The Ultimate Guide to the Best Totes - Everything You Need to Know About a Tote Bag
In recent times, tote bags have become quite the functional accessory due to their simple versatility and ease of use. These tote bags can easily be personalized to represent who you are or be bought from several branded designers to make a fashionable statement while still being mindful of the environment. These bags can be dressed up or down depending on the event. Available in a wide range of sizes in a wearable material, a canvas bag can serve your needs for a wide variety of occasions. Read on to learn more about these bags, including how to make one of your own.
In recent times, tote bags have become quite the functional accessory due to their simple versatility and ease of use. These totes can easily be personalized to represent who you are or be bought from several branded designers to make a fashionable statement while still being mindful of the environment. These bags can be dressed up or down depending on the event. Available in a wide range of sizes in a wearable material, a canvas bag can serve your needs for a wide variety of occasions. Read on to learn more about the best tote bags, including how to make one of your own.
What is a Tote? - The Ultimate Guide to the Best Tote Bags
A tote is simply a large bag suitable for carrying (or toting) lots of stuff, that has a large opening on the top. A tote bag, in essence, is any bag of variable size that often lacks fasteners other than a pair of parallel handles on either side to hold the bag by. The main purpose of a tote bag is to serve as an easy carryall, especially during those busy days spent shopping or running errands. A canvas tote bag, however, is any tote made from the durable, fabric material woven out of cotton or linen. This material is also found on sails, tents, backpacks and other items. Canvas is also the very same material used by artists everywhere as the base for their medium.
The History of the Tote
Totes first came into creation in the 17th century, but the term "tote", which means "to carry", did not become common until the 1900s. Particularly in the United States, totes did not reach their height of popularity until 1944, when one of the major apparel companies released their iconic Boat Bag. Interestingly enough, the purpose of this original tote was to carry ice during outings and the bag itself has remained in production with little change in product design. The Boat Bag continues to be made from a durable canvas material, which has undoubtedly withstood the test of time.
Although this company has contributed a great deal to the popularity of the tote, it's the American housewives of the 1950s who greatly ushered this bag into mainstream society. Totes became a staple accessory in the completion of errands and chores, which then led way to the totes becoming a fashion statement in the 1960s. This is when designers such as Bonnie Cashin took advantage of the practical design and turned it into something elegant. The bag also hit the intellectual society when the popular New York City bookstore, The Strand, adopted and re-introduced its own version of the classic tote. High-end totes are now commonly seen on runways across the world during every Fashion Week, which boasts another level of luxury than the classic and practical cloth tote bag.
Now, in the present day, these eco-friendly totes are available in a wide variety of colors and images. From subtle political expression to pop culture symbols, literally, anything can be printed on these bags. The flexible material also makes it possible to customize to suit your personal sense of fashion and needs.
What is a Tote Made of?
A tote is often made of cotton or linen, although hemp has also been a popular material historically. Many people confuse canvas itself to be a material, although the term actually refers to the style of the fabric's weave and not the material of the fabric. For example, a tighter weave is called duck canvas. When it comes to the actual fabric materials, cotton is derived from the cotton plant. Another popular material is linen, which is derived from the flax plant. Hemp, which is not so common anymore, is derived from the cannabis plant.
Canvas fabrics have historically been used for sails, tents and painting. With a simple waterproof coating treatment, this fabric becomes impermeable in rain or shine. Canvas material is also exceptionally good for custom tote bags due to its flexibility. The material is lightweight and holds the ink from prints well without bleeding or flaking of the design.
Canvas materials are sourced from the environment naturally, making these materials the perfect choice for those who are environmentally conscious. The reusable nature of canvas tote bags further supports the ecosystem by reducing the production of wastes.
How are Totes Made?
It is fairly simple to learn how to make a tote. Here is a step-by-step guide to make one of your own: To get started, it is important to gather the appropriate tools from the beginning. The necessary equipment includes scissors, pins, a ruler, seam ripper, fabric chalk and a sewing machine and 1 meter of cloth.
- Step One: Cut out a 33'' x 31'' sheet from the fabric. Then, fold the piece of fabric in half so that the size is now 16 ½'' x 15 ½''. Make sure the fold itself is oriented at the bottom.
- Step Two: Now, cut two 16'' long straps out of the leftover fabric. These will serve as the handles of the bag. If desired, the fabric can be substituted with any other sturdy material as desired for the handles. However, try and keep the strips to an appropriate length.
- Step Three: Take the top, open edges of the folded fabric square and fold them down by an inch on both sides. Pin the sides down. Then, sew 0.5 mm from the edges while making sure to double stitch at the beginnings and ends to ensure sturdiness. Remove the pins. You have now completed the top fold stitches.
