How-To: Recycle a Reusable Bag into a Tiny Tote

I love those recycled reusable bags you get at stores and other places, but sometimes, the sizes I get them in just don’t work for me.  I took two such bags and re-purposed them into something more useful to me.  I needed something to hold my patterns, and those unused bags were just the bags for the job.  All I used for this project were two reusable/recycled bags, some bias tape and a little creativity. I love how it turned out! Here is the finished product:

The two reusable tote bags I started out with were a funky Lulu Lemon bag that had some sort of slick coating on it, and the other was a promotional item from a conference I attended recently which had uncoated, soft sides.  The fronts and backs of the bags I used are shown below (the bag on the left is the Lulu Lemon shopping bag).

The first thing I did was rip those puppies apart down the sides, since I only needed the fronts and backs to make my bag.

I cut them into four 7.25″ x 9.75″ pieces for the bag sides, two 7.25″ x 7.25″ pieces for the bag base, and I snipped off the handles of one of the bags.  Here’s what I cut the bags down to for my project:

Next, you want to finish the top edges of the bag.  You could just fold it over and straight stitch it, but I had some red bias tape handy and went with that.  I just sewed a strip of bias tape along the top of each of the bag side pieces.  I didn’t bother to trim the edges or even back-stitch at either end, since it was just going to be sewn into the side seams anyhow.

After you’ve finished the top edges, you want to put the handles on.  I made my handle strips 12″ long each and just placed them where I thought looked good and sewed them on with what I am going to call an x-box.  I have no idea if there is a real name for this reinforcing sewing technique, but 30 seconds on Google couldn’t tell me, so “x-box” it is.  Basically, it’s when you sew a square shape with an X in the middle to reinforce something like a strap.

Because the bag sides are all the same width, it doesn’t really matter which two sides you put the handles on.  In the case of my bag, however, the front and back are different patterns, so I put one handle on each of the red sides, so that they would become the front and back of the bag.

Here is one handle, sewn on with my little x-boxes, shown from the back, or inside of the bag:

And here is how it looks from the front, or outside of the bag:

Once you have the handles on, you can sew it all together.  I cut out two pieces for the base because I wanted to make it a little stronger, but you could do just one piece.  If you are doing two pieces for the base, you want to first put the two bottom pieces wrong sides together (if you are using the same kind of bags I did and they are solid color, there really isn’t a “wrong” side) before proceeding.  Once you’ve done that, the piece you want to show on the OUTSIDE of the bag will be considered the “right” side of the piece.

Take any one of your side pieces and lay it wrong side down, on top of the right side of the base piece, matching the bottom edge of the side piece with a bottom edge of the base piece.  Sew along the matched edges.  Repeat this for the opposite side piece.

The picture below shows how it should look once you’ve place the side and base together and sewn along the edge.  A few notes about this photo: I took this photo after I had sewn two sides on, so you may notice stitching along the top of the bag base as well, but don’t let it confuse you.  Also, I was not thinking clearly and actually did my bias tape and handles AFTER I sewed all of the sides to the base, which is why you don’t see them in these photos.  You’ll be smart and do it in the order I’ve written the instructions, which will be much easier on you.  I chose to serge my edges, but this fabric doesn’t seem to unravel, so a straight stitch should work just fine.

Once both sides are sewn on, if you open them out and lay it flat, right side up, it should look something like this:

The center square is my bag base and the patterned pieces are two of my sides.  And, in case you are wondering, the silver curved thing is the base of the lamp that sits on my sewing table.  :)

Next you will sew the other sides on in the same way, with one slight difference: because you have sewn end-to-end on the first two sides, you will need to start sewing sides three and four about 1/4″ in from the edge (as shown in the photo below), so you aren’t sewing over the seams of sides one and two you did in the previous step (please excuse the fact that my serger was barfing thread all over the place tonight):

Once sides three and four are sewn on, if you turn it right-side up and lay it out, it will look something like this:

Last up is sewing the side seams.  I prefer to start from the top of the bag and sew to the bottom, to ensure that my top edges and bias tape all line up nicely.  One at a time, you just sew the sides together from top to bottom until all four are sewn.  Here is my finished bag inside-out and in need of some thread trimming:

Once the sides are sewn, you just turn it right-side out and you’re done!  Mine was made to hold patterns, and here it is, hard at work:

The dimensions I gave are just what I used, and the bag was intended to hold patterns, so if that’s what you’re looking for, it will do the job nicely!  It would also make a great lunch bag or anything else you could think to use it for.

This is the first project tutorial I’ve ever written, so forgive me if it’s hard to follow or my pictures are not clear examples of what I was doing.  If you have any questions, let me know and I will do my best to help you!

2 Replies to “How-To: Recycle a Reusable Bag into a Tiny Tote”

  1. I might be totally daft, but I’ve read this 5 times and don’t get it:

    “because you have sewn end-to-end on the first two sides, you will need to start sewing sides three and four about 1/4″ in from the edge, so you aren’t sewing over the existing seam”

    What does that mean?

    Anyway, great bag! I love the colors/patterns :) It would be cool to repurpose pretty much any strong-ish piece of flexible material this way.

    1. You are so NOT daft! I had a heck of a time trying to explain that part, and obviously, I did a bad job! I will re-work it and update the post with clearer instructions. :)

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