The Ultimate Guide to the Best Tote Bags - Everything You Need to Know About Totes

March 29, 2022
The Ultimate Guide to the Best Tote Bags - Everything You Need to Know About Totes

In recent times, tote bags have become quite the functional accessory due to their simple versatility and ease of use. These tote bags can easily be personalized to represent who you are or be bought from several branded designers to make a fashionable statement while still being mindful of the environment. These bags can be dressed up or down depending on the event. Available in a wide range of sizes in a wearable material, a canvas bag can serve your needs for a wide variety of occasions. Read on to learn more about these bags, including how to make one of your own.

In recent times, tote bags have become quite the functional accessory due to their simple versatility and ease of use. These totes can easily be personalized to represent who you are or be bought from several branded designers to make a fashionable statement while still being mindful of the environment. These bags can be dressed up or down depending on the event. Available in a wide range of sizes in a wearable material, a canvas bag can serve your needs for a wide variety of occasions. Read on to learn more about the best tote bags, including how to make one of your own.

What is a Tote? - The Ultimate Guide to the Best Tote Bags

A tote is simply a large bag suitable for carrying (or toting) lots of stuff, that has a large opening on the top. A tote bag, in essence, is any bag of variable size that often lacks fasteners other than a pair of parallel handles on either side to hold the bag by. The main purpose of a tote bag is to serve as an easy carryall, especially during those busy days spent shopping or running errands. A canvas tote bag, however, is any tote made from the durable, fabric material woven out of cotton or linen. This material is also found on sails, tents, backpacks and other items. Canvas is also the very same material used by artists everywhere as the base for their medium.

The History of the Tote 

Totes first came into creation in the 17th century, but the term "tote", which means "to carry", did not become common until the 1900s. Particularly in the United States, totes did not reach their height of popularity until 1944, when one of the major apparel companies released their iconic Boat Bag. Interestingly enough, the purpose of this original tote was to carry ice during outings and the bag itself has remained in production with little change in product design. The Boat Bag continues to be made from a durable canvas material, which has undoubtedly withstood the test of time.

Although this company has contributed a great deal to the popularity of the tote, it's the American housewives of the 1950s who greatly ushered this bag into mainstream society. Totes became a staple accessory in the completion of errands and chores, which then led way to the totes becoming a fashion statement in the 1960s. This is when designers such as Bonnie Cashin took advantage of the practical design and turned it into something elegant. The bag also hit the intellectual society when the popular New York City bookstore, The Strand, adopted and re-introduced its own version of the classic tote. High-end totes are now commonly seen on runways across the world during every Fashion Week, which boasts another level of luxury than the classic and practical cloth tote bag.

Now, in the present day, these eco-friendly totes are available in a wide variety of colors and images. From subtle political expression to pop culture symbols, literally, anything can be printed on these bags. The flexible material also makes it possible to customize to suit your personal sense of fashion and needs.

What is a Tote Made of?

A tote is often made of cotton or linen, although hemp has also been a popular material historically. Many people confuse canvas itself to be a material, although the term actually refers to the style of the fabric's weave and not the material of the fabric. For example, a tighter weave is called duck canvas. When it comes to the actual fabric materials, cotton is derived from the cotton plant. Another popular material is linen, which is derived from the flax plant. Hemp, which is not so common anymore, is derived from the cannabis plant.

Canvas fabrics have historically been used for sails, tents and painting. With a simple waterproof coating treatment, this fabric becomes impermeable in rain or shine. Canvas material is also exceptionally good for custom tote bags due to its flexibility. The material is lightweight and holds the ink from prints well without bleeding or flaking of the design.

Canvas materials are sourced from the environment naturally, making these materials the perfect choice for those who are environmentally conscious. The reusable nature of canvas tote bags further supports the ecosystem by reducing the production of wastes.

How are Totes Made?

It is fairly simple to learn how to make a tote. Here is a step-by-step guide to make one of your own: To get started, it is important to gather the appropriate tools from the beginning. The necessary equipment includes scissors, pins, a ruler, seam ripper, fabric chalk and a sewing machine and 1 meter of cloth.

