Packing your kids' school lunches is the loving way to go, right? You can make sure they're full of delicious, nutritious food. According to a recent study, they might also be full of bacteria if that food cannot be kept at the proper temperature once it gets to school. Use our easy tutorial to create your own insulated lunch bag then, as the study suggests, pop in two ice packs instead of one. We used a stylish cotton laminate for the outside fabric, which is available these days in an amazing array of wonderful colors and patterns from a variety of manufacturers.
This project requires stitching three rather slippery layers together in 3-D. I don't say this to scare you; it's not scary. But, if you have an Even Feed foot, sometimes called a Walking foot, USE IT; it will make things about 110% easier. These feet have their own built-in feed dogs that work in unison with the machine's feed dogs. This means your layers are sandwiched between the two and moved along from both the top and bottom to prevent them from shifting. This foot also allowed me to move easily across the surface of the laminated cotton. You don't have to have one of these feet, but without it, you'll need to be persistent and you'll need either an Ultraglide or Teflon® foot or strips of wax paper under your regular foot to allow your machine to sew across the laminated cotton without sticking.
For more about the Texas University Study about lunch bag safety, you can watch this short clip from NBC's Today Show.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Any Sewing Machine (we recommend the Janome Memory Craft 11000 Special Edition)
- Even Feed or Walking foot (optional, but it will be kinda hard without one)
- Zipper foot (optional)
- Size #14 denim needle best for both the PUL and the laminated cotton
Fabric and Other Supplies
- ½ yard of 58" wide laminated cotton for the outside of the bag: we used we used Erin McMorris' Weekends in Red Dots & Loops for Free Spirit Fabrics
NOTE: Check out the amazing selection of laminated cottons at fabric.com
- ½ yard of 55-56" wide PUL waterproof lining
- ½ yard of thermal batting: we used Insul-Bright
- 1½ yards of 1" polyester webbing: we used black
- One package (three yards) of coordinating extra-wide, double-fold bias binding: we used orange
- All purpose thread to match fabric, binding and webbing
- One 1" side-release buckle to match webbing
- Fusible seam tape: we used Steam A Seam
- See-through ruler
- Tape measure
- Wash away fabric marker
- Scissors or rotary cutter and cutting mat
- Pinking shears (optional)
- Iron and ironing board
- Straight pins
- Hand sewing needle
- Quilt clips, paper clips or hair clips (to be used on the laminated cotton and PUL instead of pins)
- Download and print the Corner Cutting Template.
IMPORTANT: The template is one 8.5" x 11" sheet. You must print this PDF file at 100% using the latest Adobe Reader. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page.
- Cut out the template along the solid line.
- From each of the three fabrics (the laminated cotton, the PUL and the thermal fleece) cut:
One 7" x 28" body piece
TWO 7" x 9" side pieces
- Cut the webbing into one 30" strip and one 12" strip.
- Use the lighter to seal the ends of both webbing strips.
At Your Sewing Machine
- Layer the three 7" x 28" body pieces on your work surface in the following order: the PUL wrong side up, the thermal fleece, and the laminated cotton right side up.
- Tape the corner template to one end and trim away the corners.
- Un-layer the PUL and set it aside.
- With your fabric pencil draw three lines on the laminated cotton (which is still layered with the thermal fleece): one at 9" from the straight end, another at 6" from the first line, and the third at 9" from the second line.
- Thread your machine with thread to match the laminated cotton in the top and bobbin.
- Using an Ultraglide foot, an Even Feed foot or a wax paper strip under your regular foot, stitch through both layers along each of the three lines.
NOTE: If you use wax paper, you can simply tear it away from the stitching when you're done.
- Un-clasp the side-release buckle and thread one end of the 30" webbing strip through each piece. Both threaded 'tails' should fold back about 2½" and lay flat against the back of the webbing. You will stitch these tails in place; the buckle will not be adjustable.
- Place a small piece of fusible seam tape behind each webbing 'tail' to hold it in place. Then put another piece of fusible seam tape along the entire length of the back of the webbing.
- Position the strap on top of the bag body, centering it down the middle with the blunt end overlapping just below the curved edge of the flap and the prong end approximately 3" from the straight end.
