Railroad Tote | Purl Soho

I recently had a run of bad bag luck. I had a leather purse that I loved, but it was destroyed when a bottle of water opened up inside of it. Then the pretty tote bag I used as a replacement ripped, leaving me completely bagless, disheartened and uninspired. Then one day as I was sitting by my sewing machine, I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of some Railroad Denim fabric and eureka! With its sturdy weight and classic stripe, I knew I could make a winning bag that I’d be excited to carry!

Railroad Tote | Purl Soho

A mere hour after my initial inspiration, I was tossing my wallet, lip gloss and keys into my beautiful new Railroad Tote, and my bag woes were a distant memory! I was so happy with how this tote turned out that I quickly made another using double-sided Black Washed 8 oz Denim. Both versions are hearty and strong and will stand up to washing and water bottle mishaps while still looking cute.

Railroad Tote | Purl Soho

So if you’ve been having some bad bag luck yourself, or if you just need something fresh for summer, this project is for you. Make your own luck! -Molly

Update: New Fabric

November 27, 2015

  • Post Image
  • Post Image
  • Post Image
  • Post Image

We made a new version of this bag with Robert Kaufman’s Denim with Colored Motes. It’s a perfect fabric for this simple, classic bag. For the list of materials and to see more photos , check out our Favorite Totes in Denim with Colored Motes story!


Railroad Tote | Purl Soho

For the Striped Version:

For the Solid Version:


12 inches wide x 15 inches high x 4 inches deep


Wash and dry the fabric, but not the trims, before starting.



Railroad Tote | Purl Soho

From the fabric cut:

  • Two Body Pieces: 17 inches wide by 19 inches tall. If you are doing the Striped Version, make sure that these pieces are cut with the stripes running vertically.
  • One Pocket: 7 ½ inches wide by 15 inches tall. If you are doing the Striped Version, make sure that this piece is cut with the stripes running horizontally.

For the Solid Version pick either the lighter or darker side to be the right side of the Body Pieces and use the opposite side to be the right side of the Pocket piece.

From the Webbing cut two 53-inch long pieces.

From the Bias Tape cut two 17-inch lengths, one 15-inch length, and two 5 ½-inch lengths.

Sew on the Pockets and Handles

To hem the top of the Body Pieces, press the top (short) edge ¼ inch towards the wrong side and then again 1 ¼ inch. Pin this fold into place and edgestitch it down using the Fabric Thread. 

To hem the top of the Pocket, press the top (short) edge ½ inch twice towards the wrong side. Pin this fold into place and edgestitch it down using the Fabric Thread.

Press one of the Body Pieces in half lengthwise so the two long edges meet, creating a crease down the center. Do the same for the Pocket.

With right sides facing up. match the two center creases and the bottom raw edges. Pin the Pocket to the Body Piece around the three raw sides of the Pocket, leaving the top hemmed edge unpinned.

Railroad Tote | Purl Soho

Using the Fabric Thread, sew the Pocket to the Body Piece around all three pinned sides with a ¼-inch seam allowance.

Railroad Tote | Purl Soho

With the right side of this Body Piece facing up, align one of the raw ends of the webbing with the bottom edge of the Body Piece so that the left edge of the Webbing is 4 3/8 inches from the left side of the Body Piece.

Keeping the Webbing straight and consistently 4 3/8 inches from the left side, pin the Webbing all the way up the length of the bag, hiding the Pocket seam in the process.

When you get to the top, measure 18 inches of Webbing for the handle and then reverse direction and pin the Webbing down the right hand side of the bag. Keep the right edge of the Webbing 4 3/8 inches from the right side of the Bag Piece, and make sure not to twist the handle!

Railroad Tote | Purl Soho

Using the Webbing Thread, edgestitch the Webbing into place by sewing up the side, across the Webbing where it meets the top of the Body Piece, down the other side, and then across the bottom edge. Do the same for the other end of the Webbing.

Pin and sew the second length of Webbing to the second Body Piece in the same manner.

Sew the Bag Together

Railroad Tote | Purl Soho

With right sides facing, pin the two Body Pieces together around their three raw sides. Make sure that both sides of the Webbing meet up neatly at the bottom of the bag.

Using the Fabric Thread and a ½-inch seam allowance, sew the two Body Pieces together.

Railroad Tote | Purl Soho

Starting at the top of the bag and leaving a 1-inch overhang, fold a 17-inch length of Bias Tape around the raw edges of one of the bag’s long sides. Pin the Tape in place, tucking its raw ends under at the top (there is no need to tuck the ends in at the bottom since you’ll be cutting them off in the next section).

Pin the second 17-inch length of Bias Tape down the opposite side of the bag in the same manner. 

Center the 15-inch length of Bias Tape over the bottom raw edges of the bag, fold the Tape over the edges, and pin in place. Do not tuck either end of this Bias Tape.

Using the Bias Tape Thread, edgestitch all three Bias Tapes into place, making sure you catch both sides of the Tape. If you miss a little, go back and sew it again (don’t worry, it’ll be your little secret deep inside your bag!).

Create the Boxed Bottom

Railroad Tote | Purl Soho

Pull the two Body Pieces away from each other at one of the bottom corners of the bag until the bottom seam and the side seam are lying directly on top of each other and the corner is at a 90-degree angle.

Flatten the bias-taped seams so that they are lying in different directions (i.e. one is folded to the right and one to the left so that the bias tapes are not piled on top of each other).

Press the corner down in this orientation. Make a mark perpendicular to the seams at the point where the pressed corner is 4 inches across. Pin everything together along the mark.

Railroad Tote | Purl Soho

Using the Fabric Thread, sew along the mark and then cut off the corner ½ inch beyond the sewn line.

Railroad Tote | Purl Soho

Encase the raw edges of this new seam with a 5 ½-inch length of Bias Tape. Tuck under both of the raw ends of Bias Tape for a neat finish. Pin in place and use the Bias Tape Thread to edge stitch it into place.

Repeat for the opposite corner of the bag. Make sure that when you are arranging the seams in different directions that the bottom seam is going in the same direction as it is on the opposite corner; you don’t want it to twist.

Turn the bag right sides out, iron out any creases and you’re all done!