The QSWAB is excited to share the impact of our Citizen’s Committee of NYC Tote-It-Don’t-Throw-It Repair and Reuse grant, supported by the Manhattan SWAB and Office of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

The QSWAB Organizing Committee engaged over 100 people in our borough throughout the development and implementation of the Tote-It-Don’t-Throw-It grant from our own members to community members across Queens with a special focus on Sunnyside, Ridgewood, and Southeast Queens.

We started by attending an Earth Day event hosted by NY State Senator James Sanders at which easily 100 people attended and 13 signed our sign-in sheet expressing interest in the project and participated in hands-on demonstrations while we tabled.  We also attended and showcased the project at a DSNY-sponsored NYC x ReUse Fair, at which we recruited and networked with an additional 20 individuals from the borough who were subsequently added to our mailing list and informed about workshops and meetings.  After training five QSWAB members in sewing techniques, we then offered four hands-on sewing classes at Sunnyside Community Services (September 23, 30, Oct 7 and 21) at which we engaged approximately 8 seniors and 12 youth with inter-generational after-school programming focused on the benefits of repair, reduce, and reuse.  For our final outreach event, we provided hands-on sewing experiences with community members at the Ridgewood Street Fair on October 26th.  The event attracted hundreds of community members and 20 created original tote bags using textiles we provided.

For instructions about how to make basic tote bags using recycled textiles, find our self-guided directions below:

Basic Tote

  1. Use a paper shopping bag or brown butcher paper to cut out a basic pattern that looks like the bag you want to make. Cut out a shape for the front (Pattern A) and a shape for the back (Pattern B) using a tote bag you already have as a guide. For a more complicated one, cut out long rectangles the length that you want your handles to be, adding 1/2″ on either side (length) and width for a seam allowance.
  2. Place your Pattern A on top of the T-shirt or fabric and weight it or pin it down to the pattern.
  3. Cut two pieces matched to Pattern A (front and back).
  4. Trace around the Pattern A with chalk including the open handle.
  5. To cut the handle, pinch the fabric together in the center and cut out from there.
  6. Pin the Pattern A pieces together with the “right” sides facing in.  The “right” sides are the sides you want to face out when you’re done.
  7. Sew the sides and bottom of Pattern A together using a straight stitch.  Leave a ⅜” to ⅝” seam allowance.  Leave the top of the bag open.
  8. Hem the top edge of the bag by turning the raw edge over twice using 1” of fabric. Stitch the edge down by sewing in the center of the top edge.  
  9. Turn the bag right side out, bringing the visible seams to the inside of the bag.  Leave the handle raw (un-sewn).

Basic Tote with Strap and Bottom #1

1.   Cut two pieces of Pattern B (front and back).

2.   Cut one piece of pattern C (strap).

3.   Pin the Pattern B pieces together — front and back — with “right” sides facing each other.

4.   Sew the sides and bottom together with a ⅜” to ⅝” seam allowance, leaving the top and corner cutouts open.

5.   Place your hand inside the bag and press out one of the corners so that it lies flat and forms a triangle with the end cut off.  Flatten the seams that are exposed so they lie flat, too.

6.   Pin and then sew across to create a boxed corner. Repeat on the other corner.

7.   Hem the top edge by turning the raw edge over using about 1” of fabric.  Turn over once about ¼” and then again 1/2” to 1”.  Stitch near the fold, close to the edge. 

8.   Sew the ends of Pattern C to the top of the bag, centered with the side seams or about 2” from each edge and 1 1/2” down pin the handle to the inside or outside of bag. 

7. Sew a rectangle around the edge of the handle after turning the raw edge over by sewing down one side, pivoting, and continuing around to form a rectangle.  Pivot again to sew a diagonal to make a cross to hold the handle in place.

8.  Do the same with the other side.  Pin first and check the length of the handle.


1. Cut handles approximately 1” wide by 27” long

2. Cut out squares to make your tote bag and sew around the bag in a U-shape.

3. Iron 1/2 “ then 1” around the top edge and then sew in place.

To box out bottom and sides:

1. Turn the bag inside out.

2. Push down inside to create a triangle at a 90-degree angle with the two seams touching each other.

3. Box out the bottom by figuring out how far you want to make the triangle (2” is good). 

4. Draw a line with chalk and pin across.

5. Check the box bottom dimensions before sewing to make sure it’s what you want.  Do the same with the other side and trim off excess at the corner.

7. Turn the bag right side out and add your handles.

Basic Tote with Handles and Bottom #2

To make the tote bag straps:

  1. Make the tote bag straps by lining up the bottom edge of the T-shirt or fabric and pinning together through both sides of the shirt.
  2. Measure about 3” from the edge and mark it by drawing a chalk line across the length of the edge (hem).  The width can be adjusted if you want a less wide handle.
  3. Cut across on the dotted line then cut the ends to create two straps.
  4. Separate the bottom piece from the T-shirt or fabric and remove the pins.
  5. Place the fabric with the seam down with the right side up (the side you want to face out).  Fold in half with the wrong side up now and pin.
  6. Sew the strip of fabric along the outer edge and remove the pins.
  7. Fold the strip of fabric in half and cut in half.  Turn the strap inside out.  Set aside to attach to the bag later.

To make the tote bag body: 

  1. Measure from the top to the bottom of the fabric or textile to determine a shape where the sides are 2” longer than the width (in other words, 10” long and 8” wide).
  2. Use a yardstick and chalk to draw a vertical length along one side of the T-shirt or fabric.  Cut along the chalk line.  If needed, do the same along the bottom of the T-shirt or fabric to make the bag the width you want. 
  3. Fold the T-shirt or fabric in half and cut along the opposite long edge.
  4. Measure across the top of the T-shirt or fabric and mark across the top with chalk. Cut across on the chalk line.  After trimming, you should have a rectangular shape.
  5. Turn the front and back pieces inside out and place one on top of the other.
  6. Pin together the top and bottom pieces along both sides and bottom.  Make sure your design inside faces up so that it matches how you want it to look when you turn it inside out.
  7. Sew the side and bottom together.  Remove the pins.
  8. Sew around the edges.
  9. To create corners, pinch the side and bottom seams together to form a triangle and pin in place. Repeat on the opposite side.
  10. Draw a chalk line across the triangle and sew across both corners.
  11. Turn the bag inside out and lay flat.
  12. Attach the strap handles to each side of the bag and sew onto the tote bag body.
  13. Finish the bag by folding over the top of the bag.  Pinning in place and sewing across the top edge to complete.  

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