Your Summer Beach Tote Will Look Cute With a Hit of Hand Embroidery

embroidered summer bag Photo by David Lucas

Every style blogger worth her selfie is posting summer snaps with a glass of rosé in one hand and straw beach bag in the other. And with good reason: the bags are roomy, durable and pretty darn cute. (Plus, sand just shakes right out of them.) What’s not so cute: how crazy-expensive they can be, sometimes upwards of $150, especially when they have embroidery or other embellishments. Say goodbye to your #summervibes budget.

The only solution: to DIY this beach-chic bag, for a fraction of the cost, using basic embroidery skills. First, I set out to find an even weave tote that was unlined so I could access the inside to secure my stitches. I scored this plain market bag on Amazon for less than $25. Then, I went to a craft store to stock up on supplies for the embroidery (I went with a thin nylon cord; more on why below), plus tassels, embroidery floss and other possible embellishments for the handles, as well as a two-pack of thick plastic canvas needles.

setting up tote for embroidery

I started by creating a “frame” with painter’s tape, and marked what would be the center point between the handles, and half the depth. Then I put one more piece of tape lengthwise piece across the middle to section off “boxes” for the top word and the bottom.

For the embroidering, I started with the top box and worked from the center out, like I would with a traditional cross-stitch project. Since the weave doesn’t go in a perfectly straight line, I used the tape almost as a ruler to line up the bottom of my stitches. At first, I tried to use a doubled-up piece of six-thread embroidery floss, but even in the brightest shades, it got lost against the thick raffia. I also tried raffia ribbon, which worked fine, but didn’t have the shimmery effect I was hoping for. To get the result I liked, I used a doubled-over piece of 1.5 mm nylon cord.

I sketched out on paper a rough plan of how I wanted the stitched letters to look, then went to work recreating it as I pulled my needle and thread through the raffia braids. Thankfully, I wanted my bag to look like something you would find in a flea market — meaning, not perfectly refined, so I intentionally let the letters be a little jagged. If you want a more polished look, find a smaller braid raffia so that your spacing will be more even and it’ll be easier to line up your stitches (like sewing on linen or Aida cloth).

detail of embroidery tote

When I got to the end of the first word, I knotted the cord in back and trimmed. Then I removed the middle row of tape and repeated the process, although I went with a block font on the line below.

embroidered words on tote

Don’t expect your stitches to go through completely smooth; getting the needle through in some spaces was rough, but I just wiggled the needle until it went in. But be careful how hard you pull — these bags are made of dried, woven grasses, and if you tug too taut, it’s easy to snap a braid, or create a small hole.

To attach the tassels (we used premade, but you can make your own tassels as well), I used approximately two feet of three different skeins of DMC embroidery floss to create a long braided rope with tassels at each end, and a tassel in the middle. I then created a small loop around the handle and pulled all three tassels through to secure it.

Happy beach days!

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