It’s a Cinch Book Tote Tutorial

This book tote is a slight design update from the Trader Joe’s book tote I made awhile ago. The freely moving handles slightly cinch the bag when filled. These instructions are for the fabric version. I may eventually add notes to make the TJ version, but I’m in no mood to rip out all that heavy duty stitching right now. It’ll be up eventually, promise!

Anyway, enjoy! As always, feel free to ask questions, point out typos, etc. And do share pictures if you make one! PDF download to follow soon. This tutorial is for personal/gifting use only.

Loaded Book Tote

Unloaded Book Tote

Step 1: Cut Pieces
All measurements are in inches. Measurements in brackets are the ones I used for this particular construction.

For a bag with main dimensions AxB [I used 13.5 x 13.5]

  • 2 exterior pieces (A+1) x (B+1) [14.5 x 14.5]
  • 2 interior pieces (A+1) x (B+1) [14.5 x 14.5]
  • Top casing pieces
  • 2 in exterior color (B-3.5) x 3 [10 x 3]
  • 2 in interior (B-3.5) x 3 [10 x 3]
  • 2 in flannel lining (B-3.5) x 5 [10 x 5]
  • Handle (I used some 2-inch wide strap I got at the fabric store) length (2B+2) [29]
  • OPTIONAL Pocket/Separators – depends on what kind of pockets you want. I’ll briefly go over some ideas.

If you intend on carrying things like books make sure you use a heavy weight exterior fabric, or line all exterior pieces with with some heavyweight interfacing or canvas and treat as one piece. You can either baste the interfacing/canvas in place, or just sandwich them together if you’re lazy (and daring) like me.

Step 2: Sew the Main Exterior
Make a sandwich in this order (from bottom to top): interfacing, exterior (right side up), exterior (wrong side up) interfacing. Using a 1/2” seam, sew along the sides and bottom, making sure your machine needle is in the down position before turning.

If you have interfacing, trim to reduce bulk. Clip the corners through all layers, press side seams open, and flip the bag right side out. Set aside.

Pin ExteriorExterior Construction

Step 3: Assemble and Sew the Interior
3a) OPTIONAL. If you want to have pockets or a separator, this is the time to do it. Instructions are at the end of this tutorial. Pocket options include:

  • Sewn in pocket. This is the one that floats in the middle of one of the linings. It’s good for making pockets with multiple compartments.
  • Separator. This one basically splits your bag into two or more full size AxB compartments in your bag. For two compartments, make one separator. For three compartments, make two separators. I haven’t tried making more than three compartments before, but I’m sure it’s doable.
  • Zippered pocket. Slip pocket closed with a zipper.

3b) Using a 5/8” seam, sew lining pieces right sides together along sides and bottom. Make sure you leave a gap at the BOTTOM for turning. I usually do 3-4” for the gap, but for stiffer fabrics, you’ll have to make it bigger. Clip corners. Set aside.

Step 4: Make the Top Casings
For the top casing, you have 2 exterior pieces, 2 lining pieces, and 2 flannel pieces.

With right sides together, sew one exterior piece and one lining piece along the long edge, back stitching at each end. Press seam open. Take this freshly pressed piece and sew it (right sides together) to one of the flannel pieces along the SHORT EDGES ONLY using a 1/2” seam. Trim interfacing of seams to reduce bulk.

Sew Casing to Flannel

Flip right sides out. Press. Your long edges should still be raw edges. Top stitch along the short edges to secure. Fold the finished rectangle in half at the seam so that the flannel piece is on the inside. Press.

Flip Casing Fold and Press

Repeat for other top casing.

Step 5: Attach top casing to exterior.
Make sure your exterior is right side out and your casings are nicely pressed.

Take one of the folded casings and gently fold it in half widthwise to find the center. Align the center with one of the exterior bag side seams making sure of the following

  • The raw edges are all together
  • The side of the casing you want on the outside of the bag is facing the exterior of the bag (this bag has the stripe fabric on the outside for the casing)

Pin Casing Right Side Inside

Baste in place with a 1/4” seam. Repeat for other casing on other seam. Here’s what it should look like when you’re done:
Casings Attached

Step 6: Assemble Bag
Grab your exterior, lining, and casings.

