Up-Cycled Canvas Bag Tutorial

Have you read the New Yorker?

I was so excited for my “12 Issues for $12” deal (I’m sure you saw the ads, they were everywhere), but much to my dismay, it turns out I don’t actually enjoy reading the New Yorker. Yes, I felt low-brow and under-educated when I came to this conclusion (I’d rather read fantasy and tongue-in-cheek news recaps from scathingly sarcastic reporters), and when my free New Yorker tote bag came in the mail, I experienced a mixture of joy and sorrow.

new yorker tote bag original

It’s cute, right? Just not really “me”.
(Also, ignore the stitching in the middle of the bag –
I failed to take this pic pre-pocket!)

On the one hand, I simply love canvas tote bags. On the other hand, I knew I’d feel like the worst kind of poser if I pranced around the city with this bag.

Aside: Were you ever called a “poser” in high school? I was, and it haunts me to this day. Of course, that was a case of some snooty punk kid commenting on the fact that I dressed like a Punk-Goth and listened to the likes of Mandy Moore.

Whatever, Kevin. You can bite me.

The only thing to do, then, was turn my New Yorker tote bag into a satchel I would use!

Ergo …

The Up-Cycled Canvas Bag Tutorial

The whole idea started when I was digging through my fabric bin and came across this jaw-dropping beauty. I don’t know if this fabric is actually vintage, or just doing a really good impression of it, but it’s freaking stunning and I just had to make a bag out of it. Better still, a bag with a nearly bullet-proof, machine-made canvas lining.

tote bag tutorial fabric

Don’t you just want to make a vest out of this stuff? Or maybe a head scarf?

The fabric sat inside the tote bag for weeks and weeks, partly because I’m astonishingly good at procrastinating, and partly because I kept forgetting to wash the fabric when I had other things to wash. Then, this morning, I pulled it out thinking I’d just bite the bullet and wash it alone, and I looked more closely at the cut edge. It was all fuzzy and frayed and I realized it had already been washed. Oy.

All ready to go, I pulled out my trusty measuring tape, rotary blade, and chalk. I’m afraid I don’t have pictures of this part, but it’s pretty straight forward.

As you might be able to tell from the first picture, the New Yorker tote was one with the squared-off bottom, but without the accordion sides. After a bit of hard thinking and Google searching (I’m really bad at visualizing flat into 3-dimensional), I came to the conclusion that I didn’t need any kind of fancy pattern – I just needed a rectangle.

At this point, you could, of course, cut two rectangles the size of the canvas bag, but I decided to make it one long piece. One whole piece is stronger, of course, but because the canvas liner will be taking the brunt of the weight, a two-piece outer layer would probably have been fine.

  1. I measured the canvas bag from the very top to the very bottom, pulling out the squared base so it laid flat. It equaled about 18″.
  2. Then I measured the width of the bag: 15.5″. I planned to make my outer bag about 15.75″.
  3. I cut out my fabric, all the while toiling and sweating over the best way to make sure the unfinished edges were cut straight (that pattern has zero lines to follow).
  4. Next, I hemmed the two short edges, which I planned to sew directly to the outside edge of the liner, rather than trying some fancy fold-over style that required cutting around or removing the canvas bag’s handles.
  5. Then I folded the strip in half width-wise and stitched up both sides, measuring again to make sure the finished width was 15.75″. (Normally, I’d hem the edges before I sewed them, but the inside of the bag will forever be covered by the liner, so I didn’t bother.)
  6. In retrospect, I should have done this step first and then sewed all the way around the bag to make the hemmed top. The way I did it, the top is slightly uneven. Ah well – you live, you learn!

  7. Then came the more complicated part (for me, at least). After sewing the base corners the wrong direction and picking out the stitches (ugh), I turned on my brain and sewed them the right way.

    It turned out to be pretty easy to figure out – I just measured the stitched edge of the canvas bag (5″), which I needed to mimic, then measured down from the point on my bag (half: 2.5″), then drew a line, made sure it equaled 5″, and stitched.
canvas tote bag upcycle tutorial

The corner!
(This is a really poor photo; apologies!)

Once I made sure they worked with the canvas liner, I trimmed the triangles away.

canvas bag upcycle tutorial blog


And voila, a finished bag!

I was getting ready to sew the liner to the outside piece when I decided I wanted some pockets. I chose some black quilters cotton, and doubled it up so it was thicker. Then I sewed the two pieces together like a little bag, flipped them inside out, and sewed that piece onto the canvas. That way, no raw edges, and more longevity – I hope!

The first pocket:

canvas tote tutorial shannon kirk writer

It’s perfectly phone-sized!

The second pocket, divided in two:

canvas tote upcycle tutorial shannon kirk writer

Note: I scrunched the fabric a bit here so the pockets gap. This should let them hold more stuff without ripping.

Then, for added cuteness, I sewed a button on one side of the two-piece pocket:

canvas tote tutorial upcycle blog

It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the hook is just 3 pieces of embroidery floss braided together.

Oh, by the way: While button-hunting, I found this little metal gem. Isn’t it a beauty? I’m already contemplating what to do with it!

canvas bag tutorial buttons

Ahh, so cute!

Finally, I sewed the outside piece onto the canvas liner. Like I said, the edge wasn’t quite perfect, but I followed the hem stitch so at least the lines are straight!

upcycled tutorial canvas tote liner

The top stitch is the hem, the bottom stitch attaches the pieces together.

And that was that!

All in all, a pretty speedy little project, and I come out one stylish tote bag richer.

canvas bag liner tutorial blog final

If it looks like that bag is stupid heavy, that’s cause it is.
I didn’t want it to flop, so I packed it with big books…

Pop on a few pins and voila, I’m mixing genres just like my old high-school self.

canvas tote bag tutorial blog

Tegan and Sara, random abstraction, and two little Kris G. Brownlee (local artist) snapshots!

What do you think – will you give this a try? If you do, or if you improve on it, I’d love to see/hear about it!

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