DIY Anthro-Style Stenciled Tote Bag

Lately I’ve been drawn  to casual tote bags with a mix of patterns and colors on them. Like these from Anthropologie:

Anthropologie Border Patterned Tote Bags -- Make a DIY Bag Like These

If you want to see more like these, I’ve pinned a bunch more patterned tote bags here from Anthro, Free People, Calypso St. Barth, Accessorize, etc.

What I see when I look at these bags is mix ‘n matched combos of border patterns. Like border patterns from stencils. Thus, you could paint a bag with stencils. Right? And so I did.

You can find blank cotton tote bags in different sizes at craft stores like JoAnn and Hobby Lobby. From the selection in my local stores, I found Hobby Lobby carries slightly thicker tote bags than JoAnn. Dharma Trading also sells them online. They’re usually available in white, beige and black.

Tote Bag Blanks

You will need to iron the tote bag before painting on it. In the photo above, the bag in the front is a tote bag directly from the package; I ironed the one in the back.

I chose a mix of stencils from my collection from Royal Design Studio. I think a good “formula” for some visual variety is to 1.) mix rounded shapes with straight-edged shapes, and 2.) mix larger shapes with smaller shapes. Here you can see the finished stenciled tote bag and how I mixed patterns:

DIY Anthro-Style Patterned Tote Bag with Stencils

To create this bag, I “built” the design from the bottom-up, starting with a dark gray color pattern on the bottom. I used Chalk Paint® by Annie Sloan in Graphite for this color:

DIY Anthro-Style Patterned Tote Bag

When you want to create a line to “cut off” a larger pattern, as I needed to do with this one, just put painter’s tape on the stencil:

Making a DIY Anthropologie-Style Tote Bag

As you can see above, I used a different kind of paint – Benjamin Moore latex – for the light gray pattern. If you like a Benjamin Moore color, the sample pots of their paints are great for getting the small quantities you’d use for crafts.

Next I painted a red pattern with Royal Design Studio Stencil Creme in Renaissance Red. These paints have a little shimmer to them which really brings the color to life.

Painting Stencil Patterns on Tote Bag

Then I painted another row of light gray paint in a different small border pattern.

The final row at the top of the bag is solid Graphite.

You may notice the original tote bag “blanks” had cotton canvas handles. But I wanted to dress the tote bag up, so I cut those handles off and replaced them with long cross-body handles in black faux leather.

DIY Stenciled Tote Bag Anthropologie-Style

Here I am wearing it around the kitchen after finishing it! The tassel bundle is another DIY. I shared the how-to for that here.

Finished DIY Stenciled and Tasseled Tote Bag

I was so thrilled with this stenciled tote bag, I wore it around the house all night. Then I just had to wear it to work the next day, to carry all my fruits and veggies in it (so it’s a great farmers market bag). I got stopped that day by colleagues who wanted to order this for themselves and as gifts for family! So … you can paint this yourself, or you can order it made for you — I’ve set up an Etsy shop with this tote bag in it. More patterned bag  styles will be coming!

DIY Tassel Bundle in Two Easy Steps

I recently wrote about how tribal tassels are so boho chic right now. I’ve wanted to dangle tassels off a tote bag handle à la “Anthropologie style:”

Anthropologie Tote Bags with Tassels

But where do you buy a tassel bundle? I’m not sure you can? It’s easy to find single tassels, but a bundle of them? An obvious solution is to make DIY tassel bundles! It’s super easy. Here’s mine:

Tassel Bundle on Tote Bag

Here’s the supplies to gather if you want a tassel bundle like mine. Of course you can use your creativity and go off this beaten path and make your own unique tassel bundle with different materials.

Supplies to Make DIY Tassel Bundle


  • Three tassels – I chose one large and two small tassels in black and red. Found at Joann near the upholstery section, in the trimmings aisle with rope/cording and tassels. These trimmings are usually put on pillows, curtains and curtain tie-backs but let’s use them for something else!
  • Little tassels of beads hanging on ribbon – Found at Joann in the trimmings aisle near the upholstery section
  • Beads with wide holes – Found at Joann in the jewelry-making aisle
  • Key ring – Found at Joann or Hobby Lobby in the jewelry-making aisle

That’s it! Simple supplies.

There’s a red and black claw or tooth shape thing in the supplies photos that I didn’t use — it added too much weight. But it’s cool-lookin’ so I’ll do something else with it.

Supplies to Make DIY Tassel Bundle

How to Make It

Step 1. First string a few beads onto the long string loop for each tassel. I used a mix of silver and gold beads. You could also use wood beads or glass beads. Just make sure the beads have wide holes. You need holes wide enough to thread the thicker string through, as you can see here.

Thread Beads on Tassel Loops

The beads (whatever material you choose) add a contrasting element to the tassels so you don’t have just plain tassels hanging down. This little addition makes a big difference visually.

