A duffle bag tote is an ideal type of luggage that no traveler should be without. The duffel bag is one of the most versatile and functional forms of luggage. It can be used as a carry-on for plane trips, and can also serve as the perfect overnight or weekend bag. Duffel bags can be made in a variety of styles, designs, colours and fabrics. Therefore, anyone from a business traveler, to a camper, or everyday vacationer, will find use for a duffle tote bag.

Dimensions: approximately 17″ high / 20″ wide / 11″ deep with a 40″ [1 m] detachable shoulder strap and exterior pocket. [43 cm x 51 cm x 28 cm]

Construction Method: Turned finish – this method may be recognized by noting the lack of machine-stitching that is visible at points of assembly on the exterior side of the bag.  This is possible by placing the material, or parts, face to face, machining and turning right-side out. It is the most commonly used assembly process.

Material Used: 100% cotton denim, 54″ wide; trim: 100% microfiber suede cloth, 45” wide.

You will need:

  • 1 heavy-duty closed zipper
  • 2 D-rings, 1 ½” dia. [38 mm]
  • 2 swivel latches, 1 ½” dia. [38 mm]
  • 4 or more yards [4 m] of polyester web strapping, 1 ½” wide [38 mm]
  • Approx. 1 yard [1 m] of canvas/upholstery weight fabric, 54″ wide [137 cm]
  • Approx 1 yard [1 m] of contrast fabric, 45” wide [114 cm] for piping trim.
  • 2 ½ yds. [2.3 m] of wide cotton bias tape, 1” wide [25 mm]
  • 2 yds. [2 m] or more of cable cord, ½” dia. [12 mm]
  • 1 small piece of hook & loop tape
  • Coordinating thread
  • Kraft paper


The size of your duffel tote bag is based on the circumference of a circle. The larger the circle, the larger the bag. Look for a circular object to use as a template or use a compass. (I traced around a large pie plate).

Next, measure the circumference of the circle pattern using the edge of the tape measure. This amount is X.

eg: an 11″ diameter pie plate has a circumference of 34 ½”.

Add 1″ [25 mm] ease to the circumference measurement.

The amount X + 1″ is double the bag height . (see diagram)

Now, to determine the width of the duffle, choose your desired zipper length. The longer the zipper, the wider the bag. (I chose a 20″ large-toothed metal zipper). Measure the zipper tape, end to end, with the tape measure. This is the bag width.

Draw out a rectangle pattern (height x width).

Fold rectangle pattern into thirds to create a vertical grid. Open the pattern flat.

Mark out strap placement lines on the gridlines. Allow one-third free from top edges of the front and back sections or 1/2 of the pattern. (see diagram)

Draw a horizontal line one-third down from top edge of pattern between the strap placement lines. Measure down 6 “[15 cm] from this line and draw another line parallel to it. This will be the pocket position.

Trace out the exterior pocket pattern onto a separate piece of paper. (A-B-C-D)

* Add seam allowance to all pattern pieces.


Self Fabric:

Body – cut 1X

Pocket – cut 1X

Circle Gusset – cut 2X

Contrast Fabric:

Cut bias strips (equal to X + 6” [15 cm] extra) for piping. (see bias cutting)

Cut 6-inch strips for handles (equal to 2 times strap width)

Cut tabs to fit D-rings and swivel latches. (equal to 2 times diameter)


Cut length equal to 3 X for handles.

Cut 40” [1 m] length for detachable shoulder strap.


