Back to School Big-Bigger Canvas Tote

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Back to School Big-Bigger Canvas Tote

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IMG 6807 2For 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, 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 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 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 Nancy: I like to use the “lasso technique” when using decorative thread and the ExtraordinAir or Jet-Air Threading feature in the upper and lower loopers.

  • 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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Note from Nancy: Madeira Mouline Flosses are ideal for a decorative serger finish that resembles cording. Madeira Mouline Flosses are securely packed in practical and unique packaging, which protects the thread from dust and dirt. Simply clip an opening at the bottom of thread pack and pull the thread you need. The floss stays clean and tangle free in its self-storage pack and can be stitched to the very last inch. Using large Wonder Clips, clip the floss package to the serger thread guide.

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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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  • 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 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 Nancy: I use the laser feature on my 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

Madeira Mouline Floss 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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I 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 Giveaway Winner

The randomly selected winner of  McCall’s M7353 Knit Top/Dress Pattern is E. Ann.

Her comment was, “I love View C with the Cowl neckline. I would love to have this! Thanks.”

M7353 ENV NancyZieman

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Nancy Zieman The Blog

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  • Marge Beine
    August 5, 2017

    Great tote pattern! Just what I need for laundry bag for quilt retreat!

  • Deon
    August 5, 2017

    What a great tutorial – thanks!

  • Erma
    August 5, 2017

    Loved the video. Great information. Always nice to see the demos.

  • Clovis
    August 5, 2017

    Kids are out of college. Would have been perfect for them. Love the color choices.

  • Peggy V
    August 5, 2017

    What a clever tote bag!!!!

  • Monica Kostak
    August 7, 2017

    omygosh this is so cute….I just subscribed to your blog after seeing your bag on The Crafty Quilter Sew Thankful Sunday Post. I already get your youtube’s 🙂 Thanks for a wonderful idea!!

  • Brian
    March 7, 2018

    Great tote pattern! The green color seems the bag very enviromental.

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