Refashioning: Yellow Tote to Purse

I love repurposing clothing, bags, and furniture, just as many of you do too. Refashioning is (often) inexpensive, it uses up old waste, and what I love most….it gives me parameters to work with. Sometimes tackling a new project alone feels daunting because you’re not sure where to start. But with refashioning you start with previously constructed materials that require you to think outside of the box. They give you a jumping point to tinker with, evolve, and recreate the old into something exciting and new (The love boat…)

I’m always curious how other people arrive at their destinations. So I thought I’d share a simple project with you, showing my thought-process along the way…..how I went from this:

to this:


Refashioning doesn’t always mean the item comes from a Thrift Store. There are usable items all around us. I often hit up stores like Old Navy and IKEA and browse their clearance sections, looking for repurposable clothing and fabrics. Typically the only T-shirt size left in the Old Navy clearance is XXL, which gives you plenty of room to work with!

A few months ago, I found the above tote bag for only $1! Maybe you have it too? Simple, cute, cheap, fun? Yes. However, I tried using it for a day and quickly realized that it was driving me crazy. There were no pockets! It was too deep. Everything was getting jumbled around inside.

So when we got home, I pretended there were no other chores on my list and decided to give the tote bag a face lift.

First off, it needed pockets. My original thought was to create some inside by adding new fabrics. But then I realized that if I shortened the length of the bag (since it was too deep already) I could use the bag itself to create pockets! So, I folded the bag UP, all the way around (where the pins are) and sewed a top-stitch all the way around. I did not, however, sew it TO the bag. This will come in a bit. Now I had spots for two front pockets (the cute graphic print on the bag made that one easy), two side pockets, and one large back pocket.
The pockets were all a bit shallow, since I could only fold the bag up so far. But I needed to seal them off so chapstick and cell phones wouldn’t fall out. I used a velcro strip for the back pocket, cutting the velcro in half length-wise to make it more narrow so it would use less pocket space.
For the front pocket I happened to have a long yellow zipper on-hand. I sewed it right on to the front of the bag, opened the zipper and sewed it to the front fold-up part. The zipper was much too long for the bag, so…
I zigzagged the end and just snipped it off.
Then I sewed right down the middle of the big front pocket to create two separate pockets, though they share the same zipper. It’s a little odd but I only had one zipper so I went with it. You have to open the whole zipper to access both pockets. No biggie.
Okay, the new purse was coming together. Of course projects seem to grow bigger as the brain starts spinning. I wanted to give more structure to the bag. It was still too floppy. When making bags, it’s nice to use interfacing or Buckram fabric to make them more sturdy. However, I didn’t have any of those things and I didn’t want to create a lining to hide them if I did! So I scanned my sewing room, looking for materials. And then I remembered these great place mats I’d bought at Goodwill months before. Plastic, colorful, from IKEA, 25 cents…I had to buy them. And now they had a purpose!
I measured the bottom and back side of my bag,
Cut a rectangle,
gave it a small crease/fold without breaking the plastic,
and slid it into the bag. It fit! But I wanted it to be fused with the purse, so things wouldn’t slip behind it. However, the plastic created a problem if I ever wanted to wash the bag. So….
I decided to velcro it in place. This way, I could wipe off anything that spilled in the purse and then remove the plastic portion to machine-wash the rest of the purse.

I sewed velcro to the back of the plastic rectangle, in 4 different spots,
and sewed matching velcro strips to the bag as well:
Ah. Perfect.
Then I added the final touch. One criteria for all my purses is that there needs to be a place to hold sippy cups, baby bottles, or water bottles. The side pockets were perfect for this but they were much too shallow. So I snipped the bottoms of these pockets and added white fabric pocket extensions. Not a very nice sewing job and I didn’t get a good photo but they’re next to the arrows and fixed the problem just fine.
And there you go! My $1 tote was transformed into a usable purse, with all our goodies and necessities neatly standing up.
and a sippy cup on the side.
Target, the park, Disney store? here we come!
(this post will be saved in the TUTORIALS section for the future)

  1. Nice bag! I need to make one soon!!!

  2. 2) Beryl

    Nice bag, i wish to sew just like that..
    Ps: my email add all in lower case..

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