Upcycled Tea Towel Book Bag with Extra Pockets

tea towel bag.jpg

This beginners sewing project has been several years in the making. I had this idea but never got around to actually making it happen. I even bought special tea towels to make it and then used them for something else!

When I was invited to join the Quarterly Sewing Blogger Share for beginners sewing projects it was a perfect prompt for me to actually take this idea from my notebook and into reality.

We are in lockdown here in the UK currently so I needed to make this book bag with things I already have. I love a good upcycling project so it’s been a fun challenge.

Tote bags made from tea towels are nothing new, I shared a simple one myself way back in 2013, it was one of my first ever blog posts!


This new idea is a little bit different, it’s an upgrade on a traditional tote bag. It’s got sections so you can divide and conquer your stuff. The good news is that it is still REALLY easy to make and therefore perfect for a beginner sewer.

tea towel tote bag with dividers

If you are a complete beginner and just thinking about taking up sewing as a hobby then you might find the article I put together on “What you need to get started sewing” helpful. I list all the equipment that you’ll need, the essentials that you can’t really manage without.

A beginners sewing project, a Tea Towel Book Bag

To make your own Easy Tea Towel Book Bag with Pockets you will need:

  • 2 tea towels

  • Webbing or curtain header tape

  • Thread and a Sewing Machine

Every time you start and finish a line of sewing remember to secure it with back stitch. This means you stitch a few stitches forward, then a few stitches backwards, then sitch the line as normal. At the end, you do a few stitches backwards and then forwards again. This means your stitches won’t come undone as you use your bag. This is especially important when you stitch the side seams but I would recommend you get in the habit of doing this all the time.

what you need.jpg

I had these two tea towels for years, you can see they are a little faded and the spotty one does have a couple of small holes but still perfectly useable for this bag project.

I would have liked to use a length of white webbing for the handles but I didn’t have any. What I do have however is a lot of old curtain header tape. I often make things from old curtains and always save the tape from the top, just in case it comes in for something. Turns out it makes good strong handles for bags! Yay!

Prepare the bag handles

Let’s start by making the handles. Take 2 68cm (26”) lengths of webbing or curtain header tape.

Your tape or webbing would ideally be about 3cm - 4cm (1” - 1.5”) wide. If you are using curtain tape then pull out the gathering cords. Save them, they are great for all sorts of things (drawstring bags, tying up plants in the garden, tying gift tags or labels etc) If your tape is wide like mine then you’ll need to fold it in half and then sew down both sides.

make handles.jpg

If your webbing or tape is fraying a lot you can try sealing it CAREFULLY with a flame or with something like Fray Check or even PVA glue.

Attach the handles

Decide which tea towel is going to be your outside fabric and position the handles on the short ends, 10cm (4”) from the outside edge.

position handles.jpg

Sew the handles to the tea towel with a rectangle and a cross. Start in the top right corner and follow the arrows on the photo below. This will make the handles nice and strong.

how to attach bag handles

Next prepare the inside tea towel.

Fold it in half, wrong sides together. Sew down the centre of the teatowel, and then back up to the halfway point and horizontally to the edge; the lines marked in red in the photo.

sew pockets.jpg

By doing this you are creating pockets for the centre of your bag. The top right section in the photo is a nice shallow pocket, ideal for your phone or keys, smaller things that you don’t want to be fishing around the bottom of your bag for.

Assemble the bag

Now layer the inside tea towel onto the top half of the outside tea towel. Make sure the top edge is the open edge of the inside tea towel, not the folded edge (otherwise you won’t be able to get to the pockets you’ve just made!) then fold the outside tea towel up so the short sides are together. Sew the side seams, marked in red in the photo below:

Making a tea towel bag with pockets

You’ll have to stitch quite a way in from the edge to avoid the tea towel seams, that’s ok though, your bag will still be plenty big enough. Don’t try to stitch over all the seams, it will be too thick for your sewing machine.

An optional last step is to stitch across the bottom of the bag too, a cm or so in from the edge. Stitch through all 4 layers and you’ll be catching the inside tea towel too and things won’t slip underneath from one large pocket to the other.


That’s it, you’ve made a lovely bag with pockets! Yay for pockets!


Here I’ve fitted my laptop in one large pocket, a book and magazine in another and a notebook in the small, less deep pocket. You can’t see it , but there is my pencil case in the deeper central pocket too and there is still room in here for more!

Make a tea towel bag with internal pockets

You can use your lovely bag with pockets just as it is or do what I did and decorate it with some scrap fabric flowers.

tea towel tote bag with fabric flowers tutorial

These flowers are quick and super easy to make, you only need small scraps of fabric, thread and a button. Details of how to make them can be found here: how to make flowers from fabric scraps. I made a bunch of flowers in colours that matched the tea towel fabric and then played around with them to arrange them in a pleasing way. When I made the flowers I had left a long end of thread on each so it was easy to use this to sew the flowers to the tea towel - just the outside layer of course! You could hot glue flowers or other decorations onto your bag if you prefer.

I think this will make a great craft project bag too, I enjoy a craft night with my friends now and again and this bag will be perfect for carrying my latest crochet, knitting or hand sewing project about.

I can’t wait until we can go out and about again and I can take my bag further than the garden! (and no looking closely at my hair which has not been coloured for over 6 weeks!)

make a tea towel book bag
how to upcycle a tea towel into a book bag


I’ll be sharing this project at these linkups

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