The tote bag has almost completely replaced all other sorts of bags in my house. I have different types of bags for different purposes. There are organic canvas totes in a variety of sizes for trips to the grocery store and for holding my laptop and supplies as they are ferried between my home and office, plus smaller bags to keep Maggie’s school supplies and lunch in one place as we travel between home and school. Hers are clearly marked in case they wander off somewhere. I have wicker market baskets to hold large, heavy loads from the farmer’s market and a sizeable leather tote for when I need to carry an arm’s load of items to an event.

The tote bag has been described as the new “purse” by, Vogue, and the likes. And as the desire for sustainable living increases, the increased usage of the tote bag, particularly in place of plastic shopping bags or other disposable carrier bags, is a more than welcome sight.


UK based designer Jitesh Patel started a blog based upon the artwork he saw appearing on tote bags across the world. The blog became a book, The Tote Bag, which documents many of the bags he has seen emerging from the style community. Patel is careful to note the importance of integrating reusable items into our daily lives. He writes, “Many of the designers that I interviewed mentioned the fact that people are steadily moving away from using disposable plastic bags and more towards using reusable commodities, as part of a growing trend to reuse and recycle materials. The tote bag, as well as having eco credentials, is also a great artistic opportunity; it offers an amazing blank canvas on which anything can be created, and it is very affordable.”


Tote bags are becoming part of personal style in our culture. Designers are adding tote bags to their regular collections. Talented artists, young and old, are becoming savvy to the reusable tote concept and are using the bags as a new canvas for expression. The Tote Bag chronicles bags of varying shapes and sizes, featuring inventive, beautiful, sometimes-rebellious designs, prints, and typography. Browsing the book, it is clear the tote bag is no longer a purely utilitarian object; it has become more sophisticated and current than in years past.


At our 2013 MAKESHIFT conference in New York last spring, we spoke to attendees and collaborators about how different creative industries can work together. The participants crafted their thoughts and experiences with these issues onto one of our 100% organic cotton Alabama Chanin totes. These hand-embellished totes captured some of the evening’s poignant moments. You can view many of these tote bags on our MAKESHIFT Tumblr Image Quilt.

The wonderful thing about crafting a tote bag is that the canvas is small. Your design can be as simple or as complex as you desire. Start small, if you want, by drawing, painting, stitching, or embellishing one of our 100% organic cotton Alabama Chanin tote bags, which we offer in three sizes. If you want a more decorative project, try our DIY Market Bag.


The Tote Bag, by Jitesh Patel, is published by Laurence King Publishing.

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  1. Diane Kinsley

    Lately grocery totes have been my go to gift for weddings. It is a useful thing and I can embellish with embroidery or printing. I usually do the embellishment on a large pocket. I really like to use fruits and vegetables to print the canvas. I also use egg cartons to print the fabric. The bottom of the paper egg carton makes a great polka dot pattern.