Tote Bag Makeover: From Meh to Bee-utiful!

It is no secret that I love bees. When the hospital gift shop displayed tote bags with a giant queen bee on them, I was first in line. However, the bag was bigger/floppier than I would like and the straps were pretty cheap and took away from the focal point. But I am a crafty lady and in about an hour, transformed the tote into a more shapely and stylish shoulder bag. Doing this makeover without a sewing machine would be possible but maybe more frustrating that its worth….. The main skill you need is courage – to just cut off those cheap straps and replace them!

Simple Tote Bag Makeover:


  • Tote bag in need of some sprucing
  • Needle and floss or heavy duty thread
  • 2 buttons or beads
  • 16 -24 inches of wide ribbon for bow
  • 3 feet of wide nylon mesh for handles
  • Scissors, fray check, pliers
  • Dog to hide in your photos (I spy with my little eye…)
  • Clutter all over your workspace so it shows up in photos


  • These will really vary with the state of your tote but the general principles are to
    • Cut off the cheap handles. Use pliers to remove the brads and the bottom part of the handle. I put some fray check around the small hole left behind. Position the new handles over the small hole. You might need to patch the hole if larger or the fabric seems to fray. This particular tote was burlap with laminate lining, so pretty strong.
    • Cut the nylon mesh for the new straps to just longer than you want the handles to be. I suggest pinning them and trialing out the length before cutting and sewing. Fold over the raw edges, use some fray check and position the handles. Sew them down using a zig zag stitch – once across the folded bottom part and the other about two inches up the strap and about ½ inch from the top of the bag. This is great for reinforcement.
    • Gather or fold the edges to add structure make the bag “fatter” instead of wider. This tote had a flat bottom, so I made the folds a quarter of the width. Using heavy duty thread, stitch them together towards the top. The stitching for this bag is meant to look like lacing.
    • Tie the ribbon on and fashion a lovely bow. Place a few stitches to keep it secure.

Kate Spade doesn’t need to worry about her job but I enjoy using my big bee tote and the sense of accomplish I feel from “hacking” it into something better.

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