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I have had good luck with using old Olfa rotary cutting mats for the bottom of tote bags. Just cover them with fabric. They are heavy and stiff enough to protect the shape of the tote.

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I FOUND IT BEST TO MAKE A CASING FROM THE LINING MATERIAL AND INSERT THE MATT OR WHATEVER YOU WISH TO USE AS STIFFENER FOR THE BOTTOM INTO THAT CASING. THIS CAN THEN BE REMOVED WHEN LAUNDERING. GOOD LUCK
There is a product that looks likw plastic carboard that can be bought at HomeDepot here in Canada and I imagine Lowes would carry it too. I haven't gotten any personally yet so I'm not sure what it is called. But it is great because it is fairly inexpensive and waterproof. You just need to make a cover like you would if you used plastic canvas. It is cheaper than plastic canvas and sturdier
Christi--Am I on the same wave length? I believe what you describe is what is now being used by political parties for their lawn signs. I almost picked some off someone's lawn the other day while I was out walking. Didn't like the writing on both sides so left it there. I wanted it for another use so would have preferred one side white.

As far as cutting old mats a strong carpenter's utility knife will cut it or an electric saw works well too. My first cutting mat actually has a gouge through it from when I was cutting ceiling tiles with the utility knife. I have had various ones cut down by DH with chop or table saw when I reconfigured some of my paper tole mats. They're the original cutting mats and at least twice as thick as the ones you can buy nowadays.

Since this thread has been ongoing for a long time, I'll give my 2 cents worth.  I have made over 40 totes.  I use 2 layers of the plastic canvas and enclose it with batting and a sleeve.  I do not take it out to wash!!!  It makes the bag totally washable.  I've washed my summer/fall bag at least once every 2 weeks since June --- only changed out so I could use my Christmas bag.

My husband cuts me thin masonite pieces to fit each bag and rounds the corners. I have also used the plastic canvas. A couple years ago I was at a library book sale, and there were hundreds of books in a trash bin out back. I took some large books and used the hardcovers cut to fit. They were great!

I also use the back of worn out cutting mats when the front is too damaged to cut on. It works just as well!

 

That is a great idea. I have 2 that are almost worn out. Thanks for sharing this.

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