- Step Four: Now that the top and bottom of the bag have been secured, it is time to sew the sides shut. Pin the sides together so that the edges match evenly. Continue to sew 1 mm from the edge of the fabric.
- Step Five: The bottom of the bag can be given more volume by sewing across the now established corners, forming an effective gusset. Pinch the corners of the bag open (utilizing the 1 mm of free space of the edges) and secure them with pins. Then, sew about 3'' across the corners on both bottom corners of the bag. You will end up with two corners that almost resemble dog-ears, giving the bottom of the bag more of a body.
- Step Six: Take the straps and measure 4'' from both ends, such that each strap of the handle rests 4'' from the closest edge. Line up the edges of the straps with the 1'' folds sewn earlier at the tops of the bag. Then, pin each strap down, repeating for each side.
- Step Seven: The straps of the handles must be sewn with great care such that they remain intact even with the burden of weights. Start off by sewing around all four edges of the strap, forming a square out of the thread. Then, sew lines connecting the corners of the squares, such that the thread bisects to form an "X". The finished product should look like a square with an "X" centered in the middle. Repeat this method with the remaining three straps.
- Step Eight: Cut off any loose strings and make sure all thread work is secure. Now, flip the bag inside out, revealing your new blank tote bag. The best part about this project is that you're literally left with a blank canvas – making your imagination the only limit to the possibilities!
- Step Nine: Decorating your tote is the moment you get to unleash your personal style and expression. The best part about tote bag materials is that they hold ink easily, regardless of the method that the ink is transferred to the bag. Fabric markers work fine for this project as do iron on decals. This process can be avoided altogether with the selection of printed fabric for the project.
What are the popular weights of canvas material that is used in canvas totes?
Canvas material is available in 4 oz, 5 oz, 6 oz, 8 oz, 10 oz, 12 oz, 14 oz, 16 oz and 24 oz weights. The popular weights of the canvas material out of those options are the 6 oz for lower quality bags (also known as Cotton totes or Cotton sheeting totes) and 12 oz for durable canvas totes. The heavier weights are reserved for fashion totes.
What is the difference between 5 oz, 6 oz, 10 oz, 12 oz canvas material?
The differences in weights account for differences in the canvas material. The 5 oz material is thin but also the most popular option for cheap bags, such as those used for grocery shopping in order to prevent the wastage of plastic bags. The 6 oz material is indistinguishable from the 5 oz, so it is often better to opt for the cheaper 5 oz material if deciding between the two.
The 10 oz canvas material is reserved for high quality totes that are durable and last several years of use. This material looks even better with age, as it washes and wears well. The 12 oz canvas material is heavy duty and used to make more refined looking bags, encroaching into fashion beyond practicality and simplicity.
What is GMS for a Tote Bag and how is GMS calculated?
GMS means grams per meter squared. A gram is a unit of weight. A thousand grams equals one kilogram. Basically, it is another term to determine the weight of the fabric when the material ends up being a blend of two or more fabrics. The higher the GMS, the heavier the weight of the fabric.
What is the difference between canvas and cotton tote?
Canvas can be made from cotton through a special weaving process. Although canvas can be made from other materials, including cotton, the build tends to be sturdier than a plain cotton bag.
The advantages of a plain cotton tote bag include the positive environmental impact due to its reusability. They also tend to be cheaper but serve multiple purposes, from errands to shopping. Another benefit of cotton material is the fact that it retains heat transfer, iron ons and screen-printing extremely well. Cotton itself is heat resistant up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. The material is also easily penetrable by a needle, serving as an adequate canvas for threadwork and embroidery. Cotton bags also tend to be lightweight, between 4 oz and 6 oz. However, this also means that cotton tote bags aren't as durable and should be handled with care.
Canvas tote bags are heavier duty than cotton tote bags due to the intricate weaving process used during manufacturing. As a result, canvas tote bags can carry heavier items for long periods of time without worry of the bag ripping or giving out during an errand or day out. Even on canvas material, iron on logos, screen printed designs and heat transfer applications work well with little effort. Due to their sturdy nature, canvas tote bags tend to be heavier, weighing between 8 oz and 24 oz. The most popular canvas weights are 10 oz and 12 oz.
Although both types of totes have their advantages and disadvantages, the best tote bag for you depends on what you plan on using the bag for. Cotton tote bags work well temporarily for light use. However, canvas tote bags are more durable and can withstand continuous wear and tear, accounting for why these bags tend to last longer.
Are tote bags waterproof?
