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Northcott Project Panel - Canvas Tote - Part One

Journey Northcott Project Ideas Project Panel Tote Bag Tote Panel Tutorial

As soon as I saw these canvas tote project panels by Northcott, I knew I wanted to carry them in the store!  Sight unseen, never touched, I figured, hey, these are going to be cool!  Add to the fact that it belonged to the Journey collection, double sold!  

Northcott Project Panel - Journey

So when these arrived, the day before the New Year started, I knew that this was going to be my first project of 2021.  While I find it difficult to justify personal sewing when I have sew many other things to do for both businesses, I knew that this was going to be a nice marriage of sewing up a prototype (for the business) and personal sewing, this first bag was going to be MINE! :)

I decided to (mostly) follow the instructions as written for this first bag and remembered to take lots of pictures along the way!  Most of my "changes" were in the order of the steps.  I know that I like bags with more structure, so I will also be doing a lined and interfaced version of this bag in Part Two of this post. 

As some of my readers know, I also run a handmade business specializing in bags, purses and wallets, so I wasn't able to follow this pattern to the letter as there are definitely things that I like to do a certain way, I will note where I deviate from the pattern as written.

So to start with, the canvas has a very soft hand to it and isn't very stiff, this bag wont stand up on its own as written without interfacing.  For a floppy shopping bag though, its perfect! 

I have been using my "tester" as a mail bag when I go to the post office to ship your orders out!  I can attest to the fact that I have loaded this unlined, un-interfaced bag with over 5kg and its been good to go although the handles stretch a little with that much weight.  (Interfacing would help with that!)

The panel consists of the main body of the bag as one piece, two pieces for straps, one piece for the pocket (optional) and the instructions.

Northcott Project Panel - Tote instructions

If you have never made a bag before, the instructions might be a little on the short side, which is why I am writing this post as a tutorial!  If you can sew a mask, you can sew this bag, I promise!

I have added some extra steps to the instructions pictured above.  The original instructions will be bolded.  As mentioned, alot of the changes are in the order of the instructions.  

Project Requirements:

  1. (1) Project Panel by Northcott
  2. Sewing machine with thread/needles/etc
  3. Scissors or rotary cutter
  4. Ruler


