Burlap Tote Bags 101: Everything To Know + Tutorial

Burlap is a coarse, woven fabric that comes from the jute plant. This eco-friendly material is durable and much more affordable than many other fabrics, making it an excellent choice for things like reusable shopping bags and totes. 

If you're looking for a fun and easy DIY project, there are tons of great jute burlap tote bag designs out there for you to try. But, before you jump into your next DIY, here's a quick rundown of everything you need to know about burlap tote bags; let's jump in. 

Why is Burlap Good for Tote Bags?

If you look at your own collection of tote bags, chances are you'll find your bags are made of cotton or canvas. If most tote bags seem to be made of cotton fabrics, what makes burlap a good alternative? 

If you're concerned about your eco-footprint, natural jute is one of the most eco-friendly materials, and it produces a durable product similar to cotton. While burlap tends to have more of an open weave when compared to cotton, this allows the bag to breathe and dry quickly if it becomes wet. This is especially useful when using burlap for grocery and produce bags.

Burlap, especially with a tighter weave, is great for customizing. It's just as good as cotton, in most cases, for heat transfers and screen printing. Many also choose jute fabrics for cross-stitch and embroidery. 

Pros and Cons of Burlap, Canvas and Cotton Tote Bags

Some of the most common materials for tote bags, grocery bags, and beach bags are cotton, canvas and burlap. Each of these fabrics has its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to being used for bags so let's take a look and compare these everyday materials. 

Canvas (or Cotton Canvas)

When we think of tote bags, canvas, also called cotton canvas, is one of the most common materials used. Canvas is a plain weave cotton material designed for more heavy-duty uses such as tents, bags and industrial usage. 


  • Lightweight.
  • Highly durable and resistant to regular wear and tear.
  • When cared for, it can last years.
  • Great base for a variety of printing and transfer methods.
  • It can be embroidered, but its thickness may be better suited for machine embroidery. 
  • Comes in an endless array of colours and can be dyed. 
  • Easy to wash and dry.


  • Canvas is not sustainably produced, especially in smaller batches.
  • More expensive.


Cotton is a fabric we're all familiar with and is great for a wide range of uses, from clothing to bedlinen and more. In addition, cotton itself is a renewable resource which makes it a great eco-friendly option for any number of your DIY and crafting projects. 


  • Hypo-allergenic
  • A renewable resource, recyclable and environmentally friendly. 
  • Easy to wash and dry.
  • The smooth, soft texture is great for customizing with fabric printing, transfers, embroidery and more. 
  • Sturdy and durable.
  • Variety of colours and easy to dye. 


  • Cotton, especially for tote bags, varies in thickness - thinner cotton is more suited to lighter items like clothes, a few books, lighter groceries and supplies, etc. 
  • While cotton is easy to wash and dry, follow instructions outlined on your products as some kinds of cotton can shrink. 

Burlap (or Jute, Hessian, Natural Jute)

Burlap may not be as popular as cotton or canvas but has gained notoriety in recent years as people transition to wanting to be more eco-conscious. Created sustainably from the jute plant, burlap is a coarse fabric that can have a tight or more open weave depending on the use. 


  • Jute is sustainably produced and maintained, and the production of burlap has a low eco-footprint. 
  • Strong and resilient, it can handle regular wear and tear.
  • Affordable.
  • Reusable, recyclable and even biodegradable (without printing or transfers).
  • Dries quickly.


  • Typically comes in one "natural jute" colour -a brownish, tan - but can occasionally be found in other colours. 
  • Does not last as long as cotton and canvas in most applications. 
  • Highly detailed printing may not transfer well due to the coarse texture and weave. 
  • Not easy to clean and maintain. 

Types of Bags to Make With Burlap

Tote bags are a popular style of bag, especially for DIY projects, as they're easy to make and can be used in various ways. However, with a few minor changes, you can make a range of different burlap bags - let's take a look.

Reusable Grocery Bags

Reusable grocery/shopping bags are some of the easiest bags you can make yourself. Very similar to a tote bag, you can make burlap grocery bags in a range of sizes to fit your regular shopping habits. 

