Back to School Big-Bigger Canvas Tote

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Back to School Big-Bigger Canvas Tote

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IMG 6807 1For kids going off to college or college grads moving to start a career, serge a Big-Bigger Canvas Tote that expands to handle storage and laundry needs. It’s a tote that has both function and style!

IMG 6793Supplies:

  • 1 yard each of two coordinating canvas or denim-weight fabrics
  • Madeira Mouline, 100% Cotton, Six-Strand Floss or other decorative thread/floss, four packages each of two coordinating colors
  • Madeira Aerolock Premium Serger Thread
  • Pellon® Peltex® One-Sided Fusible Ultra Firm Stabilizer, 11″ x 13″ rectangle
  • 1 package Clover 1-1/4″ Create-a-Strap

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Cut outer and inner bag rectangles

All seam allowances are 1/4″ unless otherwise stated.

  • Cut two 26″ x 36″ rectangles from outer fabric, and two 26″ x 36″ rectangles from inner/lining fabric.IMG 6592
  • Turn the rectangles vertically. Mark and cut out a 6″ square from each of the lower corners. Save the 6″ fabric squares to make the tote handles!

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Serger set-up and basic seaming

  • Thread serger with Madeira Aerolock Premium Serger Thread. Set machine for a 4-thread overlock stitch.
  • With right sides together, serge lower base seam. Press seam to one side. Repeat for inner/lining fabric.


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  • Press 11″ x 13″ Pellon® Peltex® One-Sided Fusible Ultra Firm Stabilizer rectangle to center base of outer fabric.
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  • Align side seams, right sides together; serge seam. Repeat for inner/lining fabric.

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  • Press seams to one side.

Note From Team Nancy    To prevent the serged edge from leaving an impression on the right side of the fabric, press seam over a sleeve board or dowel.


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Form and stitch gussets on bottom of tote

  • With right sides together, fold side seams to align with lower base seam, forming gusset.

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  • Serge gussets, trimming off excess fabric. Repeat for lining fabric.

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Assemble, stitch, and attach lining to tote

  • Turn outer fabric tote right sides out.
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  • Insert lining tote inside outer tote, wrong sides together. Pin or clip edges together with Wonder Clips.
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Serge top edges

  • Set up serger for a standard 4-thread stitch.
  • Set the length and width settings at the longest and widest stitch options.
  • Insert Madeira Mouline, 100% Cotton, Six-Strand Floss into the upper and lower loopers.


Note From Team Nancy 

     When using decorative thread in the upper and lower loopers, we use the “lasso technique” along with Baby Lock’s ExtraordinAir or Jet-Air Threading feature.

  • Cut about 30″ of all-purpose thread, loop in half, insert the cut ends into the threading ports, hold on to the lasso end, and push the button that threads the loopers.
  • Insert the decorative thread through the lasso of the all-purpose thread (as pictured below). Manually pull the ends of the all-purpose thread, which will thread the heavier thread through the loopers.

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  • Thread needles with coordinating Madeira Aerolock Premium Serger Thread. On a scrap of fabric, test the stitch. Adjust the stitch length or width as needed.
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  • Serge the tote top edges, trimming off approximately 1/8″. Overlap ending and beginning stitches about 1/2″.
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Note From Team Nancy     Pull thread tails into stitching, using a large darning needle.

Make handles

  • Place two outer 6″ fabric squares right sides together.
  • Join squares by serging or stitching one edge. Press seam to one side. Repeat for inner/lining fabric, pressing seam in opposite direction.

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  • Fuse two strips of Clover 1-1/4″ Create-a-Strap to wrong side of outer fabric handle rectangle.

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  • Layer inner/lining fabric handle rectangle behind outer fabric handle rectangle.
  • Cut handles at edge of Create-a-Strap.

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  • Place inner/lining fabric handle and outer fabric handle rectangles, wrong sides together. Serge fabric handle edges, trimming off about 1/4″ on each long edge.

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  • Secure thread with Fray Block™.
  • Speed-dry Fray Block™ by placing handles between layers of paper towel and press with a hot iron.
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  • Fold and press under 1/2″ along handle short ends. Repeat steps above to create four tote handles.

