10 Things You Already Own That Can Be Turned Into a Tote Bag


Need a bag to carry your stuff around, but don't want to head to the store to buy one? No problem. You can make a sturdy tote by upcycling things you already own. It's possible to make a pretty awesome tote bag without spending any money at all. Here are 10 items that you can easily transform into a tote.

1. T-shirt

If you have an old T-shirt in your closet, try turning it into a tote bag. This no-sew tutorial takes just 10 minutes to complete. You'll need some sharp scissors and a washable marker. Cut the sleeves and neckline area off your shirt. Then figure out how deep you want your bag to be. Cut fringe at the base of your to-be bag, turn it inside out, and tie the fringe.

Alternatively, you can leave the fringe out for a more stylish look.

2. Wool sweater

You can make a felted tote bag using an old wool sweater. Just wash the sweater using hot water and dry on high heat. This will make the fibers shrink and ultimately add strength to your bag. Cut the arms and neckline out of the shrunken sweater. Turn it inside out and then stitch along the bottom to close.

You can also fold over the edges of the strap and hem if you like, but felted wool likely won't fray much if at all.

3. Jeans

Maybe you've recently lost some weight and are looking for ways to use your discarded roomy jeans. Make a tote out of 'em. Upcycled denim makes a particularly ingenious tote that has built-in pockets. What about a handle? Use the leg seams! It's super simple and will stand up to heavy loads. (See also: 20 New Things You Can Make With Old Blue Jeans)

4. Rice bag

Do you buy your rice in bulk? Keep the bag! Once you slice and dice it a bit, you can sew around the edges and make a durable grocery bag that will last for years. You only need a few tools: scissors, a needle, and nylon thread. The rest is in the magic of folding it into the classic grocery bag shape and sewing it up.

You can follow this exact same process using any stiff bag. Feed bags for chickens and other livestock make great choices as well. This type of bag is exceptionally easy to clean. That's great news if you plan to use it to pick up produce at the farmers market.

5. Place mats

Use place mats for this DIY cross-body bag. To make it, lay the place mats atop one another, inside out. Start at the bottom seam and thread with an embroidery needle. Stitch along three sides of the mats, leaving the top open. Turn bag right-side out. To add a strap, pull a loop from the inside of the bag. The tutorial says to then thread a purse strap through the loop on both sides.

If you don't have a purse strap to use, consider braiding a thick rope using old T-shirts to your desired length.

6. Rag rug

You can complete a very similar project using an old rag rug. Fold your rug in half and pick up one of the corners to invert it slightly. (This will give the bag a nicer shape.) From there, you stitch both sides using an embroidery needle and floss. The author of this project used a yard of burlap to create a strap. Divide the yard in half and then sew onto the inside of the bag by hand. Yes, by hand. As you can imagine, the rug is likely too thick to run through a sewing machine.

7. Bed sheet

Here's a tote bag that will also transform into a picnic blanket for those on-the-fly gatherings. What do you upcycle in this case? A full-size cotton bed sheet! This project may take you an entire weekend to complete, but it's well worth the effort.

Lay out the sheet horizontally. You'll first cut out a square of fabric that will serve as the blanket. Then you'll use what's left over to make the tote. You eventually attach the two pieces so it's all connected and handy. The strap for this bag is made from the thicker piece at the top of the sheet.

8. Beach towel

This beach towel tote helps you carry stuff to the beach and then soak up sun without getting sandy. You just need two towels. To sew the tote, start by making a comfortable pillow that you fill with stuffing. I think this project could also work if you leave the whole pillow portion out. Either way, you'll end up folding in the sides of the pillow to roll into the bag form. Then you sew a fabric pocket on the outside and make your straps. Boom. Beach bag.

For the pocket and straps, it's helpful if you have a stronger fabric. Duck cloth works well, but you may also use old jeans.

9. Broken umbrella

We all have a wonky umbrella somewhere in a closet just waiting to be turned into this DIY tote bag. The bonus here is that the bag will be so compact that you can stash it almost anywhere. To make this bag, you'll need some thread, pins, and a needle. You'll also need to create a rough pattern and find a patch to cover the hole where the fabric used to attach to the umbrella.

To detach the umbrella fabric from its frame, carefully snip the thread that attaches it. Check for any holes and patch them. Fold the fabric in half, trace and cut to your pattern. Then sew along all the edges by hand or using a sewing machine.

10. Plastic bags

Plarn is yarn made from discarded plastic bags. You make it by simply laying a plastic bag out flat, removing the handle portion, and cutting the rest into strips. You then tie two strips together, then three, and so on, before rolling your upcycled yarn into a ball to use as you like.

Once you've made a ball of your own plarn, you can knit or crochet up dozens of cool things. Here's a tutorial for a plastic yarn tote bag that will long outlive all your individual plastic bags. You'll need a size 9-mm metal hook and crochet skills. When you've completed the project, your bag will measure approximately 12 inches wide by 12 inches long with a 4-inch bottom that expands. (See also: 18 Clever Ways to Reuse Your Plastic Shopping Bags)

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