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Nature Brights Kitchen: Insulated Shopping Tote

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I live a ways out of town, so transporting home frozen food before it thaws can be a challenge. Canvas grocery totes are a great alternative to the standard store plastic bags, but they don't help with my frozen food dilemma. This insulated shopping bag with its Velcro closure was the answer. I can load up all the food I need to keep cold (or hot for that matter), seal up the top, and everything stays the right temp for the ride home. As an added bonus, by using the Flora & Fauna fabric, I solve my problem and look cool doing it. Several people at the store asked me where I got my bag. Of course, I told them I made it, and then proceeded to block the dairy aisle while I explained how THEY could go to sew4home.com and learn to make one too!

Our Nature Brights projects were made using Patty Young's wonderful Flora & Fauna Collection by Michael Miller Fabrics. To learn more about the collection and all the tutorials available, read our article: Nature Brights Kitchen: A Bowlful of Color with a Generous Helping of Style.

Sewing Tools You Need

    Fabric and Other Supplies

    • Fabric for bag exterior: 5/8 yard of 45" wide fabric: we used Patty Young's Flora & Fauna Blossoms in Black
    • Fabric for bag lining: 5/8 yard of 45" wide fabric: we used Patty Young's Flora & Fauna Dandelion in Raspberry
    • Fabric for pocket: ⅓ yard of 45" wide fabric: we used Patty Young's Flora & Fauna Daisy Dot in Stone
    • 5/8 yard of insulating batting: we used Insul-Bright from The Warm Company
    • 3 yards 1½" cotton webbing to coordinate with fabric (this is used for the handles)
    • 15" length of 1" Velcro (See our Hints and Tips on Velcro below)
    • 13½" x 5¼" piece of heavy plastic or cardboard for removable bottom insert (optional)
    • All purpose thread in color to match fabric
    • All purpose thread in a contrasting color for topstitching: we used gray
    • See-through ruler
    • Seam gauge
    • Fabric pencil, pen or chalk
    • Iron and ironing board
    • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
    • Straight pins

    Getting Started

    1. Cut a 39" x 21" rectangle from each of the following: the exterior fabric, the lining fabric, and the insulating batting.
    2. Cut the lining fabric in half to create two 21" x 19½" rectangles. Set aside.
    3. Cut a 10" x 22" rectangle from the pocket fabric. Fold and press this pocket piece in half, wrong sides together, to create a piece 10" x 11". Set aside.
    4. Fold and press the exterior fabric in half width-wise to mark the center.
    5. Unfold the exterior fabric and layer it on top of the insulating batting with the right side of the exterior fabric facing up. Pin. You'll still be able to see the center crease, which is what we want as we'll use it later as a placement guide.
    6. To help with the placement of the pocket, the straps, and to figure out the bottom of the bag; you need to make some light markings on the exterior of the bag.
      NOTE: You will be drawing several placements lines, so make SURE you use a pencil/pen that will be easily removed; test a scrap fabric first. We recommended an air-soluble pen or tailor's chalk.
    7. Using your see-through ruler and fabric pencil/pen, measure in 3½" from each side, making three marks at the top, middle and bottom. Draw a vertical line connecting the marks.
      NOTE: Measuring and marking at several points insures that when you place your ruler down to draw, you are better assured of getting an even, straight line.
    8. Next, measure 16½" down from the top and 16½" up from the bottom. Make several marks as described above. Draw two horizontal lines to connect the marks.
    9. Your four drawn lines intersect at four points. Connect these four points to create a rectangle 6" x 14" This will be the bottom of the bag.
    10. Carefully flip over your fabric, and draw these same placements lines and the resulting rectangle on the Insul-Bright side.
    11. Finally, flip the fabric back over and make another horizontal line, ½" up from and parallel to the topmost horizontal bag bottom line. This will be the placement line for the front pocket.

    At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

    Attach front pocket

    1. Find your folded pocket piece and line up its raw edges along the short parallel horizontal line you just drew above in step 11. Pin in place. Center the pocket on this line. There should be 2" on either side between the edge of the pocket and your drawn vertical line.
      NOTE: The folded edge of the pocket piece should be facing down towards the bottom raw edge of your exterior fabric piece.
    2. Using a straight stitch, stitch ½" from the raw edge of the pocket.
    3. Flip the pocket up (toward the top of the bag) and press. Be sure the pocket is nice and flat. Don't worry about the raw edges on either side of the pocket; we'll take care of those next. Pin.
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    4. You need to draw two more placement lines, so find your ruler and fabric pencil/pen again. Measure in 1¼" from each of your previously drawn vertical lines and make a parallel vertical line on each side. These lines will be your placement guides for the outer edge of the bag's straps.

