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An Insulated & Laminated Lunch Bag Goes Back To School

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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

Fabric and Other Supplies

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  • 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
    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)
  • Lighter

Getting Started

  1. 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.
  2. Cut out the template along the solid line.
  3. 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
  4. Cut the webbing into one 30" strip and one 12" strip.
  5. Use the lighter to seal the ends of both webbing strips.

At Your Sewing Machine

  1. 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.
  2. Tape the corner template to one end and trim away the corners.
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  3. Un-layer the PUL and set it aside.
  4. 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.
  5. Thread your machine with thread to match the laminated cotton in the top and bobbin.
  6. 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.
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  7. 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.
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  8. 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.
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  9. 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.
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  10. Re-thread your machine with thread to match the webbing in the top and bobbin.
  11. Attach the zipper foot.
  12. 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.
  13. Position the zipper foot and needle to their extreme right positions and edgestitch along the right side of the webbing.
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  14. Re-position the zipper foot and needle to their extreme left positions and edgestitch along the left side of the webbing.
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    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.
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  15. 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.
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  16. Find the PUL body piece and layer it, wrong sides together, with the completed bag front.
  17. Layer the two sets of side pieces in the same manner: PUL wrong side facing up, thermal fleece, laminated cotton right side facing up.
  18. Clip together all sets of all layers.
  19. 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 .
  20. 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.Click to Enlarge
  21. 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.
  22. I attached my binding with a wide zig zag stitch and an Even Feed foot. 
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    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. 
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  23. 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.
  24. 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.
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  25. Turn the bag 90˚ and line up the bottom edge of the side piece. Clip the pieces together.
  26. 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.
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  27. 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.
  28. 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.
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  29. Repeat to attach the remaining side to the body of the bag. 
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  30. 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. 
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  31. Thread a hand sewing needle with thread to match the binding.
  32. 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. 
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  33. 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. 
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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.


Comments (22)

GeorginaLees said:
GeorginaLees's picture

Wow it cool idea, it looks very nice and comfortable to take it with me at college. 

Beverly Campbell said:
Beverly Campbell's picture

I love this lunch bag and I know my Granddaughters will love it to. Can you tell me how I can PIN it to my pinterest patterns.  Kinda new to all this computer stuff.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Beverly - Thank you! There is a Pinterest quick key at the very end of all our articles - just above the comments section.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Nstdos - Many outlets carry PUL. We link to Fabric.com above and they do usually have a large amount in stock or may be able to special order for you. We recommend contacting them directly to ask about the purchase of a large amount of the PUL. Here is a direct link to their PUL by-the-yard page. If you scroll to the bottom, you'll find their direct contract information: https://www.fabric.com/ProductDetail.aspx?ProductID=5ee5245d-f4f9-4f1b-9...

TracyKM said:
TracyKM's picture

What is the difference between cotton laminate fabric and PUL?  I've used PUL when making diaper covers, but I've never known about cotton laminated fabric.  It looks interesting and addictive.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@TracyKM - PUL (polyurethane laminate) is a polyester/polyurethane laminated knit fabric. It's waterproof, durable and has a slight crossgrain stretch. Laminated cotton is just that - 100% cotton fabric (usually a quilting weight or sheeting weight) that has a thin layer of polyurethane film adhered to the right side of the fabric. It's water resistant, but not as durable as PUL. Check out our tutorial on sewing with different "sticky stuff": http://www.sew4home.com/tips-resources/sewing-tips-tricks/successful-sew...

Rosalie, said:
Rosalie, 's picture

I have been looking for something just like this and as it is 40degrees c outside today i wanted a sewing project i could do inside in the cool. My lunch will be happy going to work in this when it is finished . ThanksFrom Rosalie In Melbourne Australia

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Rosalie - Oh my ... it's 0˚ C here and falling. We're glad you're staying cool and sewing something fun!

mspiggychaplin said:
mspiggychaplin's picture

Can this pattern be altered for a zipper?  My children want a zippered lunch box, but the loved this style.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ mspiggychaplin - we don't do pattern alterations, but you could certainly attempt a change yourself. However, with this type of flap design, it would be tricky to add a zipper. You best bet would proabably be to alter the top to add longer panels into which a zipper could be inserted. The flap would then still go over the top and latch into place - so the flat would cover the zipper. Adding a curved zipper around the edge of the flap would be really tricky. 

Jo Q said:
Jo Q's picture

Love this project and have tried it out.But....is it surppose to be leaning forward when you lift it up?Mine does it...or that means I've done something wrong?

KB said:
KB's picture

Mine did the same exact thing - leaning forward when picking it up - it is the location of that strap. I'll be sewing an additional strap to the side panels so it is more balanced. The flap itself is too small if the bag is full - at current set up, it could hold an ice pack and a sandwich, but no more. Also the strap/buckle should be more adjustable. I'll be making a few changes to this to get it to the kind of bag that works for me.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Jo Q - The bag should sit flat. The best photo to show that is probably the one right above step #32 towards the bottom. Perhaps the bottom corners aren't quite square? That a hard one to troubleshoot long distance.

Jo Q said:
Jo Q's picture

Thanks a lot. Mine sits flat but when I carry it with the handle the bag leans forward :( So I suppose there was something wrong with mine.Anyway my aunt broke the buckle so I'm gonna make another one

Sole said:
Sole's picture

Hi, could you please give me the finished measurements? Thank you, I love this project

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Sole - the best visual is probably the flat drawing above - the sides are 9" tall and the base is 6". 

alicia.thommas said:
Hi cezirlvl, The laminate does makes for easy clean up - just wipe it down. But if you use PUL in the inside, it should offer enough protection from the dampness created by ice packs, cold drinks, etc. As long as you don't mind washing it, you could certainly use corduroy or denim. I'm sure they'd be very cute!
Claudiasewes said:
Claudiasewes's picture
Just finished this lunch bag for my adult daughter. While visiting her in July noticed she was taking her lunch to work in a plastic grocery bag! Sent it off and when she called last night the first words out of her mouth were "I LOVE IT." It was a challenge to work with the PUL due to the stretching but worth the praise.
cezirlvl said:
cezirlvl's picture
do we HAVE to use the laminate on the outside? does it help with the insulating material. i made the girls' bags this year and think it would be AWESOME to make their lunch bags, too. they're made out of denim or smaller corduroy.
crescentcity said:
crescentcity's picture
Love it!..I NEED one like this for my little girl, especially for her water bottlesmilies/smiley.gif