Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Nanny Miller's Vintage Inspiration - Tote Bag Tutorial

I really love my tote bags!!!! so useful to keep in your handbag for those unexpected purchases; but this one has special sentimental reasons for being my favourite. Firstly it was my first real finished piece (ok it is a little rough around the edges but hey that's part of it's charm) but secondly was that it always reminds me of my Nan. 
At the end of last year my Mum had been visiting an old childhood friend, while she was there she was given two big black sacks of sewing goodies that her friend had collected over the years. As some of you can understand this filled me with great excitement, what fantastic old fabrics and gadgets would I find?

As I sifted through the old fabrics, wools, knitting needles & half finished embroidery I came across an envelope which, I was surprised to find had a very old address of my Nan's, when I opened it there was an amazing stash of old iron on Anchor embroidery patterns. It turned out that like me, my mum's friend had also spent a lot of her childhood at my nan's house and often sat with my Nan learning the art of embroidery.

I would often visit my wonderful Nan and find her up to her arm pits in flour, but if she wasn't in the kitchen she would always have some half finished table cloth or jumper in her sewing bag next to the sofa to do. I loved to sit with her, or my granddad  for that matter, learning an array of their many skills. On seeing these patterns it immediately took me back and I decided I would like to find something to use them on.

Unfortunately I do not have the patience of my nan so knew that a table cloth was definitely not the way to go :0).........but I had recently read an article about Scandinavian designs which mentioned Scandinavian Needlecraft by Clare Youngs. I loved this bag on the front cover but had not actually got round to starting it. On seeing some of the patterns I thought it was worth a shot bringing those beautiful designs up to date.
I presumed that this bag was made using some type of felt but was unsure if that would have the strength I would need for often misused tote bag............luckily, also in this treasure trove of goodies, was a fabric which I can only describe as an very thick flannelette sheet, It was a bit bobbly but actually that was part of it's appeal. I decided (with fingers crossed)  this would work perfectly.

After ironing on the design I set to work trying to recreate the feel of Clare's bag. I used a mixture of what I think is backstitch, satin stitch and french knots (thanks to a quick tutorial with my very own needle guru, aka Aunty Pam, according to her there is a knack with french knots which I am sure I have already forgotten)

I did try to avoid too many of the heavier appearing stitches like the satin stitch so I kept that lighter feel, but felt I need a little to create some element of depth and variety. When I had finished the stitching I then marked and cut out around the design to a size of 285mm x 330mm plus a seam allowance (with a little extra at the top to enable you to create a nice tidy hem)  I always allow that little bit extra for errors. Then use this piece as a pattern to cut out another piece the exact same size for the back of your tote. With hindsight it may have been easier to cut out fabric to correct size before ironing on the pattern but as my Mum used to say 'I do tend to tackle things like bull in a china shop' :0)....Then I folded a 25mm hem which I pinned and machined. I then placed the two fabric pieces wrong side together and the hem at the top, pin or run a basting stitch along my final size bag ensuring the embroidery is squared then machine round. I then use pinking shears to tidy round the seams to prevent fraying to a certain extent.

Oooh nearly forgot......... to add that little extra something I also chose to add a small square of folded  felt, but it isn't imperitive. I did try to embroider a design but didn't seem to look right to me so kept with the button. (But don't get preoccupied with getting the bag straight and forget to add it before finishing the seam....not that I did of course :0)

As for the handles I wasn't sure of the correct way but they seem to do the job: I decided how long and wide I wanted them then cut two pieces slightly longer & 3 times wider. I then folded and ironed both pieces in half, tucked in the raw edges to give a clean secure finish and machined length wise along both edges. The handles are then pinned around 55mm from the edges (before stitching I just tried the bag for size to ensure the handles were correctly placed and sufficient length) When satisfied I have then sewn the handles inside the bag with a crossed box stitch as the picture. You could always finish off inside by placing a lining or iron over/stitch in some sort of interlining to protect your stitched design but it's something I haven't quite got round to yet.

Ta-da you have your very own handmade tote bag for those unexpected moments. I would love to know what you think and how you get on if this gives you some inspiration. Or even if you have some helpful advice on how to improve it for next time. Let me know!!!



PS if anybody knows what this material actually is please let me know as I have never been able to source it since, I would love to reproduce similar designs but at the moment I have hit a slight hurdle.


  1. Hi Tracey the material is flannelette and is used for sheets, nighties and pillowcases

    Love your big sis

    1. That's what I thought but have ordered samples from many shops, this is alot thicker than the samples though. Therefore I am still looking :0( xx

  2. Hi, Should be able to get material at any material shop but you will have to watch as there are a lot of different thicknesses.
    Brings back lots of memories for me too, because I was usually out when Mum was doing sewing and knitting with my friends as I didn't like it. I'm glad I took more notice when I was older as all those skills came in very handy later when I had my own family.

    Love Mum xx