How To Make a Tote Bag Out of An Old Military Uniform or Jacket

Sew Much 2 Wear
by Sew Much 2 Wear
7 Materials
3 Hours

My husband has served in the Coast Guard for more than 17 years, so he's accumulated quite a few uniforms that are too faded and flawed to continue wearing to work.

When he handed a large pile over to me, I have to admit at first I was perplexed. What was I going to do with a bunch of old and tattered uniforms? Then I realized the sturdy material, pockets, and customized tags made them the perfect canvas for a military family tote!

This is such a great project because its 1. EASY, 2. Super customizable to fit the taste of any man, woman, girl or boy, and 3. A fun sentimental piece to carry around and keep especially while a service member is deployed.

To make this extra affordable and sustainable I even turned women's cotton pants I thrifted for $1 into my lining and accent material. If you have a few skinny leather belts you aren't using you already have everything you need for this bag!

Let's get started.

The video above is the best way to understand this tutorial in action, and I'll also provide an outline here for people who plan to adapt this project to their own needs and ideas.

The only part of the actual uniform I used was the top jacket portion. You could also include the pants and sew yourself some great pockets, or even straps for your bag.

First I made sure to iron the shirt to remove any creases or wrinkles in the fabric. Then I cut down the two side seams to separate the front of the shirt from the back.

I measured a 16x16 square on the center of the front of the shirt, and a second square on the back.

If you plan to use both pockets for your bag, be sure to make sure the center buttons fall in the very center of your 16x16 inch measurement.

Once I had my two 16x16 inch squares I cut three 4x16 rectangles to serve as the bottom and sides of the back. I was able to cleanly cut the three rectangles from the scraps that remained in the back of the shirt. I would recommend using the back as much as possible to avoid having to deal with any seams running through your fabric pieces.

I went ahead and cut down the inner leg seams of my floral pants, and then cut two 16x16 inch squares to serve as the back and front of my lining, and three 4x16 inch squares to serve as the bottom and sides of my lining.

I opted to reinforce my lining with midweight fusible interfacing. I cut two 16x16 inch squares and three 4x16 inch squares of the interfacing.

I then ironed the bumpy side of the interfacing to the wrong side of my corresponding floral fabric pieces.

Next, I took my three strips of 4x16 inch uniform fabric strips and sewed them right sides touching into one long strip.

Be sure to leave a small 1/2 inch gap on the sides of your straight stitch so that you'll easily be able to sew the strip to the back and front pieces of the bag.

Pin the back of the uniform onto the strips, right sides facing in...

Sew along the three sides....

Then pin the front of the uniform to the other side of the strip, with right side facing in. When you're done you should have a the shell of a bag with two sides and a bottom and a raw edge on the top.

Next you'll repeat that same process again to sew together the bottom, sides, and front and back of the lining material. Right sides touching!

Once you've got your front and back, sides and bottom attached check out my YouTube video to see how I turned the bag inside out and placed the lining inside.

I wanted to add an accent piece of the floral fabric at the top of the bag, so I measured the circumference of the opening of the bag, and created strip that was 4 inches tall, and (about) 40 inches long.

I ended up having to sew two scraps together to create a piece that long.

I turned the ends of the scrap piece under about a half an inch and ironed them down.

I then folded the scrap in half (to enclose the raw hems) and create a crease where I wanted the top of the bag to fall.

I fit that scrap onto the bag, the crease at the top made this easy to easily pin.

And I top stitched the scrap to the bag, close to the bottom of the scrap.

I then measured and sewed on leather straps to complete the bag.

I really love how this bag came out, and ended up giving it as a gift to my mother-in-law for Christmas.

I think it's so special that she can use this old uniform as a cute tote bag and feel close to her son while he's away serving our country.

If you try a project like this, I would love to see it! Tag me on instagram at @Sew_Much2Wear.

Suggested materials:
  • Old military uniform shirt
  • Old cotton floral pants
  • Raw leather straps
See all materials

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Join the conversation
2 of 6 comments
  • Colleen Colleen on May 10, 2021

    Love this idea. I have used my husband's old BDUs for so many things. The material is great for patching different things. I made covid masks out of them but My favorite was when I made curtains for the cap in his truck bed that he uses for camping. I will make a bag out of his digital uniforms next. Thanks for the idea.

  • June Webber June Webber on Oct 08, 2021

    Great project. My daughter in law retires from the Army Reserves in a few years and I like to make one for her.