People have been "making" bags for centuries, but its become quite en vogue to "upcycle" some sort of textile into a bag for either fun or functionality.
Most of the donations we received that are upcycled are made from denim (jeans) or tee shirts. You can find scores of tutorials on YouTube. For our purposes, the most important factor is strength - the bag should be able to carry eight pounds and the seams should be reinforced by a sewing machine. Customers at Piecing It Together quilt shop in Ross Township regularly make and donate bags from denim, both legs and tops so nothing is wasted. Follow that link for more details.
Another interesting upcycling choice is feed bags. We have instructions for making a tote bag out of a dog food bag. This was designed so to speak by a supporter who works in animal rescue and has a lot of large dog food bags. I use two of these bags on a regular basis to carry heavy items. They have carrying handles rather than shoulder straps, but with the right adustment you could alter that.
Taking upcycling in another direction, Lynne has focused on repurposing tote bags into new items. Her first creation was a 3x3 table covering she made for us to use at events - she even recreated our logo and added holiday light for flair. The quilt like squares are various types of totes with a few iconic images including the Pgh horizon. She used tote handles to create a fringe and affixed the entire thing to a gently worn blanket.
Lynne also created "mini totes" that are terrific gift card holders and/or ornaments. She describes her process here:
They are just folded tote bag material with the fold at the bottom so you just have to sew up the sides and attach a handle to each side. the totes are 4 1/2" square. The handles are easily cut from the same material and folded (1/8") I blanket stitched one together on the sides but sewing them on a machine with wrong sides together so you don't have to turn them inside out would be really easy.
I used the glossy vinyl type bags with colorful designs. Any tote bag will do- if it's a plain bag maybe a couple buttons could be sewn on to jazz it up. The buttons could be sewn where the handles are attached.
One tote bag could be made into at least 8-10 mini totes. Just take a piece of heavy paper and make a pattern and use it for cutting the tote into 9" x 4 1/2" rectangles.
We will have some of these available Sunday afternoon at the Harvest Festival at Bakery Square from 12-4 PM. We will also have them at I Made It! for the Holidays Market also at Bakery Square on Nov 30 and Dec 1, 2012.
On a related note, our volunteer Doug is an avid crocheter and came up with a darling crocheted mini-tote bag (see photo.) He shares his inspiration.
I just made a swatch big enough to fold in half and hold a credit card (gift card) without the backing. For the ones with backing I'm planning to make larger swatches. I used half-double-crochet as that is my favorite stitch. To join the raw edges I just used slip stitches. The handle is just a chain slip-stitched onto the bag.
Doug's crocheted totes will also be available at the markets along with some other volunteers are "crafting" using their knitting skills!
For more information on putting your crafty skills to use to help our neighbors, consider joining us for Yinz Make n' Share on Wednesdays from 1-2:30 PM at Crazy Mocha on the Northside. Or contact us to volunteer. We'll be offering these items year round with seasonal themes.
What other types of tote bag ideas do you have?
The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project collects new and gently used tote bags for distribution to the region's food pantries. We are a project of the Thomas Merton Center. Visit our website for a list of permanent drop-off spots, information on how to organize your own tote bag drive and details on our partnerships with corporations and promotional products items. You can also follow us on Twitter@Tote4Pgh and Facebook.com/Tote4pgh