I first tried to make a Handmade Lunchbox when my oldest kids were still in elementary school. Money was tight and I had some fabric, so gave it a go. It turned out great and we’ve been making handmade lunchboxes ever since. The kids pick out their favorite fabric and design, so it’s a fun project to make together.
Over the years, I’ve made a few different styles. This particular style is one of the girl’s favorite (too purse-like for the boys). The handmade lunchbox in the picture will be Em’s for this new school year. Her old lunch box was in good shape, but this year we are trying to make lunches in a bento style/compartment container that each of the kids can make the night before. I am just DONE with making 4 + lunches every morning! The compartment containers work best when they can sit flat and it just wouldn’t work with her old lunch box. I am all about finding a better way to handle lunches! I’ve even been dreading school starting because I just don’t want to make those darn lunches everyday! 🙁 Crazy, right!?
Making this lunchbox is not particularly difficult, although it helps is you have some basic sewing knowledge and maybe a little practice putting a zipper in. Zippers are not terrible, but they do take a little patience.
- 2 pieces of fabric 16″ x 25″ – one for the outside and one for the lining. I like to use a nice medium weight cotton. Try to avoid fabric that is stretchy, too thin, or too thick.
- 1 “sport” closed end zipper 14″ or longer– I like to use sport zippers because they are a little more rugged than a regular one. Lunchboxes get a lot of use, so if you don’t go with a sport zipper, just make sure it’s something tough that can stand up to lots of heavy duty kid use. Zippers are somewhat flexible as far as what you buy. Closed end is ultimately what we need, but if you can’t find that, an open end that is longer than the size you need will work. Any zipper can be shortened by simply sewing the end closed at the length you want. (Good to keep in mind if you find a good deal on zippers.)
- 2 pieces of 1′ wide webbing or heavy duty ribbon, each 19″ long for the handles – I like to use a nylon or cotton webbing that is 1″ wide. This seems to hold up the best. As an alternative, you could make your own handles out of the matching fabric.
- 1 piece of Insulbright 16″ x 25″ – Insul-bright is an insulating batting that is specially designed for something like this where you want to keep things hot or cold. It’s denser than regular batting, but still thin enough so it isn’t bulky.
- Matching thread – the only portion that shows is where we stitch it down close to the zipper, so not crucial to have something exact, anything close will work.
Putting the Handmade Lunchbox Together:
Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of pictures. This is very step by step, so I took lots of pictures. 🙂 Essentially, the technique is very similar to sewing a Make-Up Bag. I like to think of this in layers – basically we are making a fabric sandwich, then stitching it all together.
To get started, we need to center the handle on one end of the outside fabric. Place the fabric right side up and pin the handles to the right (outside) side. Since the fabric is 16″ wide, the center point is at the 8 inch mark. I like to place the ends of the handle material 3″ on either side of the center mark, so at 5″ and 11″. I like to temporarily pin these in place so they don’t wiggle out of alignment.
The next layer in our “sandwich” is the zipper. Place this upside down on top of the fabric and handles.
The next layer in the sandwich is the lining fabric, right side down. Place this on top of the zipper, keeping everything lined up across the top (edge closest to the ruler in the picture below).
The last layer is the insul-bright. Place this right on top of the lining fabric.
Now, pin the sandwich all together, along the top edge. Be careful that everything is lined up and make sure the zipper is sandwiched in there too.
Below is a picture of the edge view, showing all the layers.
Take this to the sewing machine and using a zipper foot, stitch along the edge, close to the zipper.
Next, turn this right side out and iron each side so that the fabric is neatly away from the zipper.
Once the pieces are ironed flat, on the right side of the fabric, stitch through all layers, somewhat close to the zipper. This will keep everything tight together along the zipper and keep any fabric from getting stuck in the zipper during use.
Now, we are going to do the exact same process on the opposite side of the bag, starting by adding the straps. Mark these at 5 and 11 inches and pin in place while we assemble the other layers.
See in the picture below, we are bringing the other side of the fabric, that we just pinned the straps to, up to the other side of the zipper.
Then from the underneath, we are going to bring the lining and insul-bright up to the zipper. Pin all these layers together along the top edge.
Below is a side view to help visualize at this step.
Stitch along the zipper using your zipper foot.
Just be careful to keep the side that is already finished out of the way of the stitching. Turn the piece right side out. You can see the lunchbox starting to take shape a little bit.
Iron both sides flat and stitch along the top edge, close to the zipper, just like we did on the first side.
Next, turn the lunchbox inside out, and pin the sides together. There is a lot of bulk in the layers, so it might not line up perfectly – this okay. If you gently tug on each corner, they will line up and then you can pin everything together.
Stitch along the side, securing tightly on each end with extra back and forth stitching.
Stitch a zig-zag stitch on the outside of the straight stitch, then trim off the excess.
Alternatively, you could also do a serged edge if you have a serger or trim with pinking shears. Do this on both sides – exact same process.
Next, we are going to square up the bottom.
With the bag inside out, lay the side down flat as if it were matching up with the very bottom of the bag to form a triangle shape.
Pin this in place.
Stitch a straight line across, as if you were making the bottom of the triangle, about 3 inches from the point.
Make a zig zag stitch on the outside of the straight stitching (or serge or cut with pinking shears) and trim off the excess.
Turn the bag right-side out and gently poke out all the corners to shape it up a bit.
A look at the inside…
Now you’ve got a custom lunch box, sure to be a one of kind at school or work. 🙂