Slip the exterior+casing piece inside the lining piece (right sides touching). Line up the top raw edge and seams and stitch closed using a 1/2” seam. Trim interfacing to reduce bulk. Additionally, trim the seam where the top casing is to further reduce bulk. A good line to follow is to just trim off the seam in the area you basted when attaching the casings to the exterior in Step 5. Flip right side out through the hole in the lining. Using a turning tool (I use a chopstick), poke the corners out so they’re sharp.
Pin and Sew together Trim Seams

Sew the hole in the lining shut by stitching a 1/8” top stitch across the bottom of the lining. Tuck lining into exterior and press. Top stitch around the exterior of the bag using a 1/8” seam. Your bag should just look like it’s missing the handles now…

Sew Lining Shut Top Stitch to Secure

Step 7: Make the Handles
Double check your handle length by measuring around the bag. Add a couple inches for overlapping.

Fold the short edge of the handle in a bit and sew down to hide the raw edges. If you’re using a strap like I did, fold it in half or thirds (whatever looks better to you when put on the bag) and baste shut with matching thread (black in my case). Make sure to leave the first and last 1-2 inches unbasted. Thread through the top casings.

Tuck Raw Edge Baste Handle

Tuck one end of the strap into the other end, and baste shut. Tuck just enough so that the strap perfectly circles the bag without cinching or having too much excess. Make sure your handle isn’t twisted before you start sewing this part!

Baste Handle Shut

Using a decorative stitch and some contrasting thread, stitch the strap together all the way around. You’ll have to maneuver the bag a bit as you go, but you should have plenty of space.

Maneuver Around... Handle Closeup

If you don’t have a decorative stitch, I’ve used a zigzag stitch before and it turns out great. A few rows of straight stitches in different colors looks nice, too.

Rotate the handles so that the tucked edge is hidden inside the top casing. Trim threads.

You’re done! Enjoy!

Optional Pocket Instructions:

Sewn in Pocket (used in this demo bag):
For a pocket of size CxD, cut two pieces of fabric (C+1/2) x (D+1/2) inches. Interface if necessary/desired. Sew right sides together with a 1/4” seam, leaving a gap for turning. Clip corners and flip right side out, making corners pointy. Press, making sure you tuck the seams for the gap for closing later. Center pocket on one of the lining pieces, making sure the gap is at the bottom of the pocket. Stitch around the sides and bottom with a 1/8” seam, shutting gap and attaching the pocket to the lining.

Tuck Seams Center Pocket on Lining

Reinforce the beginning and end with either back stitching or some small zig zag stitching.

Securing Zig Zag Sew on Pocket

Cut two pieces (A+1) x (B+1) in desired fabric. Cut one piece of interfacing/flannel baste to the wrong side of one of your pieces. With right sides together, sew across the top edge using a 1/2” seam. Trim interfacing to reduce bulk. Flip right side out, press, and top stitch across the top to secure. Take this separator and baste in place with a 1/4” seam to one of the lining pieces, matching the raw edges.

This will give your bag 2 compartments once you assemble the lining pieces. If you want three compartments, make an identical separator and baste it to the other lining piece.

Note: For those of you who have sewn an Amy Butler Frenchy bag, this construction is basically like those huge pockets for the interior.

Zippered Slip Pocket:
Check out one of these tutorials:

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14 Responses to It’s a Cinch Book Tote Tutorial

  1. Lynn says:

    Wow, look how fancy you are! I really need to start sewing again…

  2. Sandra says:

    really, really like this one! Certainly must try!

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  5. Shayla says:

    wow…that is darling!! I’m definitely making some of these for somw birthday gifts!! Thanks for the great tutorial!

  6. Blenda says:

    Love the It’s A cinch Tote..As a new sewer I’m having trouble translating
    the A,B,C,D to numbers?
    Can you help me?Am looking forward to making this

    • Blenda says:

      Thanks for the reply and it is helpful. Just one more question….what is the size of the Top Casings?
      Thanks and I hope to get started ASAP.

      • Kristine Tsai says:

        The top casing has 3 pieces: exterior color, interior color, and lining:
        – Exterior color (B-3.5) x 3
        – Interior (B-3.5) x 3
        – Flannel lining (B-3.5) x 5

        Once you sew the exterior and interior pieces together (see step 4), it should be the same size as the flannel lining piece.

  7. Kristine Tsai says:

    A should be the height of the main bag body, B should be its width. C and D are the dimensions of the pocket you want. Just take the dimensions you want and add a 1/2 for the seam all the way around. Hope this helps.

  8. Blenda says:

    Thanks for everything,the patttern and the help

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