How to Make a T-Shirt Tote Bag

How to Make a T-Shirt Tote Bag

By Erin Huffstetler | 03/15/2021 | No Comments

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Turn a t-shirt into a t-shirt tote bag, complete with a built-in drawstring pouch to store it when not in use.

This is a new – and improved – version of a t-shirt tote bag tutorial that I published over 15 years ago. I was inspired to dust it off when my oldest daughter moved to college, and left me with an overflowing laundry basket of t-shirts she no longer wanted.

Most of the shirts were from school, Girl Scouts and summer camps she’d attended over the years. Each one represented a special memory, and I thought she’d eventually come to regret getting rid of them. So, I decided to make something out of them, and settled on t-shirt tote bags, since it was something practical that I knew she’d get a lot of use out of.

Some of my favorite tote bags have a nifty little drawstring pouch sewn on the inside that you can stuff the bag in when you aren’t using it. I realized I could create a similar pouch out of the t-shirt sleeves, since I’d be cutting them off anyway. Excited by this idea, I got to work on the first tote bag.

T-Shirt Tote Bag in a Drawstring Pouch

Look how cool the drawstring pouch turned out. Normally when you make a t-shirt tote bag, the sleeves are considered waste material, but in this version you get an awesome storage pouch. Love it!

Want to make one for yourself? Let’s do it.

T-Shirt Tote Bag Tutorial

This tutorial includes instructions for making both a grocery bag and hobo bag-style t-shirt tote bag.

What You’ll Need:

  • A t-shirt
  • Scissors
  • Thread
  • A safety pin, or bodkin
  • An air-soluble marker, or pencil
  • A sewing machine

What You Do:

Tie-Dyed T-Shirt

Spread your t-shirt out on your work surface.

Fold T-Shirt in Half Lengthwise

Fold it in half lengthwise, with the front of the shirt on the outside of your fold. Make sure the two sides are matched up nicely.

Cut the Neck and Sleeves Off the T-Shirt

Then, cut the neck and sleeves off, and set them aside.

T-Shirt With Neck and Sleeves Removed

Unfold your shirt, and this is how it should look.

Match Up the Bottom Hem of the T-Shirt

To create the bottom of your bag. Flip the t-shirt inside out. Then, spread it back out on your work surface. If you want your tote to have a plastic grocery bag shape, simply match up the bottom hems of your t-shirt, and pin or clip them together.

Place Arm Holes at Center and Match Up Bottom Hem of Shirt

If you want your tote to have a hobo bag shape, twist the shirt, until the arm holes are in the center. Then, match up the bottom hems, and pin or clip them together.

Sew Across the Bottom of the Bag

Sew along the hem to join the two sides of the shirt. Since this is the bottom of the bag, I recommend double-stitching or zig-zag stitching to give the seam some strength.

Okat, that completes the tote bag. Now, let’s make the drawstring pouch to store it.

Mark Sew Lines on Sleeve

Grab one of the sleeves that you set aside, and turn it inside out. Use a air-soluble marker, or pencil, to draw the biggest rectangle that’ll fit on the sleeve (see the photo for an example).

Sew Along Lines

Then, sew along the lines that you drew. Use a double-stitch or zig-zag stitch for strength. Trim the excess fabric, when you’re done.

Cut Slits for Drawstring

The hem of the sleeve creates the perfect channel for a drawstring, once you open up the ends. Just make a short slit at each end of the pouch, being careful not to cut through the stitching that’s holding the hem down.

Flip Sleeve Right-Side Out

Then, flip the pouch right-side out, when you’re done.

Cut Two One-Inch-Wide Strips Out of the Other Sleeve

To make the drawstrings for your pouch, grab the second sleeve, and cut two one-inch-wide strips out of it. Be sure to cut through both the front and back of the sleeve, so you get the longest pieces possible. This will actually give you two t-shirt loops. Just cut the loops open, and you’ll have the strips you need.

Stretch T-Shirt Strips to Turn Them Into T-Shirt Yarn

Use your hands to stretch the t-shirt strips, so the edges curl in on themselves. Your drawstrings are now ready for insertion.

Insert Drawstrings in Pouch

Thread the end of the first drawstring through a bodkin, or safety pin, and insert it into the front channel (it doesn’t matter which end you start on). Keep feeding it through, until it comes out the other side. Then, insert it into the back channel on the same side, and continue feeding it through, until it comes out on the side where you started.

First Drawstring Inserted

Tie the two ends of the drawstring together, so they can’t pull through the channel; and trim off any excess.

Both Drawstrings Inserted

Then, repeat the process with the other drawstring on the opposite end of the pouch.

Pin Drawstring Pouch Inside of Tote Bag

To attach the drawstring pouch to the tote bag, flip the pouch inside out, and pin it to the inside of the tote, along one of the sides. If the t-shirt you made your bag from has a design printed on one side, I recommend pinning it to the side of the bag that doesn’t have any printing.

Sew over the bottom seam of the pouch, to permanently join the bag and pouch.

Curl the Edges of the T-Shirt Tote Bag

Flip your t-shirt tote bag right-side out, and stretch the fabric along the handles and opening to make the edges curl, and you’re done!

T-Shirt Tote Bag in a Drawstring Pouch

To store your tote bag in the drawstring pouch, simply grab the top edges of the pouch, flip it right-side out, and stuff the tote bag inside. Then, use the drawstrings to cinch it up tight.

Big Pile of T-Shirt Tote Bags

These sew up quickly, so I made a bunch of t-shirt tote bags for my kids, and tucked them away for Christmas. This is such a fun reuse for their childhood t-shirts. I think they’re going to love them.

Have a bunch of t-shirts that you don’t have sentimental attachment to?

T-Shirt Dog Tug Toy

Use them to make t-shirt dog toys

T-Shirt Braided Rug in Cabin

or a braided t-shirt rug.

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