  1. Attach swivel latch to each end of webbing and turn under ends. Secure with X-stitch.
  2. Make up piping by covering cable cord with bias-cut strips. Use a cording foot or zipper foot attachment and make enough to go around circumference of both circular gusset ends.
  3. Bind top edge of exterior pocket with bias-cut strip, using a Hong Kong finish application.
  4. On inside edge of pocket, secure hook side of H&L tape. (I hid the stitching by covering the spot with a patch made from the contrast fabric).
  5. Trim seam allowance from top edges of the body piece and bind edges with bias-cut strips, using a Hong Kong finish technique.
  6. Attach zipper to one side of bag opening by overlapping piped edge on zipper tape and “stitching-in-the-ditch” along the piped seam, using a zipper foot attachment. On underside, trim away any excess protruding from under zipper.
  7. Sew the 2 short ends of the webbing together to create a loop for the strapping and press seam open. Be sure not to twist the webbing.
  8. Using the pattern as a guide, lightly chalk the placement lines for the strapping on the fabric.
  9. Place the webbing over the placement lines and pin in place. Begin by dividing the strapping loop in half. Position the seam of the loop and its opposite end, at the center of the body piece. Pin along placement line to within one-third of the bag opening, in both directions. (I used 2.8 yards of webbing for the bag strapping).
  10. Attach exterior pocket between the strapping by applying it FACE down 6” [15 cm] below the pocket placement line and stitch across the bottom. Fold the pocket upward towards the top of the bag and lay pocket sides under the strapping. Align and add the loop side of the H&L tape to the body of the bag.
  11. Following the dotted lines on the diagram, topstitch the webbing to the fabric as shown. Ensure you catch the pocket sides in the top-stitching. To reinforce the bottoms of the strap loop, sew an X-stitch through the webbing at each of the 4 points. (I used contrast fabric to trim this area).
  12. Using a zipper foot, place the other piped top-edge over the zipper tape and stitch as previous method (step # 6) along piped seam.
  13. Apply piping trim to each circle gusset, using the zipper foot.
  14. Cut 2 pieces of contract fabric about 6” [15 cm] long. Wrap each piece through a D-ring. Stitch each D-ring tab on the gusset ends with an X-stitch.
  15. Divide the bag ends in quarters, beginning at the zipper position. Divide each circle gusset into quarters. Pin/baste gusset to each end of bag so that the D-ring aligns with the bag opening and stitch around each gusset end. (Be sure to open zipper halfway so you can turn bag right-side-out and you may have to clip the straight edge to sew into the curved edge to release any buckling of the fabric.)
  16. Check for any uneven stitching then do a second row of stitching on top of the first to reinforce the seam. Bind the raw edges with cotton bias tape to neaten. Turn the bag right side out through the zipper opening.
  17. Latch shoulder strap onto D-rings on dufflebag.



Filed under Design Ideas

36 responses to “DUFFLE BAG TOTE

  1. Thank you so much for this tutorial. Can this be made with cotton drill?
    Love your blog!!

  2. Ann

    G’day Don,

    Just discovered your work and love it, and it’s fabulous of you to share. I hope you don’t mind, but I thought I might modify this pattern into a art folder for daughter; adjust size, no gussett, fold it half, zipper around the three edges. Hopefully I’ll be patient enough to put a piping around the zipper edge. So before I dive in, can you see any problems that may occur?

    Thanks Ann

    • Don

      Thx Ann….I don’t foresee any problems but if the materials you are using are costly then you might try sewing a mock-up of your design to plan out the assembly sequence and preview the final look. Make it your own, Ann…my tutorials are only to show you how and in this case, inspire you. I hope you’ll send me a pix of the results?

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  4. I like think so much! I just wish it had a lining.

    • Don

      THX Tiffayn…. you can easily add a lining. Use the body and gusset patterns and cut it same as the self fabric. Sew it up separate from the bag and drop it in. You’ll have to insert the zipper at a later step in the assembly though. Have fun with it and choose a tough-wearing, colourful lining material.


  5. Cute ideas. I will try it. thanks for sharing

  6. Nicole

    I have some old sails I’m trying to convert into “bags”. Think this would be okay material? Do you have any tips? This will be my first go at using “heavy” material, welting and zippers. Thanks for sharing this bag, it looks awesome. Nicole

    • Don

      Perfect choice, Nicole. Sometimes it takes making up a “test” bag or two (see: making mock-ups) in different weights of sailcloth to understand the balance that has to be struck between the look you desire and the capabilities of your sewing machine.

      • Nicole

        Thanks Don, I’ll be sure to do a “test bag”. I’m using the old sails to make bags as a fundraiser. Do you know what kind of thread I should use? I’m looking for a more heavy duty weight. I know I have to use a 16 guage needle. Any help is greatly appreciated.

        • Don

          I would think a polyester or nylon upholstery (aka heavy-duty) thread should do the job, as sailcloth is stronger than leather, and this is what I use on my leather goods. A cotton one would rot. There is a waxed linen thread available on the market but it is costly and rather difficult to find on the retail level. Definitely use a heavier machine needle as sailcloth is not soft.

