UPDATE: As this tutorial has gained popularity on Pinterest, I have received several questions about the construction of the lining and recessed zipper. In response to those questions, I made another bag and took many more pictures of the process. Therefore, the instructions show a combination of pictures from the assembly of both bags. You can see both bags at the end of this page. I hope you enjoy this updated tutorial! 🙂

Nine Patch Totebag with Recessed Zipper Close


  • 1 Charm Pack OR 18 – 5″ Squares
  • 1 yd coordinating fabric (lining, handles, bag bottom)
    • Note About Handles/Straps: You can make your own as I show you here, or you can use cotton belting (used in the second bag I made – see the last few pictures in this post.) I bought mine at JoAnn’s, but the belting is widely available. 
  • 1 – 17″ or longer zipper
  • 1/2 yd Heavy fusible interfacing or fusible fleece/batting

The finished bag measures approximately 14″W x 17″H.  You can make the bag any size you like, you will just have to adjust the size of your lining and zipper pieces.

Begin by choosing nine of the 5″ squares and laying them out in a nine patch grid. Using a 1/4″ seam allowance, sew three squares together in each row, then sew the rows together to make the nine patch panel.  Make 2 nine patch panels.

Side 1 – Nine Patch Outer Panel

Side 2 – Nine Patch Outer Panel


Add the Bag Bottom: From the coordinating fabric, cut 2 strips that measure 3-1/2″ X 14″ (or the width of your nine patch panel).  Using a 1/4″ seam allowance, sew a strip to the bottom of each nine patch panel. This will be the bottom of your bag. Be sure to press all seams.

Outer Panels with Bottom Attached


Add the Interfacing or Fusible Fleece: For my bag, I chose to use fusible fleece. This gives the bag some structure, but also adds softness. Using fusible fleece also allows for some quilting, if you like. I did not add any quilting to my bag.

Cut two pieces of interfacing or fusible fleece that measure 14″ x 17″. Iron one piece to the back of each panel following the manufacturer’s instructions.

If you want to quilt your panels, do so now.

Set panels aside.

Make the Handles
(To make it easier for you to see how the handles are made, I took pictures using a light color fabric. For the bag, I actually used the same fabric as the bag bottom.)

From the coordinating fabric, cut two strips 4″W X WOF (width of fabric).  Fold each piece in half lengthwise and press in place.

Press in half lengthwise

Unfold and fold each long side in to meet the crease in the middle. Press in place.

Press sides in to meet at the crease in the middle.

Fold in half again lengthwise and press well.  The side raw edges should now be enclosed.

Top stitch along the sides of the handles.  I used a straight stitch in a coordinating color – any decorative stitch would also look nice.

Stitch along both long sides.

Trim the handles to the size you like.  I made mine long so I can carry the bag over my shoulder.  Set the handles aside.

Make the Zippered Lining

From the coordinating fabric cut the following pieces:

  • (2) 3″ x 1-1/2″ – (Zipper Ends)
  • (4) 1-1/2″ x 12-1/4″ (Zipper Casing)
  • (2) 2-1/4″ x 14-1/4″ (Top Lining)
  • (2) 14-1/4″ x 15-1/2″ (Bottom Lining)

NOTE: You can make the lining and zipper pieces all the same color/print. For the purposes of this tutorial, I chose different fabrics for the lining top, lining bottom, zipper casings and zipper ends.

Begin by working with the zipper casings (12-1/4″ long pieces). Fold over each short end 1/4″ and press. Do this on all four casing pieces. Click here for a great tip on pressing those short edges!

totebag zipper casing

Casings with short end folded in 1/4″

Now we’ll begin working with the zipper. DO NOT BE AFRAID! It’s really very easy, you don’t even need to use your zipper foot. You can use your regular presser foot.

  • Lay one casing right side up on a flat work surface (Folded ends facing down.)
  • Center the zipper (right side up) along the top edge. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect. We’ll be cutting the zipper later. 
  • Place a second casing (folded ends facing up) on top of the zipper.
  • Line up all edges and pin in place. Using a 1/4″ seam allowance, sew the three pieces together.

Here are the details in pictures:

After the three pieces are sewn together, fold the two attached casing pieces away from the zipper. Repeat the process on the other side. Press all pieces away from the zipper.  Your zipper will now look like this:



Top stitch along three sides of the casing (you will not stitch along the raw edge).


