quick and cool grocery tote

Handmade Christmas gifts 2015

Clockwise from large picture on left: Great Big Tote, Home and Away Cable Cozy, Quick and Cool Grocery Tote, Zippy Wallet

For this year’s Christmas presents, I wanted to do some sewing, something that fit each recipient’s personal style and interests.

Both my parents and my husband’s parents like to travel, so for the guys I made Home and Away Cable Cozies. This pattern includes a zipper pouch, which went together fine, and strips of elastic to hold cables. That part was trickier. For the first one, I tried stitching down just the width of the elastic, which required tying off each thread end. For the second one, I learned my lesson and ran the stitches all the way across the panel, allowing them to simply be backstitched at each end.

For my mom and a close friend, I made Quick and Cool Grocery Totes from Sewing to Sell by Virginia Lindsay. This was a fun pattern to make because it’s an efficient use of fabric, and it accommodates different fabric widths (which was good because I ran into that issue with my fabric choices). Boxing out the bottoms was an interesting and challenging experience. I couldn’t envision how they would come together, and had to just go for it (“use the Force” as a friend would say). Luckily it worked out just great!

My sister-in-law tends to like dark, basic colors (like me) and has simple, unfussy taste. I thought she’d appreciate a little Zippy Wallet for unencumbered trips to the store or whatnot. It turned out cute, except I wish I had attached the snap with my new snap tools — this one is a little unrefined.

And I also made two zippered pencil pouches for my nephews that didn’t get photographed — one in a Minions fabric, and the other in Skylanders fabric. I filled them with some mini markers and Field Notes-style notebooks with their names printed on them.

It feels great to sew something special for loved ones, and I hope the projects get lots of use. One of the best parts of this project is that I started making them back in August, making it a relaxing experience free of rushing and pressure. That’s definitely going on the calendar this August, too!

essential tote bag topstitching detail

Sewing skills project 9: Essential Tote Bag


Essential Tote Bag from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • topstitching
  • boxed corners
  • interior pocket
  • strap length options
  • pieced stripes

Process notes


  • chambray
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Stone
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Black
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Navy
  • Pellon SF101 Shape-Flex woven fusible interfacing
  • Pellon 971F Thermolam Plus interfacing

Equipment and settings:

  • Universal 90/14 needle for most of the project, except for the straps used Jeans 100/16
  • used default stitch length setting 2.5, except for topstitching and quilting used 3.5
  • for topstitching the straps used 1/4-inch guide foot and edge joining foot


This project has a few really nice options with the instructions, and I chose to make the striped version, with long handles and an inside pocket. It’s a very roomy tote, and the Thermolam gives it good structure without being overly stiff.

My 1/4-inch guide foot and edge joining foot were invaluable for this project — I’m so glad to have them! For making the 1/4-inch quilting stitches next to each stripe seam, I just ran the guide down the ditch and it was a piece of cake. I ran into little hiccups when topstitching the opening in the last step because my guide would run into the straps and get hung up. As was mentioned in the book a few times, going slow on the topstitching really does help. After hearing it from several places, it’s finally sinking in that there’s nothing wrong with sewing slowly. In fact, it’s faster in the long run if stitches don’t need to be ripped out and re-sewn.