Leave a little loop sticking out from the beads:

Beads Threaded on Tassel Loops

Step 2. String the various tassels, charms, etc. onto the the key ring.

How to Make a DIY Tassel Bundle

You’re done! That’s it!

My key ring had a flip-open feature that made it easier to put the tassels on it:

Loading Tassels on Keyring

I think if you choose five elements to hang on the key ring, you’ll have a nice bundle. It could be five tassels. It could be a combo of tassels and beads threaded on yarn. You could hang charms. Or if you can find beaded tassels, as I lucked out to find in my bundle’s colors, grab them! Those beads will beef up the boho style.

Bohemian Tassels

So after you made this thing, what do you do with a tassel bundle? You can hang it from a cabinet knob or handle. Like these tassels shown by The Southern:

Hang Tassels from Cabinet Knobs and Handles

You can hang it from a doorknob. Like this tassel Slim Paley photographed at the Royal Mansour in Marrakech:

Tassels at the Royal Mansour in Marrakech by Slim Paley

You can hang it on a handbag handle. Like my tassel hanging on a tote bag I stenciled:

Tassel Bundle on Tote Bag

That painted stenciled tote bag is the next post!

A Fortune of Fortuny

There’s a fortune of Fortuny for sale over at One Kings Lane. Like, the fabric-covered cabinet shown here is over $12K. So although I won’t be partaking in it, it’s free to look. Such luscious and elegant textiles! Here are my favorites:

Fortuny Fabric Favorites

If you like Fortuny, you can find remnants on eBay, did you know? There’s nearly always someone selling left-over remnants there. They’re pretty affordable. You can frame them, make small pillows or piece them with other remnants into larger pillows, or make little handbags.

Painting Otomi Patterns

Otomi is a folk art pattern that’s embroidered in bright colors by the Otomi people in Mexico. To learn more and see lots of colorful examples of it, visit a great article about Otomi at Paint + Pattern. And here’s a few ideas of how and where to use Otomi textiles:

How and Where to Use Otomi

Sources: Design*Sponge headboard (Grace Bonney seems to have gone on an epic search for Otomi back in 2006 but nowadays it’s very available as you can see), Stray Dog Designs pendant lamp, Joss & Main table lamp, Land of Nod pillow, Marshall Watson Interiors bed throw

The above examples are all embroidered and embroidered Otomi can get quite pricey.

Did you know you can paint an Otomi pattern yourself with stencils? You can use an Otomi stencil to paint a table runner or even paint an entire small table, like this inexpensive Ikea table that was painted with stencils (see the whole story and how-to here):

Ikea Table Painted with Otomi Stencil
This is why I love stencils. I unfortunately don’t have the skill to draw or paint a pattern “from scratch.” But I can take things that already exist and put them together. And so can you! Stencils make it really easy to do that. For example in the photo above of the little Ikea table, you just 1.) look for stencil patterns that would fit on the table top, sides and legs and then 2.) paint them which is so easy to do.

So I had the idea to put Otomi pattern on tote bags for totin’ to the summer farmers markets. With the color and joyful dancing patterns, doesn’t this feel summery? I used Royal Design Studio’s Otomi stencil — the same one used on the table above — in the smaller size. And here’s the final result — a colorful tote bag that I created for an article at Paint + Pattern blogzine about how to DIY a bag like this:

DIY Stenciled Otomi Tote Bag Featured at Paint and Pattern Blogzine

Seriously, this was so fun to paint, I made two in different colors!

Stenciled DIY Otomi Tote Bags via Paint and Pattern

All the how-to steps and supplies to make this are in my article over at Paint + Pattern — check it out!

If you like the embroidered examples above — the headboard, lamps, pillow and bed throw — you can paint fabric to turn in to these things. And when you paint, you can choose whatever color you want.

You might have noticed I’ve done a lot of stencil projects lately. And there’s a reason for that. With stencils it’s so easy to get a really impactful look that looks like it took a lot more effort than it really did. Of course when you’re painting there’s some preparation time (I even pre-washed and ironed the tote bags to avoid shrinkage later), and you get a better result when you paint slower rather than faster. But would you be able to create this Otomi pattern yourself? Most likely not. And if you tried, it would take a ton of time. With a stencil, the pattern is already done for you. So that’s what I mean about getting a lot of impact for the time you put into a project.

This blog might make it look like I have unlimited time to do DIYs and write about decor, but I really don’t. I have a full-time job, a Chicago-style commute, a house that needs work, and in the spring/summer a big property that needs attention so it’s not over-run with out-of-control plants. Plus, you know, we do fun stuff not just house stuff too!

But I think this just proves my point — the reason I love stencils is you can get a stylish and satisfying project done that looks like it took a lot more to do it than it really did!

