How to Decorate Tote Bags

5 bags image by Aleksey Bakaleev from

Things You'll Need

  • Fabric tote bag
  • Cardboard
  • Waxed paper
  • Fabric paints
  • Craft paint brushes
  • Chalk
  • Transfer paper
  • Sewing needle
  • Thread
  • Embellishments, such as silk leaves, appliques and buttons

Decorating a tote bag makes a great craft project for kids and adults. You can make a tote bag to reflect your own style and tastes. Make one for different uses, such as a beach bag, library bag and knitting supply bag. They also make thoughtful gifts for friends and loved ones for any occasion. Blank tote bags can be purchased at most craft stores, or you can recycle tote bags given away at stores or events. There are many ways to decorate a tote bag, so you can get very creative.

Prewash the bag before painting it. Do not use any fabric softener in the rinse. Allow it to dry thoroughly.

Cover a piece of cardboard with waxed paper and place it inside of the bag. This will prevent the paint from bleeding through and sticking on the inside of the bag.

Trace a freehand design in chalk. Chalk can be wiped away if you don't like it and want to start over. Visible chalk lines can be wiped or wash off when you're finished painting. Draw whatever kind of design you like, such as flowers, stars, bats and baseballs, your name, or your favorite cartoon character.

Use transfer paper, if you prefer, to transfer designs or drawings. Transfer paper is found in craft stores and used like carbon paper. You place it over your tote bag, then place the paper with the design you like on top of it. Trace over your design with the back of a paint brush or a chop stick. Be careful not to let the papers or the tote bag move as you are doing this. When you remove the papers, you will have an outline of your design. This is a good option if you're not confident of your freehand drawing skills.

Paint on the design with fabric paints. You can use a paint brush, or select fine-tipped paint tubes to squeeze paint directly onto the fabric. To prevent smearing, allow one paint to dry before painting on or near it with another color. Allow paint to dry 24 to 48 hours before sewing anything onto your bag. Squeezed-on paint will take longer to dry than brushed on paint.

Sew on silk flowers and leaves, appliques, patches or buttons with needle and thread to further decorate your bag.


  • Select a tote bag that is light in color. Fabric paints don't show up as well on dark colors. Follow directions on the fabric paint for laundering your tote.


  • Keep trimmings to a minimum if the tote will be used by children or for groceries -- they are likely to come loose and spoil the design.