T-Shirt Tote




If your mom is anything like mine, she never let you get rid of all those old t-shirts from camps, school field days, etc.

Well, this project is a great way to turn these objects of sentimental value into something she can actually use!

This bag can be made from any size shirt, and can be sewn by hand or sewing machine! Don't worry if you're not an expert at sewing, this project is pretty forgiving. I also include instructions in most of the steps for those of you with sewing machines, or those who want to trick things up a little!

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: What You Will Need

2 T-shirts of the same size.

Two spools of thread in the color of the two shirts, or some wild crazy color that will show up against the fabric

Pins and at least one needle


Measuring tape or ruler

Chalk or pencil, something that will mark the fabric and wash off

Newspaper for a pattern (not necessary, but can make measuring and cutting easier)

Step 2: Cutting the Shirts

Look at your shirt and decide how much of the pattern you want on there. Most shirts are going to have the pattern centered on the front. Measure from the bottom of the neckline to where you want the bag to stop, be sure to stop about 4 inches from the bottom (if you are using a really small shirt, it's okay to have less than 4 inches at the bottom, just don't have less than 3.) Then measure between the shirt sleeves.

Here's where the newspaper comes in handy. From the newspaper, cut out a square in the measurements you just took. That will help you cut more quickly and easily, and keep all the squares uniform.

Cut off the strip at the bottom of the shirt that won't be part of the square you just measured. Make sure to cut it off so that when you are finished, it is still a circle of fabric. Then cut through one side of the circle so you end up with a long strip of fabric. When you do this to both shirts, you will have two long strips of fabric. (If you are confused, see picture.)

Lay the shirts out flat, pin the square to each shirt in turn, and cut through both layers of fabric (the front and back of the shirt.) When you are done, you will have four squares of t-shirt fabric!

Step 3: Creating the Handles

Okay, take the two strips of fabric you cut off in the last step. One of the long edges of the strip should be the bottom hem of the shirt, and the other edge (the one where you actually cut) is called the raw edge.

Do this to each strip separately: Fold the raw edge in so that you have folded the strip in by one third (see picture if you are confused.) Then fold the edge with the hem on top of your first fold, so the strip is about 1/3 as wide as it was before, but much stronger. Sewn right, these strips will stretch but never break!

Using the contrasting or bright color, sew two parallel lines down the length of the strip. If you are using a sewing machine, this is a good part to use a fancy stitch to make it look a little cooler.

Step 4: Adding Pockets (optional!)

If you want the inside of your bag to have pockets, now is the time. If you don't want pockets, you can skip this step.

Jersey is a great fabric because it doesn't fray, so pockets are really easy and should take only a few seconds.

Cut out whatever number or shape of pockets you want out of the scraps of the contrasting color t-shirt. There is usually enough fabric left on the sleeves for this.

Then lay out the back of one of your squares (the side of the t-shirt that isn't going to be on the outside.) Pin the cut out pockets wherever you want them on the square. I recommend putting them near the middle.

Get thread that will show up on the pocket fabric, and sew your pocket! (Remember not to sew the top.) People with sewing machines, this is another great place to use a fancy stitch.

NOTE: If you are adding pockets, be careful where you sew the handles. You don't want to sew through a pocket.

Step 5: Sewing the Tops of the Squares

Get the four squares out and match them up.

Here's some more sewing vocabulary- the side of the fabric that will show is called the RIGHT side, the side of the fabric that won't show is called the WRONG side.

Match up your squares and put them so that their RIGHT sides are facing each other and the right way up. So if there was printing on the front and back of your t-shirt, the printing should be facing each other, and you shouldn't see any at this point.

Sew only the top of each pair of squares, about half an inch from the top.

Then flip them inside out and you'll see the printing again.

Step 6: Attach the Handles

Get your handles out again, and put them with the contrasting color squares. Pin each handle about one and a half inches in from the edge of the square. If you added pockets, this is when you need to be careful about where your handles go.

Please see the pictures as to how the handles will look when you have finished pinning them to the square.

