DIY Personalized Tote Bag using Elmer’s glue and fabric dye

I absolutely love when you make something that actually turns out better than you pictured.  Unfortunately, sometimes this feels about as rare as a unicorn.  Luckily, this bag is one of those rare moments when I get to confidently and proudly say “I made it!”.

I have been carrying this tote around for the past month as my new handbag and I have received so many compliments on it.  The best part is that it gives me a chance to explain the inspiration behind the bag and the reason I used the Maya Angelou quote “It’s not the number of breaths you take but the number of moments that take your breath away.”  Over the years I have met some amazing people who have faced a shortened life and a lot of suffering due to a disease called Cystic Fibrosis.  This disease effects the lungs (along with other parts of the body) and makes it harder and harder for someone to breathe until they are no longer able to without a lung transplant.  There is still no cure for CF.  Many of the individuals I have met have chosen to live their lives to the fullest and to honor those moments that they are given instead of focusing on the number they may never have.  They continually remind me that life is about now.

The great thing about the technique I used to make this bag is that you can personalize it any way you want.  I don’t think of myself as artistic, I am not the best freehand “draw”er.  Don’t worry- you don’t need to be either.  If you can type and print than you can make your own quote bag too.  So get inspired and get ready to impress!

Items You Need:

Canvas tote (I got mine from the craft store for $6)

Fiber reactive dye like Procion or Dylon brands* (don’t use Ritt it needs hot water to work)

Elmers white school glue

small paint brush


large cookie sheet

garbage bag

large jars with lids to mix dye in (I used 1 quart mason jars)

foam brush or large paint brush to apply the dye

*some of the dye brands require a soda ash soak before dying to help the dye adhere.  You can buy soda ash but I also had great success making my own with baking soda using instructions from this Wellness Mama post How to make washing soda

How to make it:

  • Decide on what you want your bag to say and what color dye you want. (For the purple bag I used Procion dye Deep Purple and Marine Violet)
  • Gather your supplies
  • prep your bag if needed (follow the instructions on the dye package)

  • Type up the quote or words you want on your bag using the font of your choice
  • Measure your bag and adjust the size of your font to make it fit the way you want on your bag. Don’t be afraid to print it out and try it out than edit it as needed.  I had to do this a few times to get it the size I wanted.
  • print a draft copy in the size you want and cut it out than play with arrange the pieces until you have a layout you like

  • Once you have the size you want and an idea of the layout you will do, print the Mirror Image/Reverse using an inkjet printer. You may need to play around with your printer settings or word processing program to find this option.

  • Working quickly (while the ink is still wet), cut out the words again. I ended up printing it more than once an working in sections so that I had more time!
  • Lay the cut outs UPSIDE down where you want them. Again, you can do one section at a time if it is easier.
  • On the back of the paper use your pencil to rub over the letters. This will transfer a faint copy of the ink jet ink printed letters onto the canvas bag (remember I told you that you didn’t need to be an artist for this?!). If the image is too faint than you can lightly trace over it with your pencil- don’t go too dark because you want it to fade away when you wash it

  • Take your Elmers glue and paint brush and carefully trace and paint in the letters using the Elmers glue. This creates a “resist” for the dye which basically means it keeps the dye from coloring these areas
  • Let the glue dry overnight. Don’t skip this step, if the glue is not dry enough than it will just wash off during the dye bath!

  • Time to dye! Prepare your dye per instructions on package. I got a little less strict here.  I knew I wanted this bag to have varying shades of purple on it so I mixed the different colors of purple in multiple jars with different amounts of water. If your want your bag to be a single shade of color than just mix up one jar of dye.
  • Place a garbage bag over a large cookie sheet and lay your tote bag quote side down on the cookie sheet. I don’t have a cookie sheet large enough than anything with a rim/edge will work
**Learn from my mistake. I was trying to make it show up better in photos so I layed it on a flat white board I had…too put it lightly- I made a friggin mess!!
  • Go outside or to an area you don’t care about messing up!
  • pour/brush on dye onto the back side of the bag.  Than flip it over. If you want the bag to be more than one shade than alternate pouring/brushing the different dye jars you prepared. I also poured some dye into the garbage layered pan so the back side of the bag could continue to sit in the dye. The longer the dye sits on the fabric the stronger the color will come out
  • I did not soak the bag in a tub of dye because I was afraid it would soak through the back side of the letters.  I was not confident that the glue went all the way through the layers of canvas.  This may not be a problem but I was playing it safe!
  • Repeat the dye process on the quote/glue front side of the bag. Make sure to cover all the areas you want dyed. I also sprinkled a little dye powder in spots to have even more color variant.
  • Let the bag sit in dye until the color deepens. I followed the recommended time on the dye package ( I maybe stopped a few hours early due to impatience).
  • Rinse the bag in cold water rubbing away the glue as you rinse it. Take your time rinsing it…it takes a while to get all the dye out. You can alternate rinsing and soaking for a little bit to make sure you get more dye out
  • Wash your bag ALONE in the washing machine using a gentle detergent. I also did a rinse cycle with nothing in my washing machine after I was done to make sure no dye was still sitting in the washer.
  • Dry your bag and go out and inspire!
    I also did a “Bring Back Summer” version and attached leather straps using thrift store belts and added snaps (tutorial for adding these coming next week!)

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