Bag Refashions

Bag refashion 3 bags watermarked

Our environment is important to me – that’s one of the reasons I shop at thrift stores and recycle. Now that I live in Boulder, Colorado I’m trying to be even more environmentally conscious, especially since Boulder instituted a shopping bag fee. This small fee (10 cents per bag) has really helped me remember to bring my own bags when I grocery shop. (See – being thrifty helps the environment – hurrah!)

The bag fee made me think about how I could be even “greener” in the pursuit of being “green”. Umm, did that make sense? What I mean is: Maybe I shouldn’t buy new reusable grocery bags (probably manufactured in an overseas sweatshop) in order to create less landfill. Maybe I should be even “greener” and make bags from recycled materials – thus keeping even more material out of landfills. I decided to challenge myself to combine my love of thrift store “rescues”, my passion for sewing, and my desire to be “greener”.

In my thrift store forays I often find hand stitched art in the form of framed needlepoints and crewel embroideries. Knowing how many hours of effort go into stitching these, I feel sad to see them abandoned and selling for just a few dollars. So I often “rescue” the ones I can’t turn my back on. But these sweet pictures don’t match my decor and my husband would freak if I hung them up in our home. So my hidden hoarding collecting closet is now overflowing with my art “rescues”. My idea: Use my thrift store artworks to make unique shopping bags and simultaneously create a little room in my stash. This combines my love of sewing and thrift store shopping in a creative, practical way. And it’s more fun to shop when you have cool and unique grocery bags!

Pictured above are three of my “conservation effort” bag creations. I use the  two larger bags for groceries and shopping at the farmer’s market. I use the smaller bag to hold books when I walk to and from the library. I’ve detailed the process to make these bags below. Give it a try – it’s super simple and fun to do!

Bag Refashion wysocki needlepoint watermarked

1. Find a framed needlepoint or crewel embroidery in the art section of your local thrift store. (The bigger the better if you want to make reusable grocery bags, but smaller pieces can be used for purses or totes).

Bag Refashion cat embroidery watermarked

2. Remove the frame and the backing (careful, there will be staples holding it together).

Bag Refashion original cat tote bag watermarked

3. Chose a bag that’s smaller than the stitched canvas. If you don’t already have the right size bag, there are plenty to choose from at thrift stores (I thrifted the 2 smaller bags for 25 cents each; the large canvas bag was a giveaway with purchase). I prefer bags with the sides and bottom cut as one continuous piece since they are the easiest to sew back together.

Bag Refashion cat bag pieces watermarked 4. Remove the sides and bottom piece from the bag by unpicking the stitching.

Bag refashion wysocki measuring watermarked

5. Lay the  front and back pieces of the bag on the needlework and cut the needlework to fit, leaving an extra 1/2″ at the top edge of the art to turn under. (If your artwork isn’t big enough to cover both the front and back of your bag, get creative with the back side and use leftover fabric that coordinates with the artwork).

6. With the right side of the art (or fabric) facing up, cover the right sides of the bag, turning under  1/2″ of the art (or fabric) at the top so you have a nice finished edge. Match all the art edges with the bag edges and machine sew the art (or fabric) to the front and back bag pieces along the 3 unfolded sides.

7. Machine topstitch or hand stitch across the top edges of the bag front and back pieces, turning under 1/2″ of the raw edge of the artwork (or fabric) at the top. This stitching will show, so match your thread to your artwork or do a decorative stitch for this step.

8. Machine or hand sew the sides and bottom piece back onto the front and back of the bag now that the artwork has been attached. This is a great place to show off some cute embroidery stitches and use up extra embroidery floss, yarn or topstitching thread.

That’s it, you’re done! Good for you, you environmentally sensitive, creative genius you – you did your part and helped save our environment today, bravo!


  1. I first saw this when you shared it with the Refashion Co-OP. I love this idea, but I really need to learn how to sew. 🙂


    • I’ve been to garage sales and people have given me some of their canvas bags when they see me take a canvas bag from the car and put my garage sales purchases in them.


  2. I like to make them into throw pillows, but this is a super great idea for the ones that just don’t “match” my decor at all. :o)

    PS: found you via Refashion Co-op


    • Thanks, JJ! Throw pillows are a great idea – now why didn’t I think of that? I love Refashion Co-op, don’t you? There are so many wonderful and creative ideas shared there!


  3. I’ve seen a lot of needle work at thrift store too and wanted to buy them but until I read this article I did not know what I would have done with them. Thank you for the tutorial.


  4. I’m so inspired once again. I just found a needlepoint at my favorite Thrift store and can’t wait to try this!!!! What a fun, cleaver idea!


    • Yes, I saw a tri-fold canvas clutch with leather accents that would have been great for that, I should have bought it but didn’t have the right needlepoint to cover it. I thought it would be great covered in bargello, which I’ve found in thrift stores before but never purchased. It looked like it would be easy to unstitch the leather accents, add the bargello and then restitch the leather back on. Also on the back side of the kitten bag I appliqued a small teapot from the same crewel embroidery piece in order not to waste that part of the needlework. I covered the back of the bag with a leopard print fabric (to keep with the cat theme) and appliqued the teapot to that. Thanks for your comment, Paula – let’s do a thrift store shop hop!


  5. I Love that bag! And I Iove the idea of using something that maybe isn’t in great shape in its original state and using parts to make something new and fun! Great job!


  6. OMG I am an idiot – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen some really nice needlework at thrift stores that needed to be rescued, but it never occurred to me to put them on bags! And even though I’ve seen you making these things at our meetups, it never really sank in what you are doing! Now that I see the finished products, it’s so obvious what a great idea this is! Thanks Kitty! Now I’ll start rescuing nice “old-fashioned” needlework that I come across! (Yet another excuse to go to the thrift store!)


    • Yes it’s great to have another reason to buy stuff @ the thrift store isn’t it? I’ve racked my brain to come up with ideas that might “justify” my thrift store shopping addiction. I’m glad to find out you’re on board with me in this!


      • Well, you probably didn’t think of it because you’d have to be okay with looking pretty quirky while carrying one of these bags. And you’re more elegant than quirky IMHO. But depending on the needlework you choose, it can give different impressions. For instance I think the mountain church scene is more elegant. But the kittens in a basket wouldn’t be for everyone – LOL!!! Thanks Jill, for your kind words.


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