Has your favorite sports or concert venue mandated clear bags for attendees? You can buy them in lots of places these days, but why not make your own? The addition of fabric handles, and bindings doesn’t compromise the visibility of contents, and it adds a splash of color as well as functional durability. Another plus: the fabric-plus-vinyl combination is easy to sew.
Finished Size: 12″ x 12″ x 6″
- 5/8 yard of 36″- wide (or wider) clear vinyl (medium- to heavyweight; heavyweight is best if available)
- 5/8 yard of 45″- wide broadcloth or quilters’ cotton
- All-purpose sewing thread
- Universal needles, sizes 12 and 14
- 1″-wide masking or painters’ tape
Stitching Tips for Vinyl
Vinyl has a sticky reputation, and it may cling to your presser foot or machine bed as you sew. Here are some helpful tips for stitching vinyl:
- If the vinyl grabs the presser foot, switch to a non-stick foot.
- If the vinyl is sticking to the machine bed and not feeding correctly, lift the vinyl gently behind the presser foot. Don’t pull or push; just lift it away from the machine bed.
- Combining fabric with vinyl is another way to combat the tendency of vinyl to grab the surfaces of your sewing machine. I get the best results by sewing with the fabric on top and the vinyl next to the feed dogs.
- Remember: Needle holes in vinyl are permanent. Plan carefully and double check before you stitch. Use tape or clips rather than pins.
- Set the stitch length to 3.0 mm. When sewing on vinyl, aim to keep the needle penetrations widely separated to avoid tearing the vinyl.
From the clear vinyl, cut:
• 1 rectangle, 18″ x 30″
From the broadcloth or quilters’ cotton, cut:
• 3 strips, 5″ x WOF (width of fabric)
• 2 strips, 2″ x WOF
• The bag dimensions are approximate.
• Seam allowances are 1/4″.
• Use a size 12 needle to assemble the bag. Switch to a size 14 only if necessary to sew through multiple thicknesses as you complete the bag. Smaller needles make smaller holes in the vinyl, preserving more of its structural integrity.
Prepare the Handles and Binding
1. For the handles: Remove the selvages from the 5″ strips and join them with diagonal seams (see below) to make a continuous strip. Measure the strip and trim it to be 96″ long. Join the ends of the strip with another diagonal seam to make a loop; be sure the loop is not twisted.
2. Fold the handle fabric in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, and press. Open the fold and bring both raw edges to meet at the crease; press. Refold the loop along the original crease and press once more to enclose the raw edges.
3. Edgestitch both long edges of the handle loop.
4. Fold the handle loop in half and mark both folds all the way across the fabric with a removable marking tool or pins.
5. For the binding: Remove the selvages and join the 2″ strips with a diagonal seam to create a continuous strip; do not make a loop. Fold the strip in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, and press.
1. Place two strips right sides together and at right angles, matching the end of one strip to the side of the other.
2. Stitch across the diagonal center of the square formed by the overlap.
3. Trim the seam allowances to 1/4″ and press them open.
Mark the Vinyl and Add the Handles
1. Mark the center of the vinyl by measuring 15″ from one short edge and adhering a piece of masking tape across the vinyl. Mark the tape so that you can remember which tape edge is at the 15″ mark; this is the center bottom of the tote. I like to work on a gridded cutting mat and use the marks on the cutting mat as a guide. You can temporarily tape the vinyl to the mat to keep it from shifting as you apply the taped guides.
2. Measure and mark on the masking tape 5″ from each long edge of the vinyl. Lay the handle loop on the vinyl, matching the marks on the loop to the center bottom edge of the tape. Position the outer long edges of the handle loop at the 5″ marks; keep the loop untwisted. Use more masking tape to “baste” the handle loop to the vinyl, keeping it parallel to the long edges (always 5″ from the edge). Reach under the handle fabric to remove the masking tape that lies under the handles.
3. Place a piece of masking tape across each handle section near the top of the bag. The tape’s lower edge should be 1″ below the vinyl raw edge. Keep the tape at a right angle to the handle loop; it will be used as a guide for stitching the handles. Double check all of your placements before you sew.
4. Beginning at the center bottom, stitch one section of the handle loop to the tote. Plan to overlap the stitches for 1/2″ – 1″ at the beginning/end rather than backstitching. Sew from the center bottom to one marker tape at the top of the bag, removing the “basting” pieces of tape as you come to them. At the marker, pivot and sew across the handle loop. Pivot again and sew along the second edge of the handle section, across the center bottom, and continuing to the marker tape at the other end of the vinyl. Pivot as before and finish sewing the first side of the handle back to the starting point on the center bottom, overlapping the stitches.
Repeat the process to attach the second section of the handle loop to the vinyl.
5. To reinforce the handles, sew a small rectangle about 1/8″ inside the existing stitches at each location near the top of the bag (four in all). With the handle loop extending under the bag to hold its weight and the careful reinforcements near the top of the bag, your tote should be quite durable.
Construct the Tote
1. Fold the tote in half with wrong sides together, matching the raw edges at one side seam. Place the prepared binding on top of the vinyl, matching the raw edges, and stitch. (The seam allowances should be on the outside of the tote for this method.) Put a small piece of masking tape on the top layer of vinyl (the one next to the binding fabric in your sandwich). This will indicate the “back” of the tote, help you position the second side seam.
2. Fold the binding over the seam allowances as if you were binding a quilt. The binding should just cover the stitches of the seam. Edgestitch the binding through the seam allowances and binding only, to avoid additional needle holes in the body of the bag.
3. Fold the bound seam toward the back of the tote and finger press. Edgestitch the outer fold of the binding to the tote to hold the seam flat against the vinyl. You probably won’t be able to stitch all the way into the bottom corner, but that’s okay; just stop edgestitching about 2″ from the corner. Trim the excess binding at the ends of the seam.
4. Bind the upper edge of the tote, keeping the handles free of the binding. Trim the excess binding at the open side edge.
5. Stitch and bind the second side seam as before. Be sure to place the binding strip against the tape-marked “back” of the tote as you start, and leave about 1″ of binding free at the top to finish the binding end. Fold the extra binding to the inside to finish the binding at the top of the bag before topstitching the seam.
6. Now you’ll box the lower corners of the tote to create a 6″ depth, matching the regulation size of clear totes at most venues. Begin by turning the tote inside out.
7. Match one side seam to the center bottom of the tote. Be sure to use the correct edge of the masking tape as the centerline, and remember that the topstitched binding lies on the “back” of the tote. That makes the front edge of the binding the actual side seam. Take an extra moment to ensure that the stiff vinyl is folded correctly from the point of the lower corner. Use tape to mark a line 2 3/4″ from the point and at a right angle to the seam.
8. Lay a strip of binding on the vinyl with its raw edges along the tape and about 1/2″ extending beyond the vinyl at each end. Stitch 1/4″ from the raw edges, backstitching at each end of the seam.
9. Remove the tape marking the boxing seam. Trim the point of the vinyl along the binding raw edges, creating 1/4″ seam allowances, and remove the tape within the seam allowance. Fold the binding up and over the seam allowances and tuck in the ends. Edgestitch the binding, backstitching at each end, to enclose the seam allowances. Try to keep your stitches within the seam allowance.
10. Box the remaining corner as you did the first. Remove the remaining bits of tape and your clear tote is complete.