Step One: Cut out a 33'' x 31'' sheet from the fabric. Then, fold the piece of fabric in half so that the size is now 16 ½'' x 15 ½''. Make sure the fold itself is oriented at the bottom.

Step Two: Now, cut two 16'' long straps out of the leftover fabric. These will serve as the handles of the bag. If desired, the fabric can be substituted with any other sturdy material as desired for the handles. However, try and keep the strips to an appropriate length.

Step Three: Take the top, open edges of the folded fabric square and fold them down by an inch on both sides. Pin the sides down. Then, sew 0.5 mm from the edges while making sure to double stitch at the beginnings and ends to ensure sturdiness. Remove the pins. You have now completed the top fold stitches.

Step Four: Now that the top and bottom of the bag have been secured, it is time to sew the sides shut. Pin the sides together so that the edges match evenly. Continue to sew 1 mm from the edge of the fabric.

Step Five: The bottom of the bag can be given more volume by sewing across the now established corners, forming an effective gusset. Pinch the corners of the bag open (utilizing the 1 mm of free space of the edges) and secure them with pins. Then, sew about 3'' across the corners on both bottom corners of the bag. You will end up with two corners that almost resemble dog-ears, giving the bottom of the bag more of a body.

Step Six: Take the straps and measure 4'' from both ends, such that each strap of the handle rests 4'' from the closest edge. Line up the edges of the straps with the 1'' folds sewn earlier at the tops of the bag. Then, pin each strap down, repeating for each side.

Step Seven: The straps of the handles must be sewn with great care such that they remain intact even with the burden of weights. Start off by sewing around all four edges of the strap, forming a square out of the thread. Then, sew lines connecting the corners of the squares, such that the thread bisects to form an "X". The finished product should look like a square with an "X" centered in the middle. Repeat this method with the remaining three straps.

Step Eight: Cut off any loose strings and make sure all thread work is secure. Now, flip the bag inside out, revealing your new blank tote bag. The best part about this project is that you're literally left with a blank canvas – making your imagination the only limit to the possibilities!

Step Nine: Decorating your tote is the moment you get to unleash your personal style and expression. The best part about tote bag materials is that they hold ink easily, regardless of the method that the ink is transferred to the bag. Fabric markers work fine for this project as do iron on decals. This process can be avoided altogether with the selection of printed fabric for the project.

What are the popular weights of canvas material that is used in canvas totes?

Canvas material is available in 4 oz, 5 oz, 6 oz, 8 oz, 10 oz, 12 oz, 14 oz, 16 oz and 24 oz weights. The popular weights of the canvas material out of those options are the 6 oz for lower quality bags (also known as Cotton totes or Cotton sheeting totes) and 12 oz for durable canvas totes. The heavier weights are reserved for fashion totes.

What is the difference between 5 oz, 6 oz, 10 oz, 12 oz canvas material?

The differences in weights account for differences in the canvas material. The 5 oz material is thin but also the most popular option for cheap bags, such as those used for grocery shopping in order to prevent the wastage of plastic bags. The 6 oz material is indistinguishable from the 5 oz, so it is often better to opt for the cheaper 5 oz material if deciding between the two.

The 10 oz canvas material is reserved for high quality totes that are durable and last several years of use. This material looks even better with age, as it washes and wears well. The 12 oz canvas material is heavy duty and used to make more refined looking bags, encroaching into fashion beyond practicality and simplicity.

What is GMS for a Tote Bag and how is GMS calculated?

GMS means grams per meter squared. A gram is a unit of weight. A thousand grams equals one kilogram. Basically, it is another term to determine the weight of the fabric when the material ends up being a blend of two or more fabrics. The higher the GMS, the heavier the weight of the fabric.

What is the difference between canvas and cotton tote?

Canvas can be made from cotton through a special weaving process. Although canvas can be made from other materials, including cotton, the build tends to be sturdier than a plain cotton bag.

The advantages of a plain cotton tote bag include the positive environmental impact due to its reusability. They also tend to be cheaper but serve multiple purposes, from errands to shopping. Another benefit of cotton material is the fact that it retains heat transfer, iron ons and screen-printing extremely well. Cotton itself is heat resistant up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. The material is also easily penetrable by a needle, serving as an adequate canvas for threadwork and embroidery. Cotton bags also tend to be lightweight, between 4 oz and 6 oz. However, this also means that cotton tote bags aren't as durable and should be handled with care.

