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How-Tuesday: Lunch Bag From Bend the Rules With Fabric

Sep 1, 2009

by Michelle Traub

Lunchtime at school is an hour of politics: jockeying to get the prime seat, trading tuna fish for fruit roll-ups, and gossiping through juice-stained lips. In an effort to endow you or your child with some social clout, this week’s How-Tuesday project is a vintage-inspired lunch bag from Amy Karol’s book, Bend the Rules With Fabric. Whether you’re going back to school or bringing leftovers to work, this reusable pouch will induce cupcake-worthy envy. Amy’s book is all about customizing fabric to fit your style, so the best part of this project is that you could make one for every kid in your class and still feel unique!

Purchase Bend the Rules With Fabric

As a kid, I loved altering my own clothes and fabrics. I was constantly drawing on shoes and T-shirts, embroidering my jeans, and adding bits of trim to all kinds of things. Later, in high school, I airbrushed T-shirts for my first paying craft gig. This was when I had my first sense that I was going to live a life filled with art and design — and a whole lot of messes.

There is something thrilling about marking up fabric. It’s easier than ever to learn how to customize fabric — you don’t have to take a college-level surface-design class. Nor do you need to break the bank buying supplies in vast quantities: Suppliers have made it easy to get materials, and much of what you need you already have around the house or can find at fabric or craft stores. Look in your kitchen! Stamping can be as simple and inexpensive as using a cut potato and some paint.


We Have the Technology

You don’t need a computer to customize your projects, but it sure adds to the fun. A computer, printer, and — even better — a scanner open up a whole world of possibilities. Even though you might use a computer for some of these techniques, that doesn’t mean the images have to look digitally created. So many examples of uses for printed fabric sheets involve photos, which is great, but that doesn’t even skim the surface of what you can do. For example, you can paint a real watercolor onto paper, scan it, and then print it onto fabric. Wow! You now have the look of a watercolor (a very tricky thing to do directly on fabric) printed onto your fabric from your computer. Same goes with drawing, painting — all of that. The computer is just a tool.

Lunch Bag

I love packing a lunch, and I like to do it in style. Why use disposable paper bags when you can reuse supercute ones? Adorn this clever lunch bag with your favorite images from magazines or books. The fabric for this bag has an image scanned from a vintage magazine, complete with a cookie recipe. This project uses only three photo fabric sheets (or homemade sheets with Bubble Jet Set 2000), and the pattern cleverly uses 8 1/2″ x 11″ (21.5 x 28cm) sheets, so you won’t waste any fabric. Once you make one of these, you’ll be hooked.

Finished Size
10 3/8″ high x 6 1/4″ wide x 3 1/2″ deep (26 x 16 x 9cm), unfolded

Outer bag fabric: (3) 8 1/2″ x 11″ (21.5 x 28cm) photo fabric sheets for your printer or copier, or homemade sheets using Bubble Jet Set 2000, cut after printing into:

(2) 6 1/2″ x 11″ (16.5 x 28cm) front pieces
(2) 4 1/4″ x 11″ (11 x 28cm) side pieces
(2) 6 1/2″ x 11″ (16.5 x 28cm) front pieces
(2) 4 1/4″ x 11″ (11 x 28cm) side pieces
(2) 6 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ (16.5 x 11.5cm) bottom*


(1) 2″ x 20″ (5 x 51cm) piece of fabric for homemade binding, or, if using premade binding, (1) package (3 yards [2.7m]) of 7/8″-(22mm-)wide single-fold bias tape

(1) 1″ x 2″ (2.5 x 5cm) piece of Velcro (optional)
Vintage magazines or other images to copy
Sewing machine

Seam Allowance
1/4″ (6mm)

*One bottom lining piece is used for the bottom of the outer bag.

1. Prepare your artwork by scanning and printing it onto your fabric at home, or make color copies of it and print it onto color copier fabric sheets at the copy shop. You will need 3 printed sheets total.

  • For printing images onto fabric sheets, there are two primary options. The easiest is to use sheets designed for your printer (or copier) that have fabric on one side. They come in different fabric types, are usually only white or cream, and can be quite stiff. Several brands make them, and they can be found at most craft and fabric stores. Some things to keep in mind: Not all brands are waterproof/washable, so don’t assume they are; read the fine print and care instructions carefully, making sure to check the type of fabric used (a twill is very different from a cotton poplin) and make sure to purchase sheets compatible with your printer. The second option is to create your own fabric sheets. Bubble Jet Set 2000 is a liquid solution that enables you to make your own fabric printer sheets. You can use whatever fabric you want, as long as it is 100-percent cotton or silk. You can save a ton of money. The fabric feels better than premade fabric sheets and is much easier to work with. You also can use colored fabric.

2. Cut out the outer bag pieces from your printed fabric. Cut out the lining pieces and binding strip if you are making binding. (Skip this step if you are using premade binding.)

3. Make the outer bag: With right sides facing, sew the long sides together on the front and side pieces, creating a box without a top or bottom. With right sides together, pin a lining bottom piece onto the front and side pieces. Sew carefully, flaring out the sides and front, stopping and pivoting with your needle down at each corner.

4. Repeat step 3 with the lining fabric.

5. Turn the outer bag right side out. Place the lining bag inside the outer fabric bag, wrong sides together. This will now look exactly like it will when it is done, minus the binding. Baste around the top edge to keep the layers together.

6. Make binding by ironing your strip in half lengthwise. It will now be 1″ x 20″ (2.5 x 51cm). Align the raw edges of the binding and the top of the bag and lay out on the printed side of the bag, right sides together. Fold the short end of the tape over so there is no raw edge, and stitch using a 1/4″ (6mm) seam allowance from the edge. Flip the folded edge to the inside on the bag, and hand-stitch it to the lining.

7. To create the closure, machine-stitch one Velcro piece centered just under the binding along the top edge of one front piece.

Fold the bag over twice toward the other front piece, and mark where the Velcro touches the other front piece. Stitch the opposite Velcro piece onto the other front piece where the two Velcro pieces would touch.

Tips, Hints, and Other Suggestions:

  • You can make this with a vinyl lining. Plastic-coated fabric like oilcloth can be tricky to stitch with, so try a Teflon presser foot or use masking tape on the edges and sew through all layers to keep the oilcloth from sticking.
  • Create a cute closure by stitching an elastic band into the binding on one side and adding a button on the outside front instead of the Velcro.




Looking for more ways to innovate with fabric? Check out Bend the Rules With Fabric for ideas in paint, dye, and thread. Thanks to Amy Karol and the good folks at Potter Craft Publishing for sharing this project with us.

More How-Tuesday Posts | Supplies Category | DIY Made Simple Gift Guide

Amy Karol, a.k.a. The Angry Chicken, Was a Guest Curator


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