Improv Quilted Tote Bag

improv quilted tote bag

I made this improv quilted tote bag on a whim! I’m a big fan of using scraps. I save even the smallest pieces! When my scrap bin feels overwhelming/overflowing, that’s when I know it is time to make some scrappy projects! Last year I made a lone star Christmas stocking and had quite a few bits and bobs of fabric leftover. I bundled these together and put them in my scrap bin where they waited for inspiration I promptly forgot about them for a whole year.

This year’s holiday gifts comprise mostly of… drumroll… tote bags! I have a stash of Every Adventure totes that I use on the daily and when talking with people I’ve previously gifted them to, they use them all the time too. Here’s a few of the ways I use my stash of bags:

  • There’s a dedicated 4 bags that live in my car for grocery shopping. They are sturdier than plastic bags and don’t create more waste!
  • I keep a bag in our mudroom and place within it all the stuff I need to remember to return to other people (my mom’s tupperware, my sister’s craft supplies, etc.)
  • I use a bag to corral all the library books that need to be returned
  • Or in the same vein, a bag to hold all the pattern purchases that need to get shipped out (thank you!)
  • Riley has a dedicated bag for when he gets babysat by my parents
  • …and so on!

I love my Every Adventure totes but this year I decided to experiment with a taller/slimmer bag form. The Every Adventure tote is great for hauling lots of stuff around, but I wanted a smaller quilted tote bag that could hold my wallet, phone, and knitting project.

quilted tote bag with leather handles

I laid out all of my scraps from the lone star stocking, and my goal was to use up all the smallest pieces first. That way, if I was left with anything, it would be bigger scraps that can be more easily incorporated in other projects. I started sewing pieces together, maintaining any diagonal angles the fabrics already had in order to add interest in the finished piece.

The fabrics I used are all Riley Blake Designs basics: Confetti Cotton solids in Canyon Rose, Lodge Pole, and Cape Verde, and Le Creme Swiss Dot Black. I thought about adding more fabrics from my stash, but I loved the original palette so much that I decided to see if I could make it work with just what I had left. I love parameters, they really push my creativity!

Second side of the improv quilted tote bag

To quilt the tote bag, I used pink thread! Both the quilting design and the thread color are the same as the original stocking I made. I loved the look of the pink thread on the Cape Verde color fabric, and thought that the quilting design would add interest without overwhelming the improv quilting.

pink quilting
using pink thread for quilting a tote bag

This quilted tote bag was one of those projects that every decision enhanced my original vision. When it came time to add straps, I just wasn’t happy with cotton webbing. Although I love it and have used it multiple other times, I just kept looking at this bag and thinking that it would really excel with leather straps.

I let it simmer for a week before deciding that I really did want to go the leather route. I found some leather in a suitable thickness at the craft store and held my breath as I poked holes into my nearly-completed tote bag. The leather straps were such a success! I love that the leather will wear and age along with the bag, creating its own patina. I love how sturdy they feel. This was my first time adding leather handles to a bag, so I did quite a bit of research beforehand. I decided to add little leather “washers” to the inside of my bag to ensure that the rivets wouldn’t pull through the fabric with wear and use.

improv quilted tote bag is sturdy and fun
leather washers keep rivets from poking through the fabric

Speaking of the inside of the bag, I used this fun rainbow print and added a zippered pocket. I’ve had this lace zipper for ages and it was never the right size for any project until now! I’m thrilled I got to use it! The rainbow print is such a contrast to the outside of the bag, so I added Cape Verde colored fabric to the top of the lining for better continuity with the outside of the bag. The Cape Verde fabric also works to anchor the pocket in place inside the bag.

An interior zippered pocket inside a tote bag
using a lace zipper on a tote bag pocket

This tote bag finishes at 15″ high, 12″ wide, and 3″ deep, with nice long straps you can loop over your shoulder. I’ve made several of these now, with cotton webbing or leather straps, with and without inside pockets, using scraps or pre-quilted (!) fabric, and they’ve all turned out delightful! What are your thoughts? Would you like to find this with your name on it wrapped up under the tree?

leather straps make this quilted tote bag a delight
Leather and fabric quilted improv tote bag

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