DIY Chinese Chair Makeover with Leopard Print Suede & Paperclay

For a recent Throwback Thursday post, I shared a story about the time the wrong chairs were shipped to us from Thailand. Why would we go furniture shopping in Thailand and risk such things? Because we love style from Asia: Thai, Burmese, Chinese, Japanese. They have it all there in a village called Baan Tawai. A woman working in a very upscale mall in Bangkok actually told us about Baan Tawai. We must have looked shocked at the prices of antiques in her store, because she told us: “Go to Baan Tawai. Looks like this but new. Cheap-cheap-cheap.” So to Baan Tawai we went. (And from now on forevermore, whenever we talk about something cheap, we have to say three times, “cheap-cheap-cheap.)

These are crates of furniture from Thailand that arrived in our garage eight years ago:

When we opened them, we were thrilled with nearly everything, except two Chinese style chairs we expected weren’t there. The chairs we received had interesting features:

  • Grapevine carvings on the backrest
  • Thick sticky yellowed plastic cushions

If you sat on the cushions with bare legs on a hot day, the plastic made you sweat and the cushions would stick to you when you stood up. Nice!

You might ask, why not ship them back? Each chair was fifty bucks. Not worth the cost to ship them around the planet again. And because I could do a makeover, we didn’t want to quarrel about a refund. It was our mistake to not give the shipping consolidator a better description of our purchase. Lesson learned! Mark your purchases and give pictures to the shipper.

STEP 1:  Spray paint the chairs black

Pretty self explanatory! Good thing, because there are no photos of the spray painting. Which also means there are no “before” pics. This was so long ago, it was before this blog and the obsessive photographing of everything that happens when you blog.

STEP 2: Recover the cushions

Remove the sticky plastic from the cushions and recover them with leopard patterned suede. Yeah!!! While you might not think of “leopard” and “Chinese chair” in the same sentence any more than you’d think “grapevine” and “Chinese chair,” I’m likin’ the leopard. So does Chaai the Crafty Cat and because he supervises every DIY here, he has lots of experience to know these things.

Leopard Print Suede Cushion on a Chinese Chair

STEP 3: First attempt to hide grapevines

Recovering the cushions was a big improvement. But the grapevine carvings still had to go. The backs of the chairs are curved, so I struggled with how to fix this area.

Curved Back of Chinese Chair

The first attempt to fix it, when I started writing this post way back in September 2011 (!!!), was to “upholster” the carved area with orange tiger striped suede.

I thought the leopard and tiger combo would make a cool “Chinese safari” effect. And for sure, I’d strike design fame and fortune with this innovative style mash-up!

Instead it looked just like what it was — tiger striped rectangles taped on the back of a chair, trying desperately to hide something. I could only imagine what HGTV Design Star judges would say about this tiger print band-aid:

Chinese Safari Style Fail

Then during an insomnia-fueled brainstorm — because the most creative problem-solving happens for me at 2 a.m. – it hit. Sculpey! Why not fill the carvings with Sculpey? Then sand it smooth? I probably saw something Sculpey’d on Pinterest a few hours before that. That’s how this subconscious problem-solving works, you know.

So I sought out the Sculpey, and then found it must be oven-dried. Hmmm. I don’t know much about Sculpey but one thing I do know:  These chairs aren’t going in the oven.

Thankfully nearby there was this stuff called Paperclay with magic words on the package: air dry. Really? I gave it a try …


STEP 4.  Paperclay smooshing

I smoooooshed Paperclay into all the nooks and crannies of the grapevines:

Paperclay Fill In

I Googled Paperclay and found you can sand it and sculpt it after it dries. So I didn’t worry about making it perfectly smooth yet. Just smoooooosh it in there.

Let it dry overnight. I couldn’t get back to the chairs for a week. That’s fine. The Paperclay was dry. I sanded with a block. I don’t know the grit, but it was a coarser sanding block.

Sanding made a mess. If you sand this stuff, be forewarned.

Sanding Mess

After sanding the Paperclay, there was still a lot of unevenness. See:

Filling In with Paperclay

While Googling, I found Paperclay can shrink and crack a bit while drying. No worries. You just smooooooooosh some fresh wet Paperclay in any cracks or uneven areas, and let that dry. It will stick to the first layer of Paperclay. Then sand it again:

Second Sanding Round with Paperclay

Paperclay Filling in Furniture

You can see after this second round of smooshing and sanding, the finish is more even.

STEP 5. Paint the chairs black again

I’m not 100% happy with the finish. Ideally the “Paperclayed” area should be so smooth, it looks like nothing was ever carved in the wood. I don’t know if I’ll achieve that perfectionistic ideal. Now that we have a decent orbital sander with a vacuum, I might do another round of filling and sanding.