Although many store-bought totes will come waterproofed, many DIY projects and cheaper bags will not have a waterproof coating over them. The advantages of waterproof totes are limitless and worth paying for if you're debating between the two. After all, a bag that is weather resistant will protect your belongings from water damage. An easy way that you can waterproof your drawstring tote is with wax.
How to Wax Your Bag?
A bag can be waxed at home to make it waterproof. Before getting started, a few precautions should be taken to ensure a smooth and high quality wax job. Clean the bag and make sure that the material is free of loose strings and any debris. This is best accomplished by washing if the material is machine washable or vacuuming the surface as an alternative. After this step, it is imperative that the material is completely dry. Before starting the waxing process, set up the work area in a well-ventilated area, such as your yard or garage. This will help dilute the strong smell of the wax.
Next, gather the necessary materials. You'll need a lump of wax, whether it's a mix of paraffin and beeswax or organic wax. In addition, you'll need two pots, a cup of water, a paintbrush and a hairdryer.
- Step One: Do a spot test to confirm that the wax is compatible with the material of your canvas tote bag. Pick an inconspicuous area on the inside of the bag to rub the wax on. Keep in mind that the material may appear darker than it was before the treatment.
- Step Two: Now that you've confirmed that the wax works, set up a double boiler using the two pots. A double boiler is when you fill one pot with water and bring it to a boil. Then, place the second pot inside the first one with the wax inside. Wait for the wax to melt while stirring occasionally with a wooden stick. Once the wax is completely melted, let it cool off for a few minutes since boiling wax can damage the canvas.
- Step Three: Take the brush and evenly spread the warm wax onto the surface of the canvas bag. Make sure that each stroke coats the fabric thoroughly. Take extra care when it comes to coating the seams, crevices, folds and around any ornaments or zippers. Again, be aware that the color of the canvas may slightly get darker.
- Step Four: After coating the bag with the wax, work the coating into the fabric with your fingers. Push the wax into the material, allowing it to completely bond with and protect the material.
- Step Five: Heat the wax again using a hairdryer. By melting the wax a second time while it is on the canvas, you allow it to more deeply penetrate the material, resulting in an impenetrable bond. If you feel that the initial coating of wax isn't sufficient enough for your purposes, now is the time to add another coating. Focus particularly on the bottom of the bag. Reheat the wax using a hair dryer. During this step, you may also consider waterproofing your bag from the inside too. This especially becomes important if you plan to carry liquids inside of the bag, which could spill and lead to a disastrous leak. The process is the exact same, except the bag is flipped inside out. Keep in mind that waterproofing the inside and outside of the bag will make it stiffer, but sturdier.
- Step Six: Now it's time to completely let the bag dry. This can be accomplished by hanging the bag up in a dry, well-ventilated area for one to two days. With this method, the odor from the wax will also air out. However, if you can't wait that long, the bag can also be placed in an old pillowcase and thrown into the dryer for around fifteen to thirty minutes.
It is important to remember that the wax coating will not last forever. Typically, the coating will have to be reapplied once every year. The coating will last longer with proper care. Remember to never wash your bag with hot water. It is best to use a soft brush with natural bristles to clean the bag or even hand wash with cold water.
Where Can You Purchase a Tote?
Totes are easily available from a wide variety of retailers and online. You can even create your own custom tote bag at a variety of retailers, especially online. Totebagfactory.com is one of the largest tote bag suppliers in the United States and provides various styles of totes. When it comes to customization, you can pick from collegiate themes, sports memorabilia, classic monograms, logos, and plenty of other options to add some personal flair to your new accessory.
How long do totes last?
Although the lifespan of a tote bag typically depends on the material, weight and use of the bag, the heavier duty ones tend to last at least a year of heavy use if not longer with light use. Fabric bags like canvas or jute tote bags are also longer lasting than other alternatives like non-woven or polyester.
How to Choose the Correct Size for You?
Totes are available in a variety of sizes. The largest item you plan on carrying in the bag can help to determine the most appropriate size of the bag for your needs. Whether that item is a notebook, computer or planner, measure the dimensions and add at least two inches of room to allow some space for closure. Now, look to the available standard bag sizes and pick the best tote bags for your needs.
What are the most popular Tote Bag Sizes?
We also have a variety of different sizes and can even customize to a preferred size if a standard one does not meet your requirements. Here are the dimensions of some of the standard sizes available on the market:
- Large: The dimensions for this tote bag are around 22"W x 15"H x 8"D. This oversized bag is perfect for those who are always on the go and as a result, literally carry their entire lives in one bag. Running out of the room won't be an issue with the large size tote bag. Good as a beach, pool, overnight bags.
