Aluminum Can Granny Square Tote Bag

Introduction: Aluminum Can Granny Square Tote Bag

About: I like to DIY and I hate to waste anything.

This is my homemade tote bag made of sheets of aluminum (beer cans), an old t-shirt, bamboo, beads, wire, pull-tabs and crocheted yarn. It's great for stashing your crochet stuff or other things.

I love recycling and re-purposing. I especially enjoy working with aluminum can crafts. Recently I rediscovered my love of crochet. So, I decided to mix the two crafts and make a crocheted granny square tote bag out of recycled aluminum cans.

Almost all the material I used to make this bag was recycled or found at my home. For example, the bamboo for the handles came from our backyard bamboo plants. The cans I grabbed out of the recycling bin. The beads came from a thrift store. The nail polish was a cast off from my daughter.

The only thing I actually bought new for this project was the yarn.

It was my first attempt at tote bag like this, so I made some mistakes along the way. Overall, I really enjoyed the whole project and feel proud every time I look at the bag.

Not only is this project a source of pride but the finished bag is very pleasant to the senses as well. The bag offers a variety of touch sensations -- it is cool, slick metal, smooth wood, knobby beads and soft yarn. The bag is both floppy and stiff at the same time. The colors are vibrant and the painted metal logos of the cans keep the eye and mind busy. And for the ear, the tote gives the strangely satisfying crackle of metal as well as the clack of wooden handles. The sound of the handles is reminiscent of retro style purses from the `60's.

This bag also makes a great gift. It can be personalized for each person by choosing their favorite canned drink for the squares. (You can even ask the giftee to save their empty cans for you so you don't have to scrounge around in the recycling bin.)

And lastly, when gathering material for the tote, it can be fun scouting around the house looking for things to recycle and add to the bag, such as beads, leftover balls of yarn or dried markers for the handles (pull out insides, wash and you have a nice little colored tube). Or you could use branches or dowels instead of bamboo for the handles.

As for the metal parts, flip the sheets over and use the non-painted inside of the cans if you want a more modern, industrial look. And of course, these clean sheets of metal can be embossed (here is a good use for those manual diecut/embossing machines) or punched art style or spray painted any color you like.

The customization of this bag is only limited by your imagination

Step 1: Important: Draw a Plan

You will need to sketch out a simple plan for the bag to know the number of squares you need to make. The amount of squares will vary according to how big you want your bag. Use pen and paper. You will need to refer to this drawing later.

This is an important step. Don't skip it!

Step 2: Make Template and Metal Sheets

Material/Tools for aluminum sheets-

Aluminum cans (10-15)
Ice pick OR awl
Scissors OR
Snips for light weight metal (optional)*
--*I use Fiskars Soft Touch Scissors

For template:

Recycled cereal box or plastic folder, etc.
hole punch 1/4 inch
Permanent marker
Corner rounder punch (optional)

To make template:

1. Cut cardboard or other recycled material* into a 5 1/2 inch X 5 1/2 square
--*I used an old plastic folder.

2. Use permanent marker and ruler to mark dots approximately every 3/4 of an inch --*
--*Mark each corner, then evenly space dots between these points (8 dots per side)

3. Use hole punch to punch out marked spots, starting with 4 corners. Be careful and aware of your spacing as you punch holes.

To make aluminum sheets:

1. Wash cans. Shake out excess water or air dry.

2. Lay can on side.

3. Use awl or ice pick to punch starter hole 1 inch from bottom of can, in the UPC code area.*
--* I try to avoid the UPC symbol and ingredient list, etc, in my projects but if you like `em, use `em.
--**Most cans are slightly heavier gauge at the bottom, so if you punch your starter hole low, there is less bending of the metal.

4. Use scissors or snips to cut a slit in can from bottom to top, starting at the hole.

5. Cut away the top of can, snipping in a circle, turning can as you cut. Do same for bottom. At the top, do not cut past the straight part of the can, ie. don't cut to the top rim or the slanted part of the can right below the rim. If you do, it will be very difficult to flatten the can into a sheet.

