Thursday, February 3, 2011

How to make your own stamped hand-printed market tote bag

Hand-printed muslin tote by Eden and Eliot

Sign up for our February Giveaway to win a lovely hand-stamped dish towel with this same leaf pattern here.

Bringing your own bag to the grocery store is all the rage now so its no wonder that every store seems to have its own store-branded recycled "I-used-to-be-a-plastic-bottle" carrier.

For one thing, they are usually not the most attractive bags - the graphics can be screamy and even worse,  the news media reported last December that lead was found in some of the bright inks that were used to logo these totes.

I love to bring my own bags, so I thought I would try to make some that would be fun to carry around.  Here's what you need:

1. Prewash the bag in cold water, and dry without using fabric softeners. You need to wash the sizing out of the fabric or the ink will not print well.  Press and smooth flat.

2. Figure out how many stamped impressions you can make on the fabric, mark the center of your design and start there.  For the bag shown above, I made two rows of 7 impressions, so I marked the middle and stamped to the left and right.  If you are meticulous about spacing, you can mark each spot and stamp from one end to the other, but I find it easier to eyeball it from the middle.

3. Prepare your ink.  If you are using screenprinting ink, scoop out what you need with a clean spoon and spread it on your plate or cookie sheet.  You'll get better results if you mix at least two colors together and don't use it straight out of the jar.  Its an old habit of mine from my painting days, and I know from experience that the color comes out much richer this way.  Use a clean spoon for each color.

4. Mix the colors directly on your plate and use your brayer to smooth out a even coat. Apply the ink onto your stamp using the brayer.  You should transfer an even coat onto the stamp.  Always test on a scrap piece of  fabric!  Once you have gotten the hang of transferring the right amount of ink onto the stamp, press firmly onto the fabric with even pressure.  Do not wiggle.  Lift quickly.  Repeat.

5. Clean the stamp well before changing colors.  For the bag above, I did the top row with Peacock Blue mixed with White, and bottom with Brown and a little Black.

6. When the prints are dry to the touch, put a piece press cloth over it and set a hot, dry iron on it for about 20-30 seconds.*  This will heat set the ink and render it washable.  Make sure you cover every part of your design.

*Actual heat-setting time will depend on how hot your iron is. You can do it a little longer to be safe, as long as you use a press cloth to protect your fabric.

**If you are using the fabric stamp pads, you can skip all the mixing and brayer action but you will still need to heat set it.

Hand-printed muslin tote by Eden and Eliot

Finally, a close up of my totes.  I made a run of 6 bags and was going to put them in my Etsy store but ended up giving most of them to friends.  Make a personal label for it, and fill it up with goodies for a hostess gift.  Or stamp a bunch of them for birthday party favors.  They will also make a fun afternoon activity with older kids.

If you do end up making these, I'd love to hear from you.  Have fun!


  1. Thanks! Love what you did with your cell phone cover. :)

  2. Hi, Just came across your blog! I was wondering if you would recommend this same process on say a t-shirt. Also is there a particuar brand of stamps that are better?

  3. Hi there, yes this process will work for a t-shirt. The inks are more critical than the stamps, so make sure to use screenprinting ink or fabric inks and heat set them like described in the tutorial. I've done this for t-shirts and they've endured multiple washings...the heat-setting is an important step before the first wash. As for stamps, I like those that have a more raised profile - that is, the design is significantly raised from the base, so that you minimize the amount of "overstamping" or smearing from the edge. For t-shirts, you can even try foam stamps, or make your own out of rubber/lino sheets. Thanks for visiting my blog!

  4. I'm on the board of a small arts nonprofit and we're putting together an Indie GoGo campaign for our organization. One of our incentives is going to be cotton totes and small dry snack bags that I will be stamping with our logo. Thank you for these helpful instructions! I have this post bookmarked and expect to refer to it again.


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