Old Sweaters, New Totes

By Sharon Brown (Sharon) on January 24, 2011

When one retires, what happens to those professional clothes? We donate, we give away, we toss, but often too many remain. Here's an idea that might appeal to you, a fun project that turns old sweaters into new totes.

I have too many sweaters left over from my teaching days. I donated many of them, gave away others and kept a few for myself.  After all, how many sweaters does an old lady need to get through a fairly mild Kentucky winter?


2011-01-24/Sharran/551909  2011-01-24/Sharran/c842ad 2011-01-24/Sharran/7aefa9


I kept those sweaters that were a bit ragged on the elbows and sleeves. That might sound a bit weird, but I had an idea that kept nagging at my mind.  The bottoms of those sweaters would make great totes. Here's a little tutorial about sweater totes. I thought maybe this project would be fun for a cold winter day.

I gathered a few old sweaters together. Sweaters will stretch, such is the nature of loosely bound fibers, so I knew the sweater itself would not keep its shape well enough to hold the baggage that often finds its way into my totes.  For the lining I needed something that had no stretch. I found a few things:  an old tablecloth I no longer use, a pillowcase and a couple of bed sheets that had seen better days.

Here are the steps as I took them:

Cut the bottom from the sweater, cutting straight acros2011-01-24/Sharran/7e7c24s from one underarm seam to the other, front and back.  Most sweaters are too wide at the bottom to make a nice sized tote, so I usually cut away from one side what I don’t need.  You can determine the size tote you want and just cut away the extra. Remember to leave a seam allowance.

Cut a lining of the same size from the selected lining fabric.  It's easy and fast if you cut the lining from a folded piece of fabric, just as you did the front and back of the sweater.

The ribbed bottom of the sweater will become the top of your tote.

Open the sweater and the lining  from their fold, and place the two pieces together front to front. The ribbing should be at the top. Now stitch the two pieces together across the top. 

Open the two stitched together pieces, and keep them inside out.

Fold from side to side, as if you were making a tube, still inside out.

2011-01-24/Sharran/d21b9e 2011-01-24/Sharran/c1be16

Pin to hold the open side together, then stitch from top to bottom, creating the tube.

I might add here that I usually do a straight stitch followed by a zig zag stitch to keep the sweater from raveling.  It makes the tote stronger, too.

Now you have an inside out tube, next fold it down over itself with the lining on the outside.

You’ll have to reach inside and manipulate a bit here, because you want your side seam to match up in both fabrics. You also want your open bottom edges to line up evenly.  Pin the bottom across, catching both the two pieces of sweater and the two pieces of lining as you go.   Stitch across. This is your bottom seam and should definitely also be zig zagged.  Trim close to the zig zag stitch, then turn the entire bag right side out. Now you have your tote.

All it needs is a strap.

  2011-01-24/Sharran/37260a 2011-01-24/Sharran/7fca2f 2011-01-24/Sharran/8cc2e5


Old woven belts that you no longer wear are perfect as straps. You can zig zag across the cut ends to hold them. Now stitch each strap end to one side of the tote then the other.

There are lots of variations you can add. A flap would work, or a button closure could be added. You can decorate your tote with buttons, old pins, or perhaps an earring.  A pocke2011-01-24/Sharran/98b62at could be added to the inside. There are endless possibilities; just use your imagination.


For me it’s fun, a project to fill cold winter days.  I’ve given some as gifts and the recipients seemed to be delighted.  I keep several around and use them instead of a purse.  It’s fun to change totes to match your jacket or your scarf of the day.

Each tote only takes a few minutes to make, at the most 30 minutes from start to finish.

If you have questions or comments please share them in the threads that follow. And if you make a tote, please show us.

Happy Sewing!


 2011-01-24/Sharran/2d2a3a 2011-01-24/Sharran/bccdfd




Related articles:
recycle, recycling, sew, sewing, sweater, sweaters, tote, totes

About Sharon Brown
I am a retired art and humanities teacher. I grew up in the Appalachian mountains of southeast Kentucky and now live in the flatlands of western Kentucky. I am an artist and a writer and sometimes I have interesting gardens.

« More articles

Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
check out this Xmas wreath, too Aguane Feb 2, 2011 11:29 PM 9
Fanstastic starlight1153 Jan 30, 2011 10:12 PM 36
Great idea! mollymistsmith Jan 25, 2011 6:17 PM 1
I'm going to have try this! Skiekitty Jan 24, 2011 1:24 PM 3


Sewing: home decor, clothing, quilting and other areas of sewing as a hobby or a vocation. How to's and how not to's, included.

» Home
» Forums
» Articles

Cubit owner: Sharon

Admin team:

» Contact the admins

So much fabric, so little time!

Join us as we discuss sewing Quilts, Clothing, Home Decor and More!

Watch this space for links and features.