Skip to Content

Large Denim Tote Bag Pattern Hack

It is easy to adjust the large denim tote bag pattern, now my children have grown up a little – OK a lot! (my daughter has turned into a teenager this month!) this bag design is a little big for my needs. So how have I changed the pattern? and where did I start? Let’s start with the changes I have made.

I have chosen to alter the following:-

  • The bag handles – changing the fabric handles to leather corded handles
  • Internal pockets, swapping two zip pockets to one zip pocket and one slip pocket
  • The external decoration to the bag, changing the embroidery style
  • The size of the bag
  • Bag closure

So how do you go about hacking a bag pattern?? In this case,  as I am making the bag smaller I decided to make the bag pattern pieces the original size, then adjusted as I went. This process of working is fluid, I can make design choices as I sew. For instance, initially, I was going to make black padded handles but had a change of mind as I saw how the bag was coming together. Let me talk you through each alteration.

If you are wondering what the original bag looks like, here it is

I am going to talk you through each change in the order in which I made the changes – if you would like to make the bag yourself there is basic printable instructions at the end of the post.

Personally I am rather passionate about bag making – if you are new to bag making I have the perfect Beginners Bag Making Course for you which covers so many essential skills for bag making, and includes many free bag tutorials.

External Decoration

Starting with the pattern pieces I have sewn together the front panels as per the original pattern, finishing the edges of the seams with a zigzag stitch and pressing the seams open.

Before assembling the pattern pieces into a bag shape I have chosen to add running stitch down the center of the bag, inspired by sashiko stitching, To do this I started with marking the bag panels with vertical lines with taylor’s chalk, using a quilters ruler to guide.

Then using sashiko thread to sew, using the running stitch to add decoration. The tailor’s chalk lines are a great guide to approximately stay straight!

Bag Handles

As the bag panel looked a little darker than the original large denim tote I decided to lift the bag with paler handles, choosing to add corded leather handles. These are hand-stitched onto the bag using a strong thread. Personally I love working with leather scraps bought at a local car boot sale ( I am guessing this is equivalent to a yard sale), but there are good leathers and faux leathers available online.  Find out more, How to make padded and corded bag handles.

Interior Lining

I rarely zip an inner pocket shut so I have made one zipper pocket and one slip pocket for this bag. I keep my keys, lipstick and mobile in the slip pocket.

Bag Size

I started by removing an inch and a half from each side of the width of the bag.  Next I increased the depth of the bag by an inch. Lastly I reduced the height by 3/4”.These steps I made intuitively as I sewed creating a finished bag which measures 15 14″ high by 17 1/2″ wide by 4″ depth.

If you would like to make the pattern hack yourself, see the free printable for pattern measurements and brief instructions for making the bag yourself. Alternatively you can visit the original tutorial for the large denim tote pattern for detailed instructions.

Bag Closure

I love this large wooden button, which compliments the handles and stitching. The loop for the button is made from folded over bias binding, using bias binding allows the loop to be more fluid.

Stitching the loop to the middle of the back of the bag as the last step before inserting the lining and assembling the whole bag.

Lastly adding my finishing touch of the large wooden button.

Having talked you through my process of alterations I hope you feel you can have fun and alter a bag pattern to suit your needs.

If you are new to bag making check out my ebook Bag Making for Beginners.  With five reference chapters covering essential bag making skills hone your skills with eight bag patterns.

Large Denim Tote Bag Pattern Hack

Large Denim Tote Bag Pattern Hack

Sew up this roomy denim tote bag, using sashiko stitching for embellishment and padded leather handles for style. You can also make this bag out of canvas or home decor fabric.

Active Time 5 hours
Total Time 5 hours


  • 12 by 18 1/2 ” (30 1/2 by 47 cm) fabric (this is for the bottom of the bag)
  • 4 5/8 by 18/12″ (12 by 47cm) 2 pieces of denim fabric
  • 4 1/2 by 18 1/2″ (11 by 47cm) 2 pieces of denim fabric
  • 5 1/2" by 18 1/2 ” (14 by 47cm) 2 pieces of denim fabric
  • 18 1/2 by 36 ” (54 by 92cm) Fusible fleece
  • 2 by 24" (5 by 61cm) eather, twice
  • 22" (56cm) Cord per handle
  • 18 1/2 by 36″ (47 by 92 cm) lining fabric 
  • 9 by 12 1/4″ (23 by 31cm) lining fabric for zip pocket
  • 7″ (18cm)  zip
  • 13 1/2 by 6 1/2" (34 by 17cm) lining fabric for slip pocket
  • 18 1/2 by 36" (47 by 92 cm) iron on heavy weight interfacing 


  • Sewing machine
  • Leather Needles
  • Iron
  • Sashiko Thread
  • Quilters Ruler
  • Taylors chalk
  • Denim sewing machine needle


Cut out your old jeans for pattern pieces.

Sew the four layers of denim together for the front of the bag, finished seam edges and pressing

Using tailor's chalk and quilters ruler mark a vertical line centrally on fabric

Using a running stitch add sashiko inspired stitching down the centre of the bag panels.

Finish sewing the denim panels together to form the exterior fabric of the bag

Adhere fusible interfacing to the rear of the exterior fabric, following the manufacturers instructions.

Fold the fabric in half and sew side seams

Box the corners of the bag to create 4 " base.

Sew up leather corded handles

Sew leather handles to the bag, 4 1/2 from side seams

Adhere interfacing to back of lining fabric

Add zip pocket to the lining, positioned centrally, approximately 3 1/2" from top of lining fabric

Add slip pocket to the other side of the lining, centrally, 3 1/2" from top edge of lining.

Sew up side of lining and box corners, as you did for the exterior of the bag

Sew up a loop for button, folding bias binding in half

Place centrally on the back edge of the exterior bag and baste in place

Insert exterior bag inside lining bag, so rights sides are facing each other

Stitch around toip edge of bag, leaving a 4" turning gap

Turn bag right side out

Press, folding in raw edges along the top

Top stitch around the top of the bag, use a denim needle and long stitch length

Lastly, sew on your button.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Thursday 16th of January 2020

I like your remake better than the original! Practice makes perfect. Thanks for guiding me through your thought process to resize and improve the pattern.


Friday 17th of January 2020

It sounds like my thought process makes sense to you Bonnie, I am glad to read that!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Skip to Instructions