    Handle straps

    1. Fold the cotton webbing in half lengthwise. Mark the center fold with a pin or fabric marking pen.
    2. Using a straight stitch and a ½" seam allowance, sew the 'cut' ends of the 3 yard length of cotton webbing to make one big loop. This will be the used for the handles. Press the seam open and flat.
    3. Pin the webbing to the outside of the bag exterior as follows: place the webbing seam at the crease line along the bag bottom and align the OUTSIDE edge of the webbing along the vertical line you drew in step 4 above. Pin in place.
    4. Find the mark or pin you used in step 1 above to indicate the center of your webbing. Place that mark/pin at the opposite side of the bag bottom, lining up the mark with the crease line and the outside edge of the webbing with the drawn vertical line on this side. Pin in place.
    5. Starting at the webbing seam and pinning as you go, run the webbing up, stopping 4" from the top raw edge of the exterior fabric. Remember to keep the outside edge of the webbing aligned with your drawn vertical line.
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    6. Make a loop (this is your handle), then start pinning again 4" from the top raw edge on the opposite side. Again, align the outside edge of the webbing along your drawn vertical line (the one from step 4 in the previous section).
      NOTE: Be sure the webbing lays flat against the fabric; make your handle loop as big as necessary to keep the webbing flat .
    7. Continue down the opposite side, pinning as you go. You should have encased both raw sides of the pocket with the webbing.
    8. Repeat to create the opposite handle loop.
    9. Re-thread your machine with the contrasting thread and insert a denim needle. Using a straight stitch, sew along either edge of the webbing, pivoting at your 4" stop-mark (at the top and bottom) and sewing across to create a giant rectangle of stitching.
      NOTE: You may want to lengthen your stitch a little at this stage to accommodate for the thickness.
    10. To reinforce the straps, sew an 'X' at the top of your stitching. To make the 'X' in a box, start at one corner of your previous stitching, sew diagonally to the stitching, pivot, sew across to the other side, and sew diagonally again to the opposite corner. It may be helpful to mark this with your fabric marking pen and just sew on your drawn lines.
      Click to Enlarge

    Lining and boxed bottom

    1. Re-thread your machine with matching thread.
    2. Align the raw edges of one lining piece to top front side of the bag, right sides together. Pin in place. Align the raw edges of the other lining piece to bottom front side of the bag, right sides together. Pin in place.
      NOTE: To avoid catching them in the seam between the bag and lining, pin the loops of the handles against the bag body.
    3. Using a ½" seam allowance, sew the lining pieces to the top and bottom
    4. Understitch both sewn seams. Understitching will help the lining to stay to the inside. First, press the seam allowance toward the lining; then, on the right side of the fabric, stitch as close as possible to your seam line on the lining side of the seam. This will hold the seam allowance to the lining and help keep the lining from trying to roll to the outside ('Bad, Lining; you stay!')
      Click to Enlarge
    5. Lay your bag and lining out flat on your work surface.
    6. Now you are going to sew the lining and tote bag side seams all at once. Yay! Fold the entire bag/lining piece in half, right sides together, matching the raw side edges of the bag and lining, as well as the top lining seams. Pin in place.
    7. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch both side seams from the bottom of the bag to the top of the lining. Be sure to backstitch at the start and finish.
    8. With the bag still wrong side out, the next step is to box the bottom corners of the bag.
    9. Using both hands, pinch and pull apart the bottom corner.
    10. As you keep pulling, the fabric will begin to make a little peak with the corner point at the top and the seam line running down the middle of one side.
    11. Carefully and precisely, line up the seam with the bottom crease line. You should still be able to see this pressed crease from earlier.
    12. You should also be able to see the placement line you drew earlier (the 6" side of the bag bottom rectangle).
    13. Pin your folded 'peak' and stitch along this drawn line. Stitch back and forth along the line two or three times to reinforce.
    14. Repeat for the opposite corner.
    15. Turn the bag right side out through the top opening in the lining. Gently push out the corners with your finger to reveal the 'box.'
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    16. To close the lining, turn under the entire raw edge of the lining opening ½" and press.
    17. Pin the pressed edges together and edgestitch to close.
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    18. Box the corners of the lining in the same manner as the bag, but this time, you will be working with the wrong sides together on the right side of the lining fabric. Remember your sewn seam should measure 6" across the point.
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    19. Tuck the lining down inside the bag.

