Arts and Crafts
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DIY Hand-painted Cotton Bags

collage of hand painted cotton bags and a child using them

Have you gotten used to carrying your own bags for shopping? Be it groceries or clothes, most cashiers will check with you if you’re carrying your own bag. It’s a refreshing change from just handing you a plastic bag. Even paper bags need resources to make and a whole pile of unused ones generate a lot of waste.

I have various cloth bags distributed all over the place – a few in my car, a foldable one in my purse, a few next to my main door, and a few ‘fancy totes’ to be used for the upscale flea markets.

I had a few plain cotton cloth bags lying around and thought about giving them a makeover. I had never painted on fabric before and was sceptical if they’d last. After having used and washed them over the past year, I was pleasantly surprised.

hand painted pink lotus on a white cotton tote bag with a jewelled embellishment

I even tried embellishing some of them with beads and parts of junk jewellery that weren’t getting used, and I was thrilled with the results.

All you need are some fabric paints, a set of paintbrushes, and a design in mind.


  • Wash and iron your cloth. I’ve only tried painting on cotton so it’s best to wash in case of shrinkage and iron out the creases. 
  • Remember to put a newspaper under your painting surface so that the colours don’t run on the back of the bag or your work table.
  • With a pencil, draw out your design. If you’ve never done this before, I’d suggest going with a simple design.
  • Fabric paints do not need to be mixed with water. You do need a cup of water to clean your brushes though. A wiping cloth will also come in handy to clean up messes.
  • Wait for a few hours for the paint to dry before doing the outline or any highlights.
  • Let it dry thoroughly. It takes about 24 hours or more if the weather is humid.
  • Although most instructions say you don’t need to heat set it, I wanted to be sure the colours didn’t fade. So I ironed it after I had finished painting. Don’t iron directly on the painted surface. Keep a thin white sheet over the painting then iron on the highest heat setting.
  • You can also choose to add some embellishments like beads, lace, or embroidery.
  • Enjoy your new fashionable bag!

You can check out some hand-painted cotton bags for sale.

close up of a red heart

Note: Some of the links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you.

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