Take an ordinary tote bag & make it extraordinary

Upcycle your tote bag!

I’m going to add a zipper to a store bought tote bag and decorate it with some stitched flowers!

Because of the increased awareness regarding the use of single-use plastics, I now have a large collection of canvas totes (free ones and store bought ones) that I use for running errands, to hold my lunch for work, or to carry items for my yoga class. I like using them, but I lack a bag with a zipper– so I decided to upcycle a plain tote. I added a recessed zipper and lining, and while I was on it I also stitched some flowers using the flower stitch foot… Is spring already in the air?

uncle tote bag
Upcycle your tote bag! | Madam Sew flowers

The Flowers

Have you ever seen the magic of a flower foot? It’s a cool big presser foot that makes circular topstitches. And the canvas of a tote is perfect for this job because it is sturdy. If you are using a lightweight, floppier fabric, be sure to strengthen your fabric with some fusible interfacing.

assemble the materials
big presser foot
make circular topstitches

For a complete HOW TO on the Flower Foot: check out this tutorial that I made almost 2 years ago.

For this project, I used our new embroidery thread. Don’t you like the vibrant colors and the lovely sheen?

The Recessed Zipper

Going through my fabric and notions stash, I chose some lightweight printed fabrics and an off-white zipper. Gather some basic sewing tools, like a rotary cutter, ruler and mat, some pins and clips, scissors and a fabric marker. Let’s do this!

some basic tools

First, measure your tote. I am not using exact measurements so you can use this tutorial with any size tote you have at home. It would be a good idea to take a piece of paper and do the calculations before you start cutting.

New Column Pcs Calculate My Tote

Tote Dimensions

15 inch x 13 ¾ inch

Big lining pieces (bottom)


1 inch wider x 1 inch shorter than the size of your tote

16 inch x 12 ¾ inch

Small lining pieces (top)


2.5 inch x 1 inch wider than the width your tote

2 ½ inch x 14 ¾ inch

Zipper casing


2 inch x the width of the tote minus 2 inch

2 x 11 ¾ inch

Small zipper ends


4 inch x 3 inch

4 inch x 3 inch

You need a zipper that is about the width of your tote.

Now, iron the fabric before you start cutting. Cut all the rectangles you measured according to the instructions in the table above. I’m using a rotary cutter, ruler, and mat to cut these 10 rectangular pieces.

use the rotatry cutter
rectangular pieces

The Zipper Casing

1. Take the 4 zipper casing pieces and fold all the short ends under 1/4”. Have you checked out our wool pressing mat yet? It really makes pressing little details so much easier.

4 zipper casing pieces

2. Take the zipper. With the right sides facing, sew the casing pieces at 1/4” from the edge to the zipper tape, on both sides. I attached a zipper foot on my machine to do this. Don’t forget to lock your stitch.

take the zipper
sew the casign at 1/4 from the edge
lock your stitch

3. Repeat with the other 2 casing pieces, but now with the teeth down, right side of the casing facing the wrong side of the zipper. This is for the lining. Be sure to line up the casing edges. Iron the casing pieces open.

teeth down
right side of the casing facing the wrong side of the zipper
sew the casing
iron the casing pieces open

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The Zipper Ends

1. Fold and iron:

        • Press long sides in by 1/4″ and fold in half with short sides touching.
        • Unfold
        • Fold in short sides with raw edges toward the middle
        • Fold in half so that the raw edges are in the middle.
        • Then fold the whole thing in half with the short sides touching.
press sides in by 1/4
fold in half

2. Place these folded pieces over the zip end and sew onto each end of the zipper. Trim the zipper ends if they are too long.

trim the zipper
place folded pieces onto each other
sew onto each end of the zipper

The Lining

1. Take one big lining piece and place right side up, then center the zipper with casing with teeth up across the top. Place the top lining piece (small piece) right side down and pin all 3 layers together. The small lining pieces are a little wider than the big lining pieces. Center. Sew using a 3/8” seam allowance across the top.

one big lining
place the small piece right side down and pin

2. Press both sides, once with the zipper down and lining piece up, and then press again with the zipper up toward the top lining piece.

press both sides
press again with the zipper up toward the top

Repeat for the other edge of the zipper and the two lining pieces. Be sure that the first pieces sewn together are not in your seam allowance. Press as above.

repeast for other edge
first pieces sewn together

3. Now fold the raw edges of the small lining pieces towards the wrong side about 1/2 inch, and press.

4. Open up this fold and sew the lining pieces together (big and small pieces), right sides together, along the sides and bottom. Make sure that the zip ends are not caught up in the seam allowance. The small lining pieces are a little wider than the big pieces. Towards the top of the bag, it is better to have more fabric, so from the zipper on, sew a in a V towards the top.

open up fold
sew the lining pieces together
better to have more fabrics towards the top

5. Put the assembled lining inside the tote bag. Pin the folded edge onto the top edge of the tote bag, all the way around. Sew on top of the stitches that are already there in the same color as your tote bag’s stitches.

assemble the lining inside
finish tote bag
finish tote bag
Upcycle your tote bag!

I like! Do you like tooooo?

Happy pimping!

Sewing enthusiast @MadamSew
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