Looking for some “boho chic” style on a budget?! We’ve got it in the bag! Tote and messenger bags with a fun mix of patterns are great for showing off your personality and you can easily make these patterned bags in your favorite colors! How? With paint and stencils, you can transform nearly anything, including handbags and tote bags. Simply purchase an inexpensive plain bag at stores like Target, Urban Outfitters and Old Navy. Here, I’ll show you how to transform the tote bag from blah and boring into a bohemian beauty.
When choosing the mix of stencils and colors, you can design a subtle play of patterns, or you can create a wild ‘n crazy party of a bag. It’s your choice to personalize your bag however you want. To give you more design ideas, the Moroccan stencil patterns and bright colors shown above are on canvas, but they could also be painted on a tote bag.
These are tote bags I painted previously. They were once plain beige, but with the magic of stencils and paint, they are now colorful. They make your trips to the farmers market or grocery store more interesting. They’re perfect for travel. I even photographed one of the bags shown above in a Mongolian yurt! The yurt was in Wisconsin though, not China — still an interesting place to stay for a weekend.
Supplies for this project
- Tote bag — look for bags with flat surfaces because they are easier to paint on
- Top stencil: Taj Tile Border Indian Stencil
- Middle stencil: Chevron pattern from the Sari Border Stencil Series
- Bottom stencil: Jali Allover Indian Furniture Stencil
- Royal Stencil Crème paints: Copper Kettle, Flat Black, Smoked Oyster
- Stencil brushes from Royal Design Studio
- Painters tape
- Paper towel
- Q-tips and water for touch-ups
When choosing the stencils, here is a formula that works to make an interesting pattern mix:
- An allover pattern — it could be a small wall pattern, or furniture size stencils
- A geometric — it could be a border stencil, or tape off an allover geometric pattern to make a slim rectangular border shape
- A floral — it could be a border stencil, or tape off an allover floral pattern into a rectangular shape
Try to mix circles and curvy shapes with some straight lines. You might have stencils left over from other projects. It’s possible a stencil you used on a wall or a dresser will also look good on a tote bag!
For today’s bag, we’ll lay out a floral border stencil, a chevron with straight lines for shape contrast, and a round allover pattern. The floral border and the allover pattern have little circle shapes as a common element, and I think this helps tie the two different patterns together.
I laid out a “mock up” of the stencils on the tote bag first, to see how they would all fit.
If your bag’s handles are attached to the outside of the bag, you can cover the handles with painters tape so you can easily paint around the handles.
I taped off the straight lines at the top and bottom of the floral border stencil, because it was difficult to get the stencil to lay flat along the top edge of the bag. The straps were in the way and due to a zipper, the bag doesn’t lay flat. So a solution is to eliminate the straight lines. If the curvy elements of the floral border aren’t perfectly spaced from the top of the bag, it’s not as noticeable as if a straight line turned out wavy. This is also why I used Flat Black Stencil Creme to paint the top border! Any mistakes around the straps and sides aren’t as noticeable as they would be with a high contrast light paint color. Sneaky, huh? You can plan solutions like that to make tougher areas a little easier to paint.
Also be sure to center your stencil pattern in the middle of your bag. You can see how the middle flower is centered between the straps.
Next, line up the next stencil underneath the top stencil. Paint this stencil.
You can also tape off sections to paint solid stripes. And you can stencil on top of solid stripes. You can see I painted a solid color stripe with Smoked Oyster Stencil Creme, then painted the chevron border with Flat Black on top of the Smoked Oyster stripe. This made a cool multi-color pattern.
Then, fill in the remaining bottom part of the bag with the third stencil. I used Copper Kettle Stencil Creme here. Center your pattern here too. I was careful to line up the circle pattern in the center, so it’s aligned vertically with the floral pattern at the top.
I also filled in some circles in the top border with Copper Kettle and Smoked Oyster to tie the colors all together.
the back side of the bag, the side that rests against your body, I usually paint a small pattern. I’ve never had paint rub off a bag, but I keep the pattern here small to be safe. I taped off a floral shape from the border stencil, then added chevrons on the sides.
For a final bohemian flair, I added a tassel, found in the Marrakech medina souks during the Royal Design Studio November 2014 Paint & Play Retreat in Morocco. While the patterns used in this bag are Indian, they also bring back memories of Morocco and the wild and inspiring pattern mixes there.
Here is the before and after of this dramatic transformation with simple paint, stencils and a few hours of time: