What Is a Tote Bag? All You Need to Know

A tote is a large holdall with a pair of parallel handles on either side, often unfastened at the top, that is designed to hold all of your items. Tote bags can be made from a range of different fabrics, but tend to be made from canvas, cotton or jute — although you can get more expensive and much larger structured leather totes too. Canvas is the preferred material for a tote as it creates a lightweight but durable holdall that is reusable and machine-washable. Canvas totes are also better for the environment, in particular if the one you choose is biodegradable, or made of 100% recyclable materials. 

You can also repurpose tote bags before you compost or recycle them. Use them as storage, or turn them into gift bags or planters before their life is up. If you don't use your tote because you don't like the design, canvas totes are also customisable; you are able to paint, tie-dye, embroider or print on your holdall, or add iron-on patches, badges or pins for a personal touch.

In its original context, tote means to carry or wield something heavy or substantial. The origins of the word can be traced back to the 17thc when it was used as a verb but, in the 21stc, it is more often used as a noun. The first tote was released in 1944, designed to haul ice from car to ice chest, but nowadays, totes are more likely to be used to hold and transport your shopping, groceries, work or beach supplies. For additional storage, some totes will have an inner pocket, designed to hold your keys or other small items.

You can even take your tote on a plane if it meets the guidelines for hand or hold luggage.

Most regular canvas totes will hold up to 4kg, but our biodegradable totes hold up to at least 30kg — if not more. Want to see this in action? Check out our recent post on How Much Weight Tote Bags Can Hold

How to Make a Tote

The construction of a tote is quite simple; you need two body pieces and two handle pieces. Stitch & Story reccomend that the body pieces are 39cm x 50cm, and the handles are 9cm x 61cm. Now we're no sewing experts, so check out this video to found out how to construct your tote.


Although canvas is the ideal material, you can get creative and use a different material (e.g. you can create a tote out of an unworn t-shirt or old bed linens). Likewise, most totes are white/beige or black, but you can use more colourful pieces of material, or dye it to achieve your ideal colour. 

We are Tom's Totes. Our mission is to make plastic bags completely out of fashion, and to make sustainable lifestyle choices stylish. Support independent artists and join our mission to ditch plastic with our collection of biodegradable tote bagsprints, t-shirts, beanies and paint kits online. 

For more top tote tips and news, check out our blog page