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How to Make a Canvas Tote Bag: Upcycling Old Clothes into New Items

Ally Nelson |

Did you ever think of turning old clothes/items into Canvas tote bag instead of just throwing them away? Well, Upcycling is a progressively big trend for the eco-conscious among us who want to lower their negative impact upon the environment. In our thrift age, turning old clothes or items into new ones brings together the best of both worlds of eco-friendliness and DIY creativity. Today, we want to show you several ways of making a canvas tote bag out of clothes/pieces you already have, but you do not want to throw away or donate!

What is Upcycling?

We have talked about recycling and upcycling many times before – the latter meaning the transformation of something old/used into something new, functional, and beautiful.

In comparison, recycling means breaking down old items into their base materials and use those materials to create new products, often of lesser quality.

In the vein of ethical fashion and reducing the textile industry’s significant adverse effect on the environment, upcycling rises as one of the best solutions we have right now. As we said before, the world is slowly but steadily embracing sustainable vegan fabrics, but we still have a long way ahead of us until we get to wear Pinatex summer sandals and soybean cashmere just as frequently as we wear animal leather and wool.

What we can do now is acknowledge that upcycling is both fun and useful – it certainly saves you some money on buying new clothes or accessories. Moreover, we can all agree that tote bags make some of the most popular items these days, as they serve many purposes. You can use them as reusable shopping bags, fashion bags, promotional items for your business, and more.

If you always wanted to know how to make a tote bag at home, we will see you and raise you: let’s learn today how to make tote bags out of clothes and items you already have, and you want to turn into cute and fully functional tote bags!

1. How to Make a Tote Bag – An Old T-Shirt: No Sewing Required

What do you look for when you buy a new large cotton tote bag for shopping? You want it to be sturdy and durable, have robust shoulder straps, and fit inside all the groceries you plan or happen to buy when you go out. Following this trail of thinking, let’s see how to make a tote bag using a t-shirt you have but do not wear anymore.

What You Need

  1. Old t-shirt – the sturdier/thicker the fabric, the more robust the bag is;
  2. Sharp fabric scissors;
  3. A dinner plate – the flatter the better; some use it to make a perfect semicircle cut for the bag’s opening;
  4. A pen or a washable marker with pointy tip – to mark the areas where you have to cut;
  5. A few straight pins – to keep the fabric in place and use as a guideline for the bottom cuts;

    How to Do it

    Making tote bags out of recycled t-shirts is a creative and eco-friendly way to refresh your wardrobe. Using a plain tee and chopping off the sleeves to make a huge opening, you can turn it into a stylish tote bag that can be used for anything from grocery shopping to book toting to a day at the beach.

    Spending the effort to tie knots at the bottom gusset of the bag is crucial for making it last. As the tote bag will be reinforced by the knots, it may carry additional weight without ripping or drooping. You can tie a square knot or a slip knot or whatever else you choose.

    Reusing old tees to make new tote bags is a great way to recycle, save money, and show off your personal flair by customizing a bag with your favorite colors, designs, and logos. It's a great way to give your closet a facelift and help the planet at the same time.

    How to Use it

    As you can see from the clip, it is easy to make a tote bag from a t-shirt. Depending on the size of the t-shirt and on how much material you trim from the bottom, you can make several tote bags depending on your needs:

    As you can see from the tutorial above, you can learn quickly how to make a tote bag and upcycle old t-shirts you do not want to throw away. Usually, colored and patterned t-shirts make beautiful and stylish tote bags and purses.

    However, if you have some old white ones – or almost white ones – you need to turn into gorgeous works of art, here are our 15 ideas on how to accessorize a canvas bag, together with our guide on transforming tote bags into stylish accessories for work, school, travel, beach, or casual wear!

    2. How to Make a Tote Bag - An Old Pair of Jeans – Part 1: Hand Sewing

    Ah, jeans! Who can throw jeans away, even if they are old or broken? We all have that particular favorite pair of jeans we love and cannot depart from, so instead of thinking of breakups, why don’t we think about transformation, evolution, and yes, upcycling? In case you did not know, denim tote bags are back in fashion, and you should take the opportunity to still wear your favorite skinnies (or disco ones) in the shape of a fashionable bag!

    You won't believe the number of guides available online that walk you through the process of fashioning a tote bag out of an old pair of jeans, but we have selected two videos specifically for you to watch today. The one below demands some experience in hand stitching on your part, but if you think you're up to the challenge, let's get this party started!

    What you Need

    1. A pair of old/used jeans;
    2. Tailor’s scissors, chalk, and measuring tape;
    3. Fabric glue;
    4. Needle and thread.

    Optional: beads and leather belts for the tote’s straps. You can also make denim straps for your jeans tote bag and style the purse with buttons, pom-poms, fabric scraps, and more.

    How to Do It

    This tutorial allows you to put your creative cap on and turn your jeans’ legs into a fashionable denim tote bag you can wear in style. We love the finishing touches and the styling, but let’s see the video and expand our knowledge and skills on upcycling!

    How to Use It

    Before we discuss the uses of this delightful purse, we want to add our two cents to this DIY project (and the one you will see in a few moments): whenever you can, use stitches and sewing instead of fabric glue. You need your denim purse to carry your items or your groceries, so you need strong sutures and reinforcements for the handles, pockets, bottom, and so on. Now, let’s see a few tips on how to use this purse!

    • If you make a denim tote bag with denim straps, it will work as a shopping bag or a purse for casual outings;
    • Should you choose to follow the tutorial to the letter and make a denim bag with leather straps and other leather adornments, get your inspiration from our guide on how to wear tote bags for work for a stylish office look!

