Free as a Bird Tote

I’ve mentioned before that I like to make things. Crafting gives me real, live, tangible evidence of my accomplishments. It provides me with a creative outlet and sticks a thumb in the eye of the consumer culture. And it’s also sort of fun, especially when I make things for myself.

I recently made myself a new tote bag. Now that Jacob is 2 years old, I can get away without the full-on diaper bag. Yes, I may still cart around a spare diaper and some wipes in the tote, but I don’t need the same volume of stuff that I did when he was a newborn. And so I am graduating to a fancy new bag, with lots of pockets and plenty of room for kid gear, without the diaper bag feel. Because I like to share the love, you can read on to learn how to make one of your own.

My version has two pockets – one zippered pocket and one patch pocket with two compartments. It also has a magnetic clasp. All of this is optional. If you want to make your life easy, omit this stuff.

Free as a bird tote
I call it my ‘Free as a Bird Tote’, but I was also tempted to go with ‘Twitter Tote’

How to Make a Free as a Bird Tote

*Note – For closer views, click on any image in the instructions.


  • 1/2 yard – main fabric (I used a drapery canvas, but any fabric will do)
  • 1/2 yard – lining fabric (I used corduroy, but any heavier fabric will work)
  • 1 yard – heavy weight interfacing (I like nonwoven nonfusible, but that’s just me)
  • 1 – 7″ zipper to match the lining fabric (optional)
  • 1 – magnetic bag closure (optional)
  • co-ordinating thread

Pattern Pieces:

  • A – cut 2 each in main, lining and interfacing
  • B – cut 2 each in main and lining
  • C – cut 1 in lining (optional – patch pocket)
  • D – cut 1 in lining (optional – zippered pocket)

Cut 1 bird in lining fabric (or any other contrasting fabric you like) – mark the eye location but do not cut.


1. Baste both interfacing pieces to the wrong side of each main fabric piece A around all edges, or if you have fusible interfacing iron the interfacing pieces to the wrong side of each main fabric piece A.

2. B is the strap pieces. Put one of the main fabric strap pieces against one of the lining strap pieces, wrong sides facing out. Stitch down both long edges, so that you have a long tube with open ends. Repeat with the other two strap pieces.

3. Turn the straps inside out so that the right side is facing out, press and topstitch down the long edges.

4. If you plan on adding a patch pocket, fold and press one of the long edges down 1/4″ on piece C, and then fold and press 1/2″ down. Stitch along the folded edge to make the top hem of one of the pockets.

5. Fold piece C in half along the long edge and press. You are marking the centre point along of 10″ width. Press 1/2″ under on the remaining 3 raw edges. Position the pocket, right side up, on the right side of one lining piece A. It should be positioned 2 1/2″ inches from the top edge (as shown in the pattern pieces), with the folded centre line located 8″ from either side (you know, roughly in the middle).

6. Topstitch around the bottom and sides of the pocket, and down the centre fold, to make 2 pocket compartments.

7. If you are adding a zippered pocket, then mark the zipper slot on the wrong side of piece D as shown below:

In case you can’t see what’s happening, piece D is right-side down against the right side of lining piece A (the one you didn’t put a patch pocket on). Piece D is centered horizontally on piece A. I have marked a box that is 7″ wide x 1/2″ tall. The top edge of the box is 3/4″ from the top of piece D, and the sides of the box are 1/2″ from either side of piece D. Down the centre of the box there is a 6 1/2″ line, with diagonal lines extending up into the corner of the box.

8. Sew around the edges of the 7″ x 1/2″ box.

9. Cut down the centre of the box, along the 6 1/2″ line, and along the 2 diagonal lines, being careful not to cut the stitching.

10. Now the magic happens. Pull piece D through the slit you’ve just cut, and you will have a lovely opening for a zipper. Press this to make it all pretty.

11. Position the zipper in the lovely slit you’ve just created. The nice zipper part should be visible on the right side of piece A. Pin it in place, and top-stitch around all 4 zipper edges, about 1/8″ from the slit edges.

12. Check the back of piece A, and make sure the zipper is securely stitched in place. Then fold piece D in half, so that there is a fold along the bottom, and the other edges all line up. This is going to be your pocket. You will stitch along the sides and top, but only on piece D. Be careful to keep piece A out of the way as you stitch.

13. Applique the bird to the right side of one main piece A. I positioned mine approximately 4″ from the side edge and 5″ from the bottom. To applique, I used a tight zigzag stitch around the bird’s body, leaving the edges raw. I trimmed down any scraggly bits when I was done. To make the bird’s eye, I used contrasting thread and a tight zigzag stitch. I repeated this horizontally and vertically. You could also embroider something nice, if that’s more your speed.

14. Don’t despair, you’re getting close. Press the top edges of all your A pieces, main and contrast, down 1/2″.

15. Position one of the straps along the wrong side of one lining piece A. The lining side of the strap will face down, against the wrong side of the lining piece A. The raw ends will be positioned 1 1/2″ from the folded edge at the top, and the strap’s side will be about 2 1/2″ from the edge of piece A. Stitch the strap in place at one by sewing 2 horizontal lines – one about 1/4″ from the raw edge of the strap, and another line about 1/2″ above the first.

16. Repeat step 15 with the other end of the strap, sewing it in place about 2 1/2″ from the other edge of piece A.

17. Repeat steps 15 and 16 with the other strap and the other contrast piece A.

18. If you plan to use the magnetic clasps, position them now. I centered mine horizontally along the top of lining piece A, about 1/2″ from the folded edge. There is one clasp on each lining piece.