Sew your handle in a color thread that won't show up as much along the two lines you sewed before. Sewing each handle along two lines will make it much stronger.

Also sew the handles in a horizontal line where they meet the top of the purse. This will give them added strength.

Don't worry if the handles seem short, they will stretch a little when you put things in the bag, usually enough to put over your shoulder.

Step 7: Finishing the Bag

Now pin the right sides of both squares together, making sure the ends of the handles match up at the bottom. Sew all four layers together on the sides and bottom, making sure to sew the bottom twice to reinforce it.

Take the pins out, turn it right side out and...

Step 8: Finished Bags and Other Options

Here's the finished bag, and another bag I've done.

If you want to embellish it with flowers, see my other instructable. I like to add the flowers on, because you can use scraps left over from any project, just like mom would want you to do.

Feel free to message me with any questions or improvements, this is my first instructable.

Happy Mother's Day!

Mother's Day Contest

Participated in the
Mother's Day Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Art Skills Challenge

      Art Skills Challenge
    • Make it Move

      Make it Move
    • Teacher Contest

      Teacher Contest

    37 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This looks amazing, and since this will be my first real sewing project, I HOPE IT WORKS!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    This is very cute! I just used your instructions to make one with an old mickey mouse shirt that turned out great! Thank you :D


    9 years ago on Step 1

    would i be able to make this with one shirt? by using both the back and front?? because i only have one black shirt.. and my other shirts arent the exact same size...

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Coats and Clark has free instructions on how to sew with only one t-shirt but it calls for ribbon. http://www.coatsandclark.com/Crafts/Sewing/Projects/Accessories/CS0047+Tshirt+tote.htm There is also a youtube video called T-Shirt Tote with Coats and Clark (it is the same as the pattern on coats and clarks website it just shows/explains more) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUkaGGep-5c


    9 years ago on Step 8

    wow ...great instructable...have many old t- shirts...time to wash them and use them....


    9 years ago on Step 8

    thanks that cleared it up... but i have anothah question :) sorry im new to instructables... so, when you say in step 5 'sewing the tops of the squares' do you mean hemming them ? not sewing them together right? im dumb i know :)


     No, the handles meet each other at the bottom of the bag. The handles are made of two separate strips that you put on each of the squares that make up the majority of the bag. I always make sure that I match the placement of my strips on the bottom of the bag so they look like they go all the way around. 

    When you have the matching squares sewn together, but not sewn to each other, thats when you put the handles on. EX. If you are using a blue shirt and a white shirt- you cut two squares out of each shirt so you end up with four squares, blue blue, white white. The blue gets sewn to the blue and the white to the white so you are basically reinforcing your squares. Then you place the handles on the squares and sew. Then the squares get sewn together with the handles already attached. 


    9 years ago on Step 8

    This. Is. Brilliant. ..I think I love you. :]


    10 years ago on Introduction

    CUTE! I love the design on your t-shirt u made the bag out of!!! great job!


    10 years ago on Step 8

    I totally love this idea!!! it's super cute and I kinda also need a new bag for school! lol! Plus I have tons of old shirts that I don't rele use anymore! thanx a ton!


    10 years ago on Step 8

    What do the pockets look like?


    10 years ago on Step 8

    really nice! im gonna try this


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I absolutely LOVE this and will send this link to all of my fellow greenies over at www.greenwala.com (the online green social network). Just a heads up to all crafty people out there -- Greenwala just launched 3 new contests and one of them centers around the best eco-themed t-shirt design. The winner gets $250, too! Hope someone here will enter..apparently your chances of winning increase since the finalists are decided by the community, so friends can help bump you up in the ranks. I can't wait!! Say hi to me there and I'll vote for your entry, too!


    10 years ago on Step 1

    I learned from an old Dutch woman that instead of chalk or pencil, use those practically useless soap slivers left over from a bar of soap. When you mark the fabric it leaves a really nice visible line and disappears easily with water.

    3 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Step 1

    I did, and she was happy to hear all the thanks. She also told me that the soap line disappears with mere steaming of the garment or piece when complete, so BONUS!