I like calico totes. They're strong, washable, cheap to buy or make (and really they're easy to make) and they are easy to personalise.
I've made two this week, using bought totes (40% off at Lincraft, brought them down to $2.30 each). One I decorated with an iron on transfer I made and one I decorated by embroidering a picture onto a piece of fabric and attaching it to the tote as a pocket. They were both easy to do. Obviously the tote with the iron-on transfer was the fastest but the embroidered pocket only took about an hour to do all up (the sewing machine did the embroidery).
Vintage Rose ToteYou will need:
Calico or plain coloured cotton tote
A picture to fit the tote
Iron-on transfer paper*
Step 1. Wash and dry your bag. I like to pre-wash the bags so that if they shrink they'll do so before the transfer is applied. Iron it.
Step 2. Find an image to use as the transfer. I found this image here: http://www.freeprettythingsforyou.com/ Make sure it is going to fit onto your tote. I usually print the image then use it as a template to work out the placement of the actual transfer.
Step 3. Follow the instructions on your transfer paper to print then apply the transfer to your tote.
And voila - in around 30 minutes (more if you can't make up your mind about the image) you have a lovely and unique tote to use or give as a gift for around $6.
This is a tote with an embroidered pocket. I embroidered the piece of fabric for the pocket (it only took a few minutes using the sewing machine) and then attached the pocket to the front of the tote. You'll need a sewing machine with a free arm for this or you'll need to unpick the tote, attach the pocket and re-stitch the seams.
*Spotlight and Lincraft sell iron-on transfer paper, but it's expensive. Buy it on sale (at least 40% off to make it cheap enough). You can also get it at Officeworks, where the packs are bigger, bringing the price per sheet down. Again, wait for a sale if you can. I have found it in some $2 shops too and it seems to be just as good a quality for a fraction of the price.