6. Trim any jagged edges from the can. This will make it safer and easier to handle for the next step.

7. Lay the curled piece of aluminum, painted side down on the table or counter top. Holding sheet at top and bottom, slide sheet off table edge. Using the edge of table to flatten sheet, seesaw back and forth until sheet is completely flat.

8. You may need to rewash and dry your metal sheets at this point as there is often a small residue of whatever liquid was in the can left on the inside. If you skip this step you may have sticky sheets. Yuck.

Step 3: Make Metal Squares

To make aluminum squares:

1. Lay template on inside or unpainted side of aluminum sheet.

2. Trace outline of template onto metal.

3. Mark holes with permanent marker on metal.

4. Punch holes in metal with hole punch.

5. Check your plan to make sure you have the right amount of squares punched and ready to go.

Step 4: Make Granny Squares and Assemble Bag

Material/Tools for Granny Squares:

Size G or H crochet needle
Yarn: Approximately 1 1/2 to 2 skeins
Colors of your choice
Masking tape & Pen/Marker

To Make Granny Squares:

1. Layout your punched squares and visualize your bag for color and coordination. (This is where your plan come in handy.) You may need to move sheets around to get the effect and color scheme you want. You also may want to make your aluminum squares bigger or littler, depending on the size of your cans and the size of bag you want.
---*I chose (4) 5 1/2 X 5 1/2 squares, (1) 5 1/2 X 7, (4) 2 1/2 X 2 1/2 and (1) 6 X 3 for front and back. Each side is (3) 5 1/2 X 5 1/2 squares and same for bottom.

2. When you have your squares laid out the way you want, flip each square over, one at a time and write the position of the square on a piece of masking tape and stick it to the back of the square. (In other words, mark the top left corner square, TOP: left. Then the next one, TOP: middle, and so on.) When it’s time to crochet your squares and later, assemble your bag, you will be glad you did this step! Don’t skip it!

3. Select yarn. I suggest you use acrylic or acrylic blend. You will need 1 skein of background or main color (MC) and various colors (CC or coordinating colors) for the squares OR you could go with a single color for all squares and a background color OR one single color for the whole thing. (In that case you would need at least 2 skeins of MC.) It's really up to you what colors you want, choose what pleases YOU.*
--*I chose colors which coordinated with the can colors I was using. I picked beer cans of primarily blue, gold and red. So I used yarns of blue, turquoise, gold with black for the background color or Main Color (MC).
--**In some parts I just wanted segments of the cans, ie. the gold stars with blue background, so I made mini-squares for these.

4. Using G size hook and CC, do single crochet stitch around square, except corners. At each corner, do 1 single crochet, 1 double crochet, 1 single. You will use the holes in the metal to work the stitch through (like you would the chain stitch).

5. When you get to the end of row 1, connect with a slip stitch. Make two more rows the same. Then, switch to MC and do another row. Finish last row with single crochet around edge, (3 single crochet at each corner hole).
--*You might have to adjust number of rows if you go with a smaller or larger square-- but always finish last row with MC.

6. When you have crocheted all the granny squares you need, assemble by loosely crocheting together seams with single crochet stitch (on wrong side) OR use yarn and plastic hand sewing needle to hand stitch seams together, laying squares out flat while you stitch. (This is when you will be glad you added your tags on the back of each square!) Be careful when stitching together seams that you don't pucker them. Otherwise, your bag will not lay flat.

6. Finish off top of bag with a single crochet stitch edging in MC or CC.

Step 5: Make a Liner From an Old T-Shirt

Material/Tools For Liner:

Old T-shirt
Sewing thread
Straight pens
Sewing machine (optional)

Since the t-shirt has a finished edge this will be the top of your liner, saving you from sewing the edges. You will merely need to cut off the top (arms and neck hole), run a straight stitch across the cut and tah dah, you have a liner!

To Make Liner:

1. Place t-shirt inside the bag to see if it fits before cutting. If too large, get another shirt or take in the seams to fit. If too small, just get another shirt!