- Medium: The dimensions for this tote bag are usually 16"W x 15"H x 5"D. A more manageable size, this is perfect for casual outings. A bag this size also more easily transfers from day to night. Although you won't be able to fit all your necessities into this bag, you will definitely be able to comfortably get through the day without weighing yourself down. Good as everyday, giveaway, school, coffee bags.
- Small: The dimensions for this tote bag are 12"W x 13"H x 4"D. Large enough to store a few essentials, such as a wallet, lipstick, and keys, this mini tote is perfect for evenings out. Good as a book, wedding, gift, school bags.
What are the Common Handle Lengths of Totes?
Handle length varies for each tote and can also change the look of the bag. Here are some common handle types:
- Short handles (Around 14"-18" length, 6"-8" drop): A smaller handle is easily carried by a hand or at the crook of an elbow. These handles, however, can never be thrown over the shoulder. Although this handle length looks the most chic, it is also the least practical. Hefty objects shouldn't be carried with these handles for long periods of time for fear of damage to the bag.
- Standard handles (Around 20"-22" length, 9"-11" drop): This option is the most common amongst totes due to the ease of use. The handles are long enough to be propped over a shoulder and fits snuggly. You won't find these handles slipping off or slinging too tight.
- Long handles (Around 24"-26" length, 12"-13" drop): These Long handles are more comfortable, whether they're resting on the shoulders or hanging off elbows. These wider set handles also tend to look more fashionable.
- Handles with a long detachable strap: This versatile and modern design gives your tote multiple looks. For days of lighter use, you can carry the tote by its handles. For heavier days of use, you can opt to strap the weight across your body so that the bag isn't as burdensome.
How to Personalize Your Tote
Canvas as a material has the ability to hold onto a variety of inks well, allowing for the use of many techniques to personalize your blank tote.
How to Create Silk Screen Images on Your Tote:
Silkscreen images result from screen-printing. In order to achieve this method, you must have a silkscreen frame, emulsion, acetate, ink, and the bag ready.
- Step One: Coat the silkscreen with emulsion using a trough. After ensuring that the entire screen is coated, let it dry in a dark room for at least four hours.
- Step Two: Print your desired image on the acetate. If your desired image is a simple shape, you can just cut the shape out of plain paper.
- Step Three: Now that you have chosen your image, place the image and the screen on an exposure unit so that the image can be transferred to the screen.
- Step Four: Wash the exposed screen out with water, revealing the image on the screen. Allow for the screen to thoroughly dry before moving onto the next step.
- Step Five: Make sure that the canvas is completely stretched out a flat to allow for the best transfer. Clamp the screen to the canvas such that the image is oriented over the bag as preferred.
- Step Six: Now, select the ink you want to use and place a generous blot over the screen. Spread the ink evenly across the screen making sure to cover the entire canvas. A squeegee is best for this step.
- Step Seven: Allow for the canvas to dry, which should typically take half an hour. Once dry, feel free to appreciate your work and show it off!
How to Do Heat Transfer on a Bag:
Heat transfer is an extremely easy process requiring nothing more than vinyl already cut out into your preferred shapes or symbols and an iron to apply the print to your tote.
- Step One: Pick an even, hard, and heat resistant surface to work on, such as a wooden desk. Place the heat transfer vinyl design on the canvas in the desired orientation. Place a thin cotton sheet over the vinyl design.
- Step Two: Take a heated iron and evenly press across the vinyl design for thirty seconds. Wait a few seconds for the canvas to cool down and test an edge of the plastic to ensure that the vinyl design got transferred evenly. If not, repeat the pressure for another thirty seconds until the design is completely transferred.
- Step Three: Peel away the clear plastic and the design should be imprinted into the canvas.
How to Do Embroidery on a Canvas Bag:
Canvas is made of fabrics that are typically penetrable by a needle with little effort. Therefore, it is extremely easy to directly embroider on a bag with nothing more than a thread and a needle, although an embroidery hoop would definitely help for beginners. It may help to pencil in an overall design with a washable fabric marker before beginning the thread work process.
How to Paint Your Tote:
Any type of fabric paint from craft stores is compatible with canvas materials. The perfect way to personalize a canvas tote bag for beginners, fabric paint requires little skill or effort. Simply grab the colors you need and a few brushes to get started on your masterpiece!
Read more: How to Paint on Canvas Tote Bags
How to Repair Your Tote:
With enough wear and tear, totes may need a little darning now and then. Here are some ways to fix common damages incurred by these bags.
How to Fix the Handle of a Tote Bag:
If the handle of your tote rips, this indicates that you have been carrying weights heavier than the bag's intended use. Depending on the severity of the rip, the handle can often be repaired with fabric glue or stitching. Fabric glue often isn't a permanent fix as you would have to lighten the use of your bag, but with sturdy stitching, your bag can be back in business as usual.