Canvas tote bags are heavier duty than cotton tote bags due to the intricate weaving process used during manufacturing. As a result, canvas tote bags can carry heavier items for long periods of time without worry of the bag ripping or giving out during an errand or day out. Even on canvas material, iron on logos, screen printed designs and heat transfer applications work well with little effort. Due to their sturdy nature, canvas tote bags tend to be heavier, weighing between 8 oz and 24 oz. The most popular canvas weights are 10 oz and 12 oz. 

Although both types of totes have their advantages and disadvantages, the best tote bag for you depends on what you plan on using the bag for. Cotton tote bags work well temporarily for light use. However, canvas tote bags are more durable and can withstand continuous wear and tear, accounting for why these bags tend to last longer.

Read more: What is the Difference Between Cotton Tote Bags and Canvas Tote Bags?

Are tote bags waterproof?

Although many store-bought totes will come waterproofed, many DIY projects and cheaper bags will not have a waterproof coating over them. The advantages of waterproof totes are limitless and worth paying for if you're debating between the two. After all, a bag that is weather resistant will protect your belongings from water damage. An easy way that you can waterproof your drawstring tote is with wax.

How to Wax Your Bag?

A bag can be waxed at home to make it waterproof. Before getting started, a few precautions should be taken to ensure a smooth and high quality wax job. Clean the bag and make sure that the material is free of loose strings and any debris. This is best accomplished by washing if the material is machine washable or vacuuming the surface as an alternative. After this step, it is imperative that the material is completely dry. Before starting the waxing process, set up the work area in a well-ventilated area, such as your yard or garage. This will help dilute the strong smell of the wax.

Next, gather the necessary materials. You'll need a lump of wax, whether it's a mix of paraffin and beeswax or organic wax. In addition, you'll need two pots, a cup of water, a paintbrush and a hairdryer.

Step One: Do a spot test to confirm that the wax is compatible with the material of your canvas tote bag. Pick an inconspicuous area on the inside of the bag to rub the wax on. Keep in mind that the material may appear darker than it was before the treatment.

Step Two: Now that you've confirmed that the wax works, set up a double boiler using the two pots. A double boiler is when you fill one pot with water and bring it to a boil. Then, place the second pot inside the first one with the wax inside. Wait for the wax to melt while stirring occasionally with a wooden stick. Once the wax is completely melted, let it cool off for a few minutes since boiling wax can damage the canvas.

Step Three: Take the brush and evenly spread the warm wax onto the surface of the canvas bag. Make sure that each stroke coats the fabric thoroughly. Take extra care when it comes to coating the seams, crevices, folds and around any ornaments or zippers. Again, be aware that the color of the canvas may slightly get darker.

Step Four: After coating the bag with the wax, work the coating into the fabric with your fingers. Push the wax into the material, allowing it to completely bond with and protect the material.

Step Five: Heat the wax again using a hairdryer. By melting the wax a second time while it is on the canvas, you allow it to more deeply penetrate the material, resulting in an impenetrable bond. If you feel that the initial coating of wax isn't sufficient enough for your purposes, now is the time to add another coating. Focus particularly on the bottom of the bag. Reheat the wax using a hair dryer. During this step, you may also consider waterproofing your bag from the inside too. This especially becomes important if you plan to carry liquids inside of the bag, which could spill and lead to a disastrous leak. The process is the exact same, except the bag is flipped inside out. Keep in mind that waterproofing the inside and outside of the bag will make it stiffer, but sturdier.

Step Six: Now it's time to completely let the bag dry. This can be accomplished by hanging the bag up in a dry, well-ventilated area for one to two days. With this method, the odor from the wax will also air out. However, if you can't wait that long, the bag can also be placed in an old pillowcase and thrown into the dryer for around fifteen to thirty minutes.

It is important to remember that the wax coating will not last forever. Typically, the coating will have to be reapplied once every year. The coating will last longer with proper care. Remember to never wash your bag with hot water. It is best to use a soft brush with natural bristles to clean the bag or even hand wash with cold water.

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