book excerpt: make a tote bag out of place mats!

There’s a new book out this week that we’re very excited about: Simply Sublime Bags: 30 No-Sew, Low-Sew Projects by Jodi Kahn (with photos by our good friend and talented photographer Scott Jones). This adorable how-to guide serves up 30 easy projects to make your own chic clutches, handbags and totes. Most are so simple, even non-sewers like us can handle them! Our favorite is this one made from colorful place mats. Jodi was kind enough to share the details with us.

You’ll have to look closely to see that this traditional-looking tote is actually made from a few woven place mats. Place mats make great bags! They’re the perfect size to work with, and the finished edges make everything go much quicker. Doubled straps help reinforce the bag and make it quite sturdy. Not only are place mats easy to use — they’re also readily available and inexpensive. The tote pictured here is fashioned from two striped place mats I picked up at Target for less than $3 each and a solid — colored mat I found at Pier One for under $5. At such prices, you can afford to make a tote for everyone seated at your table! — Jodi Kahn

Click through to the next page for the complete how to on this adorable bag!

finished measurements
51⁄2″ x 173⁄4″ x 141⁄4″ (14cm x 45cm x 36cm)

41⁄2 yd (4m) of 1″ (2.5cm) wide cotton or nylon webbing (for straps)
Three 19″ x 14″ (48.5cm x 35.5cm) place mats (1 contrasting and
2 matching)
Sewing machine
Thread (to match webbing)
Stapler and staples (optional)
Duct tape (optional)

1. Make the “inside” straps: Cut 2 lengths of webbing, each 26″ (66cm) long. Zigzag stitch back and forth over the raw ends to keep them from fraying.
2. Attach the inside straps to the two matching place mats: Lay out one place mat with the longer edge at the top. Measure 41⁄2″ (11.5cm) in from each side, and pin the straps to the inside top of the place mat, with the ends 11⁄4″ (3cm) from the top edge. (There should be about 8″ [20.5cm] between the straps.) Sew each end in place by stitching a small square over it. (The stitching will be covered by the outside strap, so don’t worry if it isn’t perfect!) Add a strap to the other matching place mat in the same way, making sure that the front and back straps line up.
3. Attach the outside straps: Cut two more lengths of webbing, each 51″ (129.5cm) long. (Note: You may need to cut these a little longer or shorter depending on the size of your place mat.) Pin the outside strap over the inside strap and down the front of the bag, ending at the bottom of the place mat. Use a ruler to check that your straps are straight and an equal distance from the side edges. Topstitch the outside strap to the inside strap, beginning at the top of the place mat and sewing the strap handles together first. Then continue stitching down both sides on the front of the bag, sewing very close to the webbing edges. Repeat on the other matching place mat.
4. Attach the bottom of the bag: Pin the contrasting place mat to the front of the bag, overlapping the other place mat by 4″ (10cm). Stitch the contrasting place mat to the bag front across the width of the bag, topstitching close to the edge. Attach the bottom piece to the back of the bag in the same way.
5. Sew up the side seams: Fold the joined piece in half, right sides together, matching top edge to top edge. Pin and sew each side using a 1⁄2″ (13mm) seam allowance.
6. Make the bottom: With the bag still inside out, flatten one corner to create a triangular point, and draw a 51⁄2″ (14cm) line perpendicular to the seam and 23⁄4″ (7cm) from the corner point. Sew along this line. (Note: If the fabric is too thick to go through your sewing machine, staple the seam instead. If you staple the seam, trim the fabric and cover the seam with duct tape to reinforce. Trim the tape along the seam to neaten the edge.) Repeat on the other side. Turn the bag right side out.

Pick up a copy of the book, Simply Sublime Bags: 30 No-Sew, Low-Sew Projects to see more great bag how-tos!

Photo by Scott Jones

From our partners

Martha Stewart has a similar tutorial here: I like to look a multiple tutorials when attempting a new project, so maybe it’ll be helpful to someone.


i took a look through this book and it seems to be put together really well.

Hi; I saw some place mat purses at the sewing expo. They used matching pot holders for outside pockets and other accessories like eyeglass cases and cellphone holders. Lots of fun.

I have puzzled over the last step a number of times and cannot understand it. How is the material supposed to be folded for a “corner point” and from which seam is the line supposed to be drawn?!


To get the corner points, match the bottom and side seams on each side. Then measure for the stitch line starting with the point. I usually trim off the excess leaving 1/4″ seam allowance, but you don’t have to trim if you don’t want to.

Pictures of the assembly process would have explained so much better.


I can’t figure out how the “inside strap” is sewn. It says to sew it to the inside top. Does that mean it starts inside the bag (only touching the bad for the 1 1/4 inches) and goes up as a handle and back to the inside top of the other side and never goes down the inside or outside of the bag? If so, I don’t see how the “stitiching would be covered by the outside strap” when it’s on the outside, and the other is on the inside.

Is the purpose of the inside strap just to thicken the holding area, or to strengthen the hold and weight for what’s inside?

I’m thinking of helping a group a girls make them, so I better know what I’m doing. :)