Monday, April 02, 2007

Martha Stewart dish towel tote tutorial (by me, not Martha, but I think she'd approve)

The title
Instead of the Martha Stewart Dish Towel Tote Tutorial we could call it a Co-opt a "Good Thing" and Make It Your Own Tutorial or the Fairly Easy Mother's Day Gift or Teacher's Gift Tote Tutorial. Anyhow, call it what you will but it's here. It's also probably the 1 million + 1th tutorial on totes, and I'm pretty sure it's not the best one (but it's mine).

The story
When I was teaching some of my favorite gifts were Starbuck's cards and gift cards to bookstores because, well, you know. My very favorite all time gifts are a little cliche (but it bears repeating); I was the most touched and the most thrilled with notes from kids and notes from parents, telling me what they liked about what I did for them. I've taught a bit in a variety of places ranging from a school across from the projects in Texas to what is arguably the most upper-class, ritzy public school district in our little state. In the well-to-do locale I got insane gifts and sometimes, because I was a new (read: low, low on the pay scale) teacher, I felt I had to take the gifts back to the store to exchange them for money for groceries (I kept the gift from Tiffany's though).

In between the sweet notes and the gift cards, the handmade things were (are) my most treasured gifts. They really continue to mean a lot to me. I have a soap dish and handmade soap (still) in my bathroom, a little handmade pot holds some of my most precious treasures, I can't bear to send the note cards that were made for me by a little guy and his mom... Handmade means a lot, and if you're looking for a nice little teacher gift (buy some "manly" fabric and this would work for the rare and treasured elementary teaching fellow too) or if you want something nice for Grandma or Mom, this little tote will do just the trick. Or, you could keep it for your very own. I saw a tote made out of the fruit dish towel series on the incredible and lovely Two Straight Lines blog, but forgot where I'd seen it. The amazingly talented Courtney was indeed the inspiration for this bag (she's so inspiring on so many levels, by the way... You must immediately go to enjoy her creations). Anyhow, if I'd received this bag as a teacher gift I would have been beyond thrilled.

Making the bag
What you need:
-A Martha Stewart dish towel (or an equivalent-size towel-- my MS towel measured in at approximately 14 1/2 x 27 inches with the fruit towel measuring approximately 17 1/2 x 26 1/2 inches). The fruit towels totes are the EXACT right size to fit a 14" Mac laptop, just in case you find that information handy! If you don't have a K-Mart nearby, you can find a variety of
MS towels online. UPDATE: Aack! What happened?! They no longer carry these wonders online. You'll just have to do a swap with someone (very doable) who has a K-Mart nearby. You can make this same bag with any type of dish towel; your finished tote will just be bigger or smaller depending on the size difference of your towel compared with the MS towel dimensions I mentioned!

*Warning: If you use a print like the MS fruit towel (left) some of your words will be upside down on your finished bag (unless you cut the long panel in half and restitch). I personally love the look and think it's quirky and fun. It might drive you nuts though, so think about this as you buy your towels.

- 5/8 yard of coordinating fabric for the lining and bottom sides of straps

- thread in a coordinating color

- 5/8 yard of heavy-weight fusible interfacing

Before you begin
1. Prewash and iron your dish towel and lining fabric (well, really this is the beginning!). It's important.

2. Read through the directions all the way to the bottom. You'll start with the interfacing, then the exterior, interior, straps, and then you'll put the whole thing together and do a little finishing work! You can click on any of the pictures for a better view.

The Exterior
1. Iron your fusible interfacing onto your dish towel. I use the fusible type because I'm lazy, but you can stitch some non-fusible interfacing close to the edges, or you can skip the interfacing altogether if you want a floppy tote (I like these too).

Follow the directions on the interfacing (don't forget to cut the tag off!) but generally you place the shiny side of the interfacing to the wrong side of your dish towel and iron out from the center with a hot iron (no steam). It doesn't have to stick 100% glue-like. It just has to be on there good enough.

This is what it looks like.

2. Fold your dish towel (with attached interfacing) in half (short edge to short edge). Take off 2 1/2 inches from each long side. This will give you two long strips which will be the straps on your tote. Set the straps aside.

*If you leave the straps at this length they will be equal to the tall dimension of your finished bag (like mine are in the photo). I like them long, but you can always shorten them. Try draping them over your shoulder to find the right length for you.

3. Fold the dish towel in half (short edge to short edge), right sides facing. All you see is interfacing. Stitch with a 1/2 inch seam allowance down the two long sides. Backstitch at the top and bottom of your seam to give it extra strength.

4. Turn the bag exterior you just made inside out so your dish towel fabric is on the outside and the interfacing is on the inside. Use a turning tool to poke the corners out so they really look like crisp corners (I use a chopstick). You're already done with the exterior!

