How to make a large denim tote bag

July 29, 2015

Learn how to make your own large denim tote bag with this free tote bag pattern. The large tote bag is made with a variety of upcycled materials, with hand stitching for embellishment, your own padded fabric handles plus a magnetic closure.

Sew up your own denim bag with this free, easy sewing pattern. Tutorial for a large denim tote, featuring padded handles, magnetic closure and internal zip pockets, upcycle your jeans #freebagpattern #totebagpattern

This large denim tote measures 20 by  18 by 3″ once complete, with handles 28″ long. I designed this bag for myself, at the stage in life with toddlers and all that entails in terms of spare nappy, packet of wipes, various toddler cups, and snacks, an extra cardigan… you get the picture!!

How to make a large denim tote bag

This bag is inspired by one similar spotted on Pinterest – unfortunately, I have no record of this bag. If you think it was your bag that inspired this one please contact me so that I can give proper credit for the inspiration.

If you love bag pattern check out all my free bag patterns and tutorials. Are looking for further ideas for what to do with your old jeans? Check out my 25+ craft ideas for old jeans

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. 


Love the bag but don’t have denim to hand? You can sew this bag with any heavyweight fabric, such as home decor fabrics, or canvas. Sue to the size of the bag thinner fabrics such as quilting cotton will not be as strong.

Looking to source denim? I regularly ask friends and family, especially if they are having a wardrobe clear out. Car boots, charity shops which I am guessing are the same as thrift shops and yard sales are also good sources of affordable old jeans. 

Like the bag but not sure about the size? Check out my large denim bag pattern hack. This post talks you through adapting the pattern in various ways, here is a super quick video of the pattern hack.



How to make a large denim tote bag

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    • 12 by 21 ” (32 by 54 cm) fabric (this is for the bottom of the bag)
    • 4 5/8 by 21″ ( 12 by 54cm) 2 pieces of fabric
    • 4 1/2 by 21″ (11 by 54cm) 2 pieces of fabric
    • 6 1/4 by 21 ” (16 by 54cm) 2 pieces of fabric
    • 21 by 37 ” (54 by 94cm) Fusible fleece


  • 2″ by 28″ twice for fusible fleece
  • 2 1/2″ by 30″ four times for the fabric

         Tab Closing

  • Magnetic snap
  • 6 by 4 1/2″ (15 by 11cm) lining fabric with heavyweight interfacing
  • 6 by 4 1/2″ (15 by 11cm) denim  with heavyweight interfacing


  • 21 by 37 1/2″ (54 by 94 cm) lining fabric with heavyweight interfacing
  • 9 by 12 1/4″ (23 by 31cm) lining fabric for pocket, one per pocket
  • 7″ (20cm)  zip, one per pocket

How to sew up the large denim tote bag:


Layer your fabrics as per your finished bag, creating one long rectangle, this will be approximately 21 by 37″  (92cm by 54cm) once completed. Stitch together allowing 3/8″ (1 cm) seam allowance. 


Fabric placement

Hand stitch with running stitch 3mm from the seam.

Embellish the front of your bag by placing your three squares of fabric as is pleasing to you. Stitch the squares on. Hand stitch your own design onto your squares. I have used simple stitches and french knots for the design shown.


french knots

Iron on your fusible fleece on the back of your pieced bag fabric

Fold the bag fabric in half, lining up your fabric seams along the sides.

Align edges

Stitch the side seams. If your sewing machine struggles with the layers of fabric ensure you are using a denim needle and a long stitch length, and if you have a quilters foot for your machine this will help too.

Next, it is time to box the corners of the bag base. Iron the fold at the bottom of the bag, this gives you a neat crease. Fold the side seam of the bag to the crease.


create bag base

Mark a 3″ seam with taylors chalk. Stitch and trim the corner off. Do check out my post How to box the corners of bags, two methods for a detailed tutorial.


trim corners

Repeat for the other corner. Turn the bag right side out.


bag base

Bag Closure

Create the flap closure. Mark the point for the magnetic snap 3.5 cm from short edge and centrally between the side edges on the lining (with heavyweight interfacing attached). Insert magnetic snap. Since I wrote this post four years ago I have refined my technique for magnetic snaps – do check out How to attach magnetic snaps.

