DIY Custom Tote Bags

Who couldn’t use an extra tote bag? We are pretty much always in need of extra totes for groceries, diapers, travel bags, et cetera. When we started Salt & Life Blog, we knew we wanted to offer totes for a couple of reasons including giveaways and, of course, so we’d have something handy to represent S&L as well as carry all of our notebooks, iPads, and other miscellany for our strategy meetings. But we tend to do things the hard way, and white or natural totes just weren’t in our vision. We were thinking more along the lines of mint and coral, and since we couldn’t find them for a reasonable price anywhere, in true Salt & Life fashion, we decided to make them ourselves!

After hand-drawing the first few totes, we decided screen printing the design was much more time and cost-effective for us, so all of the totes listed in our shop are screen printed and hand-dyed. It’s kind of the best of both worlds! And just in case you aren’t into the color thing, we do have some available in natural. If you’re ambitious, though, and want to try to make your own, read on!

Signature S&L Tote Bag - Coral

DIY Custom Tote Bag

You will need:

A tote bag
Fabric dye
A bucket or galvanized tub
Fabric marker


To start, be sure you read the instructions on the back of your dye bottle.  For our coral totes, we used a mixture of sunshine orange and petal pink dye with a drop of tan. For our mint totes, we used teal dye with a drop of tan.

After reading the instructions, prepare your buckets of hot water as necessary. If you are only dyeing one tote, you’ll only need enough water to fully immerse the bag. We were dyeing about 15 bags at once in two different colors, so we pulled out a couple of galvanized tubs, lined them with plastic sheeting and filled them with hot water.


Side note: My countertops ended up dyed mint thanks to some holes in the bottom of the galvanized tubs that we weren’t aware of… Thankfully, Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser came to the rescue, but after this huge flub, we would strongly suggest not dyeing your tote in the kitchen!

Pour your dye into the hot water per the instructions on the box/bottle (you can use liquid or powder – we used both, and love the way it turned out). Get out your tongs and stir until all of the dye has mixed with the water.

It was apparent after we dipped the first tote that our dye was much too concentrated, but rather than mix the solution again, we decreased our dipping time. Instead of the suggested 10-30 minutes, we dipped each bag for 30 seconds, flipping once and submerging for another 30 seconds. That’s a drastic time difference, but we wanted a significantly paler color than the recommended 10 minutes produced.

The easiest way to dip your tote is to lay it flat on top of the water and push it down with your tongs. Once it’s submerged completely, move it back and forth in the water to ensure the dye covers the fabric evenly. Lift the tote out using your tongs and lay it flat again, this time upside down in the water. Swirl it back and forth with your tongs for 30 seconds again, then remove and lay flat on plastic sheeting or a garbage bag. It’s not glamorous, but that’s what we had on hand, and it worked!



Once your bag is dyed, allow it to lay flat for 10 minutes or so. Before washing and drying our totes for printing, we put them in the sink and ran hot water then cold water over them, ringing them out in between temperature changes. If you don’t have a stainless steel sink or have a lighter colored sink, we would strongly suggest that you do this outside with a hose as the dye will leave a stain.

After wringing out as much water as you can, place your tote in the washer on normal cycle, then dry per the care instructions on your tote.


Next comes the hand stenciled design! This is honestly the easiest part. Find the design you want, and enlarge it to the proper size in word or Photoshop, whatever is your program of choice. Now, just print it out and cut it out. It helps to use an X-acto knife if you have one, but scissors could work as well. Just make sure that you allow for bits that may be “floating”, such as the middle of an “O” or “A”. Leave part of the line attached to that middle portion and you can fill it in after you’ve traced the rest. Hope that makes sense! You may understand better once you start to do it yourself.


Measure out where you want your design, hold your paper steady and grab that fabric marker! Easy peasy. We love tracing for that illusion that we are amazing artists (although Jess has an amazingly steady hand on her own – Amanda not so much)! Don’t worry about perfection, a little blurring around the edges gives it a vintage sort of look.

JES_9211Fill in your outline, and you’re done! You have your very own, inexpensive personalized tote.

These make great gifts for teachers, friends and new mommies (filled with wipes, diapers, pacifiers, and other baby supplies). The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination!

Signature S&L Tote Bag - Coral & Mint

Signature S&L Tote Bag in Coral

We love how these turned out, and had a lot of fun playing around with designs for our graphic. We’d love to see yours! Post photos of your finished product to our Facebook page, tag us on Instagram or comment below to let us know how your DIY tote turned out, and be sure to stop by the shop to pick up one of our signature S&L totes for yourself!




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