How to Fix holes in a Tote:
Holes in a tote can be repaired by sewing the ends back together or introducing a patch of the same material and color if the hole is too big to sew shut. When choosing a patch material, pick a thicker material that is at least one inch larger in diameter than the hole. Turn the bag inside out and place the patch over the tear, ensuring that the area is completely covered. Now, you can bond the patch to the original material with either heavy-duty fabric glue or stitching.
How to Fix the Zipper of a Bag:
Zippers can be finicky, but they must be replaced if the actual zipper separates from the teeth. If a zipper is stuck, apply some lubricant, such as soap, lotion, or lip balm to the teeth. This should allow for mobility again. If the slider is no longer holding the teeth together, you may have to replace it with a new one with the help of some pliers for removal. Then, simply reattach the new zipper by sliding it onto the teeth. If the zipper actually came off but the tab remains, simply loop a paperclip or key ring through the hole and you have a functioning zipper again.
How to Fix the Pocket of a Bag:
If a pocket has a hole, simply stitch it back together with the help of a patch if necessary. If a pocket is ripping off, you can sew it back in place with a needle and thread or opt for fabric glue to bond the piece back together.
How to Fix the Interior Lining of a Tote Bag:
To fix holes in the interior lining of the bag, you will have to pull the lining out by picking the bottom seam open. Then, place a patch over the hole and sew it closed. Finish by sewing the seam shut again. If you'd rather not deal with a needle and thread, then you can always place an exterior patch on the lining with the help of some fabric glue.
How to Clean / Wash / Care For Your Tote
Although the cleaning instructions for a tote bag are typically found on the inside of the bag labeled on a tag, it is better to be cautious with bags that feature prints, embroidery, paint, or other sewn on or glued decorations. Whether the bag can be machine washable or must be hand washed, it is better to err on the side of caution and wash the bag with cool water.
Prior to washing, empty the bag of all possessions. If there are any large stains on the exterior of the bag, treat them with a spot stain remover. Then, turn the bag inside out. Locate and follow any care instructions labeled by the manufacturer. If the bag is plain, it may be suitable for machine-washing with cold water. Certain printing techniques are also safe for washers. However, this does not include many fabric paints and other fragile trimmings. If you're ever in doubt, opt for manually washing the bag with your hands.
Start off by dipping the entire bag in clean, lukewarm water. Then, wring out the excess water and use a soft bristled brush or your fingers in a light, circular motion to remove any dirt or debris. Focus on problem areas with a light detergent. Follow up with a final rinse to remove all remnants of detergent. As for drying, simply hanging the bag up on a clothesline to air dry will work well. The risk with throwing a tote into the dryer is the issue of shrinkage. Allowing the bag to instead air dry will help the bag retain its original size and shape.
Read more: How to Clean a Canvas Bag
Are Canvas Totes ECO friendly?
Canvas tote bags are renowned for being good for the environment due to the material of the fabric being from renewable resources. The bags themselves are biodegradable when it does come time to part with them. The most eco friendly aspect of the bag stems from its reusability, which saves individuals from the use of harmful plastic bags that collect at the bottom of dumps every year.
What are the Occasions to Use a Tote?
Totes are versatile enough to come in handy over a multitude of occasions.
Fair / trade show giveaways:
It always seems like people are giving away free stuff at the booths in these fairs and trade shows. With a tote bag, you'll have ample room to store all these giveaways without having to juggle these items in your hands.
Often given away as party favors at weddings, favor tote bags are an excellent way to collect and store memorabilia from such an important event with ease. They can also be customized with the date of the wedding, the couple’s name of the bride and groom, and even pictures.
Reusable grocery totes are used infamously in grocery stores, replacing the less than ideal plastic alternatives. Environmentally conscious shoppers take these shopping bags with them during checkout to carry their groceries to the car and then home.
Due to the customizable nature of totes, they make the perfect vehicle for promotion. Not only is it easy to place logos on them, but they can be mass produced for an affordable price.
Messenger tote bags can hold everything from important portfolios and laptops to lunch. These bags are the epitome of convenience for any career woman or man on the go, making them the best tote bags for work.
Whether it's textbooks, notebooks, or laptop computers, these canvas totes can hold them all. As a single, lightweight carryall that can also serve as a fashion statement, this bag fits the bill.
Packing for beach days can be stressful, but the day can be made easier with portable and lightweight beach totes.
Totes are perfect for daily use and errands due to their durable nature and availability of large sizes.
Written by Kishi Adiya — June 15, 2022