Finish making the flap by placing fabrics right sides together.


magnetic snap

Stitch three sides. Trim seam allowance, especially the corners, taking care not to cut the stitches by accident.


trim seams of fabric flap

Turn right side out and topstitch around the edges.


fabric flap closure


Place centrally and baste into place along the top of the rear of the bag.


baste fabric flap closure

Mark the point for the magnetic snap on the front of the bag, and insert.

Bag Handles

Now let’s create your padded bag handles – if you prefer corded bag handles check out my detailed tutorial for How to make padded and cord bag handles.  Iron the fusible fleece onto the back of your bag handle pieces, placed centrally.

Place the bag handles right sides together. Machine stitch around, with a 1/4″ seam allowance. This is the edge of the fusible fleece. Allow a three inch turning gap along one side of the long edge.

Turn right sides out, turning the raw edges in press. Ladder stitch to close the gap on the straps.


Fold the handles in half and hold with clover clips.  Starting 2″ from the end machine stitch along the edge, stopping two inches from the end. take the time to backstitch each end of this stitching so you handle does not come apart over time.


Place on the bag 3″ (8cm) down from the top and 4″ (10.5 cm) in from the sides of the bag. Sew on, I suggest sewing a rectangle and sewing across it diagonally to add strength.


place bag handles


Interior of the bag, lining

The first step is to adhere heavyweight interfacing to the lining fabric. The pattern pieces allow for two zipped pockets, personally I love zip pockets inside my bag, especially such a large bag as this one – perfect for car keys and phone. If you choose to add them please follow my detailed tutorial How to put a zipper pocket in a purse lining. I have placed my zip pockets for this bag centrally 3″ (8cm) down from each short edge. 

Place the pocket lining right side facing the right side of the bag lining. Using a quilters ruler and tailor’s chalk draw a rectangle 7 by 1/2″. Stitch along the drawn lines.



Cut along the center of the rectangle and into each corner, being careful not to cut the stitches.

Pull the zip pocket lining through to the back and press the rectangle. Place the zip behind, and hand stitch to secure before machine stitching in place.

Turn the lining over. Fold the pocket fabric up so the long edge t long edge, thus creating a pocket. Pin and then stitch around the edge to complete the pocket. Repeat for the second pocket.


Join the sides of the lining together, and then create the corners for the bag base, following the instructions as for the main bag.

Assemble the bag

Place the lining inside the bag – right sides together. Stitch the top of the bag all around, except for a 4″ (10cm) gap for turning right side out.


attach bag and lining together

Turn right side out, press and then topstitch along this seam, taking the time to add the top stitch helps the top of the bag really does make a difference to the overall finish. One finished large denim tote bag:)


How to make a large denim tote bag Upcycled Tote Bag Pattern Step by step instructions to create stylish large tote

If you love repurposing denim as much as I then check out my popular sashiko denim tote bag pattern, or how about a small cross body bag embellished with hand embroidery? Check out my pinterest board for many free bag patterns.

This pattern is available as a free PDF in the newsletter resource library or alternatively, you have the opportunity to say THANKYOU by paying £2 UK pounds for PDF download plus printable pattern pieces in my Etsy shop.

THANKYOU for your support! I love making these tutorials to inspire others to take up the craft of sewing by making it as easy and step-by-step as possible. It may seem silly putting this out there, but one day it may enable me to make this my day job!




42 comments so far.

42 responses to “How to make a large denim tote bag”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I love this bag!! xx

  2. Love the combination of fabrics and the hand stitching, Vicky. A great bag!!!

  3. Linda says:

    love this! what a great way to use up some of those old blue jean legs I’ve been stockpiling. This tote would be so versatile and handy. Thanks for the great tutorial!

