Monday, August 19, 2013

DIY T-shirt Tote

Welcome back! I've taken a little blogging vacation with such a crazy summer schedule in July. I've got lots of great stuff to post so time to get back to it! 

This post comes with a bit of a story… I’ve written before about how much I love small town North Dakota culture. Last spring I was invited to a “Ladies Night” fundraiser for the local fire department. Basically you buy a ticket for a steak dinner, they have some fun activities and charitable gambling and the kicker—free drinks. Which really translates into “all you can drink” pretty quickly. So imagine a fire hall full of local ladies dressed the nines, dining on steaks and fishing beer out of huge tubs of ice and fighting each other over the last shots of hard liquor. Such a fun event… more fun when midnight hit and the really crazy activity started. Women holding each other's hair back so that they could “bob for beers” (unsuccessfully); sneaking tiny bottles of single serve wine in their purses; and, my favorite part, everyone piling into fire trucks and ambulances driven by our firemen for a safe ride home.

One of the traditions of this event is to buy “Ladies Night” t-shirts off the backs of the firemen. (I know this calls to mind images of sexy firemen and six-pack abs circling their hips while they spin their shirt above their head. Clearly NOT the case in a small town volunteer fireman in North Dakota. It was more like beer guts and bald heads while they carefully peeled off their outer shirt (because they learned long ago to wear many layers) so as to not let their bellies show. I had to get in on the action and buy one of these memorable neon yellow t-shirts but by the time I went for it, the only fireman left with a shirt wore a 2X so it didn’t quite fit into my wardrobe.

So I found myself trying to figure out with to do with it... Well of course, an upscale t-shirt project! How about a tote bag?

So here’s what I did with it…

Upscaled DIY T-Shirt Tote Bag
finished size (from a XXL t-shirt): 20" x 15", straps 27" long
click here for instructions without all the pictures and commentary

Step 1: Cut it up!

I wanted to save the chest print for a front pocket so I cut the front graphic into a 5"x 6" piece and set aside. To make the straps, I cut two 2" strips off of the bottom of the t-shirt and left them in a loop. I cut the sides and sleeves off of the remaining t-shirt. I used the full back and cut below the chest print for another rectangle to sew together with the back.

To get a good idea of what size I wanted, I measured my favorite canvas tote bag and added a few inches to make it just the right size. 

Here's my t-shirt before I whipped out my scissors.

Cutting off the bottom two 2" strips for my straps.

Cutting out the front graphic for my bag's pocket.

Cutting the back and leftover front to get the right amount of fabric.

Step 2: Piece and sew the main compartment together

I wanted the back graphic to be the star of the show and be centered on one side of the bag. The size of my t-shirt (XXL) allowed enough fabric that I folded the bottom part of the back to create a third of the front side of the t-shirt.

With right sides together, sew the front and back pieces together to form one long rectangle that is the width you want your bag to be and twice the height you want (because you'll fold this in half to create your bag)

I folded my bag in half and centered my image right where I wanted it. I trimmed up the sides and top so that they were exactly the way I wanted them. Fold the bag in half with the right sides together and sew the side seams.
To create the top seam, I folded over 1/2" then 1" to create a neat edge at the top. I zig-zag stitched around the bottom part of seam to complete the top edge. 

Step 3: Sew the straps

To create the straps, I cut two 2" wide strips from the bottom of the t-shirt (back in step one). I didn't get fancy with these and kept the edges raw. Knit fabric doesn't fray and I like the look and ease of a raw edge. I kept the full loop of the bottom of the t-shirt flat so that my straps were two layers of fabric to make them strong. Then I simply zig-zag stitched along each long edge. 

To attach the strap, I marked a spot about 2 1/2" from each top corner of my bag and pinned the straps in place. I sewed them in place by sewing a 1 1/2" box around the bottom with an X in the middle to make sure they were nice and secure. Repeat for all four corners. 

Two layers of fabric from my one long strip. Sew along the long edge to create the strap.

My strap placed near the corner of the bag and sewn in place with a box and X to make it secure.

Step 4: Sew the pocket in place

Obviously you can skip this step if you aren't putting a pocket on. I loved the front graphic and wanted to use it so I cut it into a 5"x6" rectangle (in step one). I folded over the top edge 1/2" to create a more secure and prettier edge to the top and zig-zag stitched it in place. I left the rest of the edges raw. I placed the pocket in the center above my seam that connected the front and back. I zig-zag stitched around the bottom three edges to secure it in place (be sure to back-stitch at the top corners to make it extra strong).

The front pocket sewn in place.

Here it is! The finished bag.

The finished product...


I must say, I'm obsessed with this bag. The t-shirt fabric is perfect because it stretches and you can stuff anything in it. The straps fit perfectly over my shoulder but in a pinch I can stretch them over my head to make it a cross-body bag. Wash it and everything returns to normal! I can't wait to make more!

Ta da!

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