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Make your own bags for lunches, snacks

A desire to recycle, save money and add a personal, imaginative touch entices many crafty people to create what can easily be bought. This time of year, that includes crafting a lunch sack.
A children's lunch bag is adorned with ladybugs. Detailed instructions are available online at a variety of websites.

A desire to recycle, save money and add a personal, imaginative touch entices many crafty people to create what can easily be bought. This time of year, that includes crafting a lunch sack.

"There's the pride you take in making things," says Ellen Baker, of Atlanta. "And the feeling that maybe it's better for the environment."

So the simple lunch sack is being reinvented with zippers, snaps or flaps. Some of the DIY bags are lined, others insulated. There are bento box carriers for toting those Japanese-inspired, compartmentalized containers.

And the handmade repertoire extends to snack bags, sandwich wraps and napkins.

Crafting blogs are full of lunch-bag instructions - almost always free. One site - - posts tutorials for 30 lunch bags and several accessories.

Baker, who blogs at The Long Thread, sews lunch bags partly so her two young daughters will appreciate handiwork.

"When your children see the time it takes to make something, they can appreciate the things they find in the store more," says Baker, 39. "They learn it takes time to make things."

Allow kids to embellish a handmade lunch bag with fabric paint, rubber stamps or stencils, says Baker, author of 1, 2, 3 Sew (Chronicle Books, 2011).

Elle Morton of Oak Park, Illinois, focuses on reusable snack bags, which she says lets her combine her twin passions of sewing and avoiding disposable products.

"It's so silly to use something one time and have it sitting around [in a landfill] for 500 years," she says.

Morton started her blog, Cotton Bottom Mama, to write about cloth diapers, but expanded it to include crafting. In March, she offered a tutorial on making a snack bag, with step-by-step photos. It's basic and easy - no Velcro or snaps, she says.

"I was just trying to keep it simple so people wouldn't get intimidated," Morton says.

Laura Denlinger, 27, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, focuses on the sandwich wrap, blogging about it at Along for the Ride. Featured in the book Sewing Green, by Betz White (STC Craft/Melanie Falick Books, 2009), the wrap consists of three panels sewn together in about two hours, Denlinger says.

For all food-related sewing crafts, Morton recommends using a prewashed fabric, such as quilting cotton or cotton canvas.

Experienced sewers might use the trickier laminated cotton, also called vinyl-coated cotton.

Oilcloth is OK - it comes in many fashionable designs nowadays - but because it's petroleum-derived, some crafters avoid it for food use. (Martha Stewart Living's website posts a simple oilcloth lunch bag how-to.)

For a basic bag, Baker recommends taking apart a brown paper lunch bag to use as a pattern. Here, she shares her instructions.



Brown paper lunch bag (18 by 33 by 12 cm)

1/2 metre thick fabric (such as cotton canvas or twill)

Pencil or tailor's chalk

Straight pins

Pinking shears

Matching thread


1. To use the brown paper bag as a template, cut it into five pieces: front and back, two sides and the bottom.

2. Trace these five pieces onto the wrong side of the fabric, adding 1 cm on all sides for the seam allowance. Cut out the pattern pieces.

3. Sew the front, back and side pieces to the bottom piece: With the bottom piece and the front piece placed together with right sides facing, sew a seam 1 cm from the edge, beginning and ending 1 cm from the corners. As you sew, use a backstitch to lock the stitches in place at each end.

Repeat this step with the back and side pieces, until you have all pieces sewn to the base.

4. Create the bag shape by sewing the side pieces to the front and back pieces with right sides together. Again, begin 1 cm from the bottom corners and use a 1 cm seam allowance, stopping and starting with a backstitch. Sew all the way to the top of the bag.

5. Fold down the raw edge at the top by about 1 cm and sew a hem along the top, topstitching on the right side of the fabric, 1/2 cm from the folded edge. Turn the bag right sides out, and press along the seams.