  4. Vicky, I love this bag and you write a great tutorial. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Emily Cadle says:

    This is great, thank you 🙂

  6. Julie says:

    Beautiful bag Vicky, love the mix of fabrics and the sweet embroidery embellishments .

  7. Jemma Fifield says:

    Brill tutorial, thanks! It’s a good-looking bag. And I also adore all of the tweedy bits and pieces in your Etsy shop!

  8. mumsy says:

    sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo inspiring. God bless

  9. Gina says:

    Love this bag! The handstitched details make it especially precious. Would you use embroidery thread for those?

  10. Ellie says:

    Vicky it’s great to see up cycled items. We make woven rag rugs and they are a great seller. Keep up the great work . Ellie

  11. Shelly says:

    That’s a super cute bag! I love it. I love the colors and I love that you used denim too. Job well done!

  12. Michelle says:

    Hi, Vicky! This is awesome – I really love the minimalist yet sweet design of the bag! Great tutorial, it is def something i want to try.

  13. Emma says:

    Hi Vicky, this bag is beautiful and such great pictures to follow.

  14. This looks so stylish and I love your instructions. Please do pop over and join me for #Trash2Treasure it is a great way to upcycle fabric.

  15. khosi says:

    I like the bag post other patterns in future

  16. Jill says:

    Great bag Vicky! Those simple little embellishments really do make all the difference!

  17. Virginia Moar says:

    I make bags with this pattern but instead of cutting off the corners I sew the triangles along the bottom of the bag to make it a bit stronger.

  18. Sure looks neat! How do I convert cm to yards/inches? Thank you!

  19. RWTreasure says:

    LOVE this tote! I plan to make several, and to use them for grocery shopping bags!
    I’ll make wider straps for comfort carrying heavy loads, & longer too so I can sew them down all the way to bottom of the bag.
    ‘Don’t want handles to tear off under heavy loads.
    I may gift one to my sister for a beach bag, adding at least one outside picket.
    Yes, one of the things I LOVE abt this bag is how easily adaptable it is!
    Thank you c

  20. Tony says:

    This bag is very beautiful. The harmonious combination of ideas. I will make one myself.

  21. mary says:

    love the bag how to convert cm into inches would love to make this bag thanks

  22. Betty Scott says:

    The Denim Tote is a great pattern. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with the metric system, and will not translate to English. Just a suggestion…put the metric and decimal dimensions in the pattern. I have a friend that might be able to help me. Thank you and God Bless

  23. RWTreasure says:

    I LOVE this bag. With a wider bottom, say 4”-5” instead of 3”, and with slightly longer handles with a wider padded area at shoulders,
    This is also an awesome bag for grocery shopping!! Sturdy, from the denim and linings, washable so it’s hygienic, recycling-green, and plain wonderfull cuz it’s denim.

  24. Vickie says:

    Why do you use cm in instead of inches some people have to take the time to convert to inches and that takes time. Thank you.

  25. Vicky says:

    Hi Vickie, I am live in the UK where we work in cm’s – I would love to find the time to convert all the bag patterns into both inches and cm’s so that everyone could easily use them.

  26. Nannieannie says:

    I live in uk but as we only did feet and inches at school I have no idea of the size in cm.

  27. Nannieannie says:

    Thank you.

  28. Diana says:

    Made my own creation…….. thank’s for the pattern. Trying to ad an photo, see Facebook page Diana Veld-Heemstra

  29. Shari says:

    Love this bag, thanks for the pattern. I love your little embellished squares and am trying my hand at it. However did you get the little starburst stitching so perfectly straight and same length? I have tried several times and it is always wonky. I even tried drawing it first. LOL! I did add my own flair with some natural color fringy trim. Not near finished yet but hoping to have a “hippie” bag when finished. I used my son’s old worn out jeans and one pair of his old black workpants along with a scrap of faux leather left over from another project! Great recycle project!

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A passion for sewing, upcycling and caring for the environment - the perfect excuse to haunt charity shops for bargains!

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