  1. Serger
  2. Iron
  3. Marking pens
  4. Double Sided Tape
  5. Fray Check


  • RST:  Right sides together
  • WST:  Wrong sides together


Note, all numbers referenced in brackets refer to the original pattern step

  • Sew the first thing you do is cut out all of your pieces.
    Project panel with pieces mostly cut out
  • The lines may not be perfectly straight if the fabric is stretched a little bit, so I gave my panel a quick press before cutting to try to straighten it up a little.  
  • I didn't cut right to the edge of the panel as I was planning on serging the edges anyway.
    Image showing panel not cut all the way to the edge
  • While I followed the instructions with doing the pocket later, you can save yourself alot of hassle by sewing the pattern step 6 "Pin the pocket.." before folding your bag in half and stitching the sides together.  (I always like sewing flat things first!)
    • I will note my modifications at the end of the tutorial. The pocket can be added as an afterthought if desired.
  • (1) Fold the bag in half, right sides together.  Stitch along both sides at 1/2"
    • So as mentioned above, I left a little extra on the edges that will be cut off while serging
    • If your panel isn't perfectly straight, use this opportunity to straighten it up as best you can, noting that the 1/2" seam allowance will enable you to fix any wobble.  If it helps, draw a line where you want to stitch.  
  • (2) Serge or zig-zag the edges of the seam allowance.
    Picture showing serged edges and width of project before boxing corners
    • I decided to skip a step and did this all in one go with my serger, if you are using a regular sewing machine, you will stitch the 1/2" seam mentioned in (1) and then zig zag your seam allowance as this step mentions.
  • I decided to prepare the straps next as I like to stitch them under the folded top edge and then stitch them a second time for security.
    • (7) Wrong side up fold and press 1/4" along both sides of the straps.  Fold the straps in half lengthwise wrong side together and press.  Stitch along both sides of the straps. 
    • So, go figure, I like doing my straps a slightly different way.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with the method listed above and may actually be the easier way.  I just happen to know I HATE pressing a 1/4" seam along long edges.
    • I folded the strap pieces in half RST, serged a 1/4" seam along the edge and then turned the really long skinny tube (if you hate this more than pressing a long 1/4" seam, do the strap as the pattern suggests) A flexible bodkin is a handy helper for turning tubes!Turning the strap handles with a flexible bodkin
    • Press and top-stitch each edge of the strap.  
    • Tip:  Verify that your straps are the same length before sewing them in
  • I broke out step (3) in two parts and combined with step (8) broken out in two parts as well. 
    • (3 part 1) Fold the top edge over twice at 3/4" towards the wrong side and [(8 part 1)  Mark the desired placement of the straps on the inside of the bag opening.] (3 part 2) stitch around.
    • Doing it this way secures the straps under the top stitched edge of the bag (and hides raw edges nicely).  I also sew them a second time after (3 part 2) stitch around.
    • I like to use my frixion pens for measuring the 3/4" folds, you can probably eyeball this if you aren't a super exact sewist.
      Image showing fold lines marked with frixion pens
    • The pattern doesn't mention an "optimal" strap placement, I chose to do 4" in from either outside edge of the bag to outside edge of the strap.  (We will be losing 2" of the edge from boxing the corners, so they will be about 2" in from the corner of the bag)
      Image showing strap placement 4" in from either edge
    • Make sure the ends of your straps are pointing down towards the bottom of the bag at this stage as we don't want to catch the strap while sewing the top edge stitching.
      Image showing straps pointing down
    • I chose to do two rows of top stitching the top edge, the first is approximately 1/8" in from the top edge and the other is approximately 1/8" from the "bottom edge" of the folded over top edge.  
      Image showing two rows of top stitching
  • (8 part 2) Sew the straps on, stitching over several times, reinforcing the straps as shown in the picture.  (Note:  I couldn't actually see this detail in the picture as provided, but I took one for you!)
    • If you are following my method, the straps have two lines of stitching attaching them facing down towards the bottom of the bag, but we know that they will eventually be facing upwards.  
      Image showing two lines of stitching attaching strap pointing down
    • Fold them up now, and clip them in place.  I remove the clips almost immediately when I go to sew them, but this gives me a precise starting point.  
      Strap clipped up, ready to sew
    • I sewed along both edges of top stitching and completed the "x-box" to reinforce the straps.  I tend to overload my bags, so I always reinforce straps.  When I go to sew this again with a lining, I will interface my straps and top edge as well! 
    • I use fray check to finish thread ends that I don't want to move!
      Image showing X-box attaching strap and fray check
  • (4) Mark 2" from the bottom of the bag along the seam, lay flat (as in diagram A), and stitch at 90 degrees across the seam.  Repeat on the other side.  This will create the bottom of the bag.
    • This is pretty straightforward boxing of corners and there are tons of tutorials out there on this topic.  I think the wording could be a little more clear, but here is a tutorial for boxing corners.  If you don't like the one I linked, just google it, there are also tons of videos!
    • Unfortunately, this is the only part I didn't photograph!
  • If you have already sewn the pocket on as above (or are choosing to leave this optional piece out), all you need to do now is (9) Turn the bag right side out.  Tadaaa!

Tadaaaa!  Finished bag photo

Optional:  The Pocket

  • (5) Serge or zig-zag the top edge of the pocket.  Press 1/2" seam allowance around the pocket.  Stitch along the top edge of the pocket.
    • You guessed it!  I did this differently too!
    • I folded the top edge of the pocket by 1/4" twice, WST.  (fold 1/4" WST, finger press, fold 1/4"  WST again)  The top raw edge should be tucked on the inside.
    • Stitch along the top edge of the pocket
      Pocket top edge folded and stitched
    • I decided to go hog wild with my DST (Double sided tape) to help me with this floating pocket square.  (This is completely optional!  You could simply press again)
    • Peel back the tape (if using) and fold 1/4" WST and stick.  You will have a little extra nub of fabric on the bottom corners that you can trim.  I find the tape just gives the pocket edge a little bit of stability.
      Showing how to do the pocket edges
    • Fold that 1/4" over one more time if you don't want raw edges on the inside of your pocket and clip.  (this is optional, the raw edges inside wont hurt, I just hate leaving raw edges!)
    • Pocket is ready for step 6.
  • (6) Pin the pocket at the desired location on the inner back side of the bag and stitch on.
    Pocket sewn on
    • I thought this was a lovely spot to add my fold tag!
    • I chose to center the pocket and leave a couple of inches between the top band of the bag and the top of the pocket so a cell phone could comfortably fit below the top edge of the bag.
      Pocket with cell phone tucked inside

Well, after going back and re-reading my steps, I would have to amend my statement that I "mostly" followed the instructions to I "loosely" followed the instructions! 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with following the pattern to the letter!  As I mentioned above, the more different projects you sew, the more you will figure out how you like things done!  


Finished bag, hanging on a door for scale 

Coming soon: 

Part Two:  Hacking the Project Panel pattern to include lining and interfacing

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                                  • sue on

                                    Thank you I purchased the Northcott material panel and the instructions on it were a little ‘lite’.

                                  • Kathryn Frederick on

                                    Did you do a part two to this tutorial with a lining and a stabilizer?

                                  • Spack Craft Fabric on

                                    Hi there guys! Part two is in the works still and I hope to post in September, sorry about the long wait!

                                  • cathy PEARSON on

                                    Is it possible to get instructions for adding a lining?

                                  • April Hays on

                                    I don’t see part two for the lining and interfacing.

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