2. Lay assembled tote bag on a piece of paper, trace the bag with a pen or pencil to make a paper pattern. Trim the pattern along the traced line, leaving a two inch margin along bottom (seam allowance).

3. Turn t-shirt wrong side out.

4. Spread shirt on table. Lay bag pattern on shirt. Make sure the bottom hem of the t-shirt is aligned with top edge of the bag pattern. Trace the pattern onto the shirt with chalk.

5. Pin along the cut line.

6. Put t-shirt/liner inside the tote again to make sure it will fit before you make the final cut. You don't want the liner too loose, too deep or too shallow, so measure it good BEFORE you cut!

7. Leave pins in place. Cut t-shirt, removing neck hole and sleeves.

8. Sew a straight stitch across this cut opening, removing pins as you sew. (This will be bottom of liner.)

9. Place liner, still wrong side out, in assembled crocheted tote. Hand stitch liner into place along top edge of tote with needle and thread.

Note: When you peer inside tote bag you should now see the t-shirt's right side (outside) but not the raw seam. Don't get confused by this as most sewn garments are done in the reverse of this step.

Step 6: Final Step: Make Handles

Material/Tools For Handles:

Bamboo -- approx. 12 inches
Hack saw or small saw
Dremel or drill with small bit
Shellac or polyurethane (spray)
12 aluminum can pull tabs
Wooden beads (4)
Fingernail polish
18 gauge wire, approximately 12-18 inches (make into jump rings, put atleast two in each hole of chain)

To Make Handles:

1. Cut bamboo into (2) 6 inch pieces. (You can buy bamboo cheaply at garden centers, if you do not have access to some home grown). Clean out any gunk inside of bamboo with a knife or any pointy tool.

2. Measure/mark for drill holes --1 inch from the end of each piece, mark a dot with marker or pen.

3. Drill through each end of handle(s) (4 holes total).

4. Sand bamboo with sandpaper until smooth. Pay special attention to ends, get them smooth!

5. Coat with 2-3 coats of polyurethane or shellac. Let dry.

6. Paint wooden beads (or use whatever kinds of beads you have on hand).
--*I used blue nail polish to paint my thrift store wooden beads. Old nail polish is great for crafting. It is enamel, comes in all colors, lasts a long time and has a nice little built in brush. You can't beat that!

7. Use pull tabs and wire to form 4 chains (3 tabs per chain) and also to attach beads. (Use hole punch or awl to punch extra hole in pull tab if necessary.)

8. To attach to handle, put the wire through a bead, bend ends together and twist. Push through drilled hole in bamboo and attach to pull tab chain. Do this 3 more times.

9. Attach handles to bag by whip stitching with strong thread. Go through last link of chain (pull tab). Use heavy duty thread such as yarn thread or embroidery thread.

Your tote bag is now complete.

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    13 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! I think I can make this from the pictures alone. Good post!


    13 years ago on Introduction

    Great idea! Great job! This gives me a reason to crack open a cold one.


    14 years ago on Introduction

    Gosh, I reeeeallly like this bag. I have lots of yarn, but I was thinking that if I tried making this, I might want to use yarn and also plastic bags (sorta twirl the yarn and the plastic bag "yarn" together to make a candy-cane look). I also have lots of flattened aluminum cans left over from a project I made several years ago (I used smashed cans to make a table and chair), so maybe I could some how use those... though that would be quite heavy... but, no pain, no gain, if it's all for fashion's sake! :-P Very cool bag, I like it a lot. Great job.


    Reply 14 years ago on Introduction

    Not yet, but if I do get around to it, I'll try and post a photo of it here :-)

    This is fun. I might try it with pepsi tins - we have about a million at work. Thanks for the great idea! As soon as I finish crocheting my plastic bag beachbag, which has my kids calling me a hippie again, I'll try this one! :-)


    Reply 14 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! I have several other projects I want to put online but keep forgetting to take pictures! Dang! Good luck with your bag. And don't forget to save those can pull tabs -- they come in handy for a lot of stuff.


    14 years ago on Introduction

    Neat! I like the mix of textures, and as always, creative reuse is awesome.