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Button Bag

Inspired by the basic brown paper bag, these small totes are made of canvas or linen.




  • 12-by-24-inch piece and 3-by-24-inch strip of canvas or linen
  • 3-by-24-inch strip of fusible webbing
  • Pinking shears
  • Sewing machine
  • 24 inches cotton webbing, for handles
  • Needle and thread
  • 100 or more buttons per side, depending on placement and button size


  1. Step 1


    Attach canvas strip to one edge of large canvas piece by sandwiching fusible webbing in between and ironing.

  2. Step 2


    Trim the top edge with pinking shears.

  3. Step 3


    With right sides facing, fold fabric in half lengthwise, and sew sides together, leaving a 1/2-inch seam allowance. Pink edges, and iron seam open, creating a canvas tube. (This and subsequent images have been enlarged for clarity.)

  4. Step 4


    Shift seam toward center so that it falls 2 inches from one side. Stitch bottom edge, leaving a 1/2-inch seam allowance. Turn bag right side out.

  5. Step 5


    To create facing triangles on the bottom of the bag, put one hand inside to hold the bag open, and with the other hand, push the bottom seam inward to start to form a roughly rectangular floor. Then grab the outside corner closest to the side seam, pinch it flat, and fold it toward the center. The triangular point that's formed with this motion has the corner as its tip and the side seam as half the length of its base. Repeat with the other corner, folding it toward the center and matching the first triangle in size.

  6. Step 6


    Tack the corners down by hand or machine to secure the triangular folds, sewing along two sides, as shown. In the sides of the tote, create folds by hand to mimic those of a paper bag. Iron them in place.

  7. Step 7


    Cut two 12-inch pieces of cotton webbing for handles. Sew the handles to the inside of the bag, set in 1 1/2 inches from the outside edges and 1 inch from the top. On one or both sides of bag, arrange buttons in desired color and pattern. Dab each with fabric glue; sew onto fabric with needle and thread.

Martha Stewart Living, May 2003



Reviews (23)

  • sandracanmom4 14 Aug, 2012

    I love & shop at used stores looking for clothes that have great buttons,zippers,beading,some pretty embroidery on the clothes I cut & sew onto bags. I save lots of things. Let your Imagation go where it takes you. :-)

  • MissMarple 28 Mar, 2011

    It would be a lot easier to get those buttons sewn on if you did it before constructing the bag. I'd try to figure out the rectangular area that would be one side of the finished bag and sew the buttons before doing any seaming. Another option would be to sew thread to the button holes for the purpose of appearance only, before attaching the buttons; then attach buttons with a strong glue. This would be easier than sewing the buttons to the canvas. This is a cute project!

  • almaha 14 Dec, 2010

    i loooove it i'm making it today:)

  • Sharon Carbine 15 Feb, 2010

    I saw a woman with a phenomenal button necklace once. She made it herself. It had multiple strands and lots of complementary colors. Loved it. I like this idea a lot too.

  • laurabanff 19 Nov, 2009

    now I look for buttons! what a fun project

  • momthemule 15 Jul, 2008

    Good craft to do with "tweeners" learning to sew. Sewing on the buttons need not be so time consuming if you have a built-in buttonholer and a feeddog cover plate with your sewing machine. :]

  • AngieOtt 15 Jul, 2008

    I did this on a scrapbook. I used buttons on every page and covered the cover. Grandma's buttons never looked prettier...and she cried when I gave it to her.

  • Sharret42 15 Jul, 2008

    Now I know what I"m going to do with all the buttons I inherited from my maternal grandmother and have been collecting over the years! Then I'll sell the bags I make at the Senior Center. FYI: Hot-gluing the buttons on won't last forever so to lessen the time to sew on the buttons, make a pattern as someone else suggested. Bravo!

  • winterbeach 15 Jul, 2008

    I made exactly like this about thirty years ago and I saw my friends daughter proudly using it just last winter. What a hoot! MSL really does come through sometimes with timeless ideas and the instructions were pretty well illustrates (which is not always the case). Too much time to sew on all the buttons? That's what makes it so not made in China.

  • mahze 15 Jul, 2008

    I agree that it would be time consuming to sew them all on, but it's that touch of color of the thread that keeps the project from looking like it came from China. Perhaps a smaller purse to start with. A clutch maybe? There are so many beautiful threads out there now. A quilt shop would have lots of options.

  • neydelle 15 Jul, 2008

    A few years ago I made a button sweat shirt. I did not fill it full of buttons but put button like clusters on it-also I put little bows under some of the buttons to breakup the pattern. Believe it or not I got alot of postive reaction to it and people wanting to know how to do it.

  • CathyWren 15 Jul, 2008

    I'll bet this could be elegant made with velvet, and with shell and glass buttons added. Some satin ribbon? hmmm.... gives me ideas...

  • ntellier 15 Jul, 2008

    What might be quicker... would be to hot glue the buttons in a pattern (swirl, etc) onto a plan giftbag. I would use this for more "personal" handmade gift purpose rather than a tote or purse.

  • TriciaJay 15 Jul, 2008

    I think all the buttons are much work like the other person said and I find it tacky too, but how about thinking it through like a designer would and only adding a specific amount, maybe with an embroidered or sewn on motif. I would think out of the box for this one.

  • GypsieAnn 15 Jul, 2008

    You can also cut the legs off a pair of jeans, sew up the bottom and cover it with buttons. Use the legs to make handles for the bag.

  • myfbil 15 Jul, 2008

    Super idea for recycling both advertising bags and buttons! Thanks for great idea.

  • tajicat 15 Jul, 2008

    Great idea! I love buttons so this would be perfect! I also like the idea of the previous comment, as I usually give those bags away. :)

  • mizwidget 15 Jul, 2008

    This idea just gave me another idea. Since my mother had a collection of older (almost antique) buttons, instead of exposing the buttons to wear and tear, I could arrange them on a fabric foundation, and put them behind glass in a shadowbox. A great way to preserve and display a collection. Maybe even add some kind of scrapbook techniques to add context as well as memories.

  • diannelli 15 Jul, 2008

    What a cute bag idea. Great way to use up all those buttons in the button jar. And I love the trade show logo cover-up idea. If you have enough time to relax with a good book this summer, you have enough time to curl up with a needle and thread. And if you hate to sew, hot glue them...

  • terryrittenhouse 15 Jul, 2008

    I really can't see taking the time to sew on all those buttons! Who has that much time! They would also catch on anything and everything.

  • photomama 15 Jul, 2008

    Wonderful idea, CrafTtestDummies.

  • pelican66 15 Jul, 2008

    great info on making a bag whether you apply the buttons or not. thanks!

  • CraftTestDummies 25 Feb, 2008

    I also like the idea of recycling a bag that was a give-away or from a trade show using this idea. It would be easy just to cover the offending logo with cute buttons!