Upcycling | From Halloween tote bag to pillow cover

What do you do with a tote bag that you love so much you’re afraid to use it? I upcycled mine into a pillow cover.

Here’s what my tote bag looked like in its original form:

Halloween tote bag to pillow

And here’s what it looks like now:

Halloween tote bag to pillow upcycle

To be clear, I didn’t make the bag. (I wish I did!) I found it a college art sale a couple years ago and immediately fell in love with it. The black cat, the crazy lettering, the “Curiouser & Curiouser” saying. It was perfect. But because I loved the design so much, I never used the bag. I didn’t want it to get dirty and stained, or worse, worn and faded. So it hung on a hook in my closet, unused and unseen.

Tote bag to pillow transformation

I thought if I turned the bag into a pillow, I could bring it out of the closet and actually see the beautiful graphic on it everyday.

I should note here that I have very minimal sewing skills. But this project seemed simple enough that even I could handle it.

Step 1: Deconstruct the bag

The first thing I did was remove the bag’s handles by picking out the the stitches with my seam ripper.

Halloween tote bag with handles removed

Then, I unpicked the side seams. There was no seam on the bottom of the bag. The front and back was just one long piece of fabric.

Halloween tote bag with side seams unpicked

Step 2: Install the zipper

Next, I watched a video on how to install a zipper, because it had been several decades since my last attempt, and I had forgotten a lot in the interim. (And frankly, from what I remember, I wasn’t very good at it back then either.)

zipper Scotch taped to the side seam of pillow

From here, I followed the video instructions, which, in a nutshell, went something like this:

  1. Run a basting stitch down the side of the pillow where the zipper will go.
  2. Press the seam open.
  3. Scotch tape the zipper to the inside of the seam.
  4. Flip the fabric over and pin the zipper in place.
  5. Remove the Scotch tape.
  6. Sew the zipper into place.
  7. Unpick the basting stitches.
sewing zipper into place in pillow

My stitch line ended up a little crooked, but considering it was my first zipper of the 21st century, I was happy just to have it installed.

Step 3: Sew the other sides of the pillow

With the zipper in place, I sewed the other sides closed (with right sides together), and then turned the pillowcase right side out by pulling the fabric through the open zipper.

Curiouser & Curiouser Halloween pillow upcycle

In hindsight, I probably should have used a white zipper and thread so my wonky workmanship was less noticeable. But it didn’t bother me enough that I felt compelled to unpick the zipper and do it over.

stuffing pillow into pillowcase

Finally, I crammed my pillow form inside, closed the zipper, and oohed and aahed at my pretty new pillow, wonky stitching and all.

The final tote bag to pillow transformation

Curiouser & Curiouser pillowcase upcycled from a tote bag

Honestly, who’s going to notice my imperfect stitching when the graphics on the pillow are so striking?


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