DIY Canvas Guest Bags

DIY Guest Tote BagsThis week’s Random Creations post was inspired by two blank canvas bags that I purchased for $.25 each at the local flea market. With friends arriving in town for the weekend, I decided to convert the find into a souvenir gift bag for their travels.  While the idea of personalizing a canvas bag isn’t anything new, the idea appeals to me as a method to reduce vacation memento clutter.

A coffee cup here or a shot glass there. Before you know it, every spare inch of your bookshelves are packed full of little items from Belize, Hawaii, Vegas or that quaint Canadian town you visited two years ago. We all do it. From snow globes that have barely survived seven moves to enough metal spoons with state symbols to host afternoon tea for your home town, vacation mementos take over spare space to do little more than collect dust.

I feel the key to purchasing vacation mementos is to find something unique to you or the person you are shopping for that will be used — in the near future. Dusting a miniature Eiffel Tower on your top shelf won’t necessarily bring back memories of the most beautiful sunset in  the city of lights, however, a locally made wine stopper would refresh that moment each time you pop a cork.

And that is where the beauty of a hand designed canvas bag comes into play. It can be used on their trip and after they return to their daily routine at home. Not only will it be reused, but they take a small token from you home.  Plus, I filled it with a few bottles of water, brochures about our home town, locally made chocolate  and a few scones fresh from the oven.

Canvas bags can be purchased at any craft store (Michael’s, Joanne’s) or even through an online retailer like Amazon or a craft warehouse. They can be customized in a variety of ways. If you have a steady hand and enjoy painting or drawing, you can craft a unique design right on the bag. Stencils can make it easy to put your thoughts to the bag.

DIY Canvas Guest TotesI am not artistically inclined so a computer came in handy. Using photo editing software (like Photoshop), Word or any other program that allows you to type and add images can easily help bring your vision to life. All you need is a printer, an iron and some iron-on transfers.

For my bag, I used HP iron-on transfers for light fabrics. This is method gets printed backwards (mirror) and transfers directly to the item. Since a canvas bag has ridges, the transfer will only go on the high points of the ribs — giving it a bit of a rustic quality.

If you want a deeper color or full image, I recommend you transfer it to a flat fabric and sew it on or use a dark fabric iron-on transfer. The dark fabric version means you don’t have to print backwards. (NOTE: Use the full space of the dark transfers or you will see white space around your image).


1) Before creating you image, make sure your program or printer can flip or create a mirror image. If you don’t, your words will appear on your creation backwards.  However, if you are just using photos or graphics, this may be acceptable to you.

NOTE:  Search your program’s help file or online support forums for “mirror” “flip” or “t-shirt transfer”. Often times, text can be flipped by using the TEXT BOX option.

2) Create your design up to 8.5 in x 11 in.  FLIP IT. Test print onto regular paper. Make sure it isn’t cut-off and that the colors come out crisp. Also, make sure the design in BACKWARDS.

3) Heat up the iron — NO STEAM SETTING.

4) Using a hard surface (not an ironing board). Place a pillowcase on the surface and iron out any wrinkles in the fabric (if using a standard cotton tote).

5) Trim the iron-on transfer — removing as much of the blank areas as you can while leaving a 1/4inch border.

6) Position the trimmed transfer onto the bag, image side down. Iron  the transfer right to left (or opposite if you are left) starting at the top and working your way down. Move slow and with moderate pressure. It should take about 20 seconds per pass (for a full image). Give the heat time to fuse the image to your bag.

7) After doing the entire image, I usually do one more pass — just in case.

8) Allow the transfer to completely cool before removing the backing (a few minutes). Test one corner slightly before pulling it all off. If the image still sticks, wait a few moments or do another pass with the iron and then let it cool.

NOTE: If using a canvas or rough textured bag, the image will only transfer onto the highest points. It gives it a rustic flair — but that means some of the image will still be on the paper — don’t worry.

I then filled the bag with locally made goodies, waters and a few baked goods straight from our oven.

Happy creating!