DIY Skull and Crossbones Tote

It is easy to make your own skull and crossbones trick-or-treat tote! (photos by Bob Farley)

Halloween is a fun holiday but the merchandising can get over-hyped. The way that cheap plastic stuff is marketed, sold, and later discarded drives me crazy. Buy it here, buy it there. Throw it away everywhere. I want the costume, the Jack O’ Lantern, the candy bag, and of course I want the candy. I want to participate in the fun, I just don’t want to feel guilty about the waste of it all. Thankfully, there are do-it-yourself alternatives. Instead of buying a costume, make one. Don’t buy a plastic pumpkin, carve one. And rather than buy a candy bag, sew one! Start with this skull-and-crossbones DIY trick-or-treat bag.

The idea here is to make something that will last and that your child can use over and over again. If you make a tote with a skull and crossbones on it instead of a pumpkin or a ghost, they’ll be able to use the bag throughout the year — for sleepovers, for traveling, as a book bag, a lunch tote, or as a summer camp bag.

Skull Embellishment Tip: You can drive yourself crazy trying to match an idea in your mind’s eye so don’t get bogged down in the details up front. Look through leftover fabric scraps, see what you have, and let something jump out. If a color theme starts to develop, make a stack. Then go through again and look for something you can use for eyes, nose or mouth. It could be dots, flowers, triangles, a squiggly pattern, etc. Pick something out and go from there. You may have to look through your stacks several times before something grabs you, but be patient. Creativity cannot be rushed!

Here I used leftover scraps for my embellishments. The owl eyes are perfect for skull eyes, the trees for the nose, and the body of another owl makes perfect skull teeth. I’m going to give this guy a grill.

How-To Tip: Click in the corners of the how-to photos to bring up a gallery where you can view the instructional images up close.


Step 1

 Open GalleryGather materials. You’ll need a good heavy-duty cotton, something that can be thrown in the wash many times. Find a template or design your own skull and crossbones pattern. Use natural canvas for the applique and pick fun fabric scraps to embellish the skull. If you have a favorite shirt with a tear in it and you are having trouble throwing it out, use it here for accent trim. For the tote handle, a webbing belt works well. It is sturdy and will hold up over time.

Step 2

 Open GalleryCut out all of the pieces for the tote. For the body of the tote, you’ll need two 12″ x 16″ panels for the front and back, two 5″ x 16″ panels for the sides, two 2″ x 12″ trim pieces for front and back panels, and two 2″ x 5″  trim pieces for the sides. Cut out the skull and crossbones and the embellishment pieces. Cut the webbing belt to desired length by cutting off the buckle and the end. Do not worry about serging (overlocking the unfinished edges) the tote panels. You’ll finish off the edges when you sew the panels together.

Step 3

 Open GallerySew on the applique. Arrange the crossbones and the skull on one of the front/back panels and pin in place. Using a zigzag stitch set at 1.5 stitch length, sew around the perimeter of the skull and crossbones. There will be unstitched gaps left on the skull in front of the crossbones at the intersections, so you may stitch around the skull twice to cover all edges. Use a contrasting thread to help define lines. Embellish the skull with whimsical eyes, nose and mouth. It is a little more tedious and challenging to round the corners and to work with the smaller pieces, but for the experienced, it is fun. Use a smaller zigzag stitch and a shorter stitch length for heavier and more defined lines. Remember to always start and end a stitch line with a straight stitch, sewing forward and backwards to lock the stitch and prevent the seam from coming undone.

Step 4

 Open GallerySew the webbing handle onto the side panels using two bar tacks and a criss-cross pattern between them. Pin the webbing handle to the middle of the top and to the right-side-out of each side panel. Make sure the end of the webbing comes down 1 1/2-inches from the top edge of the panel. Sew a bar tack 1/4-inch from the bottom edge. An inch from the bottom bar tack, you’ll sew the top bar tack, connecting the two bar tacks with two criss-crossing straight lines.

Step 5

 Open GallerySew the trim strips to the tote panels. Pin each top trim piece in place and then zigzag stitch them onto the panels. Sew close to the edge but not so close that you overlap the edge. Take care in sewing over the bulk of the webbing handles. Use a stitch length of 1.5 to ensure sturdiness. The trim pieces add strength and help to conceal the webbing handle ends on the side panels.

Step 6

 Open GallerySew panels together. With edges outward, pin front and back panels to side panels to form the walls of the tote. Make sure your side panels are put together properly before sewing the tote together by holding the handle in the middle and letting the bag hang as if you were carrying it. If the handle is twisted, you’ll want to fix it here. Sew the panels together with a zigzag stitch along the edges (but not too close to the edges), going back over the stitch at the beginning and end of the stitch line for extra strength.

Step 7

 Open GalleryFinish the bottom of the tote. Simply tuck in the center of the bottom of the side panels and pin the front and back panels together with the tucks between them. Zigzag stitch (using the 1.5 setting) across the bottom to close the tote.

Step 8

 Open GalleryWash, dry, iron, and trim strings. Wash the bag in the washing machine on the warm/cold cycle. The edges will fray and fluff out beneath the zigzag stitching for the desired look so don’t worry about the fringe and stringiness between the wash and dry step. Tumble dry on low heat. After you remove the tote from the dryer, it will really be stringy, so don’t freak out. Iron the bag and trim all of the long strings and frayed edges of the tote to look nice and neat. Be careful not to cut into any stitching. Now you will want to start making your recycled grocery bags!


  • leftover fabric scraps
  • belt made of webbing
  • fun color thread


  • measuring tape
  • scissors
  • sewing machine
About Michelle Reynolds 


I’m a slipcover maker who refuses to fill the trash with the cutaway bits of designer fabrics, so I strive to make use of every scrap. I live with my ...

More About Michelle Reynolds

2 Responses

  1. Sylvia says:

    This is an amazing post. I enjoyed studying this new DIY trick or treat tote pretty much. Very creative work done indeed and I admire such great work a lot…

  2. Cheryl says:

    And if you don't sew or sewing machine is broken. What about a good old pillow case?

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