Make the Zip Ends: Using the 3″ x 1-1/2″ pieces, fold the short edge over 1/4″ and press each piece.


(See where I initially folded the long edge and pressed? DON’T do that!)

Fold the short ends together (right sides together), and sew along the longer edges. Clip the corners – don’t cut the seams! – and turn the pieces inside out.  Use a blunt object to push the corners in place.


Picture shows after sewing but before turning inside out.

Line the zipper pull even with the edge of the casing.  You will be cutting the excess off each end of the zipper so you’ll want to be sure the zipper pull is in place before you cut.

Working with one end of the zipper, cut it approximately 1-1/4″ longer than the zip casing. Slip one of the zip ends you just made over the cut end of the zipper and sew in place. Repeat on the other end. Your completed zipper will look like this:



Attach Zipper to the Lining

Lay one bottom lining piece right side up. Center the zipper on top (right side up), with one raw edge of the casing even with the edge of the lining. Lay a top lining piece (right side down) and sew all three pieces together. Press the seams on both top and bottom lining pieces.

After sewing the three pieces together, press the top lining piece away from the zipper. This is what the first side of the lining will look like.


Place the second bottom lining piece (right side up) on a flat work surface. Now place the zipper/lining piece on top, with the zipper right side up. Add the second upper lining piece and pin all three layers together. (The second picture down shows the three layers pinned.)


Using a 1/4″ seam allowance, sew the pieces together.


Add The Handles
Measure 3″ from each side of the outside panels and pin the handle in place. The ends of the handle strap should be even with the top of the outside panel as shown. Baste in place using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Do this for both panels and both handles.

Assemble the Outer Tote
Place the two outside panels right side together and pin in place. Be sure to line up the seam lines where the bottom piece was added and on the sides where the squares meet. 

Using a 1/4″ seam allowance, sew the front and back panel pieces together on both sides and the bottom. If your handle straps are long, make sure they don’t get caught in your seams.

Be sure to align the seams so they match on the sides of the bag.


Box the Ends
With the bag still turned inside out, pinch the bottom corners together making sure the seams line up. Measure 1-1/2″ from the tip and draw a line. Stitch on the line, making sure to backstitch at the beginning and the end.  Do this to both corners.  Trim the seam to 1/4″.



Lining: Using a 1/4″ seam allowance, sew along the sides and the bottom of the lining pieces (these pieces are attached with the zipper).  Fold zip ends toward the zipper out of the way of the seam before sewing.

Box the ends for the lining the same as you did for the outside panels and turn the lining so that the right sides are facing out.  Your lining piece will now look like this:

It looks a bit funky at this point, but don’t worry. This is how it’s suppose to look.



Time to Put the Tote Together!

Place the lining inside the outside panels with right sides together. The handles should be between the lining and the outer panels so you can’t see them. Pin everything together really well.

Insert lining, right sides together


Lining pinned in place, with handles between inner and outer layers.


Sew around the top of the bag 1/2″ from the edge.  Leave a 4″ opening un-stitched so you can turn the bag right side out. (Shown below)


Now, reach inside the opening you left un-stitched and turn the bag inside out. It might take a bit of finagling, but you’ll get it!

Press the top seam well so you have a nice crisp edge. Using a 1/4″ seam allowance, top stitch around the bag.  This will close the opening you left for turning.  I chose to sew two lines around the top for a more finished look and to really lock those handles in place.


You can choose to leave the zip ends as they are, or sew them to the side of the bag. I like to sew mine – it makes it easier to open the zipper. You can see in the picture below they are sewn to the sides of the bag.

Congratulations! You’ve just made a tote bag with a zipper closure. Enjoy!

Side 1 Finished Bag

Okay, you might have noticed that the bag above is only a six patch and not a nine patch. That’s what I love about this pattern – it’s so versatile. I already had the outside panels made and the lining finished when I decided I wanted a smaller bag. I cut 4″ off the top of the outer panels, and 4″ off the bottom of the lining. Voila! A shorter bag!

Side 2 Finished Bag

I love the surprise of the green lining!

I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.  I hope you have fun with your new totebag! 🙂




Want more patterns for zipper totes? Visit the Craftsy pattern page for more inspiration!