Tutorial: Folding Grocery Tote

I hope you haven’t been holding your breath waiting for me to get this tutorial up.  I have written this with the beginner sewer in mind, so be forewarned there are lots of pictures.  Please let me know if you have any questions or if something is unclear.

Read on to make your very own foldable, portable, washable, reusable grocery bag!


Folding Grocery Tote Tutorial

Please note: Supplies listed will make two grocery bags.


  • 1 yard main fabric* (more if your fabric is directional)
  • 1 fat quarter in contrast fabric (or at least 18″ x 22″)
  • 2, 3/4″ buttons (preferably with shanks)
  • Thread
  • Quilt ruler (6″ x 24″ recommended)
  • 3″ quilt square (optional, but helpful)
  • Rotary cutter or scissors
  • Chalk or fabric marking pen
  • Hand sewing needle

*I used 100% cotton quilting weight fabric.  I tend to get a lot of my fabric for grocery bags from the remnant bin (because you only need a half yard per bag!), but use whatever you have on hand that is sturdy and washable with not much stretch.  These bags may seem thin, but they hold up well under pressure.

Prepare Your Fabric

Wash and iron your fabric.  I like to use a print for the main fabric and a solid for the contrast fabric.

Cut Your Fabric

Main Fabric

Fold your fabric with selvedges together.  Lay your fabric out with the folded side away from you.  Trim the edge if it is rough (as shown below) and then cut your piece so it is 16″ wide.

Rotate your piece (still folded) and cut to 18″ long from the folded edge.

Your piece now measures 16″ x 36″ unfolded.  Set aside.  If you cut the other bag body at this point, you can repeat each ironing step for both bags and end up with two completed at the end.

Contrast Fabric

Lay your contrast fabric out so the short (18″) side is closest to you.  Cut your fabric every 4″ for four strips.  (You will have a 2″ strip leftover.)  Each strip should measure 4″ x 22″.  Set two of the 4″ strips aside for the second bag.

Cut a 4″ piece from the 2″ wide strip.  Trim it to 1.5″ wide.  You should now have a main piece 16″ x 36″, two contrast strips 4″ x 22″, and a small contrast piece 1.5″ x 4″ wide.  These are the pieces to make one bag.

Iron It All

Tip: For greater efficiency, iron the pieces for both bags all at once.

On the short (16″) side of your main fabric piece, fold over and iron about 1/2″.

Fold over again, approximately 3/4″ to 1″ and iron.  Repeat on the other end.

Fold piece in half, right sides together, matching short ends.  Iron, creasing the fold.

Iron the strips, in 4 easy steps (click to embiggen).

1. Iron 1/2″ in on each short end.

2. Iron in half, lengthwise, then open back up.

3. Iron one side in half towards the center.  Repeat with the other side.

4. Fold in half lengthwise and iron again.  You should have nice finished edges all the way around.  Repeat for other large strip as well as the small strip.

Your pieces should now look like the image shown below.

Sew Your Bag

Please note: For best results, sew back and forth at the beginning and end of each seam to lock threads in place.

Beginning at the folded side of the strip, sew around the entire perimeter with a 1/4″ seam.  Repeat for other large strip.  For the small strip, simply sew down the center of it lengthwise.

For the main part of the bag, sew across the folded seam with the edge of the presser foot against the side of the fold towards the bottom of the bag.  Repeat on other side.  If you want to spice up your bag a little, use a zigzag or other decorative stitch here.

Sew the side seams.  Use the edge of your presser foot as a guide.

If you have a serger, finish the side seams now.  Otherwise, use pinking shears to keep the inside edges from fraying.

Box the Bottom

Using your quilting ruler and chalk, mark a 2″ x 2″ square at each bottom corner of your bag, using the seam line as a guide.

Cut out the squares.

Pull the bag’s sides apart and match up the edges of the opening you just cut.  You will match your seamed edge to the fold at the bottom.

Sew across the cut opening on each side of the bag.  Finish by serging or using pinking shears.

Add the Handles

Using the seam as your guide, use chalk to mark 3″ from each edge of your bag.  Turn over and repeat on the other side.

Place your handle to the outside of the chalk line, with the edge about 1/4″ below the fold of the top of the bag.  Shown below is the left side of the bag.  The handle is to the left of the chalk line, closer to the outside edge of the bag.  You can pin it in place or just go for it.  (I find pins tend to get in the way at this step.)