19. You’re really almost done! Put your two main piece As together, right sides facing. Sew along the bottom and sides, but not along the cutouts.

20. To sew the first cutout, fold it so that the raw edges are together, and the bottom and side seams you just sewed line up in the centre. So, the inner corners of the cutouts are on the sides, as you open up the bottom and side seams and line up the cutout edges. Sew along the raw cutout edges. Repeat for the other cutout.

21. Repeat steps 17 and 18 with the lining pieces. Now you have two bags, one with straps and pockets, one without.

22. Turn the main body of the bag out, so that the right side is facing out. Position the lining inside it, so that the side seams line up. Pin the lining in place along the top, folded edge. Topstitch approximately 1/4″ from the edge.

Take a bow, you have a tote!

Free as a bird tote in sunlight

If you are a crafty sort, you might want to visit my Making Stuff page, which has other sewing projects, as well as needle-felting and cooking. You can get there any time by clicking my fabulous ‘Making REAL Stuff’ button in the sidebar.

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  1. That is awesome. My sewing machine has been gathering dust for too long. I've been thinking I'd like to make a tote because I can never find one that is to my liking. I have a lot of old jeans around and have been thinking of using the denim for a tote. I will definitely be giving it a shot with your pattern. Thanks!!!!

  2. Wow. Can you just make me one? πŸ™‚ I can’t sew to save my life (except buttons. I am good at buttons :))

    • Haha! That’s exactly what I was about to ask…I love this, but I am way too domestically challenged to do this…I won’t even let myself buy those super easy 3 step tote kits you can buy at Wal-Mart! πŸ™‚ You should totally take this to ETSY, Amber! I just thought of about 20 other designs along the same lines!

  3. yeah, what Nicole said πŸ™‚ Except I can’t even do buttons…I CAN handle sewing a bunny’s head back on but I don’t think that will help me with making a tote πŸ˜‰

  4. I just have to say, I think that Skookum Baby is the best brand name ever! I know you’ve closed up shop, but I love seeing the labels!
    Holly’s last post … Ringle and Kerr have a new book coming this fallMy Profile

  5. This is lovely, Amber! Thanks for sharing this – I may make this (x 3) for my sisters for Christmas this year! Well, x8 if I include my sisters-in-law… Guess I need to start yesterday! πŸ˜‰

  6. Love the zipper pocket tutorial!! I’m making a tote right now, and I might have to do a zipper pocket.

    *Tents fingers.* “Excellent.”
    Inder’s last post … Sock monkey vs Pit BullMy Profile

  7. Love this! If only I had an excuse to make a new bag. LOL

  8. Maybe in my next life I will be talented enough to make something like this for myself. I am impressed.

  9. Amber! I love this bag!
    Old School/New School Mom’s last post … With This Ring I Thee WedMy Profile

  10. Great work! It looks awesome. I have no idea how to sew!
    Wendy Irene’s last post … Extra Brown Chocolate Chip CookiesMy Profile

  11. Have I mentioned today that I love you? THIS is awesome!! And thank you!

  12. oooh, you and all your measuring. I think the stuff I make would look better if I used a ruler now and again. I love your bag!

    We’re going through a Pirates phase, so just this morning I was contemplating how I would make a fabric cannon and cannonball.
    Lady M’s last post … Observations of the Useless KindMy Profile

  13. Great bag! Thanks for sharing the how-to, I may come back to this project in late fall. I’m at a similar stage. Penny is pretty easy & usually only needs a diaper & a slim pack of wipes for the purse. We often bring a sippy of water, but that’s about it. Cedric has been recently crowned the potty King, so I don’t have to lug a pull up for him along anymore! Woot! It’s amazing the feeling of freedom it brings! Plus the pretty purses are a bonus!
    Laura’s last post … Celebrating 200! With Goats!My Profile

  14. I’m in awe: a slit for a zipper, wow! Wonderful step by step tutorial Amber!
    Francesca’s last post … Buried treasureMy Profile

  15. Wow, what a great tutorial. I love the name. I recently had the same realization about not needing to carry around the diaper bag anymore and it was really liberating. I also like your line about making stuff being a “thumb in the eye to consumer culture.” I’ve been lurking around your blog for awhile, but I don’t think I’ve ever commented. I just started a project where I’m pushing myself to make more for my little girls, but I’ll definitely keep this tote in mind for myself.
    Audra’s last post … The Rules!My Profile

  16. Oh! This is so cute!

  17. This is the best bag! I made it last weekend using some funky black and white material for the outer, and some purple raincoat material I found in my closet for the inner. Took me about 4 hours and it’s close to perfection! People who have seen it gave me great reviews and want some of their own! The only thing I noticed, was that the instructions didn’t make it clear to attach both sides of the handle, but otherwise, perfect! Amber, thank you very much for sharing. I have been looking forward to this project since I found and pinned it a year ago! So glad I made it, it makes the perfect bag to bring my gym shoes in πŸ™‚

  18. Hi! I saw your blog for making tote bags. After seeing your free-as-a-bird tote, I decided to make one myself as I am only interested in making bags and clutch purses. I followed your instructions and finally made one! The instructions are very easy to follow! The only difference I did was I quilted the main fabric. The tote bag was HUGE success! I want to send the picture of the finished bag to you, Can you please instruct me how? And thank you very much for writing this article, it has greatly helped me! THANK YOU!

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  1. […] given the concerns surrounding possible ingestion. But I would consider carrying a bottle in my mom purse for certain situations. Although I will opt for soap and water whenever possible, and I won’t […]

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