How to machine embroider a tote bag

By on October 12th, 2020
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how to embroider a tote bag
free machine embroidery designs

One of the most easy and practical items to personalize on an embroidery machine is a tote bag.  How do I know this? I have done it a lot. In fact, I have embroidered so many –  if you could get a PhD in tote bag embroidery, I would be well on my way. Never done it before? Well here’s how to machine embroider on a tote bag.

Why machine embroider a tote bag?

A tote bag is a great item to personalize because almost everyone uses them for many different purposes, for example, shopping, travel, work and sports and activities. And, it’s an item that’s not age or gender specific – granted there are styles and sizes better suited for certain individuals.

For a traveler

My sister travels with an oversized tote bag. In it she carries a water bottle, book, needlepoint project, sweater or scarf, iPad, and her smaller purse. It zips on the top so items don’t spill out and is small enough to fit underneath the seat in front of her on an airplane. A bag like this would be a great gift for a woman who likes to travel.

For kids

I don’t have a lot of genius mom hacks, but a few years ago I discovered that personalized tote bags could help me keep my kids stuff more organized. I discovered that we were able to get out of the house a lot more quickly if my kids had different tote bags dedicated to each of their different activities. Heading to Sunday school? Grab the Sunday school to bag. Soccer? Grab the soccer bag. Eventually we had a lot of different tow bags full of a lot of different stuff. Then I got the genius idea to embroider their names on these various tote bags, and then color code them by activity.

ski totebags
I personalized a tote bag for each of my kids for all of their ski stuff. It helps to keep everyone’s stuff organized when we go skiing.

For shoppers

Now that many grocery stores and pharmacies are charging customers for bags, it’s helpful to have some cloth shopping bags for all your shopping trips.  Plus, of course, it’s better for the environment.  Almost anyone would appreciate having loads of washable, reusable and personalized shopping bags. Even if they aren’t the eco-friendly type, it will at least save them a few dimes at CVS or Aldi. And, you can get a set of 6 for $13 that are perfect to embroider on.

For a kid birthday gift

Beach and pool bags make a great summertime gift for kids. I often machine embroider a kids name on a tote bag and a coordinating towel for an easy birthday gift.

monogrammed beach gear is a great gift for a teen girl
A personalized beach or pool tote bag with coordinating towel makes a great gift.

For a man

Can’t imagine a man using a tote bag? Well, I think it’s a matter of finding the right style.  I like this “Business Carrier” tote bag. It would look really elegant monogrammed with a classic, stacked monogrammed font.

What to machine embroider on a tote bag

A monogram

The embroidery monogram on the bag elevates a fairly ordinary objects and makes it look a lot higher end. I have monogrammed tote bags that cost less than $10 but look a lot more expensive after adding the personalization.

A symbolic design

When you are carrying your tote bag over your shoulder for example while perusing the isles at Trader Joe’s, a tote bag provides the perfect opportunity to advertise your sense of humor or point of view.

Some ideas

Where to buy a tote bag

I recently went looking for tote bags to embroider for this tutorial and, surprisingly, I could not find any at my go to stores such as Old Navy, Walmart and Target. They typically have a better selection in the spring and summer as more people are gearing up to travel or head to the beach.  I have bought some adorable tote bags at these stores in the past.

So, if you want to make a personalized tote bag “off-season” then I would suggest ordering one online. Here are some suggestions on where to shop.

Making a tote bag from scratch

If you really want to get creative, you can make the bag yourself. Figuring out how to make a pattern for a tote bag is not exactly rocket science. You could probably wing it, or use one of these PDF patterns.

The benefit to making your tote bag from scratch is that you can stitch out the monogram, design or name on the front piece prior to putting it all together.  A flat piece of fabric is a lot easier to float or hoop than a pre-made tote bag.  Another advantage is that you can hide the ugly backside of the embroidery with lining.

How to embroider on a tote bag

Depending on the type of tote bag that you choose, it can be more or less difficult to hoop. My preference, when embroidering on any tote bag, is to float it on stabilizer as opposed to hooping it. A very stiff bag is going to be the hardest to get on your machine, so if you’re new to machine embroidery, I would suggest looking for a soft flexible with a generous opening.

Prepare the bag and stabilizer

Start by hooping a piece of adhesive-backed stabilizer with the shiny paper side up. Make sure it is taut.

Using a pin, score the inside edge of the hooped stabilizer to create a small tear in the paper.  Peel back the paper to expose the sticky surface.

With a ruler and a disappearing ink pen, draw a horizontal and vertical line across the adhesive stabilizer through the center point of the hoop extending the lines all the way to the edge of the hoop.

drawing center line on hooped stabilizer

Mark the center point between the tote bag handles with a pin.

marking center with a pin

Then, using a disappearing ink pen, extend the line down the bag past the your desired center point of your monogram. Draw a horizontal line perpendicular to the vertical through the center of the monogram location.

draw location of monogram on bag

Turn the bag inside out and stick the bag on the stabilizer lining up the center point you marked on the bag. If the bag is not too stiff you may be able to use the folding method to align the bag on the sticky stabilizer.

tote bag on embroidery machine

If the bag is not too thick or stiff, you can pin the bag onto the stabilizer being sure to not place pins in the embroidery area.

Set up design

Before you start stitching, check the orientation of the name, monogram or design on the screen. Usually, I have my bag hanging over the left side of the embroidery machine. Therefore, I need to rotate the design 90° clockwise.

rotate monogram before embroidering

If your bag has a lot of texture, you may want to put down a layer of water soluble topper before you start stitching

Start stitching

Start stitching out your name or monogram, and don’t walk away from your machine. A very heavy bag may need to be supported a bit so that it doesn’t tear away from the stabilizer.

Finishing touches

Once you are finished, trim your connector strings with some nippers, wash off your pen markings and you are done!

cleaning up monogram on tote bag

Ready to give it a try?

In the realm of items I’ve embroidered on a single needle home embroidery machine, tote bags are definitely not the hardest. Just be judicious when you purchase the bag and find a style that will be easy to work with, especially if you are new to machine embroidery.

tote bag with monogram

Still not sure how I did this? Check out my video where I take you through the entire process.

Good luck and happy stitching!



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how to embroider a tote bag

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