Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tutorial - DIY Aztec Print Tote Bag

It appears Aztec and Navajo prints are going to stick around for awhile - which is plenty fine by me, I love their sharp geometrical angles, especially when paired with bright punchy colours. 

As the trend continues to grow, moving from fashion to home goods, accessories, and even manicures, I decided it was time I had a little Aztec in my life. I decided to incorporate the print into a DIY project, preferring to stay away from the shops to save my pennies for travel, utilizing a stencil to keep the edges crisp and straight. 

To make one of your very own, here are the materials you'll need:
  • Transparent paper (to make the stencil)
  • Thin tip permanent marker
  • Exacto knife
  • Any pattern, print, or silhouette 
  • Scotch tape
  • Acrylic paint
  • Sponge paint brushes
  • Canvas tote bag
  • Cardboard
  • Plastic plate

To start, we need to make the stencil for our pattern. Although I chose to go with an Aztec print, the options really are endless and I've got a few more ideas in the works that I hope to try soon. I found a print I liked online and printed it out, scaled to fit on an 8x11 piece of paper. With some decent ruler skills you could also draw up your own pattern on some grid paper. 

Stencil materials - I used a pop flat to cut on but a cutting mat would be much better

The transparent folders I bought from Staples called Poly Project Pockets worked great

Taking the pattern, attach it to your transparent paper and trace over the pattern with your marker. I found transparent folders that had a good thickness - thin enough to cut through but thick enough to hold up - a five pack was on sale for $6, and I was able to cut them open, doubling what I have to work with (cutting my cost/stencil to 0.60 cents) . 

The transparent paper after tracing my pattern

Cutting open the folder

Once the pattern is transferred, remove the original paper copy and then, working on a piece of cardboard to protect your table, carefully cut out the pattern using your exacto knife. 

Cutting out the pattern is tedious but you want to do a good job to ensure you get a quality stencil

Now that the stencil is created, we can move onto painting - the fun part!

Slide a piece of cardboard into the tote bag to prevent any paint from bleeding through and place a small amount of paint onto the plastic plate. Layout your stencil and secure it to the canvas with the Scotch tape.

My canvas tote bag was a bit wrinkled so I ironed it first to ensure it would lay flat. 

Lay out the stencil and secure it with tape

Using one colour at a time, apply the paint with the sponge brush in a dabbing motion. To avoid bleeding, keep the brush vertical, dabbing up and down, and only apply a small amount of paint to the brush at one time.

I found it was also helpful to tape off the sections of the stencil I didn't want to paint - because my stencil was more on the intricate side with small gaps between the shapes, I didn't want to accidentally "spill" paint over the edges of the stencil.

You can see the tape covering sections of the stencil to avoid accidents

Apply the paint one colour at a time, letting it dry in between

Between colours it's a good idea to allow the paint to dry for 5-10 minutes - remove the stencil to avoid any smudging.   

Once the pattern is complete let the entire bag dry overnight before putting it to use. As far as cleanup is concerned, it was a breeze. I simply peeled the tape off the stencil and wiped it down with a damp paper towel so I can use it again and washed out my foam brushes.

Once the painting is done remove the stencil and let it dry

I tried to think ahead when applying the paint to avoid having too much of one colour in a single area

This craft smart paint is from Michaels - I used Dark Yellow, Spearmint, Turquoise, Grape Taffy, and Hot Pink

I'm extremely happy with how my tote bag turned out, the colours are perfect for summer and the lines are quite crisp with very little bleeding. The project took about 6 hours total, which depends significantly on the complexity of your stencil. Initially I thought this tote would be the perfect size to hold my knitting projects; however, now I think it's too cute to keep stored away at home. 

The finished product!


  1. Nicely done! Thanks for sharing! Love the colours.

  2. Nice job! :) I wonder if you could share the print itself as well because I really like it but can't find on the internet :(