How to Make an Eco-Friendly Quilted Tote Bag

comments (3) April 24th, 2009     

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MaryRay Mary Ray, contributor
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A traditional Tree of Life is a bit complex, but its the perfect image for an earth-friendly tote—and a great way to practice piecing.
Mark a line from point to point on the wrong side of nine green squares (E).
Sew one green E to one orange E, right sides together, 1/4 inch on each side of the marked line.
A traditional Tree of Life is a bit complex, but its the perfect image for an earth-friendly tote—and a great way to practice piecing.

A traditional Tree of Life is a bit complex, but it's the perfect image for an earth-friendly tote—and a great way to practice piecing.

Photo: Mary Ray

Reusable market bags have made a big comeback, selling anywhere from around $1 to nearly $1,000 (the designer version, of course). They’re a smart accessory that helps the environment and makes the “paper or plastic” decision a no-brainer. Just say, “I have my own.” With this bag, you'll be proud to say, "I made my own." It's strong and roomy and green throughout—made from organic lightweight cotton fabric and bamboo batting.

Start with a “Tree of Life” block. It involves some complex piecing, but you only need to do one. This block makes a spectacular quilt, too. Check out some examples at The International Quilt Study Center and Museum, an affiliate of the University of Nebraska.

What You'll Need:

  •  1 yard of cotton or lightweight canvas fabric for the bag
  •  1 yard of similar fabric for the lining and some pieces for the tree
  •  1/4 yard of similar fabric for the tree pieces
  •  Batting: 1 crib size (enough for several) or 3/4 yard if purchased by the yard
  •  Thread
  •  Ruler
  •  Scissors and/or rotary cutter
  •  Marking pencil or chalk
  •  Sewing machine

Click here to download the pattern, then cut out the bag and block pieces. For the block, you'll need to cut the following:

A – 2 (yellow)
B – 2 (yellow)
C – 1 (yellow)
D – 1 (orange)
E – 12 (green), 9 (orange)
F – 1 (orange)
G – 3 (green)

(The bag lining will be cut later.)

Make the Block:

1. Triangle patches:
Draw a line from point to point through the center of nine green squares on the wrong side.


Mark a line from point to point on the wrong side of nine green squares (E).

Place each green square on top of an orange one, right sides together. Sew through both thicknesses 1/4 inch on each side of the center line, and cut in half along line. Press the seams in one direction.


Sew one green E to one orange E, right sides together, 1/4 inch on each side of the marked line.

Cut along the line and press each side open to form two squares.

2. Cut the remaining 3-inch green squares in half from point to point to form six single triangles.


Cut the remaining green E squares in half to form six triangles.

3. Sew the block together in rows and units following the diagram.


Follow the diagram to sew the pieces together.

Construct the Bag:

1. Sew the top front (3) to the top of the block. Sew one side front (2) to each side of this unit. Sew the constructed front to the bag back and bottom (1) with 1/2-inch seams.

2. Cut the batting the same size as the flat constructed bag piece. Press the two layers together.

3. Quilt the bag to the batting by sewing rows of stitches (about 3/4 inch apart) that outline the tree and echo out from it.

4. Press the quilted section flat, and square and trim the edges if necessary.

5. Now, use this piece to cut out the lining. The lining is the same size as the bag, minus the 1-1/4-inch hem allowance at each end.

6. Fold the bag in half, right sides together, and sew the sides with a 1/2-in. seam. Press open.

7. Turn in 1-1/4 inches at the top of the bag and press. Then turn in 1/4 inch to finish the hem and press.


Fold and press the top hem of the bag.

8. With the bag wrong side out, flatten the bottom corners and draw a line across that’s 2 inches above the point, creating a “floor” at the bottom of the bag as shown. Press the points toward the floor.


Sew across each bottom corner to form the bag's floor.

9. Sew the lining together at the side seams and create a “floor” as above.

10. Put the lining inside the bag, wrong sides together, matching the side seams. The top of the lining matches the hemline fold at the top of the bag. Pin in place with the pins 1-1/2 inches below the lining’s top edge.


The top edge of the lining should meet the hemline fold of the bag.

11. Make the straps: Fold each piece in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, and press. Bring the raw edges to the center fold and press. Press together and stitch along the folds on both long edges.


Fold in the long edges of each strap.

12. Attach one strap to each side of the bag, placing the outer edges 5 inches from each side seam and the raw edges of the straps even with the top raw edge of the bag. Stitch close to the raw edge to hold in place.


Center the straps on each side of the bag.

13. Bring the straps to the inside, fold the hem in place over the lining, pin, and stitch in place all the way around, catching in the straps.

14. Bring the straps up and edgestitch along the fold at the top of the bag, catching in the straps again.


Sew the straps in place.

15. Crease a fold at the bottom of the bag to form the “floor” and sew along the fold all the way around. 


Crease at the bottom and sew along the fold to form the "floor" of the bag.

posted in: fabric, tote

Comments (3)

eileen_dc writes: thank you for the clear and easy to follow instructions =D I am assembling my fabrics right now to give to a dear person.
Posted: 4:49 pm on September 5th
ndlz writes: Thank you for the pattern & instructions. Will make this for sure!
Posted: 10:06 am on March 16th
eveh writes: Thanks for the easy to follow instructions. I am putting this one in my sewing file for sure. I am doing it in dark red and gold. I know that won't be traditional but it is my favorite colors. I'll just say mine is a fall bag. LOL
Posted: 6:53 pm on May 2nd
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