- Re-thread your machine with thread to match the webbing in the top and bobbin.
- Attach the zipper foot.
- Stitch horizontally across the webbing at each end as close as possible to the buckle.
NOTE: You don't have to get right up against the buckle; you want a little play in it to allow for bag volume.
- Position the zipper foot and needle to their extreme right positions and edgestitch along the right side of the webbing.
- Re-position the zipper foot and needle to their extreme left positions and edgestitch along the left side of the webbing.
NOTE: Again, you won't be able to get all the way up against your horizontal lines of stitching with your vertical lines of stitching because of the buckle. As above, that's okay; just get as close as you can. Here's what it looks like from the back when done - it's a little easier to see than the black on black.
- Find the 12" piece of webbing and stitch it in place just behind the line of topstitching at the curved end. Match the raw edges on each side so the webbing bows up to form a handle.
- Find the PUL body piece and layer it, wrong sides together, with the completed bag front.
- Layer the two sets of side pieces in the same manner: PUL wrong side facing up, thermal fleece, laminated cotton right side facing up.
- Clip together all sets of all layers.
- Open up your package of bias binding. You'll notice the binding is folded so one edge is slightly longer than the other. For this project, you will encase the raw edges with the shorter fold on the front and the longer fold wrapped around to the back.
NOTE: Simply encasing the raw edges with the double-fold bias tape is the faster way to attach binding. It is the method we used for our recent tutorial, Bias Tape: How To Make It & Attach It .
- Re-thread your machine with thread to match the binding in the top and bobbin.
Using your favorite technique (I used the simple encasing option with a zig zag stitch), bind the curved edge of the bag body with the bias tape, starting and stopping just past the handle ends. Turn under and press both ends of the binding (about ¼" is plenty) to create a clean finish.
- Bind the straight end of the bag body as well as one 7" end of both side pieces.
NOTE: You don't need a clean finish on these ends; they're secured in the seam allowance.
- I attached my binding with a wide zig zag stitch and an Even Feed foot.
NOTE: If you are new to binding, it can look a little scary. Not to worry. Nice, neat binding is really all about practice, and going slowly and evenly, gradually feeding the fabric into the binding. Don't expect to just wrap, pin and stitch. Going too quickly or assuming everything stays put and never moves is where disappointment lurks: you pull it out of the machine and there's a big chunk of fabric that's slipped out and isn't captured within the binding. Save yourself some seam ripper time and some tears. Go nice and slow and feed a little bit at a time. If you stop, make sure you keep your needle in the down position. Again, take a look at the linked tutorials listed above.
- Place one side piece right sides together with the body piece. Align the top of the side piece's bound edge with the top of the webbing handle and the line of topstitching.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch from the top down, stopping ½" from the corner. I used my Even Feed foot to help keep all these layers from shifting.
- Turn the bag 90˚ and line up the bottom edge of the side piece. Clip the pieces together.
- Still using a ½" seam allowance, and starting ½" in from the open corner, stitch from the open corner to the sewn corner. Stop and lock your stitch when you reach the end of your previous line of stitching.
- Turn the bag 90˚ again and line up the third edge of the side piece, making sure the top bound edge is aligned with the top of the webbing handle and the line of the topstitching. Just like you did on the first side. Clip the pieces together.
- Still using a ½" seam allowance, start from the top bound edges and stitch down into the sewn corner. Stop and lock your stitch when you reach the end of your previous line of stitching.
- Repeat to attach the remaining side to the body of the bag.
- To make my inside seams tidier, I trimmed them with my pinking shears and then turned the bag right side out.
NOTE: Do NOT pink the bound edge of the flap, just trim right up to it.
- Thread a hand sewing needle with thread to match the binding.
- Slip stitch the flap binding (on each side) to the side binding. Just the small section, binding to binding; do not stitch into the PUL.
- Fold in the sides and buckle closed. Of course, you'll want to put your lunch inside first or you'll be real sad come noon time.
Hints and Tips
PUL can be a little finicky to work with, but is a great option when you want a thin, lightweight waterproof layer. Read more about how to work with it here.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Liz Johnson
Other machines suitable for this project include the Bernina artista 635 and the Babylock Symphony.