The interior
1. Cut the fabric for the lining. It should be the same dimensions as the dish towel exterior you just made (14 1/2 x 27 inches for this MS dish towel). Cut two 2 1/2 inch strips from your fabric to match the two straps strips (oh, that's a fun word combo!) you set aside from the dish towel fabric.

2. Fold the interior panel in half just as you did with the dish towel (short side to short side) with the right (pretty!) sides facing. Then, just as you did for the exterior, stitch with a 1/2 inch seam allowance down the two long sides. Backstitch at the top and bottom of your seam to give it extra strength. Don't turn this one inside out yet! You're done with the interior.

The straps
1. Take one of your dish towel strips with the interfacing attached and one of your strips from the interior fabric (right sides of the fabric together) and stitch down one long side (1/2 inch seam allowance). If this puts you right at the sew line from the dish towel's original hem just make sure your needle isn't on the double fabric side of the stitch (where it was folded over to make the hem).

2. Iron the seam open and then iron a 1/4 inch fold on the remaining non-sewn long sides. The fold should place the wrong side of the fabric to the wrong side of the fabric.

3. Place the wrong sides together (with the interfacing sandwiched in between) and stitch down the side where you ironed the folds with a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Stitch with a 1/4 inch seam allowance on the other side too. Yippee! You're really getting there...

4. Repeat strap instructions 1-3 for the other strap.

Attaching the straps
1. Go back to the exterior of the bag. Use a ruler and measure in 2 1/2 inches over from the edge, then pin a strap so the unfinished edges of the strap and bag are facing the same direction (up). The wrong (or interior fabric) side of the strap should face up. Measure in 2 1/2 inches from the other side and pin the other side of your strap in the same manner (be really careful not to twist the strap).

2. Repeat step 1 on the opposite side of the exterior of the bag with the remaining strap.

3. With a very long stitch length (baste) sew each strap to hold them in place with a 1/4 inch seam allowance.

You're really getting close now!

Sewing the bag together
1. Slip the interior over the right side of the exterior (dish towel) of your bag. You should see the wrong side of your interior fabric. Make sure your straps are tucked inside. The sandwich from the inside out goes interfacing, dish towel, straps, interior fabric.

2. Sew all around the top of your bag with a 1/2 inch seam allowance, leaving a 5 inch (or so) hole so you can turn the bag inside out. Be careful when you get to straps and make sure they aren't angled but, rather, are 100% perpendicular to the line you are sewing. Backstitch at the beginning and end of your seam. Then...

TA DA (this is the best part)! Turn your bag inside out so the straps flop out. Tuck the interior into the exterior and it should really look like a bag now. Nice work! Use a turning tool (chopstick?!) to poke the corners down.

Finishing touches
Smooth out the fabric where your turning hole is (you might even want to pin it once). You probably should iron the bag at this point (paying special attention to the top of the bag where the interior and exterior meet) to make it look really spiffy. Sew with a 1/4 inch (or less) seam allowance all around the top of the bag to give it a finished look and to close the hole. Be sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of your sewing.

I folded a bit of fabric over on one side of my bag to make a little "pleat" as I sewed, then added a button over this fold for an extra detail. I attached a loop (just like the breast cancer awareness loops, especially so since it's pink) of vintage bias tape (I didn't have any ribbon handy) on the opposite interior. It's also easy to add pockets to new bags. Just sew them onto the interior before the "Interior" directions.

Cut your strings and celebrate. It's beautiful, isn't it?!

So it really wasn't too bad, right? If you did the Martha Stewart thing with a set of towels you still have plenty more bags to create (if you want to). If you're giving the bag as a teacher gift the only thing you have left to do is to tuck that little note inside (you might as well do the same for a Mom or Grandma gift too!).

Please let me know if you try this out and if it works and if it doesn't work and if I made a mistake. Is anything unclear? Email me (kitchentablecreative [at] hotmail [dot] com) and we'll figure it out. Thank you for visiting, and don't forget the blog's over here now!


melsisa said...

fabulous tutorial! thanks!

jj said...

towel tote tutorial.
towel tote tutorial.
towel tote tutorial.

fun to say, more fun to sew - I'm trying this one soon! Thanks for posting it.

Janice said...

I just made a loose version of this...your tut is great! Thanks :)

Andria said...

Thanks for the tutorial! It was really easy to follow. It's been 17 years since I've used a sewing machine and I'm proud to say that your tutorial got me back in the swing of things.

Priscilla said...

Hi, I am so pleased I found your tutorial! I am a beginner stitcher and have been looking everywhere for good instructions on how to make a bag, and I can follow everthing you have written,hurray!.........Thank you

Priscilla x