A fun and powerful DIY tote bag from an old shirt anyone can make. A great upcycling fabric project for sewing enthusiasts.
If you are anything like me—and the thousands of like-minded people out there—you definitely have at least a couple of old tees and shirts in the back of your closets. Either you haven’t worn them in a while, or you’ve been meaning to donate them but just haven’t gotten around to it.
Well, whatever the reason, fret not; I have a great DIY project for you! You’re going to be making a fabulous tote bag from one of those old shirts!
Don’t tell me you don’t need another tote—everyone does. They’re perfect for carrying groceries, books, towels on a beach trip…you get the point.
Watch on Youtube: DIY Tote Bag
Supplies and Tools You’ll Need
If you’re ready to begin, here’s a list of supplies you’ll need:
- Cotton shirt
- Polycotton fabric (40″x 40″)
- Sewing pins
- Tape measure
- Fabric pencil
- 52″ cotton webbing
How to Make a DIY Tote Bag
If you happen to pick a button-down shirt or one with cool decal work, embroidery, or trendy designs on it, your tote will look even more fabulous. So go ahead and pick out a shirt from your stash.
Also, know this: the size of the bag will be the length between the sleeves of your shirt!
The first step after you’ve picked out your shirt is to mark the spot just under the sleeve on either side.
You should also figure out how long you want your bag to be and measure out the proportions on the shirt, marking it with tailor’s chalk or a fabric pencil.
Then, go ahead and connect all four dots, and you’ll be able to see the dimensions of your bag.
Before you start cutting into your fabric, you should probably use a few sewing pins to pin the two layers together. That way, they won’t move around while you cut them.
Once you’ve cut the shirt, you should have two swatches of fabric like this.
Next, you need to measure and cut out another fabric to use as lining. If your outer fabric is sturdy, then you can do without a lining inside. But lining will ensure that the bag is sturdier.
Simply pin the outer fabric on the lining fabric and then grab your scissors and start along the edges.
You should now have four swatches of fabric, two each for the lining and the outer material.
Here’s a little note for you to keep in mind: if you’re using a button-down shirt, there are bound to be gaps between the buttons. Just slide a few sewing pins to secure and close those gaps before you start sewing.
Next, pull out your sewing machine and sew all the way down the button gaps to shut them.
You’re also all set to sew your bag; you just have to align the fabric swatches in the right order first.
Place the two squares of outer fabric one over the other with the right sides facing inward towards each other. Make sure that the ends are aligned.
Grab a few sewing pins and secure the two swatches on only three sides—the left, right, and the bottom. Leave the top open, of course.
Repeat the same for the two swatches of lining fabric, and pin them in place accordingly.
Next, go ahead and sew the three sides of the lining fabric.
You can sew the outer fabric, as well.
Next, take your lining fabric and flip it out with the right side facing out. Use your fingers to push the edges out while you’re at it.
However, leave the shirt as it is with the wrong side facing out for now.
You’re going to take your shirt fabric and push it into the lining fabric. Make sure that the bottoms of both fabrics are aligned—use your hands to smoothen out the outer fabric inside the lining.
You probably noticed that you still have a few ragged or uneven edges right at the mouth. It’s time you dealt with those!
Just fold the lining and the shirt inward toward the inside of the bag.
You have to make sure that the entire line is even and aligned before you secure both fabric hems with sewing pins.
Repeat this step all around the mouth of the bag until you have an even and aligned rim.
You also have to make straps for your tote bag, so let’s get to it! Cut two strips of cotton ribbon or webbing, each around 36 inches long. You can always customize the length of the straps.
Next, tuck the ends of one strip of webbing into the bag between the lining and the outer fabric, as you can see below.
Grab a sewing pin and secure the straps in place. Remember to check if both straps are even and of the same height.
You’re all set to start sewing your tote bag. Go ahead and set up your sewing machine before you start sewing.
If you want to be extra careful and make sure your straps are secure and in place, you can sew around the ends to create a square, as you can see below. This will hold the ends in place quite well.
Just flip the bag inside out, and your tote bag is ready to use!
How Much Fabric Do I Need for a Tote Bag?
How much fabric you need for a tote will depend on how big you want your bag to be. Also, the shirt you use will also determine how big your bag turns out.
You will need to use larger shirts for larger bags—men’s shirts are often my go-to choice when I need bigger bags that pull more fabric.
If you remember, you cut the shirts from sleeve to sleeve. That’s often a good marker to keep in mind to determine how much fabric you have at hand and how much more fabric you need for the lining.
How Do You Make a Tote Bag Without a Sewing Machine?
You can make a tote bag without a sewing machine. The first method would be to simply sew it by hand. This method will definitely take you longer, and you might have to sew around the fabric a couple of times to secure your stitches.
Alternatively, you can use fabric tape, bonding tape, iron-on fusible applique, or fabric glue to make your bag. That means your bag will be a no-sew DIY project!
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- Cotton shirt
- Polycotton fabric (40"x 40")
- 52" cotton webbing
- Sewing pins
- Tape measure
- Fabric pencil
- Gather all the supplies and tools you’ll need to get started on this DIY tote.
- Lay your shirt flat on the work surface and mark the spots just under the sleeve. Also, measure the length of the bag as per your needs and mark those two spots as well. Use fabric pens to make your markings and also to connect all four dots.
- Use sewing pins to secure both the front and back of the shirt in place while you cut the fabric.
- Next, take another fabric to use as lining and place your shirt swatch over it, aligning it and pinning both in place. Cut two swatches of lining, both the same size as the outer fabric.
- If you’re using a button-down shirt, you will also need to pin the gaps between the buttons and then sew down the length of your fabric to close those buttonholes.
- When you’re ready to sew the swatches, go ahead and lay both of the shirt fabrics down with the right sides facing inwards towards each other. Pin them in place.
- Repeat the same for the lining as well.
- Go ahead and sew both the fabrics, but remember to leave one side to use as the opening for the bag.
- Now, turn only the lining fabric pocket out with the right side facing outward. Then, carefully place the shirt fabric inside the lining and align all the ends. Use your hands to smoothen out the insides of the fabric.
- Fold the ragged ends of both the lining and the shirt inward and toward the inside of the bag. You need to make sure that the folded ends are neatly aligned and even. Pin the hem in place while you make the shoulder straps.
- To make the shoulder straps, cut two strips of cotton webbing, each around 26” long.
- Tuck the ends in their appropriate spots between the lining and the shirt fabric. Use pins to hold the strap between the two layers of fabric.
- Go ahead and sew your bag on all three sides. When you’re sewing the straps, you can sew the ends in a box-shaped pattern to secure them.
Just turn the bag out, and it’s ready to use!