    Velcro closure

    1. Peel apart your 15" Velcro strip.
    2. Pin the 'hook' Velcro strip to one side of the bag. It should be placed on the inside of the bag (on the lining) just below the top. Center the strip between the straps. Pin in place.
      Click to Enlarge
    3. Repeat to pin the 'loop' Velcro strip to the opposite side of the bag.
    4. Press the strip together ....gently. You just want to test that the two pieces are directly opposite one another so the top of the bag seals neatly. Peel apart, adjust your strip placement if necessary and re-pin.
    5. When both strips are perfectly aligned, stitch in place by sewing close to the top edge around the entire top opening of the bag. Back tack or lock to secure your seam.
    6. Finally, stitch along the bottom of the Velcro strips through all layers, again back tack or lock to secure your seam. Stitch JUST along the bottom edge of the Velcro; you don't need to go all the way around the bag unless you really want to. You also don't need to worry about securing the sides of the Velcro – the top and bottom seam lines will keep it plenty secure.
      NOTE: We used a matching thread to our fabric for all the stitching (steps 5 and 6), but you could also choose a contrasting color if you want to highlight these seams as an accent.
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      Inside the bag:

    Hints and Tips

    Removable bottom insert

    Usually, the grocery totes you get at the store have a stiff insert in the bottom that helps the bag sit flat. If you'd like to have one of these in your new handmade tote, you'll need a piece of heavy plastic or cardboard. It needs to be a substance rigid enough to stand up to the weight of the bag's contents, but you need to cut it to size, so it can't be completely indestructible. We recycled a piece of plastic we had leftover from another project, but something as simple as a sturdy piece of heavy cardboard from a shipping carton would work well too. Cut your material to 13½" x 5¼" and slip it down inside the bag. If the insert gets damaged in any way, it's easy to make a new one.

    Strong corners

    When sewing corners on a seam, try back tacking and sewing over a few stitches once you reach the pivot point of the next seam. This way, these corners will be more reinforced when you clip away fabric and turn them inside out.


    There are different types, sizes, and even colors of Velcro. You always want to be sure you select the correct type for your project. For this tote, we used a sew-in type. We want to caution you against the adhesive types, because these leave a residue on your sewing machine needle that makes it more difficult to sew.

    Project Design: Alicia Thommas
    Sample Creation: Kathy Andrews, What Sew Ever



    Comments (41)

    Mechelle said:
    Mechelle's picture

    I made two of these, with the second adding in an extra layer of insulating (not insul bright just a thicker material) batting. Love them both, my 14 year old daughter now wants one made on a smaller scale for a lunch tote.  Amazing pictures and amazing instructions, very clear and easily understood.  Thank you so much! 

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

    @ Mechelle - Thanks for letting us know of your successes! It sounds great. When your daughter finishes hers, send us a picture of all three. You can email to info@sew4home.com, or if you're on Facebook (sew4home) or Instagram (sew4home_diy) post a picture there so we can all enjoy.

    Juliefm said:
    Juliefm's picture

    Can't wait to make these for Christmas. Thanks for adding the PDF version.

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

    @ Juliefm - Glad you love the project. Let us know how yours turn out!

    Suek said:
    Suek's picture

    I have made about a dozen of these bags as gifts and have customized them with pics on the pockets and zippered pockets inside.  Am making one for my upcoming trip to Bermuda with wipeable grocery bag material.  Will let you know how it turns out.  Anyone know where you can get the iron on vinyl?  I made an emmaline bag for my daughter which she wanted for makeup so I sewed vinyl onto the lining so she could wipe it out but I saw someone made a bag with iron on vinyl which would be much easier?

    Sue kissinger said:
    Sue kissinger's picture


    anyone considering using reflectix for insulating this bag instead of insul bright it will not work.  I contacted the manufacturer and reflectix cannot be laundered.  If you use two layers of insul bright it works great.

    Yan said:
    Yan's picture

    What a great bag. Does it matter which way round the Insul-Bright faces?

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

    @ Yan - for this project, it does not matter.

    HeatherC said:
    HeatherC's picture

    I was wondering if anyone could help me out? The Patty Young fabric is no longer on that site, and I have no idea what kind of fabric it was. The pictures make it looks almost shiny, like a picnic table type fabric. Or is it just a cotton?

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

    @ HeatherC - This tutorial is from 2010, so yes, Patty Young's Flora & Fauna line is no longer a current collection. It is a standard quilting weight cotton. If you love Patty Young, here's a link to her site where you can check out her latest fabrics: http://modkidboutique.com

    doro von hand zu hand said:
    doro von hand zu hand's picture

    i like it. great choice of fabrics.

    I linked to your tutorial on my blog  - thanks for sharing!

    doro K.

