four things

If someone could describe you based on four of your most defining favorite things…what would they be?

Coffee. Pugs. Romance Novels. Sunshine?

Red Wine. Popcorn. Scandal. Funk Music?

Preds. Titans. Broadway. Free Parking?

It’s a fun challenge! I tried making up my own list and…of course….much as I can ramble in writing, I could hardly cut the list down. But the better (and somehow simpler) thing to do is this – pick those four things for your friends. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is.

I’ll be honest, this all started because of the Four Things Tote generated by Radio Amy on The Bobby Bones Show. You submit your personalized list to the Shop Forward and they create a screen-printed canvas tote with proceeds going to charity. A few months ago, these things were all over social media and I was desperate to have one….aside from the fact that I couldn’t narrow down my list. Eeep!


Then Christmas came along, and I was racking my brain for a good gift for all my friends. I wanted it to be personal and I wanted it to mean something more than just going shopping for an afternoon. And so I thought – why not get them ALL this tote? How fun would that be??

Except for one thing: My Budget.

At $40+ dollars a pop, this was more than I was able to spend on multiple people. So I decided to make my own. Plus, the personal touch couldn’t hurt. Sorry, Amy!

~ ~ ~

So here’s what you need to do the same:

Heather’s Getting To Know You Handcrafted Tote

  • Canvas Tote – 3 Pk of 12″ x 12″ natural totes at Hobby Lobby
  • Black Fabric Paint – 1 Tube
  • Individual Letter Stencils
  • Stencil Brush
  • A straight edge that can take a little paint
  • About 30 minutes of your own time

It’s extremely simple. First, brainstorm. Think of your friend (or yourself) and list the things that make them them. Are they obsessed with a certain band or actor? Do they always order their coffee the same way? Do they have a book in their bag at all times? Think of the kitschiest, funniest, most unique things about them – and then arrange them in a way that rolls off the tongue.

For example, one of my friends is super into fashion. So rather than grouping together a bunch of random words, I opted to theme her tote by using the first names of recognizable designers. For another, I used multiple words with ‘k’ sounds. This is your thing to personalize, so have some fun with it! Plus, the more obscure – the better the conversation starter!

And once all that’s decided, you’re ready to get messy.

Seriously, I can’t seem to do anything these days without getting a little messy.


Make sure you’ve pre-washed your tote and ironed it out nice and flat. Then get to work! The letter kit I purchased from Hobby Lobby contained individual sticker-like stencils of one per letter, number or punctuation mark. So when I encountered a word with 3 ‘E’s well….that made things good and fun.

But the best way to do it is to lay out all the stickers along your straight edge and tape them down for extra staying power. Given my experience, I’d recommend purchasing a kit with multiple letters, but if you’re simple like me, just do the best you can. Make sure you allow the first use of the letter to dry for several minutes before lifting it to use again – it will still go pretty fast. And bonus: you’ll truly learn to appreciate a word that you can spell out all at once!


As far as paint application, I opted for a stipple brush so that I could better dab my paint on – rather than luxuriously paaaiinntting it a la Bob Ross and his happy trees. I wanted a kind of rough, hatch print kind of feel for my letters; not too smooth or too neat, which made things easier anyway and allowed for small mistakes and drippage. (Drippage?) If that’s not your style, feel free to style it your own way. There are no rules here!


Also, pay mind to how long your words are. Something as seemingly short as “Black Labs” left me desperately trying to squeeze letters together towards the end. These stencils allow space without even trying, so feel free to layer them a bit for less wasted area between letters. Or if you’re still in brainstorming mode and foresee your words getting long – maybe opt for a larger tote or some smaller letters 🙂


Do your words one at a time, and if you’ve got time to space it out, let each word dry for about 5-10 minutes before moving the stencils. The words I allowed to dry overnight easily came out the best in the end!


But basically, once you’ve gotten through all four, that’s it! Super easy-peasy. My friends were so taken aback by their gifts and impressed at the words I’d chosen for them, and that was a truly gratifying gift to give. There’s nothing quite like letting your friends know that you really know them – because deep down we all just want to be known, right? And what better way to pass some time than by getting your hands dirty and making something cool while also saving money!? It’s a triple thrill!

(Plus, keep in mind: Half the stuff you bought can be used to make even more totes! So it’s an investment in future gifting and personal crafting. Once you figure it out, you can even make yourself multiples – one for every mood or activity! Now that’s what I need.)