How to Sew a Bento Bag

bento bag filled with fruit

Family, friends and coworkers, please stop reading now…

And if you don’t sew, you can also skip this post and buy an original, proper bento bag from Ambatalia, a small, locally owned producer of gorgeous textile goods made from natural fibers and purveyor of daily essentials to help you live “a non-disposable life.” Check out Ambatalia’s bento bags here. My pattern differs from these original bento bags.

bento bag filled with fruit

I’m making these cute bags for everyone on my gift list this holiday season! Bento bags for all!

Produce Bag Sewing Meetups

I started organizing sewing meetups earlier this year to make cloth produce bags to give away at the Sunnyvale Farmers’ Market. I’ll be there on October 27th from 9am to 1pm, sitting in the Sunnyvale Environmental Services booth.

We’ve sewn close to 400 produce bags for people to use in place of plastic. People donated the fabric—old clean sheets or scraps that had been sitting in their attics and on their fabric piles—notions, thread scissors, ribbon, their time… Below are the bags I’ll give away. (Click here for the pattern.)

reusable cloth produce bags
Just some of the simple cloth produce bags we’ve sewn to give away

In Search of a Working Machine

At our last meetup on Sunday, my friend Mayumi, @zerowastetraveller, gave me two bento bags she had made. They are so beautiful! I had to try making some and posting the instructions.

homemade bento bags
Mayumi’s bento bags

But my sewing machine hasn’t been working. My serger works but I can’t do everything with it. So on Sunday, I asked Chandra if he would lend me one of his sewing machines. He said he would and that he would also keep an eye out for one for me.

On Tuesday, Chandra found the metal Singer sewing machine below on the side of the road.

If you read my blog or follow me on Instagram, you may have seen just some of the ridiculously nice things we find on the side of the road here in Northern California. I post so much nice stuff that at this point, you might think I’m making this all up, that no one finds a practically new ice cream maker, or two Ethan Allen chairs, or a slab of marble for photo backdrops, or a vintage cast iron muffin tin or a sturdy metal sewing machine, all just sitting on the side of the road, discarded.

If you live in the Bay Area, you simply nod and say to yourself, “Yup, that’s the Bay Area.”

Bento Bag Instructions

1. Cutting the fabric

These bags, like people, are beautiful in all sizes. For the bento bag in this post, I cut out a square 22 inches by 22 inches.

square of fabric for a bento bag
Cut a square

Next, I cut the square in half along the diagonal, creating two isosceles triangles. If you plan on making a pile of these, cut out one square or one triangle and use that as your template to cut the pieces for many bags.

two triangles for sewing a bento bag
Cut the square into two triangles

2. Finish the edges of the two equal sides

If you some of your edges are selvages (the tightly woven edges of a piece of fabric), you don’t have to finish those. They won’t fray.

I used my serger to finish the edges with a rolled hem. You could do a zig-zag stitch on a regular sewing machine.

rolled hem
Rolled hem
bento bag triangles
Finished edges

3. Lay out the bento bag

Now lay out the bag and pin it for sewing. Overlap the triangles as in the pic below, with the right side facing up. I’ve overlapped the right triangle onto the left one.

how to sew a bento bag
Lay out triangles for sewing

Next, fold the left triangle onto the right one and the right onto the left. You’ll end up with what looks like a square with a triangle cut out of the top. Pin the front together and the back. Remember, the right side of the fabric is on the inside.

how to sew a bento bag
Fold to make the sides and bottom the same length

4. Start sewing!

So the roadside machine started to act up. I have to play around with the bobbin tension. My standard sewing machine that hasn’t been working well decided to work today. Phew! I’m on a self-imposed, artificial deadline to get this post up!

You’ll now stitch along the equal sides of the inner triangle on the front and back of the bag. If you have a free arm machine, set that up. You’ll avoid sewing together parts that aren’t supposed to be sewn together.

bento bag pattern
Sew here through the two front layers, then flip over and sew through the two back layers
sewing a bento bag
Sewing the triangle

Next, sew along the bottom through all the layers. I used my serger, which sews and finishes the edge in one fell swoop. If you use a standard machine, sew the bottom and then finish the edges with a zigzag stitch.

sewing the bottom of a bento bag
Sew the bottom edge, through all four layers

To make a bit of a flat bottom, sew an inch or two at the end of each corner of the bag, perpendicular to the bottom edge.

sew a flat bottom
Make a flat bottom

You’re done! Turn the bento bag inside out and press if desired.

finished bento bag
Finished bento bag

The Bag in Action

bento bag filled with apples
Testing out the bag
bento bag filled and tied up
Bento bag filled and tied
bento bag filled with fruit
Bento bag in action