Secure your handle by sewing all the way around (box) and then across the center (X).  Being careful not to twist, repeat for other end of handle.  Turn over and repeat on other side of bag.  (Click images to embiggen)

Place the button loop by measuring 7.5″ from the side seam.  Mark it with chalk and sew across the loop several times to secure.  Trim off any excess.

Press the sides and bottom of your bag, making sure the button loop is on the side facing down.

Attach the button securely** to the side with the button loop attached.  Place it 3.5″ from the bottom and 7.5″ from the side seam.

**Make sure to sew your button on within an inch of it’s life.  It will be taking a lot of abuse and needs to be very securely fastened.

Check out your finished bag!

It holds quite a bit.  Don’t be afraid to really fill it up!

How to Fold Your Bag

1. Place the straps inside the bag and lay flat with the button side facing down.  (The straps may give you some trouble the first couple times you fold it, but they will settle down.)

2.  Fold the sides into the center in thirds.

3. Fold the bottom up (you should see the button).

4. Fold the top down and button.

Your bag is done!  Now fold it up and take it shopping.


© Chelsea Powers, 2009.
I am providing this pattern free for personal use.  Please don’t use it to mass produce.  Limited use to help pay for your fabric habit (i.e. holiday bazaars) is ok as long as credit is given.


34 thoughts on “Tutorial: Folding Grocery Tote

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  3. Hi There, I found this post through the Green Grocery Bag Challenge facebook page. I love this bag and it folds up so neatly! Thanks for the very clear tutorial, think I may have to give this a go! 🙂

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  8. I know you posted this tutorial a long time ago, but I still wanted to thank you. Your instructions are really easy to follow and the design of the bag is so clever. I just used one today to wrap a baby shower gift and everyone wanted one! I live in Oregon and the city of Portland is outlawing plastic grocery bags, making this foldable tote very handy!

    • I’m so glad you like it! Hopefully it will help make the transition away from plastic a bit easier (and nicer to look at!).

    • The full yard will make two bags. I cut all the handles at once when I do mine and that picture shows the handles for two bags. Sorry for any confusion.

  9. Hi! Thanks so much for this tutorial! Can you please tell me, how big is the finished bag? Also should I make any adjustments if I use a thicker fabric? What would those be? What fabric would you recommend other than quilting cotton? Thanks so much!

    • Sophie –

      The finished bag measures approximately 15″x17″. Other fabrics would be just fine. If you want something heavy duty, I suggest canvas or denim. You could even use decorator fabrics if you really wanted to. I wouldn’t think you’d need to make any adjustments to use thicker fabrics. Your bag may just turn out a smidge smaller due to seam allowances. You can always add an inch or two to each side if you want your bag larger.

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  13. Hi, firstly thank you so much for this tutorial, it’s exactly what I was looking for! There are so many tote bag patterns out there, but this one is simple and beautiful! Secondly, my husband and I are trying to raise funds for our upcoming adoption. Would you mind if I used this pattern for the totes I plan to offer as part of our fundraiser? They would be featured on my Etsy page, and credit would be given to you as designer. Thank you!

  14. This is a fantastic tutorial, very clear! As a new sewer, I have a question. Could I make it if I only have a half yard of the main fabric? I was thinking if instead of a 36″ piece making a bag with only one side seam, could I cut two pieces 18″ and have two side seams? It makes sense in my head, but I’m still learning to think like a sewer.

    Thanks for the pattern and any help you can give!

    • If the fabric you are using is directional, or you want to use two different colors, you can cut two separate pieces and sew the bag all the way around. The original version calls for the 36″ piece to be folded and given two side seams. If using two separate pieces, you would simply sew from the top down, turn, sew across the bottom, turn, and then sew back up the other side. It will work just fine. Hope that clears it up. Happy sewing!

  15. A very humble thank you from an absolute sewing machine beginner. That was one project even I could manage thanks to your excellent tutorial. Now if only I knew more about sewing machines. I managed to ruin two needles, blocked the bobbin / needlebed (?) – no, I’m not an English native speaker – several times and generally made a mess with my machine, but I got a really fine tote out of it. Pity I can’t leave pictures, but then, they would clutter up your webspace.
    So again: thank you !

      • Actually we just planned a projects week in our school today and I took one called “sustainable clothing” (or maybe in English it would be more like “environmentally sustainable clothing”), which some pupils asked for. I want to show them how to recycle/upcycle clothes aside from doing research on organic clothing in shops and second hand. Could I use your tutorial and pattern, if the pupils want to try ?

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