Thursday, June 30, 2016

Port & Sort Tote: Collapsible Inserts

This week, the Port & Sort Tote Pattern is in the testing labs, which is a fancy way of saying "my testers are ironing out the kinks and hopefully having fun while". When they're done, I will be working their feedback into my edits of the pattern, and then I'll do a final sample to test-run it myself. After that, it goes on sale and everyone can start making these little totes for themselves. Hurrah!

While we wait, here is the tutorial for the collapsible inserts that go with the Port & Sort Tote. 

This is not included in the pattern, largely because I'd already taught you to make something similar here

Instead, I'm just sharing it as a tutorial, so everyone can make them - they're useful and easy enough to turn out dozens of in a short time. They're useful for organizing all kinds of knick-knacks around the house.

This tutorial will enable you to make the boxes in both heights - the base for both is the same. And both heights will fit in the Port-&-Sort Totes - the taller ones go in as is, and the shorter ones can be stacked two-high.

These are the finished dimensions:

TALLER BOX: 4.25" x 4.25" x 5" (height)

SHORTER BOX: 4.25" x 4.25" x 2.5" (height)

We'll be making the taller box in this tutorial.

You will need:

  • A: Two 6" x 6" squares of twill or medium-weight fabric for the base, cut diagonally into four triangles as shown.
  • B: One zipper, at least 7" long.
  • C: Four rectangles of template plastic (I used regular, but I've heard that heavy works, too), each 4.25" x 4.5" (W X H)
  • D: Two rectangles of light to medium weight fabric for the body, 18" x 6" (L X H)

(For the SHORTER BOX, which is not shown here), use the same for A and B, and the following for C and D:
  • C: Four rectangles of regular (not heavy) template plastic, each 4.25" x 2.25" (W X H) - you may need to trim the height a little as needed, to fit in the fabric pockets later.
  • D: Two rectangles of light to medium weight fabric for the body, 18" x 3.5" (L X H)

The 1/2" seam allowances (SA) are included in the given dimensions.

You will also need a piece of paper cut to a square of sides 4.25" x 4.25".

Stage 1: Make the Base
Unzip the zipper and place it RS up on the RS of one base triangle, so that one edge of the zipper tape is aligned with the hypotenuse/diagonal edge. Ensure that both ends of the zipper protrude from the fabric triangle by roughly the same amount i.e. the zipper is 'centered' along its hypotenuse. Baste the zipper tape to the fabric. Place a second triangle over the first so their RS are together. Line up all three sides, sandwiching the zipper between them. Sew through all layers to attach the zipper. Depending on the width of your zipper tape, you may or may not be sewing exactly 1/2" from the edge of the fabric. This is okay - what's more important is that you don't sew too close to the zipper coils, to allow the zipper pull to move freely.

Fold back the triangles to expose the zipper coils. Their WS will now be together. Press open the seam and edge-stitch close to the folded edge, through all layers. 

Repeat this to attach the other two triangles to the other side of the zipper tape. You should now have four triangles attached to the zipper, forming a square. The side on which the zipper is right-side-up (i.e. with the zipper pull) is the square's RS. 

If your fabric is slippery, baste both layers together along all four sides.

Take the square of paper and fold it in half along its diagonal. Open it up and place the diagonal fold along the coils of the zipper so the metal stops of the zipper are outside the paper square. Adjust it so that there is roughly an equal-width border of fabric all around the paper square. On the fabric, mark all four corners of the square. You can see in the photo below that the corners on the fabric are marked with a blue dot (I used a fabric marker) and the corners that lie along the zipper coils are marked with pink chalk. Also note that the metal stops of the zipper lie outside the pink chalk marks. Trace lines on the fabric between the marks to make a square as shown - this is the actual stitching line of the base. Trim the SA to 1/2", including any ends of the zipper that protrude beyond the 1/2" SA.  If the basting stitches from the earlier step are trimmed off, you may re-baste the layers together if necessary.

Stage 2: Make the Body.
Along one long side of the 18" x 6" rectangles, fold the SA to the WS and press down. This is the top edge.

With RS together, fold one rectangle in half to make a 9" x 6" rectangle, pressing the fold line. Bring and sew the short sides together as follows:
  • unfold the top SA and stitch from the actual top edge of the fabric down to the bottom edge.
  • stop stitching 1/2" from the bottom edge and backstitch.

