How to make an Eco-friendly tote bag by Upcycling a Dress

Eco-friendly tote bag made from upcycled dress

How to make an Eco-friendly tote bag by upcycling a thrifted dress

What is Upcycling? Upcycling is also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products perceived to be of greater quality, such as artistic value or environmental value. So we decided to create an eco-friendly tote bag by upcycling a dress for this month's project.

How did we upcycle a dress into a tote bag and a sleeveless top you ask? Our step-by-step guide to make your own sustainable tote bag (Part 2) is as per below.

We are back again with another DIY sustainable tote bag project but this time we get a tote bag and sleeveless top. In this project, we will be using a cotton wool dress instead of old denims! A little backstory on the dress, it was bought from a local THRIFT SHOP (of course here, we call it bundle shop) as a costume for one of our photoshoots however we did not manage to fit it in with the concept. We found it in the USD$2.30 (RM10.00) section and fell in love with it when we saw it on the rack because it was so beautiful and very well made BUT we overlooked one important factor. The dress was made of heavy and thick cotton wool, and we are living in the humid weather in Malaysia...YIKES!

(Unfortunately, it slipped out of my mind to take a "Before" photo of the dress because I got overexcited to start the project. I tried my best to reattach the skirt to the top part so you can visualize how it looked like as a dress).

Anyway, unless we were planning to get a heatstroke, there was no way we could wear the dress here. However, we loved the dress and decided to give it another life with our sustainable tote bag projects. If you have been following our sustainable totes project, you will notice that we love minimizing fabric wastes from our projects. We will be doing the same for this project with a twist; we will turn the dress into a sustainable tote bag AND a wearable sleeveless top! Do not worry though, this tote bag design is much simpler compared to the ones we did with the denim bag. So, grab your old dress, a pair of scissors and let’s get started!

Things That You Need

  1. An old dress (preferably medium to long length)
  2. A ruler
  3. A pair of sharp fabric scissors
  4. A fabric chalk or marker
  5. A sewing machine or needle and thread if you want to hand-sew
  6. Pins
  7. Bias tape

The Tote Bag

We will use the bottom half of the dress to make the eco-friendly tote bag and we will leave the top part of the dress for later.

The steps:

  1. First, we are going to start by laying down the dress flat on a large and even surface like a floor or a big table.
  2. Depending on your dress, measure from the bottom of the dress until the end of the zipper of the dress and make a line using the chalk and cut according to the line. Now you have two parts of the dress.

    recycle tote bag

    3. This dress that I am working with have inner linings which makes it a bit tricky to sew. So, I am stitching together the inner and the outer fabric first so that the inner fabric will stay in place.

    4. Since this material is more difficult to work with, I have decided to just sew straight at the bottom part where we cut. To do so, I flip the fabric inside out, and sew straight across. There you have the body of the bag!

    eco-friendly tote bag

    5. You are free to use any strap for the bag however I am going to stick with the dress material because I am committed to minimizing material waste in this project! I rip off the sleeve seams, so I will have two equal sizes of fabric for the bag straps.

    6. I cut off the uneven parts of the sleeves. I then take one of the sleeves, fold it in half horizontally and sew it together to make the bag strap. Repeat the same steps for the other side of the sleeve.

    7. Take one of the straps and attach it to the body of the bag. You may use different stitching style like the zigzag stitch (I just use normal straight stitch). Repeat the process until you have attached both straps on to the bag.

    8. Voila! Now you have a NEW eco-friendly tote bag that has been upcycled from a dress.

      I carried the new tote bag out to grocery shopping in just shorts and t-shirt.

      The Sleeveless Top

      As we have used the bottom part of the dress to make the eco-friendly tote bag, we now sew up the top part of the dress to make a sleeveless top.

      The steps:

      1. We start by laying the dress flat on an even surface. Make sure the top is lined straight.
      2. Cut the uneven parts of the bottom part of the dress and then, sew the hem in straight line.


        3. For the sleeves, grab a bias tape and line it up along the sleeve hole and sew. Repeat the same steps for the other sleeve. And just like that, you have a sleeveless top from the dress!

          Because it came from an elegant dress, it was easy to match it with anything that looks sleek just like a simple black pants. A new look for office attire and if you pair it with a slim skirt, it will look great too.

          upcycle sleeveless top


          How to get started with upcycling yourself  

          The easiest thing is to start with small upcycling projects, that do not require alot of fabric. It can be pillows, bags, totes, make-up purses, children's clothes, etc. Of course, this requires that you like to do some DIYs and have a bit of knowledge in sewing. It will save more time if you have access to a sewing machine, but other than that, you do not need any special prerequisites.

          Look in your closets - most likely you have some clothes you no longer wear, or a nice dress with a small hole or stains, basically where the fabric can easily be used for something new. If not, go hunting in thrift stores where you can very often find great things. Like us we found lots of clothes under USD$5!!!! What a steal.

          Once you have the materials, all you have to do is go on a YouTube search for videos that show you how to sew your own stuff. 

          We hope we have inspired you to upcycle your clothes into a new items. Till our next blog post...... bag in, bag out!


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