· Homekeeping Tips · Crafts & DIY Projects · DIY Canvas Tote Revamp!

DIY Canvas Tote Revamp!

I’ve had a lot of people requesting some simple handmade gift ideas lately. I guess it IS getting to be that time of year when we start thinking about gifting. Although I’m not personally ready to “go there” yet (I’m in denial basically)….I have been seeing some cute things like this plain canvas tote that I think would make great gifts so I thought I would share one of them today.

I eyed this over at Say Yes To Hoboken and immediately fell in love with the idea! I’ve always loved cute totes for….well….toting stuff, and I love, LOVE how this one simple idea of adding leather handles takes an ordinary canvas tote to a whole new level.

It really couldn’t be any more simple.

You’ll need:

Applying the graphic:

  • Print out desired graphic from your computer onto printer transfer paper. 
  • Iron your canvas bag so it’s nice and smooth.
  • Apply graphic according to directions.

NOTE: I did this 3 separate times and each time it didn’t quite transfer completely onto the canvas. I’m assuming that’s just the way it work on canvas since it’s a somewhat rough surface. I actually LIKE the way it turned out. Looks kinda vintage. :-) But just wanted to make you aware of this.

Applying the handles:

  • First cut off the handles of your canvas tote bag.
  • Cut the ends off your belt and then cut it in half.
  • Poke, gouge, rip, burn, stab, whatever it takes….a hole through the canvas and the leather where you want to attach. This was probably the hardest part for me. But between an exacto knife, a seam ripper and a pair of scissors…I was finally able to make a hole through the canvas and the leather big enough to accomodate the rivet. (I’m sure there’s some tool out there that makes this MUCH easier…but I don’t know about it.)
printed canvas tote bag

Now, at this point, there are two ways you can go.

Liz at Say Yes To Hoboken simply used rivets and hammered them in.

*I*, however, searched high and low for said rivets and couldn’t find any. So, I did the next best thing and purchased a rivet tool at our local hardware store (for about $16) and used it instead. Although it worked just fine…some rivets (which Liz apparently got from her local fabric store…I wish I had a local fabric store) and a hammer would have been much cheaper and easier.

Anyway…either way you go…attach the handles and you’re done! Cute, huh? I bet you would pay a pretty penny for something like this in a retail store. I estimate it cost $2 to 3 dollars to make!

This one I made for me.

This one I made for my daughter Britta. (Can anyone guess the BBC television show she is quite fond of?)

And this one I made for my daughter-in-law Kaitlyn. :-) More Simple Handmade Gift Ideas to come…..stay tuned!

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee


Homekeeping Tips

  • These are really cute but….working for a printing company for 13 years and having done transfers before, I have seen people do it yourself a lot. They always forget one thing and I didn’t see it posted in your how to above. You have to mirror the image for it to apply correctly to the fabric. I have seen a lot of people not realize this and iron something onto a clothing item and it turn out backwards….

  • My daughter loves the same BBC show as your daughter! Can you tell me where you found the TARDIS pics you used for your bag? She would love to have something with that on it!

  • Hi there… where did you get the quotes and pictures for your transfer paper? Did you design them on your own and if so can you tell me what you used? They are awesome!! thanks so much!!!

  • A year ago I used PCA Delta in Pompano Beach FL to print some promotional tote bags, which they did a great job with. Now I use them for all my promotional items since they have lots to choose from with good prices and quality. If you need promotional items, check them out at http://www.pcadeltaprinting.com

  • Girl, I know you live in Utah… how can you NOT have a local fabric store? Message me for the names of some if you’re interested… I have a few I love! Great post and such a cute idea!

  • What a clever idea to go to the thrift shops or yard sales and look for belts. I hope I can find some that look better than my husbands when he’s finished with his HAHA!

  • I agree with Rebecca. Washing the “finish” off of the bag is recommended by the manufacturer for better printing results. Rather than putting it in the washing machine, put the tote in the sink or bathtub. Wet and rub detergent into the fabric where you will be ironing on the transfer. Rinse, but don’t ring it out, that will create wrinkles, let it drip dry. It’s not easy to iron the canvas flat after it’s been wrinkled.
    I love all of Jillee’s ideas!!!

