Conquering Tote Bag Math 

It all started when my trusty Roots reusable tote bag burst apart at the seams. It had been a reliable companion for over a year, helping me haul all kinds of “businessy” stuff around with me everywhere I went.  And then one day it literally gave out on me. The corner ripped and my laptop cable fell out and onto the ground.  It’s at that point that I decided  that I could do better.  I know how to sew, after all!

I looked around the internet for a suitable pattern, and fell in love with Anna’s Wool + Wax Tote.  One day I will create one with a waxed canvas bottom, leather handles, rivets and the whole deal, but for now decided I could settle for one made with fabric.  It is sooooo wonderful to finally be able to put this canvas fabric to good use.  It’s from the Amalfi line by Rifle Paper Co for Cotton + Steel, which I bought months ago with no plan whatsoever.  I’m glad that I had such great insight!

Simple tote bag hanging from black hook. Tote bag has a cream floral main fabric, grey contrast piece at bottom, and hunter green webbing handles. The tote bag math was incorrect and this is the wrong size.

The canvas fabric is very similar to the fabric I used in my Amalfi Buffalo Check baby quilt (which is still amazingly for sale!).  The difference is that the motif is larger on the canvas, and it’s printed on a more natural-looking creamy base.  For the bottom contrasting fabric, I used a Moda Cross Weave (I believe it’s the colourway black).  The handles are hunter green webbing that I picked up at Fabricland.

Pattern customization is hard!

The Wool & Wax Tote pattern is very simple and easy to follow, but it was going to make a bag that was slightly bigger than what I wanted. As a result, I adjusted the measurements in the hopes of ending up with the perfect replacement for my Roots bag.  Spoiler alert – I didn’t understand tote bag math at all!  While I ended up with this charming tote bag, it was not the size I intended.  The height, width, AND depth did not turn out as I expected.

Laptop computer, turquoise coffee mug, note pad, pencil, and buffalo check Roots bag sitting on kitchen counter, trying to figure out tote bag math.

Back to the drawing board (or kitchen counter) I went.  I studied the Roots bag, trying to unlock the secrets of its geometry.  Once I was pretty sure I had cracked the code, I made this second tote bag.  Double spoiler alert: it was still the wrong size!! This time I managed to get the height and width correct, but the depth was off by 1/2″.  Not a big deal – I still use this bag every single day, but it irked me that I had not won my battle with the tote bag math.

Simple tote bag siting on white background. Tote bag has a dark floral main fabric, light grey contrast piece at bottom, and dark gray webbing handles. The tote bag math was incorrect and this is the wrong size.

How to figure out the tote bag math!

I studied my plan and realized where I had gone wrong.  Knowing full well that I would never be able to remember the “magic formula” for obtaining the correct sized bag again, I whipped up a little  document in Google Sheets that will tell me what size to cut my pieces for any future tote bags. It’s pretty crude, and it is definitely not a pattern – you have to already understand how to sew together a tote bag, but at least it tells you where to start in your cutting.  If this interests you at all, you can check out the document here.  

*** Please note: you will be prompted to make a copy of the document before you can use it****

Please let me know if you do access the spreadsheet.  I would love to know if it turns out to be useful to you in figuring out tote bag math!

And now I’m off to go plot my NEXT tote bag – one with CORRECT dimensions!!

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