    3. How to Make a Tote Bag – Old Denim/Camo Pants – Part 2: Sewing Machine

    Those of you seasoned in the arts of using a sewing machine have a cute project to turn into a reality. The principles are the same, as the video shows you how to make a tote bag from an old pair of jeans but with a plot twist: it adds fabric interior lining with interior pocket, exterior front pocket, a zipper, and stylish leather handles (from an old belt).

    • You will see plenty of glue used in the video, so we have to reiterate that you need a sturdy purse that has to carry some amount of weight. For you to achieve robustness, try using the sewing machine to fix the purse handles, lining, pockets, zipper, and so on. It may take a longer time and some effort, but you want a fully functional denim purse, not just a decorative one!

    How to Do It

    Watch this helpful tutorial video to learn how to transform the legs of a pair of jeans into a cute and trendy denim handbag! If you make the cuts correctly, you will end up with a handbag as well as a pair of short pants that are perfect for the beach.


    4. How to Make a Tote Bag – Fancy Pencil Skirt

    In truth, the easiest way to make a tote bag out of an old fashion item is to sew the bottom of a mini pencil skirt and add fabric or leather handles to it. The beauty of this idea resides in its simplicity – as you need only a few things to get started, while the principles apply to many other skirts you have in the closet, but you do not want to throw: mini or midi pencil skirts, and, of course, denim skirts.

    The sporty denim, camo, or leather skirts you have come with an amazing feature: they have pockets, zippers, clasps, and applications of their own, allowing you to go crazy with your DIY projects of turning skirts into designer-like shoulder bags or handbags.

    What you Need

    According to this tutorial, you need very few things:

    • A skirt you still want to wear but differently;
    • Thread and needles;
    • A sewing machine;
    • Magnetic clasps;
    • Leather handles (either you buy them or make them out of an old leather belt or even metal chain);
    • Fabric scissors and pliers.

    How to do It

    You should plan to spend several minutes on it from beginning to end. But at the end, you will not only have your designer tote, but you will also have a project that you can be proud of anytime you go for a walk carrying your new bag! Here is the video for your entertainment and enlightenment!

    How to Use It

    In the example above, we witnessed the transformation of a glamorous little skirt into a sophisticated, glamorous shoulder bag. Expanding on this idea, let’s see others way to make the best-upcycled item out of an old skirt:

    • A simple monochrome stretch pencil skirt you do not wear can evolve into an office purse; similarly, a colored one can take shape and functions of a bag following the athleisure style or the casual one;
    • Do you have a mini camo skirt you simply cannot let go? Turn it into a cool urban-chic camo tote bag to wear to school, to the office, or while you conquer the world with your freelance projects!
    • Do you have a skirt with an elastic waist? Sew the bottom, pull out the elastic, add two leather or canvas strings and enjoy your new drawstring backpack or laundry bag!

    Now that we have talked about turning a denim or camo skirt into a tote bag let’s see an informative video tutorial as well!

    You can apply the same procedure and principles to make a denim tote bag out of old skirts in sturdy materials, such as suede, velvet, sturdy canvases, leather, wool, and so on.

    5. How to Make a Tote Bag - Used Bathroom Towel/Tea Towel

    Bath towels and kitchen towels make some of the best upcycling items in your house, as they take quite a beating and you usually change them often. How about the old/tired ones? You can turn them into incredible DIY tote bag projects – convertible beach bags, stylish daily-use shopping bags, drawstring backpacks, and more!

    What You Need

    • Bath/beach towels, hand towels, tea towels or washcloths;
    • Fabric scissors;
    • Several materials for the handles – rope, drawstring, old leather belts, ribbons, you name it;
    • A sewing machine;
    • Thread and needles;
    • For precision and support – tailor chalk, pins, and measuring tape.

    Let’s binge on some tutorials, shall we?

    How to Make a Beach Tote Bag out of an Old Beach Towel

    Easy and fun, this tutorial can give you even more ideas on how to upcycle old items! We are thinking about bed sheets, pillowcases, and thin throw blankets, but you know best! Anyway, keep this video in mind and use it together with our guide on beach bag essentials for this summer. Remember, upcycling and eco-friendliness are the best trends you should follow!

    How to Make a Drawstring Sack out of a Tea Towel

    This guide will show you how to make useful and environmentally friendly face washcloths out of used tea towels. This tutorial will show you how to make a drawstring bag out of just about any fabric you find lying around your house.

    The flexibility of this guide is one of its strongest points. The drawstring backpack's fundamental design is straightforward and flexible, making it suitable for a wide range of purposes. Smaller versions of the backpacks can be made for children or used as party favor bags. On the other hand, you may make larger versions to use as a gym bag or a carry-on when you travel. Any number of outcomes are possible.

    Final Words on How to Make a Tote Bag and Upcycling

    The objective of this blog was to show you how to construct a tote bag using recycled materials, such as old garments and household objects, in a fun and eco-friendly way. We trust that the presentation was both educational and motivating for you.

    We like being able to supply you with high-quality tote bags, but we also hope that you will enjoy the challenge of constructing your own tote bags out of recycled materials. Upcycling is not only a frugal and environmentally friendly method to get new use out of old materials, but it also lets you make tote bags that are uniquely suited to your preferences.

    We'd love to hear about your own experiences and thoughts on the topic, since we're firm believers in the potential of upcycling and restyling. Have you ever made a tote bag out of an old coat or skirt? Do you know any secrets for upcycling materials into useful goods like tote bags? Tell us what you think and what you've experienced since we value hearing from our consumers and the general public.