white picnic blanket with three denim lunch bags and apple

Sew an upcycled lunch bag

Today's project is an upcycling project. I’m going to show you how to sew lunch bags out of old jeans.

These lunch bags fit in school/work bags better than bulky tupperware and they’re washable too. Once you’ve eaten your lunch, or snacks, they fold down really small, so you can save space in your bag.
two small upcycled blue denim pocket bags on white background
Because the lunch bag is lined with coated cotton or oilcloth, you can easily wipe it with a damp cloth or even wash it in the washing machine. This means you can place sandwiches in the bag unwrapped if you want to, and, of course, use it again and again! This makes them much more sustainable than plastic bags.
blue denim lunch bag with hand pulling oil cloth lining out
The only thing you can’t put in these bags is anything that is open and could leak. If this is something you wanted to do, you could line with a waterproof material. Because you’ll be sewing through the material, it won’t be 100% leak proof, but will provide a decent level of protection.

I sewed two different versions: one with a jeans pocket on top and a push button (as a plus the edge can be turned upside down and the whole thing can then be used as a mini picnic bag for cutlery etc.) and one with a normal button. This tutorial shows you how to create the second version, but you can of course still sew a jeans pocket on it and replace the normal button with a push button if you want to make the other version.
cutlery apple and baguette in denim bags flat lay

I’ve used denim as the material is easy to wash and lasts a long time. But also because denim is one of the most pesticide and water guzzling fabrics on the planet, it’s important to get as much use out of it as possible. You could upcycle any old material you want to, however it’s best to choose something sturdy and washable like denim or corduroy. This will mean your bag will last for longer, and it’ll provide more protection to softer foods you place in it!

What you’ll need

For this project you’ll need a sewing machine, plus:

  • A Sewing Machine
  • A denim, or heavier weight needle
  • Thread suitable to be used with denim – choose a bright colour if you want the seams to ‘pop’
  • 2 x pieces of denim, for a larger lunch bag they should be about 24 x 36 cm*
  • 2 pieces of coated cotton/oilcloth of the same size**
  • A small piece of denim (about 2 x 8 cm)
  • A button
  • A hand sewing needle with thread
  • A pair of scissors
  • Pins

*If you want to sew a smaller/larger lunch bag, make sure that you adjust all pieces of fabric accordingly.

**You can recognize oilcloth by the fact that it is coated/glossy on one side and that the ‘bare’ cotton fabric can be seen on the other side. If you don't want to use oilcloth, you can use ‘normal’ cotton as lining, but doing so makes the lunch bag no longer suitable for putting things like sandwiches in unwrapped, because you can't wipe off food and spills anymore.

Hand holding blue oil cloth cotton shiny side up

How to

Place the two pieces of denim right side to right side. Cut two squares (around 5cm in size) from either side of one of the shorter sides (see images below). Repeat with the lining.
Hand holding scissors cutting small piece out of denim
Small pieces of oil cloth on white background
Place denim right side to right side and secure with pins. Make sure the ‘notched’ sides are together and the straight side are together. Here the two long edges and the short one (between the squares) are sewn together (see red dotted line on image below). Use a 1cm seam allowance. The ‘shoulders’ of the notches are not sewn together. The longer short edge, the one without notches, is not sewn either.
Square piece of blue denim with red sewing line marked on
To form the bag bottom, the ‘shoulder’ notches you cut in the smaller side of the bag have to be pulled apart so that the seams lie on top of each other. Fix them with pins and sew them together. Again, use a 1cm seam allowance.
Denim seams pulled apart and lined up ready to sew
Square denim bag being sewn along bottom seam
Repeat with the inner. Make sure you use the same 1cm seam allowance, so the bags fit together properly when making up.
Fan pattern oilcloth in sewing machine with 1cm allowance marked
Now the bag has to be ‘built’. Turn the lining part, so the wrong side, (unoiled cotton) is facing outwards (coating to the inside). The denim part needs to be right side out, wrong side in – so how it will be when the bag is finished.
Small denim bag and lining side by side ready to sew
Insert into each other - the denim part into the lining part. So that the wrong side of the lining is the fabric that’s on the outside of the bag. Secure with pins.

The bag is then sewn around at the top opening (there should only be one!). Make sure to leave a gap of 10 cm, though! Through this gap, the bag will be turned inside out later.
Small square bag inside out with red sewing line marked on top
Remove the accessories tray at the bottom of your sewing machine, so that you can sew with the ‘free arm’ (the bag is like a tube that you can pull onto the free arm and then sew).
Brother sewing machine with accessory tray remove to make free arm
Sew the top edge of the bag together (except for the 10 gap as previously marked). The turn the bag the right way round through the gap.
Hands pulling denim bag and lining right way round after sewing
In order to be able to close the lunch bag, we need a button and a loop. Use the small, narrow piece of denim for this.

First, fold the long edges to the middle and then over again, so that no open edges are visible. Secure with pins or hold firmly by hand and sew along the entire length. Put to one side.
Small piece of denim on Brother sewing machine needle plate
Mark the middle of the open edge (the side with the gap) with a pin. Make a loop from the narrow strip of denim and attach at the marking.
hand making small loop out of denim to attach to denim bag
Now fold in the open edges (you can finger press, or iron to help keep them down) and topstitch tight to the edge all around. Sew more slowly when sewing over the loop so that the needle does not break.
small denim bag being sewn on Brother sewing machine
The position of the button has to be determined now. To do this, fold the bag at the top edge as if you wanted to close it and mark the position of the button (in the middle of the loop) with a pin.
small denim bag with pin where button needs to be sewn to close
Sew the button by hand with needle and thread – all done!

I hope you liked my upcycling jeans project! Wil you make yourself one? Or a set for your family?

I can’t wait to see what you make! Remember to tag in Brother on Instagram and Facebook, and myself too!
white picnic blanket blue striped napkin baguette and denim bag
"Denim is one of the most pesticide and water guzzling fabrics on the planet, so it’s important to get as much use out of it as possible."

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