mtl simple tote pattern

The inspiration: ever since I was a kid, I have loved making bags. This tote design holds a special place in my heart because it was inspired by one of the first bags I ever sewed. I took an after school embroidery class throughout elementary school, which I loved, and the same teacher offered machine sewing classes during the summer. The teacher let us design our own projects and would then help us make the projects (which was so cool! she could’ve just walked us through set projects like a normal sewing class would, but took the time and effort to help 10 year olds make something from scratch instead). I became obsessed with sewing tote bags and spent most of my time in class working on that. Tote bags were a great project to become obsessed with, because I was introduced to many techniques as I started getting more ambitious with the various features added to the bag: zippers, invisible zippers, pockets, flaps, straps, etc. Given, my teacher had to walk me through those additions and I never felt comfortable doing it on my own until I was much older, but I had so much fun making and using my tote bags that my bag making obsession has only grown over the years. This tote bag pattern is based off one of those original tote bags, one that I’ve used immensely for the past 10 years. I made the dimensions slightly larger and added better pockets, but the overall shape is the same.

A note about the shape: though I’ve seen many bag patterns out on the internet, I haven’t seen much of this rectangular bottom construction; I’ve noticed that most tote bag patterns use boxed corners instead. Boxed corners are great, but I like the rectangular bottom better because it makes it easier to add pockets to the bag. Side pockets are possible, and you don’t have to worry about weird slanted side proportions when deciding where to place a patch pocket. Because I want everyone to get the chance to experience the thrill of designing a bag and choosing where and what pockets to add, I kept the main tote pattern very simple and have written up a pocket guide to use as a building block for a customized result.

The overall tote bag is zero waste (made up entirely of rectangles) and reversible. There are so so many possibilities and I can’t wait to see what people make of it. I’ve already had so much fun making more tote bags for myself, friends, and family. This size is perfect; big enough to hold quite a lot of stuff and small enough that it can be made from fabric scraps or upcycled material. Please enjoy this pattern as much as I do!!

Here are some of the tote bags that I’ve made. I normally don’t make this many samples of a pattern, but this design is really quick and enjoyable to make. The variations on this design are truly infinite; you can see that none of my tote bags are exactly the same. I love that depending on the fabric and handles you choose, the tote bag can either be sophisticated or a great way to use up fabric scraps. I got many compliments on my natural canvas/quilted pocket tote bag in my first year of college and it was a great conversation starter when I told people I made it myself 🙂

summer shorts journey

I’ve been searching for the perfect pair of shorts for a while now. I’ve tried many indie patterns, from the Peppermint spring shorts to the All Well Studio Pants. Nothing has quite fit me well, and I finally realized that I would need to step off the beaten path and draft my own. It’s taken many many pairs of shorts, but I’ve finally created a pattern I really like. Here’s a look into the journey and the modifications I made each time:

SHORTS 1 – light blue denim

The basic studio pants pattern shortened into shorts. Full seat adjustment. Added 1/2″ to the crotch.

SHORTS 2 – yellow satin

Shorts 1, but with a side panel.

SHORTS 3 – made from mom’s old jeans

Added a few inches to the side panel and back pockets. Added a lot of rise.

SHORTS 4 – mid denim

Added 1″ to the front rise. Added scooped side pockets instead of back pockets. Took off 1″ of side pantel. Lengthened back crotch 1″.

SHORTS 5 – light blue scrub shorts

Trim off 1″ on back short. Smaller pocket facing by 1″.

SHORTS 6 – teal scrub shorts

Trim 1/2″ off back short. Add 1/2″ to back crotch.

SHORTS 7 – cobalt canvas

Took 1/2″ off front and back sides. Trimmed another 1/2″ off back short.

SHORTS 8 – black linen

Shortened front and back rise by 1/2″. Angled instead of scooped pocket. Added buttonholes for a drawstring.

mini orange cross body bag

I wanted to experiment with a new bag construction, featuring a welt zipper installation and boxy shape. I’ve been playing around with the concept in my mind for a while, and decided to make a mini prototype before scaling up. I used a 4″ (tiny!) zipper, and bound the inner seams with bias tape. The outer material is a nice tangerine suede sample that my friend’s mom who works in real estate gave me years ago. I used some leather scraps for the side tabs as well and added one of my tags for some extra interest. Next steps are to make a bigger version and hopefully develop a pattern for that!

mtl pencil case pattern

A very simple pencil case pattern that’s perfect for using up scraps. I debated whether or not I should share this pattern because it’s so simple and there are already many great free pencil case patterns out on the internet. But in the end, I decided I might as well share mine because it’s good practice and fun for me to write and illustrate the instructions that go with the pattern. To slightly elevate the pattern, I also included pattern pieces and instructions for a waves version of the pencil case. The waves make for a great chance to experiment with bold colors and sew some curves (curves are really fun!). As always, if you find any mistakes or problems with the pattern, please let me know! And if you have any questions, reach out to me! I’ve been the only tester of these patterns so far, so it’s very possible I’ve missed something.

Here are some pictures of my versions of this pencil case. The simple pencil case is made using old Lululemon bag scraps and lined with quilting cotton. Though the fabric is lightweight, it has decent structure to it, so I didn’t use any interfacing. The waves pencil case is made from quilting cotton and my dad’s old hospital scrubs, and is lined with muslin. I used fusible fleece to add structure, and it turned out really nicely.

This pencil case is sleek and compact, but can hold a surprisingly large amount of stuff, not limited to stationery. I think it makes a great travel bag as well. I recently brought it on a backpacking trip with me, and used it to hold spare batteries and a portable charger. It was the perfect size and shape to stick in my sleeping bag with me at night so that the cold wouldn’t drain the batteries.

sewing for backpacking

I went backpacking for the first time last week and it was incredible. I tagged along with J and her dad on their Sierra High Route adventure. This was definitely an ambitious route for a beginner backpacker like me, but I improved so much, gained a lot of confidence over those seven days, and had the best time. It was a great reminder of how much I enjoy living simply and camping and being away from my phone and all the little problems in my normal life. I also loved the challenge of walking all day and making it over passes! The Sierra landscape is absolutely amazing and inspiring– I feel so lucky to have been able to go on this trip.

I did some last minute sewing before the trip, making a stuff sack and a small pouch to hold my driver’s license, medical info, and other little things. The stuff sack was really helpful for organizing my gear in my backpack, and really easy to make too. Hoping to turn that one into a pattern. I think my version is much easier to make than other ones because it doesn’t have a circular bottom and only three seams need to be sewn to create it. Proud of that one. Also featured is a cosmetics bag (recognize the Lululemon fabric?) that I made a few years ago before my horsepacking trip. I’ve gotten great use out of that bag too. The small pouch was great. I’m a bit unhappy with how the zipper turned out; it’s a bit sloppy on the ends, and I would add zipper tabs next time for a cleaner finish. But that’s if I’m being picky. Function-wise, the pouch was great. Small enough to fit in the top pocket of my backpack, bright colors to make it easy to spot, and water-resistant fabric for ease of mind. And isn’t that view from Dusy Basin gorgeous? Got to love Sierra granite!

self-drafted a collar + updated a shirt

Found this old shirt that I’m 99.9% sure my grandma in Taiwan made for me years ago. I actually really like the fabric now and could see myself wearing this. I wanted to fix the collar and armhole hems though, so that’s what I did. I unpicked the armhole binding and hemmed it. I also undid the old mandarin style collar and replaced it with my own self-drafted one. I was a bit apprehensive at first about drafting my own collar; the only other time I’ve done it was in FSAD 1450 and I was able to use a sloper then. I searched up how to self-draft a collar and found a website that said something similar to what I had learned in class. I followed that as best as I could and just went with it. This was one of those projects where I had to stop overthinking everything and dive into it before I could back out. Took a lot of initial motivation, but once I got started, it was pretty fun. I wanted to match the navy blue placket, but I didn’t have a similar fabric so I made the collar out of navy corduroy scraps instead. At least that meant I didn’t have to use interfacing. All in all, I’d have to say it turned out really well. The part where the collar meets the placket is a little funky, but I can massage it with my hand to make it lie “right”.

new pencil case

I spilled peanut butter on my old pencil case (the indigo dyed one) in college and the stickiness finally convinced me to make myself a new one. I’m discovered how useful Adobe Illustrator is for drafting patterns – no more paper scraps and taping and drawing lines with pencil; I can do it much faster, with less waste, on the computer! I whipped up this quick pencil case pattern and luckily the shape worked perfectly the first time. I might upload this as a free pattern, but it’s so simple that I wonder if others would actually use it. Maybe I’ll add a fun modification to make it more worthwhile?

I used scrap fabric from all the bags I’ve taken apart and chose a fun bright pink zipper. I normally don’t use colors this bright in my project but I think I’m going through a phase because my last few projects have also been very colorful. I’m vibing with it.

mtl fanny pack pattern

Just a useful pattern to have & perfect for adventures! I’m using mine on hot hikes to carry my phone, some snacks, and extra doggo poop bags. If you find any problems/mistakes with the pattern, please let me know! I’m still learning the pattern-making process so any feedback would be much appreciated.

** Update: Realized I didn’t include the dimensions anywhere. The finished dimensions are 7.5″L x 4″H x 2″W. Another consideration is that the pattern is not fully lined, but you can easily add the full lining by cutting out two more main body pieces and basting them WST to the exterior main body pieces before assembling (step 7). Thank you all so much for your interest in this pattern!!

This is an especially great pattern for using up old fabric scraps. I made my versions using nylon bits leftover from other projects and reusable bags that I took apart and I’m really loving the color blocked look.

mtl chalk bag pattern

Now that it’s summer and I’ve got more time, I’ve decided to turn my scrap paper patterns into digital patterns with written instructions. Up first is my chalk bag pattern. I’ve been using this pattern a lot to make gifts for climbing friends. It’s simple and quick, but also easily customizable. Would love to see if anyone makes it – tag me @mtlmakes or use #mtlchalkbag. Hope you find it useful!

For my version, I hand-painted the fabric with some poppy motifs. I used yellow canvas for the bottom and also added a yellow triangle near the cord opening for contrast. I painted some grey grossgrain ribbon I had saved from a package in the past (save everything! you never know when it might be useful!) because I was feeling artsy and wanted something other than boring black for the binding. This particular chalk bag uses simple ribbon loops to attach the belt to the bag. In the instructions, I explain how to use a webbing system instead. Both should work well; it’s just based on personal preference and what’s available. If you’ve got a grommet, I recommend using that for the cord opening too, just to make things more sturdy and professional. If you don’t, like me, then follow the instructions to leave an opening in the seams instead. Play around, have fun with it!

Other versions: