Easy Embellished Vinyl Tote Bag

These are notes from my popular Artfest 2001 workshop about using images and word art to embellish purses and tote bags.

sample collaged vinyl totebag made on the airplane en route Artfest 2001

Supply list

  • Vinyl bag with at least one transparent side.
  • Plain white paper as your collage support
  • Collage elements – flat (or nearly flat) items and images
  • Some kind of paper adhesive
  • Clear laminating plastic, clear 2″ wide packing tape, or clear adhesive-backed shelf paper
  • Optional: beads and cord or floss, or small dimensional embellishments (see directions for ideas).

Guidelines (not instructions – this is your bag!)

First, select a vinyl bag. (My sample came from Michael’s Arts & Crafts store. In 2001, they were $1.99 each.  In 2009, they’re still under $5 if you shop carefully.  Sometimes, you can even find them at pound or dollar stores.)

Use a plain sheet of paper for your collage base/support. Otherwise, the back of your work will show through the other side of the vinyl bag.

Create a collage using modpodge, gluestick, gloss medium or other adhesives.  As long as it doesn’t pucker the paper, almost any glue will work.

You can use charms, trinkets & raised elements, but they don’t stick well. Sorry. Hang them from the bag, instead.

If you like, you can create two collages, one to go on top of the vinyl, and one to show through from the inside.

You can even cut the vinyl so the inside one shows through better.

central collage on workshop sample bag

Cut your laminating plastic to size. Trim closely, but allow at least a half inch around your collage, so the plastic will stick.

    • I use shiny laminating plastic sold on a roll at A. C. Moore. A similar product at Michael’s is often matte, like Contac paper. I like the shiny stuff. Sometimes, you can find this at Staples or an office supply shop. You can also use 2″ wide packing tape, or any clear adhesive product that suits your mood and artistic vision.
Artfest logo, colored with oil pastels on the workshop sample tote

Next, place your collage, face down, on the laminating plastic. When you pick up the laminating plastic, the non-sticky side and the collage should be facing you.

Stick the plastic-covered collage onto an appropriate place on the bag.

Embellishment ideas

IF you like: Punch holes in the vinyl using a 1/8″ punch. Add tiny grommets/eyelets using the tool, hammer, and wood block. Tap lightly!

words on foam board strung from grommets at top of totebag

– String evidence or charms/trinkets from ribbon or thread, tied so they hang through the grommet/eyelets.

If you’d like… attach more “evidence” (a term we used to reference journaling-type additions) at the bottom edge of the bag. Grommets are not required here if you’re sewing something the width of the bag. Just go ahead and sew through the vinyl. If it rips later, use clear packing tape to repair it.

– You may want to replace the handles with something better. For example, a strong measuring tape may make a great handle, or you could use braided ribbons, or…?

– Use your tote, accept compliments, and make fresh tote bags regularly since these are easy, inexpensive, and fun!

Rust and Teal Pieced Bodice

This is another project started in the mid-1990s and not completed.  Clearly, even good projects are sometimes put aside.


Basically, I was going to make myself a bunch of great wearable art pinafores.

Note: In the States, a pinafore is called a jumper. I grew up calling them pinafores, because… well, that’s what my family called them.

But, I ran out of enthusiasm when I went through a time of equating pinafores with ‘tasteful floral print dresses’ and tossed out every one of those sewing patterns.

At times, I’m impulsive like that.   (Yes, it’s frustrating at times.)

So, this project was never completed.

Before I ran out of steam, I had strip pieced the front bodice shown above. It’s beaded by hand, and also embellished with some ‘crazy quilt’ stitching.

A lot of my fabric art embellishments have been inspired by the stitches on crazy quilts. I rely on Judith Baker Montano’s book, Elegant Stitches, shown in the right column. I’ve used her fabric art as references ever since I bought a copy of her hand-drawn notes that she’d photocopied to sell at quilt fairs in the 1970s.

I like to mix easy strip piecing with quirky color combinations, crazy quilt stitching, and glass beads… especially bugle beads and small seed beads.

For me, fabric art is about color and texture. The mix of fabrics, stitching and beads is, in my mind, a perfect combination for personal art expression.

Related links:

Judith Baker Montano’s website

    • – Samples of her art, and info about her books & workshops. Also see her crazy quilting instructions from her appearance on HGTV’s Carol Duvall show:

At Home: Jewelry: Crazy Quilting.

Purple Fabric Art Jacket 1

ppljkt25I’ve always loved the color purple.  Almost every shade of purple delights me.

This is an original one-of-a-kind jacket that I created around 1992, using a Vogue designer jacket pattern. The fabrics are all 100% cottons.

On half of the front, I have hand-beaded with glass bugle and seed beads. I’ve also painted it with glitter paint.


On the other half of the jacket, front and back, I’ve made small dolls from crafts clothespins. Each doll is unique, and all of them are a little wild and off-balance.


This is a flashy jacket and — as of this writing — it’s a little 1980s in style.  However, dazzle keeps returning to fashion, so this jacket will be stylish again in the future.

Meanwhile, it’s a great and whimsical display item.

Disney Fabric Art Jacket

disjkt2The fabric art  jacket in the photo at right was made in 1991.

I have always loved everything related to Disneyland and DisneyWorld.

When I was growing up, my mother was a free-lance artist for Walt Disney, and she did all of the artwork for two Disney board games: Fantasyland, and Steps to Toyland.

Particularly when she was working on the Fantasyland game, we would go to Disney animated features repeatedly, while my mother sketched ideas.

I was dazzled. It was wonderful!

When I grew up and married, we lived in Florida for about three years. While there, we visited DisneyWorld about every two weeks and never grew tired of it. In fact, it’s still one of our favorite vacation spots.

Late in the 1980’s, I started collecting Disney fabrics for a “someday” wearable art project. This is the jacket that I made with those fabrics, around 1991.

The sleeves are a Disney calendar fabric, from a year when New Year’s Day was a Friday.

The stars with Mickey in the center are actually from a fabric with a yellow background, so I carefully cut out the stars for this project.

The larger Mickey and Minnie, and their counterparts on the back of the jacket, are all from a panel-type fabric that made a Disney tote bag.

The back of the jacket is trapunto, with Mickey and Minnie in relief.

Most of the fabrics are cotton blends, and I machine pieced them. The appliques were applied by hand, sometimes tacked in place with fusing.

The lining is a 100% cotton fabric in red and white stripes, not a Disney fabric.

I think that I used a Simplicity pattern for the general design of this raglan-sleeved jacket. It has a thin woven-type quilt batting as an interlining in the bodice only (not in the sleeves), for warmth.

It became one of my favorite jackets.  Today,  it’s displayed far more than it’s worn.

To create a similar jacket yourself, choose a very simple clothing pattern.  Look in the “easy to sew” section of the pattern books.  Choose something that can be made in an hour or two.

Then, you can focus on your piecing and embellishments.

(All Disney images are copyright and/or trademarked to the Walt Disney corporation.)

Easy Rolled Cloth Beads

Scraps of fabric can be used to create rolled beads. Here’s the simplest version.

You’ll need fabric, white glue and water, and something thin to wrap the beads around. This can be a thin dowel, toothpicks, shishkebab skewers, thin cocktail straws, or… Well, see what you have around the house. You could even use heavy gauge wire such as a coat hanger.

First, decide if you want to use fabric “as is,” or embellish it. It doesn’t have to be cotton, but cotton absorbs glue most easily.


Dye, stain, paint, and embellish with color and perhaps glitter, if you like.

Then, cut or rip the fabric into thin strips. Remember that 100% cotton tears along straight lines. So, you can cut a small nick at the end, and then tear it from there.

Soak the fabric in a mixture of white glue and water. I’d guess that a 50/50 mix would work. This isn’t precise. You want it thick enough to stick together, but thin enough not to be gloppy.

Roll each bead around whatever you’re using at the center. The purpose of this is just to keep a hole in the middle. You’ll remove the dowel (or wire or toothpicks) when the glue is mostly dry.

(If you wait until the bead is completely dry, it may be permanently adhered to the center support. Removing the center early allows the middle dry faster.)

If you want to prevent the beads from sticking to the center support, coat the support with a non-stick lecithin kitchen spray. However, this can make it harder to roll the beads; the fabric will tend to slip as you’re rolling.

If the beads were saturated with the glue-and-water mix, the torn edges generally won’t unravel.

It’s best to roll the beads to the size that you want. After they’re made, if you want them shorter, it will be necessary to cut them to size with a saw, or the cutting blade on a rotary tool.


An alternative–probably better and more colorful than rolling rectangles–is to cut the fabric into triangles.

Roll the beads so that the widest side is at the center, and the tip of the triangle is on the outside of the bead.

Ribbon Embroidery and Beading

jumpribThis shows part of the ribbon embroidery & beading on a jumper bodice started in the 1990s.

In real life, the area shown is about 7.5″ x 4″.

I was inspired by a crazy quilt that I saw many years ago, and the bright embroidery on the black velvet reminded me of fireworks. I knew that, someday, I’d want to create a similar effect with wearable art.

After I bought the fabric and cut out the bodice, my inspiration was renewed by a vividly colored garden photo that I saw on a magazine cover. (Inspiration is everywhere!)

As I’m simplifying my surroundings, I’d like to intensify what is around me, by using lots of these brilliant colors against black, white, and forest green.

The work you see here is entirely handsewn, with silk ribbon and glass beads on black pinwale corduroy. So far, there’s probably about ten or fifteen hours’ of sewing in it, mostly done in front of the television.

I know that most people will never guess the amount of work in this, but the end result will be dazzling. I think it is, already.