Design Upgrade: making a $26 weekend bag as lovely as a $525 one!

Ask anyone who knows me and you’ll find out that I’m not a big handbag person.  On any given day I’m just as likely to be carrying a random reusable grocery bag (from the dozens in my trunk) as a “real” handbag. However, when I became a mom I found that my go-to weekend/carry-on bag, an aloha-print drawstring sack that had been a gift and seemed as big as Mary Poppins carpet-bag, was no longer big enough.  So I needed a bigger bag than anything that I owned, and I decided that this next bag was going to be a “real” weekend bag.  I had an image in my mind of something shaped like an old-fashioned doctor’s bag…really sturdy and practical, but hopefully with a bit of fun and whimsy thrown-in.

Waxed Linen Duffel Bag with Leather Trim

Waxed Linen Duffel Bag with Leather Trim – $525

While paging through one of my magazines I spied a beautiful waxed linen and leather duffel bag that was just my style: utilitarian, well-made with a unique twist.  The unique twist was that the linen had a beautiful sheen to it because it had been treated with wax which is an old-fashioned way of water-proofing fabric. I found the bag on-line but the $525 price tag was a non-starter for me. After all, it was a pretty straight-forward looking bag, not something I would pay $525 for.  The only really interesting thing about the bag was the waxed finish.  It occurred to me that if I could find a bag I liked on Ebay, that I could try waxing it myself.

Canvas and leather duffel - purchased on Ebay for $26

Canvas and leather duffel – purchased on Ebay for $26

So I did some looking on Ebay (completely one of my favorite places to shop…you never know what someone will be getting rid of) and I found this gorgeous canvas and leather trim duffel bag that was EXACTLY what I wanted. It had never been used and was being offered for a GREAT price because it had been a promotional gift and was embroidered with a company’s logo on it. But other than that, it was perfect, and I figured I could just cover the logo with a fun patch.  Since this bag usually retails for around $200, I figured dealing with the logo was worth the savings.  I actually prefer the bag I got to the $525 version because it had some extra pockets that the other one didn’t have and it was the perfect size (whereas the $525 one was a bit larger than I wanted ideally).

So I had a beautiful, well-made bag, now all I had to do was wax it…but that was harder than I had anticipated.  I found some all-natural bees-wax based product, but when I experimented with it on another canvas bag of mine, I didn’t like the way it turned out and I found it difficult to control the wax.

Waxing attempt

Unsatisfying attempt at waxing

It didn’t apply as evenly as I wanted.  Maybe it was because I used the brush-on product, not the rub-on one.  For whatever reason, the test bag at light and dark patches, and it made the bag look like it had been dipped in oil, rather than giving it the sheen that I had hoped for.

So my beautiful bag sat for a while and I contemplated how I could give it a water-proofing sheen that I would like.  I decided to see what would happen if I used a metallic craft paint on the fabric, so I experimented with the bottom of the bag and liked what I saw. (See the demo video here.)  I found Folk Art Sahara Gold #577 (about $2 at craft stores for a small bottle, I used under 3-bottles for the entire bag) at my local Michael’s (LOVE that place) and it was perfect.  The canvas is a kind of olive/khaki color and Sahara Gold has a bit of green in it, so it gave the bag a nice sheen rather than making it look completely blinged out (not the look I wanted.)

My bag…isn’t she pretty!

And now I have the perfect weekend/carry-on bag.  Well-made, functional with just a hint of pizzazz. I’ve used it dozens of times at this point and it is just the right size for taking on the plane and carrying water, snacks, sweaters and diversions for 2!  It’s also been with me on many weekends away going to yoga retreats, visiting friends or celebrating my birthday!  Total cost of my weekend bag: $50.42 ($26 for the bag, $11.93 shipping, $6 for paint and $6.50 for the “Aloha” patch I got to cover the embroidered logo.)  To see my demonstration video for applying the paint, visit my YouTube Channel. 

You can also purchase this bag and paint by following this link.

Hope you found this project fun!  Subscribe to my YouTube Channel and my Blog!  Thanks and be a spark in the world!