  • Great idea! I have an amazing tool that would cut through the leather like butter and is available from almost any craft store, real store or online. It’s called a Crop-a-dile made by we R memory Keepers. Even goes through metal. About $25 but has so many uses. And washing the bags then ironing them would almost certainly give better iron-on results. More steps but since they are easy to wash and flat to iron, not so bad, certainly doable!

  • For a nice “finished” look to the outer rivet side–not that this doesn’t look amazing!!!—you could get a package of FINISH WASHERS from the hardware store. These are little beveled rings that fit around the outside of the rivet head. Just take your rivets with you to get the correct size or if buying both make sure they are compatible.

    Another “look” might be to keep the belt hardware and use it for either a decorative effect close to the bag (so it wont bother your hands) or some where else on the bag as an accent.

    Actually a few more “decorative” belts–the funky ones you always see at the thrift store but never quite know what to DO with ’em!–might look nice riveted across the front of these bags. Wouldn’t even need to use all of the belt just the detail. Around the top edge—lots of ideas here!

    And the basic bag for these is easy peasy to sew out of almost any fabric–canvas; recycled denim or new; printed fabric—upholstery fabric. Just measure a rectangle (use a bag you have as a guide to size) and for the bottom “turn” lay the bag flat. On the bottom edge pull the edge up so there is a “ledge” even at the bottom—use an existing bag as a guide if I am not making this part clear! When you have an equal amount of fabric from each side just fold the corner flat–you will have a triangle of fabric. This will be on the outer side of the bag–not towards the bottom–and mark and sew across the base of the triangle. Easier to DO than describe! Then you can either cut the corner off or leave it on there. Use a few rows of stitching when you know you have the corner right to add strength. Don’t for get to leave seam allowances AND to make sure the top edge has a deep fold over for handle to attach to–if doing these from “scratch” you might want to re-inforce the top edge to take the leather handle better—the way Jillee so cleverly did it uses the existing handle base to attach. I might fold one more time and then stitch the edge down and make the “X” cross stitch box (if you have one of these take a look to see what I mean!) and re-inforce the area that way. Rivet thru center of “X” would look nice too. Contrast top stitch!

    Smaller bags for lunch totes!

    To add strength to the bottoms: You can make a “cover” for a double layer to the base like LL Bean does—just make a “T” shaped piece of fabric to cover the bottom and the sides.

    Wonder if using a few pieces of the belt leather wouldn’t make great base protectors? How come my fave thrift stores are not OPEN today!!!!!!!!

  • If someone doesn’t want to get a Crop -a-dile then all one would need is a pair of pliers, nail, and heat. I use to do this to my dog collars when I needed a new hole, or when a belt needed a new hole. I had a dogs that were over 150 pounds so I had to buy horse harnesses for them. Well they had to be made to fit the dog so I obviously had to figure out a way to put a hole in and keep the material from fraying. Most times when you try and do stuff to leather or man made leather it will tear or be very weak around where the hole is. The best thing to do is seal it.

    You first want to secure your belt somewhere so it won’t slip around and will have room under where you want the hole to be. Next you want to take a nail the size of the hole you want, maybe try to find one a tiny bit smaller. Take hold of it with the pliers down by where the head of the nail is, you will need the tip. Heat the nail up till it is very hot. Then simply poke the belt where you need. In and out don’t doddle, you want this to be fast and clean. Makes a perfect hole and it also seals it so it won’t rip or tear later.

    Might be a little red neck yet it does a really good job. My ex use to own a shop with all sorts of tools. I put the nail in a vice and heated it up with a butane torch and slipped the material through. The good thing is you can do this with pretty much any material, except ones that will catch fire quickly such as cotton. It works wonders for synthetic material like the non-leather dog collars, like the bright colorful ones.

  • I see someone already led you to a Crop-a-dile. They are a great tool to have. I use mine for so many things. They punch holes like cutting through butter! Love the leather handles on this!

  • In the horse world there is a hand tool, called a leather punch, that cuts holes in leather, fabric and such. And there are Chicago screws- 2 pieces that screw together. They look very nice/finished without any clinching or pounding.

  • I’d not heard of a crop-a-dile, but I just used a cordless drill to put a couple of new holes in a belt last week. Just put a piece of scrap wood underneath, one quick zip with the drill gets the job done!

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