    Pemberley said:
    Pemberley's picture

    I love this pattern I have made a few for myself and family. Easy to make and super insulating!! Thanks for the pattern!

    Helen Rabbitt said:
    Helen Rabbitt's picture

    My first tote bag and I love it. I used Reflectix Insulation instead of Insul Bright for added cooling as I live a distance from grocery shopping and home. Now I am making one for my friend.

    Dianna W. said:
    Dianna W.'s picture
    I have been looking for a pattern like this for two years. We have a sewing bee twice a year and are always looking for easy but useful projects. Looking forward to making this and sharing it with the group!
    Dianna W. said:
    Dianna W.'s picture
    I have been looking for a pattern for a bag like this for two years. I go to a sewing bee twice a year and we are always looking for a simple but useful project. This is perfect and I am excited to try it and share it with the group!
    Dianna W. said:
    Dianna W.'s picture
    I have been searching for a pattern like this for two years. I go to a sewing bee twice a year and we are always looking for easy but useful things to learn to make. I am so excited to share this! Thank you, Dianna
    knitbunnie said:
    knitbunnie's picture
    Great looking bag! I've been searching for a pattern for a "manly" diaper bag for my son-in-law, and this one fills the bill! I'll add a few interior pockets and a zipper, and switch up the insulated batting to regular. Baby boy is getting a matching quilt.
    Bonnies Best said:
    Bonnies Best's picture
    Double savings. I downloaded the instructions to my Sony e reader which accepts PDF so I am not wasting paper with print directions.
    Thanks for wonderful clear directions. smilies/grin.gif
    Katina said:
    Katina's picture
    If you use cardboard for an insert, cover it with saran wrap to protect it from moisture and it will last a lot longer.
    kbethpete said:
    Just finished this bag and it really went together like a dream. I have sewing experience yet found the directions both helpful and accurate.smilies/smiley.gif
    Debra McCombs said:
    Debra McCombs's picture
    I just finished making this and taking it to the store. This worked wonderful!!!
    I have made so many of the items here and the directions are very clear and most helpful to new sewers. Thank you.
    DawninCA said:
    DawninCA's picture
    I really like this insulated bag. I live in the boonies too and agree it is challenging
    to get frozen items home while still frozen. On
    extremely hot days it's even difficult to get just the eggs home before they
    fry. smilies/tongue.gif It's awesome that someone finally made an actual insulating batting.
    Thanks for the pattern!
    Jolara said:
    Jolara's picture
    I ended up making this bag for my Grandmother instead of the other grocery sack and I love it! (We live in the sticks, so getting to town isn't always convenient.) I just happened to have enough fabric & Insul Bright on hand to do it! Your tutorial was so easy to follow, thank you! It looks great and I can't wait to gift it to her in a couple of days. smilies/smiley.gif
    Sherie said:
    Sherie's picture
    I just found this web site! Very nice, I have been looking for directions for a project like this. Thanks.
    Kerry Gibbons said:
    Kerry Gibbons's picture
    I'm definitely making this project very soon, but I think a zipper will suit my needs a bit better. It'll probably help with insulating food on the way home. I live in New York, so all the deliciousness must travel on the subway, not in a car, so it usually takes a bit longer than the average person driving home from the grocery store.
    Lynn said:
    Lynn's picture
    What a great idea! Yes it would be helpful if it was in pdf format, however the steps are colorful and very well instructed. I can't wait to try it out.
    Lorik said:
    Lorik's picture
    I don't know about other browsers, but my browser (Safari for the Mac) lets me save a page as a pdf file when I pull up a "print" dialog box. Perhaps yours can?
    Mountainangel said:
    Mountainangel's picture

    Thanks for the tip....I forgot about the "print" to pdf option!  

    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
    Hi Diana -- so glad you like the project. We are looking into ways to offer our projects in a pdf format. Just need to work it into the budget. Our number one goal is to provide all our content free of charge, so sometimes we have to prioritize the developments we can add to the site. Thanks for letting us know that pdfs would be a help to you.
    Diana kemp said:
    Diana kemp's picture
    I really like your tutorial, just wish they were in pdf format.
    Liz Johnson, Editor, Sew4Home said:
    Liz Johnson, Editor, Sew4Home's picture
    Hi Lisa -- what a great idea for a teacher gift. So unique! I'm so happy to hear the instructions made it easy for you smilies/cheesy.gif
    Lisa Caron said:
    Lisa Caron's picture
    I just made this bag for a teacher present from my son, it was so easy to make and it looks just like the picture. Thanks for the great tutorial!!!
    KaliAmir said:
    KaliAmir's picture
    What a wonderful idea. Have made grocery bags but not with insulation