21 Replies to “How to Sew a Bento Bag”

  1. Cute bag. I wish people around where I live tossed out good stuff. Sounds like you have found a lot of treasures! 🙂

  2. Sheridan Katy says: Reply

    In 1969 having just graduated from college my roommate and I moved into our first apartment in Illinois. We had little furniture but we did have a card table to serve us for dining. On what came to be known to us as Garbage Eve we would drive through our new city to hunt for useful items. One night we found 2 wonderful slightly ornate dining chairs which we snagged for our use at the card table. When life called us in different directions, I got the chairs and used them for a number of years until I gave them to my sister in Georgia as they perfectly matched the used dining room set she had purchased for her new home. Three years ago, I attended a post wedding breakfast for the out of town attendees of my niece’s wedding hosted by a family friend and there were those two chairs refinished and re-upholstered for the 2nd or third time over the years and standing regally at my sister’s old dining table which she had given away to young friends for their brand new home on a bluff over a lazy river. I still check out items on the side of the road and often offer things to others for free on local web sites. Thanks for your blog, I really enjoy it.

  3. Kristi Alison Miller says: Reply

    Ummm…what is a bento bag? I can see it, but I am wondering what is the benefit of using it over a regular bag? Just curious. It’s cute, but looks like the stuff might fall out.

    1. Hi all

      These Bento bags are Inspired by the Japanese, these simple knot bags are incredibly eco-friendly and simple to use. Fold one of these and use it to carry to the market, or even to store your vegetables in the fridge.

    2. I think the idea is that you can “close” the bag without needing extra hardware like a drawstring or zipper. A colleague of mine brings multiple tupperware lunch items to work each day and wraps them up in a tied back sort of like this to keep them together. You can sew them to be deeper if you want.

  4. I just finished three of these and it’s really easy and very rewarding. Thank you for sharing. Ciao Stefan

  5. I also don’t know what bento bag is ;-). My question is – why don’t you just sew with a needle? It’s so much more enjoyable, simpler and makes me feel connected to generations past. For larger projects it might take prohibitively longer, but for a produce bag, a bento bag – it would take me longer to thread the machine correctly than to finish the whole project!

  6. […] There are books too. Take for instance Mending Matters: Stitch, Patch, and Repair Your Favorite Denim & More published this autumn. The book contains how-to projects, essays on slow fashion, the author’s fashion fast, and other such treats.  Look in the unlikely places too, like the Zero Waste Chef who is mainly cooking waste free, but her new posts on bags made out of old clothes and left over materials is quite a joy to see and, most likely, use. She’ll even teach you how to sew a bento bag. […]

  7. My name is Awang from Kuala Lumpur. I so happy to see this website, and thinking want to set up a community project in my hometown, where public like to use single usage plastic bags when buying foods during fasting month. can i get permission to use this idea to share to the public we still have more idea how to take care our planet.

    Thank you.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Awang,
      Absolutlely! Please share! You might like the following post also, about forming a sewing group:
      Thank you,
      Anne Marie

  8. […] the watercolour feather tutorial I saved in my Pinterest […]

  9. […] Look in the unlikely places too, like the Zero Waste Chef. Her main focus is cooking waste free, but her new posts on bags made out of old clothes and leftover materials are a joy to see and, most likely, use. She’ll even teach you how to sew a bento bag. […]

  10. I have basic sewing skills and my grandmother’s old sewing machine (no zig-zag stitch), but no serger. How complicated it it to make the bento bag without a serger? Would I have to hem all the edges of the triangle pieces?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Jean,

      Yes, make a hem on the two edges of each triangle and then sew following the directions. You don’t need to finish the bottoms of the triangles with a hem. I have seen them made this way and they look very nice.
      Anne Marie

  11. […] this tutorial for a Basic Bento Bag or get fancy and make a Lined Bento Bag. If you want a simpler bag, here is a tutorial for DIY […]

  12. Thank you so much for this Bento bag pattern.

  13. […] Otherwise known as “bento bags.” You basically cut out a square of fabric (I’ve been enjoying the 19” size), fold it in half to form two triangles and cut on the crease. You may want to sew the edges afterward (preferably with a small zigzag stitch) to prevent them from fraying. The next part is kind of hard for me to explain with words without pictures.. Lay the triangles side-by-side, edges touching, and overlap one to where the side points meet the middle point. Then sew together and— you know what, just check out this link. […]

  14. I know it was just a quick throwaway comment, but it really made me feel special and loved (at almost twice what I ought to weigh).

    These bags, like people, are beautiful in all sizes.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Cindy,
      I’m so glad and it’s true 🙂
      Have a good weekend,

  15. This is fantastic idea to keep safe our planet

    thank you for your valuable idea.

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