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Walking by an artsy boutique, have you ever noticed two or three canvas tote bags on display with cute graphics on the front of each bag? The bags look simple and come in handy for groceries or books but the prices can easily seem too steep! I want to show you how you can stencil a canvas tote bag without spending big bucks or a lot of time. The bonus part – you can make as many as you like with different stencils and give it away as gifts! Personalized and handmade gifts are always winners!

Canvas tote bags with stencils and title of blog

Simple and reusable tools

Thankfully, you don’t need much for this cute DIY project. Here is the list of items:

A couple notes on selecting tools and materials:

Canvas tote bags are easily found in almost any craft store or stores like Walmart, Target, Dollar Tree, and many more. If you purchase a rolled up canvas tote bag like me, you can iron out the creases, but it’s usually not necessary.

I buy my FolkArt stencil brushes from Joann Fabrics; they are not in a package and are sold for about $10. If you have a 50% discount coupon, the brush is $5, and it’s a great tool to have for stencil work. Plus, you don’t have to repeatedly clean it. The stencil brush should have a flat bottom that is almost stiff; soft bristles will not work for stenciling. I’ve left my stencil brush overnight without cleaning it and I’ve been able to use it again the next day without any trouble!


Here’s the fun item – stencil! I’ve recently been on a “stencil kick” and I love the stencils by Fusion Stencils because they have a nice thickness and a heavier weight than the ones sold in other markets, which causes them to stay in place easily when stenciling. You can find several stencils by Fusion on my store online. They are easy to clean and the durability lasts.


Fusion has an awesome line of paints – by far, my favorite line of paints. They are non-toxic and have zero VOC, volatile organic compounds, which are known to cause acute symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and may be carcinogenic! Not fun, especially if you have tiny tots around you! The quality and durability of these paints are top-notch. Being lead-free, phthalate-free, formaldehyde-free, ammonia-free, and virtually odorless, Fusion paints are environmental- and health conscious- friendly. Check out my online store for a wide variety of Fusion paint colors! I highly recommend you trying at least one.

Fusion Paint Tester

I want these DIY projects to be “fun with quality” for each of you! You’ll notice tips that I’ll give you throughout the article, in bold font. I will also recap my tips at the end of the article to make it easier for you to remember.

Now, the fun begins!

Since you’ll be stenciling, you want to make sure that you have a flat and stable surface to work on. Some people may stencil on their floor because it’s flat and stable, but your back might not be too happy after you’re done! Tables are best. If you happen to buy a canvas tote bag that was rolled-up, just like I usually do, you can unroll it and lay it flat on your table and smooth out the creases. The creases shouldn’t be too deep, but if they are, you can always iron them out.

Taping down the stencil

Once you’ve laid out your tote bag, place your cute stencil in the center (or wherever you’d like the stencil to be on your bag) and start taping the sides of the stencil with painter’s tape. As I mentioned earlier, stencils that you find in stores are usually lighter in weight, which means they can move easily while you’re stenciling. You want to make sure that you tape down all four sides of the stencil. Believe me, the Fusion Stencils are well worth purchasing since they are heavier in weight!

The key to stenciling …

Having the right brush, I’ve discovered, is the key to stenciling. I like using these FolkArt stencil brushes from Joann Fabrics and it’s well worth the ten bucks, or five if you have a half-off coupon. I’ve used mine repeatedly and the quality remains strong. If you don’t have the right brush nor a brush with almost stiff bristles, your stenciling may not look as great as expected once you’re done.

Load, unload, start.

Load and unload your brush if you want your stenciling to look professionally made. You’ll have to dip your brush, not the whole head of the brush but just a fourth of the bristles, in the paint. Grab your paper plate, and you’ll start to unload the paint from your stencil brush that you loaded just a minute ago. Hold down your brush, make a side fist and hold your brush in your side fist (like when a two-year-old toddler holds a pencil) and unload the paint in circular motions on different parts of your paper plate. Do this until there’s a bit of paint left on the flat part of your brush.

You want to avoid dipping your paint brush and pulling it up with paint. Loading and unloading your brush prevents your paint from bleeding through your tote bag. Use your paper plate of paint as your palette tray, so to say. Be sure not to mix it with water. You can definitely reuse your paper plate palette for other stenciling projects, as long as it’s not a different color, of course!

Go circular or dab and stipple!

If you find that your working surface is not very flat, you can hold it down as you paint. It happens to me as well and it is workable. In this case, make sure that you have taped down your stencil with painter’s tape. One thing I’ve found that works well is stenciling in a dabbing, stippling – yes, it’s an “art word” that means mark with numerous small dots or specks – motion, or a circular motion.

Stenciling in horizontal, vertical, or both lines will actually make the lines visible once you take off your stencil. Personally, a circular motion works great for me! Now that you’ve loaded and unloaded your brush, you can start stenciling in a circular motion. If you’re using Fusion paint, you don’t need to topcoat your tote bag once you’re finished. Again, be sure to not to paint in lines. We want your cute tote bag to have a neutral, stenciled texture!

Circular motion stenciling

A little touch-up?

In order to have a full color, you’ll have to make sure you have an equal color of paint in each area of the stenciled image on your canvas tote bag. Use your stencil brush to cover up any lighter spots or areas in the same circular motion. This is when unloading comes in handy too because you can use the excess paint from your paper plate palette to do the needed touch-ups! Stifle your brush and get back into the circular motion, ladies!

“Peel it off, peel it off…”

Now that you’re done touching up your cute stenciled image, it’s time to peel off the tape and admire your beautiful work of art! I know it can get really exciting, but don’t rip off the tape out of excitement. Peel off the painter’s tape gently to avoid the stencil from moving as well and causing some unwanted smearing. Hold down the stencil with one hand as you’re peeling off the painter’s tape with the other hand. Smile big when you take off that stencil!

How cute is that?!

Do you like your new canvas tote bag? I really hope you’re impressed with yourself! You can definitely throw it in the washing machine if you’d like to wash it, but only after it’s been cured for roughly 21-30 days. Paint curing means how long it takes for paint to fully absorb into something. It could be cabinets, wall, or just a piece of furniture. Curing is the time you want to wait before you wash your canvas tote bag or if you get more adventurous: stenciled pillowcase, table runner, or placemats.

Can you repeat that, Sarah?

Sure! I’d love to repeat my tips for all you DIY stenciling fans!

Fusion paints

As said on my online store, “it’s professional paint for the everyday DIY’er”! With no underlying blue or purple undertones and a zero VOC formulation, this environmentally-friendly paint is highly recommended for stenciling. Available in two sizes – pints and testers! Plus, there are over 50 gorgeous colors to choose from!

Fusion Stencils

I am not kidding when I say that the quality of these stencils will make your projects turn out perfectly! I enjoy using these stencils because of their nice thickness and heavier weight; they make the perfectly crisp stencil. Check out my online store for a handful selection that I am currently selling.

Tip for taping the stencil: Use your painter’s tape to tape down all four sides of your stencil to prevent it from moving around.

Brushes and techniques

Other varieties

These canvas tote bags are seriously a great gift for your girlfriends! There are mini canvas tote bags as well that kids can use to carry their snacks or their iPads. You can check out my video for this project on Facebook as well as below. Stenciling on a poster and putting it in a picture frame will make a for cute decor!

Show me your DIY canvas tote bag!

You know how I am with challenging myself to refurbish old furniture? As much as I hope my DIY projects are fun for you to watch and do on your own, I hope that you can share your finished projects with me! I love hearing from you guys and reading your live comments on Facebook, so seeing what I’ve been able to help you make would be wonderful!


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