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Decorating Tote Bags with Upcycled T-Shirts!

Earth Day | Kid Crafts | Recycled Craft Projects | Summer

Learn how to decorate tote bags with upcycled T-shirts! This fun, no-sew craft is a fun way to make a unique tote bag and a great way to reuse old shirts.

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Two canvas tote bags decorated with old t-shirts.

Hello Crafty Friends! Today I’m sharing a fun project that is sure to gets lots of use. Canvas tote bags decorated with old T-shirts! My kids use tote bags for all sorts of things. Library books, swimsuits, snow pants, car games, snacks and more. They alway seem to be grabbing a tote bag as we head out the door. 

With Earth Day right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to upcycle an old tee and use it to decorate a tote bag. I tend to save shirts my really kids love and have ended up with a collection of old shirts that no longer fit, are stained in places or are very worn.

Last year I used some of my children’s old shirts along with embroidery hoops to make this fun wall art. I’ve even used an old baby bodysuit to make a wreath. This week I used a couple more old shirts to decorate convas tote bags and I love how they turned out! 

A green canvas tote bag decorated with a zebra design cut from an old t-shirt.

This is a great no-sew project that can be done with any size tee. Fusible interfacing helps you create your own appliqué designs that can then be ironed on to tote bags. You can find canvas tote bags online or at local craft stores like Joann Fabrics or Michaels. I chose a pack of colorful totes then picked t-shirts with designs that coordinated.

Canvas tote bags decorated with t-shirts.

Upcycled T-Shirt Tote Bag

Supplies Needed:

A green canvas tote bag, zebra t-shirt and a roll of fusible web.

Step by Step Tutorial

Step One: Cut the T-shirt design out.

Start by cutting the shirt open so it can lay flat on your surface. Use a ruler to measure the size of your design. You will want to cut a piece of strong-hold fusible web interfacing that is larger than your design so there is a border around it. 

White t-shirt with zebras is cut apart and the front design measured with a ruler.

Cut a rectangle following your measurements out of interfacing. One side will have a paper backing so you can draw right on it using a pencil and ruler.

A rectangle drawn on fusible web with a ruler and pencil.

Iron the interfacing to the back of the shirt front over the t-shirt design. My shirt was white so I could easily see the design through both the shirt and interfacing. If you aren’t able to see the design, use a few straight pins to mark the sides of your design from the front of the shirt. You’ll be able to see the pin markings from the back side and use them to help you place the interfacing.

Fusible web is ironed to the back of the t-shirt over the design.

Cut out the design. I cut my design about 1/8″ in from the edges of my interfacing so my cut lines would be straight and crisp.

Scissors cuts along the interfacing ironed to the t-shirt.

Zebra design cut from a t-shirt.

Step Two: Iron the design to the front of the tote bag.

Peel the paper backing off of the shirt design, then position the design on the front of the tote bag with the adhesive side down. Use a pressing cloth like a piece of muslin, and iron the design to the front of the tote. 

The paper backing is peeled off the back of the t-shirt design.

The zebra t-shirt design is ironed to the front of a green tote bag under a pressing cloth.

The tote bag is finished! This is such a simple way to decorate a tote bag and a great way to upcycle a favorite t-shirt! 

A green canvas tote bag decorated with a zebra design cut from an old t-shirt.

Another T-Shirt Tote Example 

The zebra tote bag turned out so cute I decided to make another with an old rainbow shirt. My daughter loved the flip sequin design and was so sad when this shirt no longer fit. I followed the same steps as I did for the zebra tote to make this cute rainbow tote. At the end, I decided to add a little bit of rainbow-colored Ric-Rac I had on hand to the top and bottom of the design. I applied it using fabric glue. 

Collage showing a rainbow cut from a t-shirt and added to a pink tote.

A pink tote bag decorated with a sequin rainbow from a used t-shirt.

These cute tote bags are so fun and colorful they will be perfect for summer! Do you have any old shirts you could repurpose? 

Two canvas tote bags decorated with old t-shirts.

Happy Crafting! -Kim

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