  7. I can’t see in your instructions where you explain how to attach the fabric for the handles to the webbing. Have I missed something?

  8. Patricia Peters

    I just finished making a Black n White with Hot Pink piping. My material was a floppy woven material, so I had to use heavy duty stabilizer. I also lined the duffle with Hot Pink fabric. It’s fabulous! Thanks for posting your tutorial and instructions! Hugs!

  9. DeeDee Remington

    Just found this blog. OMG!!! the work is amazing! Instructions very clear and wonderful. With all the tacky pieced together tuts out in the internet yours is a God Send! Thank you! I can not wait to make this tote!

  10. bag

    You should be a part of a contest for one of the best blogs on the web. I am going to recommend this website!

  11. Grandma

    Coould you use tee shirts?

  12. BagNewbie

    Hello Don,

    I am really liking your blog and has inspired me to try to create my own bag or at least try to.. How can I create a pattern for making waxed canvas briefcases? I would like create a briefcase style inspired by the following photos:




    I hope you can help. Thanks in advance



  13. Valeria Valencia

    Hi Don! First, I want to thank you..A LOT for making this tutorial. I will send you a photo of my duffle bag as soon I finish….but I have a question…. Instead of a circle I want a “D” de straight line in the bottom and the curve on the top. I should measure the diameter to know the size right?

    • Don

      Thank you Valeria.
      Start by drawing out the D-shape onto paper (actual size). This will be your template for the end gussets. Select a starting point and measure the circumference of the gusset shape. This amount will be the vertical dimension for the body section (front & back). You may make the body as wide as you desire. I take my cues from the length of my zipper. Then add seam allowance to your pattern pieces but keep them narrow as a curved line is longer than a srtaight one. This will make it easier to sew together.

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  16. Becky Thompson

    Hi Don, thanks for the great instructions. They are done so the bag size is flexible and I appreciate that. My son wants a gym bag like the one in the link below. Can you recommend a fabric resource in the US that might carry the type of fabric I’m looking for? I’m going to make the black bag because I already have a black 38″ zipper I salvaged from another bag that had seen better days. Yours is the perfect pattern and I’ll do the handles like the weekender bag in your archived blog post. I also want to make mine better than the one on the website with inner zipper pouches that Velcro to the inside of the bag and a separate section for damp clothes or a wet towel. I’d like to make that out of a mesh of some type but I’m not sure where to get that either. Can you assist? Thanks!

    • Don

      Thanks Becky, my pleasure. I’m going to say JoAnn’s in the US only because I live in Canada and that is where I do my main sourcing whenever I am in the US. The sample appears to be a waterproof nylon called Marilite. For the mesh, I would suggest Simplex or something similar in weave.

  17. Rachel

    I know you posted this years ago, but I am a beginner trying to make a duffle bag and love your tutorial. I am confused about step 5 and 6. Do I bind the top and bottom edges of the bag with bias strip then just lay that over the zipper tape and sew it on? Or do I sew the zipper right sides together onto the bag and then flip it over, press, and stitch it down again?
    In either case, what would the “excess” be that you trim from protruding under the zipper. I cannot visualize it…

    Thanks in advance for any advice.

    • Don

      The steps in #5 and #6 refer to making a Hong Kong finish. This technique is used to bind the raw edge so that it will not fray and provide a neat, tidy appearance. See how to do it in my BIAS CUTTING section or look it up in your sewing reference book.

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  20. Nancy

    Don, thanks so much for this tutorial. It is very clear and seems approachable even to a beginner like me. I have a new sewing machine and this will be one of my first projects. I plan to use a medium weight denim since I am not sure of the capability of my machine ( and myself) yet.

  21. Vickie

    Thanks for your easy to follow instructions. Do you happen have a pattern for a handle grip ? – one of those things which is sewn to the first handle, then the second handle is cradled on top of the first and they are surrounded by the grip, using hook and loop tape.

    • Don

      Vickie, the grip would be a rectangle. The long sides would be equal to the handspan or wider, and the short sides would be 2x the width of the strapping. If you are using hook & tape or a dome snap, add the lapover extension to its width.

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