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How to Sew a Bento Bag

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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
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.

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.

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.

Sew here through the two front layers, then flip over and sew through the two back layers
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.

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.

Make a flat bottom

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

Finished bento bag

The Bag in Action

Testing out the bag
Bento bag filled and tied
Bento bag in action
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