Ideas for Decorating Canvas Tote Bags

Published July 19, 2018
Two women painting canvas tote bag

Canvas tote bags make great gifts, and they're also a wonderful way to carry things around town or home from the store. On their own, they can be a bit blah, but you can kick their fashion level up a notch with some simple additions. The key is using unique decorating ideas to express your own personal style.

Lacy Abstract Painted Pattern

Fabric paint in your chosen colors can help you transform a simple canvas tote into a true work of art. You can use stencils for a more uniform look, but using small paintbrushes lets you create a delicate, lacy pattern freehand. This is an easy project that makes a fun girls' night activity.

Things You'll Need

  • Fabric paint in your favorite colors
  • Very small paintbrushes
  • Plain canvas tote bag
  • Practice fabric

What to Do

  1. Dip your brush in one of the colors of paint.
  2. Apply the paint to your practice fabric, allowing the brush to fan out a little for texture. Try some different grips on the paintbrush, experimenting with giving it a little swoop at the end.
  3. When you're ready, move on to the tote bag. Use one color of paint at a time to keep the pattern uniform.
  4. Allow the bag to dry thoroughly before using it.

Alternate Design

If you want to try something similar but don't want to hassle with freehand painting, use a large piece of lace as a stencil. Tape the edges of the lace securely to the bag with painter's tape and then dab paint over the lace. Lift the lace up in one smooth motion to reveal the lacy design.

Child's Custom Art Transfer

Young girl holding reusable tote bag

Using iron-on transfer paper lets you add almost any design to a tote bag. Using a child's artwork makes a great gift for grandparents, teachers, moms, and other special people.

Things You'll Need

What to Do

  1. Scan the artwork and enlarge it to the desired size. It's best if the art covers most of the tote bag.
  2. Run a test sheet of regular paper through the printer to make sure the colors and size are what you want.
  3. Print the design on the transfer paper according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  4. Use the iron to make sure there are no wrinkles in the tote bag. Then apply the transfer according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Alternate Designs

Instead of a child's artwork, use an image of anything you like. Try your favorite vacation photos, a portrait of your cat, a lovely print of flowers, or whatever strikes your fancy. The result will be a completely custom and cute tote that is super personal and special.

Modern Metallic Totes

Three modern totes with metallic design

This sleek design is easiest to do with flat canvas totes rather than those that stand up on their own. It's an easy project that yields gorgeous results.

Things You'll Need

What to Do

  1. Lay the fabric out on your work surface, ensuring it is wrinkle-free. Fold it in half so the short sides are together.
  2. Place the tote bag on the fabric, lining up the bottom of the tote with the fold of the fabric.
  3. Cut around the tote bag, stopping about 3/4 of the way up. Lift off the tote bag and cut the fabric straight across at that spot. Check that the corners are square by using a piece of paper to line up the top and side edges (like a carpenter's square).
  4. Place the fabric right side down on a work surface in a ventilated area. Apply Fray Check to the raw edges of the fabric and remove any loose strings. Allow the Fray Check to dry. This will keep the edges from unraveling.
  5. Spray the wrong side of the fabric with spray adhesive and firmly adhere it to the tote bag, smoothing out any air bubbles as you work. It's best to start at the bottom of the tote and work out to the sides and top. Allow the adhesive to dry.
  6. Trim off any excess fabric and apply more Fray Check as needed.

Alternate Design

If you're not into the shiny, modern look, you can use this same technique with any kind of fabric. Try gingham, florals, stripes, and more. You can also use pinking shears to finish the edges instead of Fray Check if you want that decorative zigzag look.

Super Simple Options

If you don't want to take on a full project but want to give your tote some awesome style, try one of these super simple options. Each one takes only a few minutes.

Add Buttons

Buttons come in all different styles, so it's easy to add some that compliment any look. You can add large buttons where each strap meets the main part of the tote, or you can add buttons going down the front like a shirt. Sew them on if you're handy with a needle, or use hot glue if you don't want to take the time.

Decorate the Straps

You don't have to replace the straps to give a tote a new look. You can simply use fabric glue to apply bright ribbon right over the existing straps. Choose a patterned ribbon for a fun look or a solid color for a more classic appearance.

Try a Flower

You can also add a simple flower to your tote. Buy a flower at the craft store and pin or glue it where one of the straps meets the body of the tote.

Experiment With Different Looks

There's no need to settle for blah canvas tote bags when you can add a personal touch with just a few materials and a little time. Experiment with different looks so you can have one for every activity or outfit.

Ideas for Decorating Canvas Tote Bags