A Brand New Bag

A Brand New Bag

Source: Martha Stewart Living, June 2005


Tote bags always live up to their name, whether they're taking towels to the beach, fruit from the farmers' market, or gardening supplies to and from the shed. But there's no reason these humble helpers need to look humble. The addition of a bold initial or vivid pattern can make a canvas bag newly stylish -- and unique to its owner.

Start with a plain canvas bag from a crafts store, and approach it just as you would (suitably enough) a blank canvas. Do you want to add a modern design? Pretty labels? Handy pockets? The ideas here are just a beginning.

Many bags can be transformed with one easy technique: ironing on a design. Vary the art or lettering you affix, and you can customize totes for different family members or specific activities. (Try our Book and Knitting templates (available below), scan art from books, or download from the Web.)

Other add-ons involve only simple stitching. Create inside dividers with one quick trick: Sew in a row of pockets from a children's apron. Or fashion outer pockets from fabric. You can spruce up handles, too. Line them with ribbon or replace them with twill tape.

Your tote will hold new appeal -- and not just because of what it's holding.


  • 12 1/2-by-19-inch canvas

  • 2 plain canvas tote bags

  • Seam ripper

  • Scissors

  • Fabric for pocket

  • Measuring tape

  • Thread

  • Fabric glue or pins

  • Children's apron with pockets

  • Iron-on transfer paper (available at office-supply and crafts stores)

  • Iron

  • Twill tape or grosgrain ribbon


  1. Cut around images cleanly to avoid making jagged edges. Following transfer-paper manufacturer's instructions, print images on transfer paper in black or in color and cut them out.

  2. Arrange images on bag, face up, for a preview (keeping in mind this is a mirror image of final design). When you're ready to iron, place images face down. Iron over images, starting at edges of each and using even pressure so the image doesn't slide.

  3. When iron-ons have cooled, remove backing paper. Replace bag handles with colorful twill tape or cover them with ribbon, if desired.

  4. Remove existing handles with a seam ripper.

  5. Cut two pieces of fabric 6 inches narrower than width of bag. Cut one of these pieces 2 inches shorter than height of bag. Cut remaining piece 5 inches shorter. Fold over top 1/4 inch of each; hem. Stack small piece onto large piece, aligning at bottom. Center on bag; glue or pin into place. Machine-stitch bottom.

  6. For handles, cut two pieces of 1 1/4-inch-wide twill tape twice the height of the bag plus 20 inches. Attach with glue or pins, covering sides of pocket. Attach other handle. Stitch along both sides of each tape. Reinforce handles at top and bottom of bag.

  7. Cut off apron top. Glue or pin lower portion in place. Fold over top edge by 1/4 inch; stitch into place.


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