Also the Paperclay absorbs more paint than the finished wood around it. It probably needs to be sealed so you don’t get this weird two-tone effect:

DIY Difficulty

So what did I do to fix it? This:

Naga Throw on Chinese Chair

STEP 6. Throw textiles over the backs

Isn’t it easier to hide a mess than to fix it? Of course! Yes as a child I was the kid who, when mom told us to clean our room, I shoved my toys under the bed and called it clean. Some things never change. So, I draped some throws over the chairs:

  • A throw from Nagaland, found at The Loaded Trunk (she still has a few!)
  • A woven and beaded skirt from a tribe that lives in Laos and Vietnam, found at Arastan which was a store in Bangalore, India

Global Style in Our House

Chinese Chairs

The rug is silk (so luxurious for your feet!) that my husband got at auction many years ago. Back in the ’90s before we even met. The curtains behind the chairs are damask print curtains from Target. The things hanging on the walls are carved wooden combs found in India, and I DIY’d cute little museum style display shelves for them.

To round out this global style corner, I’m on the hunt for a small side table to put between the chairs. I can see a little Syrian/Moroccan/Indian inlay table here, something with some pattern on it.

#tbt Story: When the Wrong Chair is Shipped from Thailand

Beyonce actually has some great advice for travelers shipping things home. Similar to “If you like it, put a ring on it,” I’d say “If you like it, put your name on it.” That’s what we should have done with these chairs:

Chinese Chairs

They were spotted as we rounded a corner in Baan Tawai, Thailand, a crafts and furniture-making village south of Chiang Mai. I was driving, and driving on the “wrong side of the road” for an American so it took all my mental resources to not crash into anything. So my husband was the spotter. And he spotted these chairs in a showroom open to the street. “STOP!” he yells. “SCREECH!” I almost went. But no, I was already driving really slow because you have to drive super slow in those skinny gravelly road lanes. We glided into the nearest parking spot (also skinny gravelly spot) and ran to claim the Chinese chairs – the very Chinese chairs that were on our short list of “things to find.” We had been driving out of Baan Tawai for the last time before heading to the Chiang Mai airport. The chairs would cost a heckuva lot more back in the States, so we were happy to score a great look cheap-cheap-cheap.

The chairs would have made a marriage made in design heaven with our dining room table. Our table is a six-seater with only four chairs. We thought two of these Chinese chairs (repro not antique) would be perfect at the ends of the dining table, finally making six seats.

Chinese Chair Found in Baan Tawai Thailand

The patina and color on the chairs was perfect.

But. It was not to be.

We didn’t put our name on them.

Some weeks later, crates were delivered to our house  near Chicago. Thankfully all other furniture was correct. But the chairs from this little shop on the edge of a dusty lane – so close that the road dust settled on the chairs , you can see it in the photos – well, the chairs were not the chairs we saw.

I don’t even have “before” photos of the chairs. I think my husband deleted them, they were so ugly, he probably thought “why keep these photos?” They were yellow honey color. They had grape vines engraved on the backrest. Grape vines on a Chinese style chair? They had plastic-covered pastel flowery cushions that were horrifically sticky. Seriously, so sticky that when I sat on a chair in shorts, the cushion was still stuck to the back of my legs when I stood up. And it hurt when I peeled the cushion off.

It’s maybe eight years later now. Our dining room table still has only four chairs.

I did salvage the Chinese chairs and will show in the next post a corner of our home with the made-over Chinese chairs.

Falling Down the Pinterest Rabbit Hole

So yesterday I re-posted this door as part of a post about Moroccan zellij pattern tiles:

Vogue Living Inspiration Photo

If you’ve followed along here for awhile, this is not the first time you’ve seen this photo. I shared it as far back as three years ago when we first started planning how to decorate an apartment in South India. This is “the” inspiration photo for our master bedroom there. It’s from a 2008 or 2009 issue of Australian Vogue Living.

Only a few hours after I hit “publish” on yesterday’s post, I trip over this pin on Pinterest. Which I’ve pinned before, but apparently forgot.

Indian Inlaid Doors on Pinterest

Hmmm. Something there look familiar?

These doors were once available on eBay Australia?! Turns out, they are not zellij tile even though they look like it from a distance. Or if you have bad eyes as I do. They are mother of pearl. As you can see in this close-up photo around the handles:

Mother of Pearl Doors

Maybe only by falling down the Pinterest rabbit hole of pictures can you get so close to a visual figment of your imagination that you’ve obsessed about for years.

Through a Pinterest link to Remodelista, I discover that Sibella Court featured the above image with the handles in her book, Nomad: A Global Approach to Interior Style. As the original image appeared in Australian Vogue Living, I wonder if she was involved in the styling. According to Anne Sage of The City Sage blog, this was a styled shoot for product, not a scene in someone’s house.

This could be called “research.”

Or it could be called “too much time on Pinterest.”