Condo Blues: How to Machine Embroider a Canvas Tote Bag

Monday, November 8, 2021

How to Machine Embroider a Canvas Tote Bag

Normally when I machine embroider something, I embroider the design on uncut fabric, layout and cut the pattern piece on the embroidered fabric, and sew it into the final project for perfect placement.

Which is what I planned on doing when I popped down to the fabric store for supplies to make personalized tote bags as a thank you gift for two friends who did huge favors for me, even though I was short on time to both sew and embroider the bags from scratch.

Luckily when I zipped through the Circuit section of the store on my way to the fabric I saw this exact lined blank canvas tote bag for sale.

The bag is super cute and has a nice big area to machine embroider a name. Best of all I didn’t have to decide on fabric (which always takes me forever because I must look at every bolt available in the store every single time) or a pattern, and would save time in the construction department. Not to mention, the ready made blank fabric tote bag probably cost less than buying all of the materials to make the exact same thing.

The only thing that made me pause is thinking, how to I embroider a store bought tote bag without taking it apart? 


handmade gift idea how to embroider a tote bag
Save this handmade gift idea tutorial to your Pinterest boards for later! Share it with your friends!


Easy! You float the tote bag  fabric on top of the hooped embroidery stabilizer instead of trying and failing to smash it all in between the hoops.

How to Float Fabric on the Hoop for Machine Embroidering

When you want to float fabric on a machine embroidery hoop, you only put the  stabilizer in the hoop and then attach the fabric on top of the stabilizer.  

The key is to make sure the fabric is still  tightly attached to the stabilizer underneath  and has no possible way of shifting while the machine is harking and jerking the hoop while it is embroidering the design.

how to make a personalized embroidered tote bag
Hoop! There it is!


There are several ways you can float heavy or delicate fabrics, ready made garments, and objects on a machine embroidery hoop.

1. Tightly hoop adhesive stabilizer with the protective layer facing the sewing machine. Lightly score an X in the top of the protective top sheet, remove it. and stick the fabric you want to embroider to the stabilizer.

Personally I don’t use this method often because the needle on both of my sewing and embroidery machines gets so sticky with adhesive during the embroidery process, it fails spectacularly.

2. Tightly hoop the stabilizer and cover it with a light coat of spray adhesive and stick the fabric you want to embroider to the stabilizer.

In this case, the canvas fabric is too heavy to stay in place using only fabric spray adhesive. I like to use the spray adhesive method to tack the item to the stabilizer I have in the hoop for placement purposes and to make sure everything stays put when I attached the hoop to the embroidery machine arm. Then I make sure the fabric is tightly attached to the stabilizer using Methods 3 and 4.

3. Tightly hoop the stabilizer. Use straight pins to pin the tote bag to the stabilizer that is hooped. Make sure you don’t place pins in the embroidery area unless you like replacing broken sewing machine needles.

4. If your sewing or embroidery machine has a basting box option, you can  tightly hoop the stabilizer and place the fabric you want to embroider on top of the stabilizer. Use a basting stitch outside of the embroidery area to temporarily sew the fabric to the stabilizer before machine embroidering it.

My Bernette embroidery machine likes tear away stabilizer the best but it sometimes can loosen up during the machine embroidery process no matter how tight I hoop it. To make triple dog dare sure the tote bag stayed put:

- I tacked the open canvas bag to the hooped stabilizer first and attached the hoop to the embroidery arm. This way I can easily check that everything lines up and the machine will embroider the design where I want it to go on the tote.

- I pinned the tote bag to the stabilizer on all four corners of the hoop and outside the embroidery design area.

- Lastly, I used the basting box function on my Bernette to temporarily baste the tote bag to the hooped stabilizer. The basting box is also a good tool for double checking that the machine will embroider the design in the area on the tote bag that you want.

You might think that is overkill, but in my experience most of my machine embroidery failures are either not  hooping the fabric as tight as I thought or the fabric loosing in the hoop as the machine is embroidering the design – especially if the design has a lot of fill in stitches like name files I created.


how to hoop a tote bag for sewing machine embroidery
This is how the tightly hooped tear away stabilizer slightly loosened while my sewing machine embroidered it. The design came out perfectly because I took the time and consideration to hoop the stabilizer tightly and float the fabric correctly

Once the machine finished embroidering, I removed the basting box stiches with a seam ripper and trimmed the stabilizer from the back of the tote bag as needed.

Then I thanked my friends with a personalized tote bag gift!

how to embroider a personalized tote bag
Both ladies liked their surprise thank you gift!


Rather buy than DIY? Check out the following personalized, blank, and embroidered tote bags and kits - and more! - below!

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