Next, fold the Body rectangle in half again, bringing the folded edge to meet the stitched line. Press these news fold to make sharp edges - they divide the Body into quarters, each of which is a wall. Also snip through the bottom 1/2" (a little less is okay, but not more) at each of these three quarter marks. You do not have to snip the bottom of the stitched line - you'd already left the bottom-most 1/2" unstitched earlier.

This is the finished Body - a 6"-tall cylinder divided into four equal wall sections. Press back down the bit of SA along the top edge that you'd unfolded earlier to stitch the side seam.

Repeat with the second 18" x 6" piece. 

Stage 3: Attach One Body
Lay the Base RS up on your work surface. Pick one of the Body cylinders to be the INSIDE (lining) layer of the finished box. With the Body WS out, match each of the snipped bottom corners of the Body with one of the corner marks on the Base. Spread out and align the Body's bottom SA with the edges of the base. The RS of the Body fabric will be touching the RS of the Base. You will be basting the Body to the Base along all four sides as shown by the red dashed line below.

Lay the Body-Base ensemble under the presser foot and baste along all four sides.

This is what the box will look like at this stage.

Stage 4: Attach the Second Body
Turn the Base-and-Body ensemble upside down, so the WS of the Base is facing up. Lay the other Body cylinder, WS out, on the WS of the base, aligning their sides and matching their corners as you did with the first Body.  Pin in place if necessary. Removing the pins as you sew, stitch now on the actual stitching line to attach this second Body to the Base. You will be sewing through the first Body underneath.

This is what the box will look like at this stage.

Stage 5: Combine the Layers
Carefully clip the corners of the Base and bring the outer Body layer up over the inner (lining) Body layer. Their WS will now be together. 

Pin the corner edges of both layers together and align their folded top edges.

Stitch along each corner edge as shown by the red dashed line (and the two red arrows along the back walls), to attach both layers together. You will be sewing through the folded top edges. It is okay not to stitch all the way to the base - just go as close to the base as you can.

Done correctly, you will now have created four pockets between the layers, divided by the seams you'd just sewn (red arrows).

Insert one plastic piece into each pocket. If they are too large to lie flat within the pocket, trim them accordingly. I also trim the sharp corners off, so they don't poke and rip the fabric. Tuck the top edge of the plastic pieces under the folded edge of one of the layers of fabric.

Edge-stitch around the rim of the box, through the plastic as well, to sew both layers together and close the pockets. I find a free arm useful for this step, although you can get by without - simply sew on the lining side instead (i.e. on the inside layer of the box). I also find that this step is more easily done with the zipper completely unzipped.

Here is the finished box, unzipped and laid flat.

Here's how to use the inserts:

With the dividers in use, the Tote is divided into three compartments. 

The middle compartment accommodates one tall insert or two shorter ones, stacked.

With the dividers fastened against the sides as pockets, 

the entire volume of the Tote accommodates two tall boxes, four short boxes stacked in two layers, or one tall box and two short boxes, stacked.

Depending on how fully you fill these boxes, the Tote can be zipped closed - 

the boxes themselves will fold and compress.

Alternatively, you can keep the boxes unzipped

and stored flat in the pockets, to be set up when the Tote is opened to access its contents.

I love that when not in use, 

everything folds this flat!


  1. I love these and will be making some soon! Thanks for the tutorial!

    (Sorry, but I'm giggling at the hyphens.) :)

  2. Looks great, love that they collapse.

  3. Where do you find "template plastic"?

    1. Angela: You can find it in the quilting section of most fabric stores. You can buy it as single sheets or as multipacks. There are two kinds I've most commonly seen- regular and heavy (thicker). Buy the regular kind if you can.

    2. Hi, I've found out that old plastic placemats (the thin ones you can find also at IKEA) can be acceptable substitutes for the plastic templates. Also, as they're inside fabrics, no one is going to see if they are scratched, with fading colors, ecc...

      Hope it helps

    3. Chiara, this is so helpful - thanks!

  4. Would this work with interfacing instead of the plastic? (I have plenty of interfacing) thanks! and thanks for such a clear tutorial.

    1. Anonymous: if your interfacing is thick and stiff enough, yes. You might get a container that is more cylindrical than 4-walled, and probably better results for the shorter box than the taller, but give it a shot and see how it works, anyway!

  5. Oooh, such a multi-functional storage device! So cool! And so versatile! You are brilliant! (I wish there was one sentence I could put in without exclaiming with big round eyes - so here it is! Or not!)


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