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  • Pin a handle at top edge of inner tote, at each side seam. Position the end of the handles 1″ from upper edge and centered 3″ over side seams. Make certain that the handle is not twisted.
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  • Topstitch handle to tote along handle top, bottom, and sides forming a stitched rectangle.
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Note From Team Nancy     We use the laser feature on our Baby Lock Destiny to diagonally stitch an “X” pattern, to secure handles in place. Repeat steps above and attach handle at opposite side.

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Add second set of handles

  • Fold top tote down about 10″.
  • Pin a handle to inner tote at both side seams. Position handles 8″ below top edge, pin through all layers.
  • Place inner side of handle to inner side of tote, centering the handle ends 3″ over the sides. Extend the handle towards tote bottom.
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  • Topstitch handle to tote following steps above.
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Serging is both decorative and functional

Decorative threads in the upper and lower loopers creates a beautiful finished edge for the tote top and handles.

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Big-Bigger Canvas Tote Features

  • For a big fabric tote, fold top edge over at secondary handles.

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  • For bigger tote, extend tote fully up.

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  • Reverse Big-Bigger Canvas Tote for a whole new look.
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It’s time to do laundry in style!

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We hope you’re inspired to serge the Big-Bigger Canvas Tote. Experiment with different decorative threads and other heavyweight fabrics. Enjoy the process.

Watch Ultimate Serger Techniques (Part One and Part Two) on Sewing With Nancy online.

Nancy Zieman's Blog Giveaway

Clover's 5-in-1 Sliding Gauge by Nancy Zieman of Sewing With Nancy

For a chance to win a 5-in-1 Sliding Gauge from Clover, please leave a comment and share how you’d use the Big-Bigger Canvas Tote.

Nancy Zieman's Giveaway Winner

The randomly selected winner of a copy of Nancy Zieman’s I Sew For Fun book and DVD from Nancy’s Notions, is Rose.

Nancy Zieman's I Sew For Fun

Her comment is: I’m starting my 4 year old granddaughter at the sewing machine by sitting her on my lap and I guide her hands to feed the fabric. I just purchased a safety presser foot from Clover to give her a little more freedom but keep her little fingers away from the needle.


Happy Serging,

Team Nancy Zieman

Nancy Zieman Productions, LLC.

Nancy Zieman Productions, LLC

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  • Gail Beam
    August 11, 2018

    This is one Awesome tote! Love the reversible aspect and that it has a dual function as a smaller or larger tote bag.

  • Ruth Ann Miller
    August 11, 2018

    I have a brand new serger. This tote will be such a fun project!

  • Ruth
    August 11, 2018

    Would give to a grandchild as a gift.

  • Lorraine
    August 11, 2018

    All I can say is “wow”. The tote is perfect for multiple uses and can be made in any student’s school colors. The Nancy creative team provided a wonderful and useful project.

  • Clovis
    August 11, 2018

    I would use it as a smaller tote in my sewing room.

  • Charlotte Brown
    August 11, 2018

    I have owned a Singer Serger for twenty years and would you believe I have never used it? It seems to intimidate me. This might be the project to get me to bring it out of the closet.

    August 11, 2018

    My daughter is having a baby in September and could use this to carry the “extras” neatly in their car.

  • Debra A. Wilmoth
    August 11, 2018

    I would use this tote when I go camping. It would hold all the towels and my pillow! I am planning on making this for two of my granddaughter’s that will be heading of to college, they can bring their laundry home easily! Boy I’d better get busy!

  • Kathryn Englebretsen
    August 11, 2018

    Wow!! perfect project at just the right time. I need a new laundry basket and a laundry bag would be the perfect solution. I also have some upholstery fabric from an old project that I can use up on this. Thanks.

  • MoeWest
    August 11, 2018

    I think it would be good for storing sports equipment too.

  • Mary Brock
    August 11, 2018

    Just for what you did, my grandson’s laundry bag. What a great idea!

  • Ellen
    August 11, 2018

    Thanks for the inspiration! I will use this to make gifts for graduates going to college or to their first home away from home. My kids may find these bags helpful for carrying pet supplies when traveling–one for cats and one for dogs!

  • Bonnye
    August 11, 2018

    I would use the bag for camping. I am always filling up plastic bags which rip. The cloth bag would be perfect.

  • Cindy K
    August 11, 2018

    Would work great for a laundry bag. Could also use it to round up all the grandkids outside toys in the garage, like baseballs, bats, basketballs, etc

  • Noreen
    August 11, 2018

    It would be so handy for car trips, to hold beach towels and swim things, or for carrying snacks.

  • CarolKE
    August 11, 2018

    I would use it as a travel tote. I always have more to bring home than I take!

  • Sue Camino
    August 11, 2018

    Although I have many uses in mind for this perfect sized tote, what comes to mind is storing mittens, gloves and winter scarfs and hats where they will never get lost again and easy to find when cold weather returns.

  • Janet johnson
    August 11, 2018

    I think if I had a few in the closet I would find many uses for it. Camping, storing sports equipment, laundry, recycling pop cans and water bottles (paper bags always tip over in the car on the way to the recyclers), and for grocery shopping – Costco especially. It looks like it would last for many years.

  • Linda Janovitz
    August 11, 2018

    WOW !!! So many uses for this great tote bag. Taking quilts to share at guild meetings, camping, and storing winter items etc. But this would be a great gift for our college students to have 3 or 4 of them. Even for a dirty clothes tote to the laundry room, so many possibilities !!!!!!!!!!!

  • Kaye M
    August 11, 2018

    I would like to use this tote for taking my quilt projects to guild meetings for show and tell.

  • teri
    August 11, 2018

    This would be an idel tote for taking all the craft stuff for my grandkids.

  • Anne Z
    August 11, 2018

    It would be a great tote to take boating. It would fit our towels etc.

  • Bonnie
    August 11, 2018

    This canvas tote would be perfect for taking my quilt supplies to class. Thanks for sharing the great tutorial.

  • Berenice
    August 11, 2018

    My 2 college students need one each!! It looks like a great scrap bag in the sewing area!

  • Carol
    August 11, 2018

    The tote would be so handy to carry all kinds of things to our daughter. Looks like it wold be great for those long road trips to her home.

  • Linda C in TN
    August 11, 2018

    Thanks for showing the technique’s to make a big canvas bag. I am going to make one for my daughter that teaches kindergarten.

  • Shirley Clark
    August 11, 2018

    Some ladies at my sewing center made these. They are so neat! I can think of a lot of uses for it. One being a nice gift for a graduate to use in college.

  • P.J.
    August 12, 2018

    I’m making this tote to bring stuff over to visit my grandchildren. Seems like I’m always tossing “just one more thing” into the car. Instead of schlepping a bunch of cheap plastic bags, I’m going to use this. The expandable feature is sure to come in handy!

  • Cyndi Duffin
    August 12, 2018

    What a great tote with so many possibilities; quilts, groceries travel and so many more. Thank you for the great pattern and the give-away.

  • Karen Tucker
    August 12, 2018

    Both expandable and reversible! What a great idea.

  • Susan T
    August 12, 2018

    Wow! The uses for this tote are numerous. In the living room to hold blankets and pillows. Laundry room for clothes, Closets for extra storage and organization. Toy box in the family room. And on and on. Of course I would have to add embroidery some where on it!

  • Margaret Kesinger
    August 12, 2018

    Great tote! One of my uses would be for sewing fabric.

  • Joyce
    August 12, 2018

    I’d take it to quilt shows, starting out as the smaller one and as I purchased items I would have to expand it to hold everything. How fun!

  • jo Wray
    August 13, 2018

    Love this big bag !.

  • Jennifer Wright
    August 14, 2018

    When attaching second set of handles, do you sew through inner & outer fabric or only the inner, please? Thank you

  • Bridget
    August 14, 2018

    I’d use it as a laundry bag!

  • Susan
    August 23, 2018

    Tote bags are so handy. The laundry bag would be most helpful & eaiser to carry than a heavy basket.

  • Tif
    January 3, 2024

    Before you begin creating an outline for your essay, you should first visualize its structure.

  • MArgo Robie
    January 10, 2024

    Pin a handle to inner tote at both side seams. Position handles 8″ below top edge, pin through all layers

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