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How to sew an easy book tote from a dish towel

Repurposing things is one of my favorite ways to get creative. There’s just something extra fun and special about taking a perfectly good item and completely changing its calling in life!

dish towel tote bagToday I’m going to show you how to make a very simple, yet adorable little tote bag. I made it specifically to fit my daughter’s Bible study book so she can feel all grown-up, like the ladies at our Community Bible Study who bring their book in a cute tote.

All it took was an old ribbon, and a few supplies to transform this simple Ikea dish towel into a cute bag (and it was done in less than one Gilmore Girls episode, I might add!). This would make a great gift, and it’s simple enough to get a kid involved in the creation.

Read on for the tutorial.

dish towel tote bag-1

How to repurpose a dish towel into a tote bag


  • dish towel of your choice
  • 2 ribbon pieces cut to desired length for tote straps
  • the basics: sewing machine, thread, scissors, pins, iron


dish towel tote bag-2

1. Start by pressing your dish towel and cutting off any tags or hanging loops. After ironing, fold your towel in half with the right sides together. You’ll have finished edges on 3 sides and a fold at the bottom.

dish towel tote bag-3

2. Next, figure out the size you want. For an adult, the towel might already be the perfect size. For a child’s tote bag, adjust accordingly. I used my daughter’s book as a rough template, and cut off a few inches on one side.

The benefit of using the towel full-size is that you will have nice finished edges on the inside of your bag, but I didn’t think my 6-yr old would mind one of the inner seams being rough (I just trimmed with pinking shears to help deter fraying).

Repurpose a dish towel into a tote bag []

3. Sew each side of your bag from the top finished seam down to the folded edge (use pins to secure if you want to keep the pattern aligned or if you need a little guidance). Leave a good 5/8 inch seam allowance on each seam.

squared bottom

4. The next step is to create a squared bottom on your bag. You’re going to want to open your bag (still inside out) and lay one of the side seams down, lined up with the bottom fold of the bag (see top left photo). Press the corner into an even triangle. You’re going to pin a straight line (see top right photo) that will determine how wide the bottom of you bag will be. I measured 1 inch from the triangle point to give a small bottom to my bag.

The bottom photo above shows both sides pinned to give you a better idea of what you are doing. You will sew a straight line exactly where your pins are on both sides. If you want, you can trim off the triangle after sewing, but I left mine there.

dish towel tote bag-8

5. Cut your ribbons to the desired length and pin them in place where you want them. Make sure to allow 2-3 inches of ribbon overlap on the fabric. Grosgrain would probably be more durable then satin ribbon, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand!

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6. Finally, sew the ribbon straps in place. I like to do a rectangle with an X in it for durability (plus, it looks cute). Now, you’re ready to turn your bag right side out and fill it with books!

dish towel tote bag-10

Gigi loved her tote bag!

I hope you enjoy this tutorial– I’d love to know, have you repurposed a dish towel for anything else?

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Jessica

    This is a great idea, wish I had thought of using a tea towel for the Mother’s day tote bags I made for mine and my husband’s moms!

    I really love the idea of repurposing items through sewing. I’ve only been sewing for a few years now, I’ve mastered the basics and would like to start repurposing items. Particularly turing adult clothes into childrens clothing – this would be a huge money saver for us! I have already kept aside some skirts that would make super cute baby/toddler dresses and I’m sure my husband’s t-shirts could be turned into little pants? I’m just not really sure how to start! Please let me know if you’ve done any tutorials on this or know of any good books. Thanks.

    • Valerie

      Amanda Soule’s first book, The Creative Family, has instructions of how to turn an adult shirt into pants.

      • Nicole

        Yes, that is a great resource (the whole book is great, actually!). Hooray for repurposing!

  2. Brenda Sosa

    Can you tell me more about the banner hanging on the wall in the picture with your daughter…I see military patches and looks like a great idea for my husband’s patches?

    • Nicole

      Hi Brenda! It’s a quilt my mom made with fire department patches my dad collected over the years. She made it for her retirement. Email me if you have more questions and I can put you in touch with her! gidgetblog @ gmail . com. 🙂

  3. Melissa

    How fun! I’ve just started sewing a few things for my daughters and this looks like a manageable projected that they would love. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Nicole

      You’re welcome! Hope it works out for your girls!

  4. wendi

    My sister’s love language is giving and receiving gifts. Mine is not…so when she gave me an absolutely geogeous dishtowel there was NO WAY I was using it to dry dishes (or hands for that matter). I considered putting it in a drawer to “save” it for special occasions but that seemed equally as dumb. So, I turned it into a lovely contemporary pillow with 3 coconut buttons. It’s really adorable, comfortable and best of all, I use it everyday and think of her with a smile!

    • Nicole

      Oh, I love that idea!!

  5. Jenn @ A Simple Haven

    Love this! I’m totally going to do it for my own little big girl. I think it’d also be a cute (and frugal :)) birthday present for her friends.

    • Nicole

      I hope it worked out nicely for you!

    • Nicole

      Oh those look great, Laura! Love those vintage towels.

  6. Emma

    Great bag, cute Gigi and awesome Gilmore Girls reference! All time best show ever! xo

    • Nicole

      GG forever!! {fist bump}

  7. Breanne

    Super cute bag and Gigi! This looks totally doable and I love that you timed it to a Gilmore Girls episode. 😉

    • Nicole

      It seemed like a good point of reference. 😉

  8. Ananasa

    That is by far the cutest book tote we have seen! And we can make it ourselves which we love even more! Thanks for sharing, amazing post and creativity Home For Handmade

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