Recycle a leotard into a new dance tote bag
My niece, Jo’s daughter, and one of their friends all joined the same ballet/tap dance class this year. They are having a blast spending time together and learning to dance. On class nights, they have to pack their dance shoes, hair ties, and a snack into a bag to take with them. I decided to help them celebrate their budding ballet skills by making them each a cute little tote bag to carry their stuff. Since the girls had recently outgrown several of their older leotards, I decided to use them as a basis for the bags. This was a great way to recycle the old leotards and give them new life! Jo was especially pleased with her daughter’s bag because it turned a favorite memento into a fun, new, and useful item that her daughter adores.
Gather the supplies
The first thing you’ll need is a sleeveless leotard with an attached skirt. You can re-use one that doesn’t fit your child anymore, or you can buy a new one if you need to. You’ll also need about a yard of fabric in a coordinating color. Because I wanted this bag to be padded and soft but I wanted to save time, I got pre-quilted fabric in a cute gingham check, which worked wonderfully. If you can’t find a quilted fabric in a color you like, you can buy some regular white quilted fabric or a sheets of batting and then just sew the decorative fabric to it with criss-crossed lines.
Finally, you’ll need some ribbon for the handles. I wanted broad, wide, satin handles for these bags, but I couldn’t find any ribbon that I liked. So, I opted instead for some satin blanket binding, which is two inches wide and is ridiculously soft. Since the binding comes folded in half lengthwise, I just sewed the two sides together along the long edge and made a solid, 2″ wide ribbon out of it. You will need two 16″ lengths of whatever ribbon you use (one for each handle). You’ll also need things like scissors, thread, pins, and a sewing machine, but you knew that, right? :)
Cut the leotard
To prepare the leotard for sewing, you need to cut off the panty part. Leave about 2″ of fabric below the edge of the skirt if you can, and cut right above the leg holes. Then cut out the seam at the top of the straps. Be sure to cut on both sides of the seam so that you get rid of all of the bulky fabric where the two sides were sewn together.
Cut the fabric
Fold the fabric in half, wrong sides together, with the folded edge on the left. Place the leotard on top of the fabric and line up the top and left sides with the edge of the fabric. Pin in place. Pin the right side of the leotard in place too, stretching it a little so that it is square. Make sure there is some fabric sticking out past the leotard on the right side. You need the fabric to be a little wider than the leotard to account for the seam allowance. Cut through both layers of fabric, trimming it so that it’s about 1/2″ to 1″ wider (on the right) than the leotard.
Now we need to trim the bottom. Lift the skirt up and out of the way (you don’t want to accidentally cut it!) and look at the 2″ of fabric you left on the leotard earlier when you cut the bottoms off. Trim your padded fabric about 1″ shorter than this. This piece is now fully cut, but don’t unpin it yet.
You’re also going to need another piece of the same fabric to line the other side of the padding. This piece needs to be the same width as the first piece. It can be the same length as well, but it doesn’t have to be — it only has to be long enough to go past the arm holes on the leotard. If you are using padded material, you don’t want this extra piece to be padded because that would make it way too thick. So, just take a seam ripper and quickly remove the threads, releasing the fabric from the batting, and leaving you with a nice piece of gingham.
Note: Your fabric choice is sort of a toss-up… You either start with padded material and have to take it apart for one of the pieces, or you start with regular material and have to apply batting to it for one of the pieces. I’ve done bags both ways (I couldn’t find padded blue fabric), and in my opinion, it’s far easier to start with padded material. The thin nylon thread they use for the factory quilting is really easy to remove — a lot easier than quilting a piece myself.
Pin the handles in place
Since we want our handles to line up exactly with the leotard straps, we need to be careful about pinning them in place. Remove the pin on one strap and carefully slide the handle underneath, lining it up in the same position. The end of the handle should be flush with the top of the fabric. Being careful not to leave any loops in your handle ribbon, secure the other end of the handle directly under the other strap.
Pin the other handle to the flip side of the folded fabric, being sure to line it up with the first handle. Now remove all the pins from the leotard (but keep the handles pinned down) and unfold the fabric, revealing both handles.
Pin the first side of the leotard
Here’s where things start to get tricky, so stay with me. Put the leotard face down on top of the right handle, with the top of the straps lining up with the ends of the handle. Now fold one layer of straps back, so that you are only dealing with the front of the leotard at this point. For each strap, you will carefully remove the pin from the handle, place the strap right on top of the handle, then re-secure all layers together with the pin. Then take your extra un-padded piece of liner fabric and put it face down over top of the leotard, with the top and right edges flush with the padded fabric below. Again you will carefully remove the pins from the strap, put the lining fabric in place, and re-secure with the pin, which will be going through all four layers (padded material, handle, strap, and lining).
Note that we are only addressing one side of this bag at this time. The other side will come later. (Trust me, it’s easier this way.)
To help you see how this step looks, here is a video showing the process:
Sew the first side in place
Now take your fabric to the sewing machine and sew along the top edge, but only sew HALF of it. You’ve only accounted for one side of the bag so far, so you only want to sew one half of it in place. Put your row of stitches about 1/2″ from the top of the fabric, and be sure you sew all four layers together, removing the pins as you go.
Pin the second side of the leotard
Now comes the hardest part of the project, but you’ve come this far already, and I know you can do it! We need to sew the other side of the leotard’s straps to the handles and finish our top seam. First, you might want to take a moment to fold back the lining fabric and the leotard and look at what you’ve done. The bag is starting to take shape, and you can see one of the handles lined up perfectly with the straps. Now fold the leotard back down, so that you are looking at the back of it. You’ve got those two straps now that need to be attached to the left handle. It’s a bit of a reach, but just pull them over and pin them in place, just like you did before. When you’ve got both straps pinned down, take the liner fabric and smooth it over it as best as you can, keeping it flush with the top edge, and secure it in place over the straps.
To illustrate this step, here’s another video, which ought to help immensely!
Sew the second side in place
Take your fabric back to the sewing machine and sew along the rest of the top edge, creating a full seam across the width of the fabric. As before, be sure you sew all four layers together, removing the pins as you go.
Flip the bag and sew the side
Now flip the bag as needed so that it looks just like the picture shown here. You want every part of it to be inside out, from the padded fabric to the liner to the leotard. The handles will be tucked away inside. Bring the sides of the fabric together and pin in place. Sew 1/2″ in from the edge, moving down the padded fabric and the liner, making sure that the leotard is not stuck inside the seam. Once the side is sewn, you can trim the fabric along the seam you just sewed, if needed, then flip the whole thing inside out again, this time ending with the bag looking very close to complete (except the bottom will still be open).
Reinforce the top edge
The top edge of your bag is a little bulky at this point and could use some refining. Take it to the sewing machine and sew about 1/4″ from the edge, all the way around the top, which will secure everything in place and make the top of the bag much more stable. It will also add extra security to the handles. Look at what a difference it makes:
Sew the bottom closed
Now to finish off the edge, which will likely show through the skirt if it’s lightweight, we will take advantage of the extra leotard fabric we left here (it was one inch longer than the padded material, if you recall). Fold the edges of the stretchy leotard fabric in and pin it in place. I find the sewing machine doesn’t do very well for me on this stretch material, so I sew this last bit closed by hand, using a slip stitch.
The finished product
Here is my finished bag in pink and another one I made in blue. Aren’t they adorable? If you would like a bag like this but are not convinced that you can sew it yourself, we may be able to create a custom one for you. Drop us an e-mail to request a quote and discuss customization options.