I love straightforward, well-constructed projects that yield something practical. I know this might sound a bit boring, but the efficiency and elegance of simple design really gets me excited. So it’s no surprise that one of my favorite all time projects (if I do say so myself) is my Twenty Minute Tote. It’s something I go back to again and again, any time I want to highlight a special fabric. I love its streamlined engineering and the fact that it really does only take 20 minutes!

And so, in this same spirit of economic design,  I thought I’d expand the Purl Bee’s family of quick totes with a new roomier bag, the Forty Minute Tote. As useful and everyday as the original, this one has the added features of an inside pocket, a boxed bottom and a linen lining.

The Forty Minute Tote comes together in a quick, clear way, and it features a new favorite fabric, Robert Kaufman’s Cotton Linen Denim. This fabric is a beautiful deep indigo blue reminiscent of your favorite pair of jeans, but with a slouchy drape perfect for a bag. I also used our very cute Reversible Webbing for the handles and the soft-but-sturdy Waterford Linen as the lining. And of course, true to its name, it takes only 40 minutes to make. I promise!

ps- The lovely wooden hooks featured in these pictures can be found here.


To make one tote bag:

  • 2 yards of Reversible Webbing in Orange and Camel
  • 1/2-yard of Cotton Linen Denim for the outer bag. Wash and dry this fabric before sewing with it. It’s a very dark denim and might rub off on your clothes if it’s not pre-washed.
  • 1/2 yard of Waterford Linen in Natural for the lining
  • 100% cotton thread in color 1240  to match the lining fabric
  • 100% cotton thread in color 1720 to contrast with the outer fabric and match the webbing

To make the embroidered version of this tote from November, 2012 you’ll need the following materials:

Embroider the initials onto the outside fabric before you cut it and then proceed as directed in the pattern below.


15-inch tall, 14-inch wide, and 5-inch deep


From the outer fabric:

  • Cut two rectangles 17-inches by 18-inches.

From the lining fabric:

  • Cut two rectangles 17-inches by 18-inches.
  • Cut one rectangle 8-inches by 7-inches for the pocket.

From the webbing:

  • Cut two lengths, 22-inches long.

Attaching the Pocket

Using the thread that matches the lining zig zag around three sides of the pocket piece, leaving one of the long sides unsewn.

Press and fold the unsewn side down a 1/2-inch twice. Top stitch this fold down. The folded side is now the wrong side.

Press the zig zagged sides in a 1/2-inch towards the wrong side. Tuck the corners in.

Pin the pocket, right side facing out, onto one of the larger lining pieces, 3-inches from the top edge and 5-inches from each side. The folded edge should be at the top.

Top stitch the pocket onto the lining piece along the sides and bottom, leaving the top open. Make sure to back stitch at the beginning and end of this seam.

Note- the side of the fabric with the pocket sewn on it is the right side.

Sewing the Outer Bag

Pin the outer fabric pieces right sides together along the two long sides and bottom short side.

Sew the pieces together with a 1/2-inch seam allowance.

Open up the bag and press one of the bottom corners so that the side is directly on top of the bottom seam and the corner forms a sharp point as shown above. Make sure the seam allowances of the side and bottom are facing the same direction and laying flat.

Mark a line perpendicular to the side seam at the point where the corner is 5-inches wide as shown above.

Sew along this marked line and snip off the outside triangle of the corner.

Repeat for the second bottom corner making sure to keep the seam allowances going in the same direction.

Once both of the side are sewn and the corners are trimmed off your bag will have a boxed bottom as shown above.

Turn the outer bag right side out and press out the creases that were created when you made the boxed bottom.

Press the top raw edge 1/2-inch towards the wrong side of the bag.

Sewing the Lining

Repeat the previous steps on the lining pieces:

  • Sew the linen pieces right sides together with a 1/2-inch seam allowance.
  • Create a 5-inch wide boxed bottom by pressing the corners out, sewing the marked sides, and cutting off the corners.

Then, keeping the wrong sides facing out, press out the creases. Press the top raw edge 1/2-inch towards the wrong side.

Sewing the Bag Together

Slide the lining inside the bag matching up their side seams. Push the lining just a hair lower than the outer section. Pin the lining and the outer sections together along their top folds.

Mark the ends of the webbing pieces 1-inch from their ends.

Slip the ends of the webbing in between the lining and the outer fabric 4 1/2-inches from the left and right side seams. Line up the 1-inch markings with the folded edge of the bag so the end of the handles are 1-inch deep. Make sure not to twist the handles. Pin the handles in place.

Put the contrasting thread in the top of the machine, and the lining-matching thread in the bobbin. With the outer fabric facing up start at a side seam and stitch the lining and outer sections together, 1/8-inch from the fold, back stitching at the beginning and end of the seam. Make sure that this seam catches both the lining and the outer sections all the way around (and thus sews the handles into place as well.) If this seam isn’t neat and straight tear it out and do it again, it’s the only really visible seam so you want it to look nice.

Pin the the lining and outer sections together along their side seams stopping 4-inches down from the top edge.

Sew this section together, keeping the stitching on the lower side of the seam as shown above. This will anchor the lining and outer sections together.

You’re all done and ready to take your tote out on the town!