Introduction: How to Customize a Tote Bag

Learn how to customize your own tote bag! It's easy and fun to make.
Now let's get creative! 

Adapted from:

Step 1: Supplies

20 minutes – 40 minutes

(Depends on individual’s craftiness)

• Plain tote bag (any size)
• Fabric paint (color of your choice)
• Designed stencil
• 1 Large, 2 small sponge paint brush
• Trash bag or newspaper 
• Scissors
• 3 bowls
• Flat table
• Tape
• Plastic bag or cardboard

(Supplies bought at Hobby Lobby and Michaels)

• Fan
• Paper towels
• Bow

Step 2: Work Area

Lay down a large trash bag (or several newspapers) down for your new work area.

Step 3: Avoid Mess

Lay a plastic bag (or cardboard) flat inside your tote bag, so paint doesn’t soaks through the inside and opposite side of the bag.

Step 4: Let's Begin!

Now place your tote bag on top of your new work area. Then place your stencil design on the center of your tote bag.

Step 5: Taping

Use four strips of tape and place it on all sides on the edges of the stencil. This is to secure it during the painting process. It is important that the stencil doesn't move while you paint.

Step 6: Create a Gradient Effect

Begin pouring a quarter size amount of fabric paint of your choice into a small bowl. A little goes a long way, so add more paint when it's needed. 

Step 7: Dabbing

Place the tip of the sponge brush into the fabric paint that you just poured in Step 6. Next, begin dabbing (see below for definition) the paint onto the center portion of your stencil and rotate the brush in a circular motion. Dabbing in a circular motion should create an asterix symbol ( * ).  

*Dabbing: Tapping the brush up and down as if you are tapping a pen on a table. 

Step 8: Continue Dabbing

Do not dip for more paint. Use the excess paint on the brush and begin dabbing lightly outwards to create a nice gradient effect. (More opaque in the center, to a lighter exterior)

Step 9: Color #2

Now pour two quarter sizes of your second fabric paint into a bowl. A little goes a long way so pour more as it is needed.

Step 10: More Dabbing

Next, use a large sponge brush and begin dabbing the outer portions towards the center, until the first paint color and the second paint color mixes. It is okay to slightly cover the first color in the center. Be particularly careful to stay within the boundary of your stencil design and tape! 

Step 11: Continue Dabbing

Continue dabbing until the entire space within the stencil design is completely painted.

Step 12: Touch-Up

With the same small sponge brush used for your first fabric paint, touch-up to the center until you are content with your gradient design. The middle should be a quarter size of one solid color, with a gradient surrounding it. 

Step 13: Dry & Remove Tape

Allow the fabric paint to dry for 5-10 minutes, or until you can run your fingers through fabric paint without any smears. Use a fan if you'd like to speed up the process. Then, CAREFULLY remove all of the tape. 

Step 14: Tape Again

Use four strips to tape and place them directly on top of the edges of the design as illustrated above. The four strips of tape should make some type of square or rectangle, depending on your stencil design. 

Step 15: Ready for Stripes!

Now, we will begin taping several long strips horizontally across your bag. First, tape a strip from about ½ inch down the top of the tote bag. 

Step 16: More Tape

Now place another strip continuing from one of the four strips of tape placed at the top of your design. Make sure it is parallel to the first strip placed in Step 15.

Step 17: Cover the Handles

To keep paint from getting onto the handles, place two small strips of tape onto the left and right handles as pointed in pink arrows. Be sure the strips of tape are secure and won't move during the painting process.

Step 18: Continue Taping

Add your third long strip of tape the same way as Step 16. Add a strip continuing from one of the four strips of tape placed at the bottom of your design

Step 19: Cover the Bottom

To avoid painting unwanted areas, flip the bottom flap up as seen above. Then, tape the outer corners and bottom on the flap that is touching the table. 

Step 20: Last Tape

Finally, add one last strip of tape about the same distance that's between Tape 1 and 2 are. It should be about an inch from Tape 3. 

However, depending on how large your tote bag and stencil design is, may effect how many more strips of tape you will need. Feel free to add more where you feel needed.

Step 21: Painting Stripes

The opened space between each long strips of tape is where we will paint stripes of color. Pour another fabric paint of your choice into your last bowl. Remember, a little goes a long way so pour as you go! I tend to use at least half a bottle in a 1fl oz (29.5 mL) bottle of fabric paint. 

Step 22: Continue Painting

With another small sponge brush, begin dabbing fabric paint in each of the opened space areas between each strip of tape. However, do not paint the middle portion next to your design as illustrated and crossed out above.

Step 23: Touch-Up

Once all the sections appear filled in, check to see it is completely covered in paint. To do so, let it dry for a minute (1-5 minutes). Then, hold the tote bag up and turn it in different angles and in different lighting. You may see blotches of the white background seeping through the paint. 

Go over these blotches and dab more paint where it is necessary. 

Step 24: Remove Tape

Allow the fabric paint to dry for 5-10 minutes, or until you can run your fingers through fabric paint without any smears. Use a fan if you'd like to speed up the process.

After it is dry, CAREFULLY start removing each strip of tape off of the tote bag. 

Step 25: Done!

Take out the plastic bag or cardboard that was placed in the tote bag earlier in Step 3. Allow the entire fabric paint on the tote bag to dry for another 15 – 30 minutes before use. Use if a fan if you are in a rush it use it. I don't blame you! 

Step 26: Add a Bow!

Cut a strip of bow 8 - 12 inches. The length depending on how big you want it to be. Tie a bow onto one of the handles of the tote bag to add one last feminine touch!