of the fabric.
Measure how far you want your straps to be from the edge of your tote. I’ve chosen 5 inches. Position your strap ends on the right side of your tea towel a the top of each pieces.
*If you did not cut your tea towel in half (non-directional pattern) align your straps at each end of your tea towel on the right side.*
Lay your facing Wrong Side up, along the top edge of your tea towel overlaying the straps. The Roll hem of the facing should not be on the sewing edge! (My facing is not cut to the proper length on the end. I trimmed it down after this step.)
You want your straps to stick out the top about an inch on each end. (Hence the extra 2 inches when cutting them out.
Using a 1/2 inch seam allowance, sew along the edge securing the facing and straps to the tea towel.
When you get to the straps, reverse stitch over them and forward stitch again for added strength.
When you open it up after sewing the straps and facing on each side (or the ends, if you are working with a single piece) it will look something like this.
On the back side, Iron the strap parts that are sticking out and the seam down towards the tea towel. Do this for both sides.
Lay one half on top of the other right sides together. (*If you have one whole piece, fold it in half right sides together.)
Line up the seams where the facing and tea towel are sewn together.
Leaving the long facing edge open at the top, sew around the sides and bottom. The seam allowance will vary here because you are working with the finished edge of the tea towel. Go with whatever works for you, but with at least a 1/4 inch. I used a little about a 3/8th inch seam.
After sewing it will look just like this, but sewn. I didn’t have a clear picture.
Flip your bag right side out, fold the facing to the inside, and iron along the length of the opening.
If your machine has the capability of free arm sewing, I would suggest using it at this point.
Top stitch along the edge of the tote bag opening.
When you get to the straps, back stitch and forward stitch again for stability.
*Optional* You can also box stitch over the part of the strap sandwiched between the tea towel and the facing. This adds a goo deal of strength to your straps and is advisable if you plan to carry heavy things in your bag. :)
*Yes, I switched colors of thread when my fabric changed colors. It is just something I wanted to do. You certainly don’t have to do this. I just didn’t want a blue thread line cutting across the cream fabric on the other side of my bag. :)
*Optional* You can choose to tack down by hand, or machine stitch your facing down. I prefer to do this so my facing doesn’t flap around. It also keeps the raw edges of the facing inside and any fraying to a minimum.
I sewed the facing down by machine.
Here is my finished result. I’m really happy with it and I hope to make several more.
I hope you have found this tutorial helpful. If you have a different method of doing any of the steps included here, please use them. This is certainly not the only way of doing this sort of thing…. it’s just the way I’ve found to do it and I thought I’d share. :) If you have any questions, or if anything is unclear, please let me know! I’d love to hear what you have to say, or correct any errors.
I bought the the Scone Palace tea towel at Scone when I visited there some years ago. Both complimenting blue fabrics were from my stash! So I had all the materials on hand and didn’t have to buy anything to complete this project. Yeah for stash busting. :)