Keep it plain and simple with two pieces of burlap sewn together with a handle at the top, or get creative! For example, add a sturdy base and side gussets so your bag can stand on its own, or add snaps to keep the bag closed - the options are endless.

Beach Bags

Beach bags are often the same style as a tote bag but tend to be extra-large and have additional pockets and a zipper closure to keep out sand. When using burlap for beach bags, you want to go with a tighter weave to avoid any unwanted sand getting into your bag. 

Burlap can make a great beach bag. The fabric dries quickly and easily and is very breathable, so throwing your wet bathing suit or towel in your bag won't leave you with a soaking damp tote. 

Drawstring Bags

Drawstring bags are some of the most basic and easy-to-make bags that can be used for tons of things. These simple bags are typically made by sewing two pieces of burlap together and creating a small pocket around the top of the bag to thread a string through to pull the bag closed.

These types of bags can be used as produce bags, gift bags, party favor bags, wine bags, to hold wedding favors, etc. In addition, larger drawstring jute tote bags can be made into backpacks by adding rope handles. 

This is an example of a bag with a drawstring.

This is an example of a bag with a drawstring handle. 

Tote Bags

As we've discussed, Tote bags are one of the most popular styles of bags - burlap tote bags, canvas tote bags, and cotton tote bags are all readily available. They range from simple designs similar to grocery bags to more high-quality bags made from sturdier weaves or with additional features like cotton handles, front pockets, cotton linings, and more. 

It's easy to take a basic burlap tote bag DIY and customize it to suit your needs and style. 

You can add a cotton handle to your tote bag.

You can add a cotton handle to your tote bag.

Gift Bags

If you're looking to take a more eco-friendly approach to gifting - making burlap gift bags is an excellent alternative to wrapping paper and traditional gift bags. You can make burlap gift bags in tons of different styles, from drawstring bags to small gift tote bags or customize them to the gift, such as creating a longer wine bag. 

Burlap gift bags can be recycled, reused or in some places composted.

DIY Burlap Tote Bag

If you're interested in creating your own DIY tote bag, there are tons of patterns available on Pinterest or crafting blogs. So do some searching to find a style that suits you and your crafting abilities, and don't be scared to customize! 

If you're looking for a basic DIY Burlap Tote Bag, here's a quick and easy pattern:

Quick & Easy Burlap Tote Bag

You will need:

  • One metre burlap material.
  • Interfacing.
  • Cotton (for cotton lining).
  • Needle and thread or sewing machine.
  • Scissors.
  • Ruler or measuring device.



  1. Measure out your burlap. You should have the following:

    • Base - 12 cm x 32 cm. Also, measure out interfacing and cotton lining to match.
    • Sides (x2) - 42 cm x 40 cm.
    • Handle (x2) - 70 cm x 6 cm.
  1. Pin your base with burlap on the bottom, interfacing in the middle and cotton on top.
  2. Pin your sides along the long edge of your base (cotton facing up) - make sure your base is center to the side piece of burlap - there will be extra to either side. 
  3. Sew the side piece to the base leaving the extra fabric on either side unsewn. 
  4. Pin and sew the extra burlap along the shorter side of the base (wrap it around, it'll reach about halfway). 
  5. Repeat with the other side.
  6. With your two sides sewn to the base, pin your sides so that they meet. Sew up the side of your bad leaving the top open. 
  7. Turn the bag outside in, and iron seams flat if necessary.
  8. Fold both your handle pieces in half lengthwise and sew.
  9. Place the handles where you'd like them on the bag and sew them in place.

Ways to Customize:

This is a very simple burlap tote bag, but you can easily customize it to your taste with any of the following:

  • Leather handles.
  • Laminated interior.
  • Full cotton lining.
  • Customize the size for the perfect market tote bag or beach bag.
  • Rope handles.
  • Cotton handles.
  • Pins and badges.
  • Sew scrap pieces of patterned fabric to the front for a custom design. 
  • Heat transfers.


If you're looking to be a bit more environmentally friendly and switch to reusable totes for shopping, or you want to use a more sustainable fabric in your crafting, burlap is the perfect alternative for tote bags. This affordable fabric is versatile and great for everything from reusable shopping bags to gift bags or drawstring produce bags. There's tons of great inspiration out there on how you can incorporate burlap into your projects!