How to Make a Tote Bag: Upcycling Old Clothes into New Items
Upcycling is a progressively ample 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 will see a few ideas on how to make a 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 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
- Old t-shirt – the sturdier/thicker the fabric, the more robust the bag is;
- Sharp fabric scissors;
- A dinner plate – the flatter the better; some use it to make a perfect semicircle cut for the bag’s opening;
- A pen or a washable marker with pointy tip – to mark the areas where you have to cut;
- A few straight pins – to keep the fabric in place and use as a guideline for the bottom cuts;
How to Do it
The main idea here is to remove the sleeves of the t-shirt, create a large opening for your future tote bag, and spend some time tying knots to strengthen the tote bags’ bottom gusset. To see how to make a tote bag from an old t-shirt, we invite you to see the video below!
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:
- A large men’s t-shirt in the shape of a colorful tote bag can serve as a beach bag for the upcoming summer season. Of course, you should consider a waterproof polyester beach bag for your seaside adventures, but luckily for you, we have a full tutorial on how to make a canvas bag water resistant so that you can give it a spin!
- A smaller women’s t-shirt can become a pretty, and fancy mini-cotton tote bag you can use as a hand purse or straps handles to achieve a small fabric messenger bag for everyday errands running, school, or a casual day at work.
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 cannot believe how many tutorials are there on how to make a tote bag with the help of your old jeans, but we picked up two videos for you today. The one below requires some hand sewing skills from you, but if you are up to it, let’s make things happen!
What you Need
- A pair of old/used jeans;
- Tailor’s scissors, chalk, and measuring tape;
- Fabric glue;
- 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
Here is a smart video guide on how to turn a pair of jeans’ legs into a little fashionable denim handbag! If you make the cuts right, you will have both a purse and a pair of short beach jeans!
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
It will take you some good minutes through and through, but in the end, you will have your designer tote and a project to be proud of whenever you take your new bag out for a walk! Here is the video for your inspiration!
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 tutorial here teaches you how to upcycle any fabric you have at hand, so tea towels or face washcloths are just the beginning. Perfect for kids, small favor/gift bags, or your daily casual routines, drawstring backpacks are so versatile and useful, there is no wonder everyone is using them, big brands included.
So let’s see how you can adapt this guide to your needs and revamp old cloth items into amazing pieces of fashion or marketing!
Final Words on How to Make a Tote Bag and Upcycling
We hope you loved our presentation on how to make a tote bag out of old clothes and household items. We know you love getting your tote bags from us, but this does not mean you cannot practice your imagination or your skills by making a few tote bags of your own!
We deeply encourage the upcycling and restyling of used items. So, have you ever made a tote bag out of an old fashion piece? What other ideas do you have on this matter? We are more than eager to learn your tips and tricks!