Cotton Tote Bags!

photo of printed tote bag

"Interior with Cat" tote bag

I’ve had a few ideas keeping me awake at night, and now that I have both my shop and Etsy for display in addition to the shows and festivals, I’ve decided to go ahead and play!

The first issue with these projects is that I want to make only one or two items, so I have to make them myself, and materials can be expensive.

I’ve been working out ideas to print gift bags and tote bags by directly printing my block prints directly onto the bags. But I’ve also long wanted to use my paintings, sketches and photographs on these items and decided to give iron-on transfers a consideration. I’d had some bad experiences with them several years ago, but with more people creating handmade goods there are simply more products to choose from at a better quality.

detail of interior with cat tote bag

Detail of design

Often, I’ll actually make the item to be printed—for instance, when I began printing clothing I made the skirts and dresses I printed rather than trying to find a garment in the fabric and style I want to use out of various types of fabric. I had purchased a bolt of unbleached cotton muslin and some remnants to make the first placemats, tablecloths and curtains.

My sewing machine, an older console model, is still inconveniently placed so even though I can dig it out and use it, the process takes so long that I decided I’d see what I could purchase.

So when I found well-made 12″ x 15″ x 3.5″ fair-trade eco-cotton tote bags for a good price, I decided it was time to get a start!

peaches and peonies tote bag

"Peaches and Peonies" tote bag

Because I’m still waiting for the weather to be right for printing my block prints outdoors, and because I pretty much know what to expect from block printing, I thought I’d start with the iron-ons and the related embellishments like puff paint and newer fabric markers I’m not as familiar with.

I always have paper shopping bags, but I purchased a few in different colors just to have on hand for experiments.

detail of tote bag

Detail of design.

I’d been reading up on iron-on transfers and puff paint and fabric markers and even bought myself a new iron—brand new, right out of the box, not a yard-sale special so I’d be sure it could heat up and safely stay at the required temperature for iron-ons. I even purchased a nice extra printer from craigslist to use just for these projects so that I could get better quality prints.

I knew which designs I wanted to begin with so I used my graphics programs to prepare the artwork, created PDF files and went to work. I wanted a mix of more formal fine art and fun, colorful things, and a mix of the two most popular subjects for these things, cats and flowers. I also intended to customize and embellish each product, not just print on it so that it would be truly unique, so the images suggested the embellishments.

after dinner nap tote bag

"After Dinner Nap" tote bag

Because Stanley watches over my business in “After Dinner Nap”, his image is used for just about everything new, he simply deserves it. And because “Peaches and Peonies” is so popular I decided to use her too. In addition, I used “Interior with Cat”, a colorful and loose watercolor showing mostly flowers and an interior, and just a little Sophie in the distance; those two images combined both cats AND flowers. The last image of flowers only was one of my favorite oil pastel sketches of pink and red geraniums in a turquoise pitcher, “January Geraniums 1”.

tote bag detail

Detail of bag

I began with the paper gift bags, which I haven’t pictured here because the iron-ons just didn’t work as I had hoped. Back to the drawing board on those, though I had an earlier idea that worked a little better but still not well enough, so I’ll be revisiting those sometime soon.

On to the cotton tote bags. The time has come to see how well I’ve planned things out on this one!

cookie on the drawing table

Cookie has her own creative ideas.

The biggest challenge isn’t taking care and time with materials and processes, it’s keeping curious paws and floating cat hair out of my work!

I’m very pleased with the results, sans a few extra cat hairs. The image is printed on both sides of each bag, and while working on these prototypes I’ve only embellished one side. When that is dry I’ll flip it over and embellish some more to try out other ideas.

One characteristic of my work is the highlight areas, and the unbleached cotton muslin dulled these a little, but the colors came through on all of the works, and that was the idea of these bags, color, simple composition. Tote bags are never clearly printed, and I just have to learn to live with it.

january geraniums tote bag

"January Geraniums 1" tote bag

From there came the embellishments—for now just iridiscent puff paints, matte puff paints, paint markers and fabric markers. In addition to drawing all over these things I’d like to add a color border at the top of each bag that coordinates with the design just to make it look more finished, but I’m not sure what would be the best way to accomplish that. For now I’ve just painted on it or colored it in with a marker to get the idea down, but it may be a strip of fabric or ribbon, though anything added to that top edge needs to be durable so if I can’t find something easy to apply and durable, I may hold off on this.

detail of bag

detail of design

So here are the first four prototypes of bags I’ll be making. They’re not the final designs since there are things I can see that just didn’t work, I need to get some other colors of puff paints, and I may get the iron-ons with a white background to see if they turn out a little more clear on the natural fabric. I’ve also no doubt that my embellishments will metamorphose over time! Please let me know what you think!

I also have other paintings in mind to use, and may create some collages of artwork as well. If there is a particular painting you’d like to see on a tote bag, please let me know.

And I’m not sure I want to print on both sides. Looking at the tote bags I have, only one is printed on both sides, so maybe that’s not necessary. What do you think?

black cat looking in mirror

Mirror, Mirror

Now, after these art tote bags are figured out, I have several photos I plan on using. Picture some of the photos of the black cats printed on bags that are dyed black! I can’t wait.

the goddess block print

"The Goddess" block print

But one thing these bags will be absolutely perfect for will be my Tortie Girls, “The Goddess” and “The Roundest Eyes”!

So until the next time…send your ideas!

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6 responses to “Cotton Tote Bags!

  • Cotton Tote Bags on Portraits of Animals Marketplace « The Creative Cat

    […] items and decided to give iron-on transfers a consideration. Read about and see the results on Portraits of Animals Marketplace! from → cat artwork, feline artwork ← Meet Cleo, the Perfect Tabby, and […]

  • Susan Stoltz

    I love these tote bags and can’t wait to get my hands on one (or a few)! I love the highlight characteristic in your work and am surprised that it comes through as well as it does printed on the cotton bags. The color looks beautiful! It must be a challenge doing all this with the “help” of your cats and their flying hair. I can’t imagine it would be any fun without them though…. This is exciting – keep up the great work!

    • animalartist

      Susan, I can’t wait to get them into production now that I’ve gotten things started! I was surprised myself, and really happy that this one project looked as if it would work as planned. I’ll be experimenting next with the iron-ons that have a white background just to make myself happy. And as for the cat hair, I couldn’t tell my walking inspirations to hit the road, could I?! I wonder if you could tell me your opinion on one thing, though–do you think I should print on both faces of the bag, or just one? Sometimes I overdo it, and printing and embellishing both faces takes more time and materials so if consumers aren’t interested, I won’t do it. Thanks for visiting!

  • Renee

    I really like these-such beautiful, bright colors. And of course I love the Peaches and Peonies bag! Regarding one or two sides-I’m fine with one. One side has never stopped me from purchasing a bag. I really like the design and border of the January Geraniums, too. ~R

  • Marg

    What a great idea. The tote bags should be fantastic. I love this idea. They will make great gifts. I agree with Renee that one side with the design would be just fine. I am so glad your idea is working out. I think any of those pictures would be wonderful. Course, we like the Peaches one, like everyone else.
    Have a wonderful week and don’t work too hard.

  • New Merchandise, Wow Am I Excited! « Portraits of Animals Marketplace

    […] cotton tote bags I featured last month were indeed pretty, but when put to the test by myself and others the lightweight cotton muslin […]

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