Insulated Lunch Tote Tutorial

*UPDATED 3-2-14*

Due to a large number of requests, I've updated the tutorial with the finished dimensions and a few clarifications.  Enjoy!

I designed this insulated lunch tote for Sandra's Handmade Christmas in July series.

All the materials are machine washable, which for me, is what makes this worthwhile. I hate not being able to really wash my coolers. 

Here's what you need:

2 pieces of medium weight fabric, main part of tote (16 in. X 16 in.)
2 pieces of
medium weight fabric, contrasting part of tote (16 in. X 7 in.)2 pieces of PUL waterproof fabric (16 in. X 16 in.)2 pieces of Insul-Bright insulating fabric (16 in. X 16 in.)12 inch zipper
2 pieces of 1" cotton webbing, 24 in. each, for straps (or make your own)

Approximate Finished Dimensions:
12 inches across the top (at zipper)
11 inches tall
7 x 7 inches at the bottom

Take the contrasting pieces of fabric and fold over 1/2inch along the long side, toward the wrong side of fabric. Place on top of main fabric pieces, with folded side at the top, wrong side facing the right side of main panel. Sew in place.Now, we're going to shape the bag a little. On the bottom edge of the bag, measure a 4in. X 4in. square in the bottom 2 corners, and carefully cut it out. Keep in mind you should be cutting through the contrasting fabric piece you just sewed in place. If you're not, you're at the wrong corner.
Do this for all layers (both main panels, PUL and Insul-Bright layers)

Here's what it should look like.

A little more shaping. Make a mark 2 inches from either side of bag.

Draw a line from the corner of the bottom cutout.Cut on your line, for all layers (2 main panels, 2 PUL and Insul-Bright layers)
Now that we've got our bag shaped, here's some quick instructions if you want to make your own straps. Since the straps are 24inches long, cut a piece of fabric 24 inches by 4 times what you want the final strap width to be, in this case 1 inch. So you should have 2 pieces of fabric 24 x 4 inches.

Fold in half lengthwise, iron. Open it up, fold in half again, iron. Fold the ends in 1/2 inch, to finish. The following pictures should be pretty self explanatory.

Topstich all the way around strap to finish.

OK, back to our lunch tote. Mark 3 inches in from each side, and 3 inches down from each side and pin strap to the exterior fabric only. (pardon the fabric change here, needed to add a few pictures after the fact...)

Sew in place (to the exterior fabric only) making sure to not sew all the way to the top, since we still need to attach our zipper.
OK, on to the zipper, my least favorite part of any project. Pin the right side of zipper (zipper pull facing) to the right side of one of your main bag panels. Lay the shiny side (right side) of the PUL on top of the wrong side of zipper, and the Insul-Bright on top of that. Using a zipper foot, sew a 1/4 inch seam through all layers.
This is how it should look after sewing and folding back so right sides are out. (I had to get my seam ripper out a few times at this stage, so don't feel bad if you have to as well)Now for the other side of the zipper. Again, pin the right side of the zipper to the right side of the other main panel. The shiny (right side) of PUL to wrong side of the zipper, and the Insul-Bright underneath. Sew through all layers again.

Here's what is should look like when all the layers are folded back.

Fold the layers back so the main panels are right side together and the PUL right sides are together (Insul-Bright will be on the outside). Sew along the edges, the bottom of the main panel, and just 1 inch in from either side of the PUL/Insul-Bright lining. You NEED to leave this opening in the bottom for turning. Also, at this point, you should open your zipper, otherwise you won't be able to turn it. Last, be VERY careful sewing the sides, that you don't hit the metal at the end of the zipper. It can damage your machine, break your needle etc.
The next step is to shape the bottom. Match the side seam with the bottom seam at the centers. Pin and sew across with a 1/2 inch seam allowance. Do this for both corners of the main panel and both corners of the lining (PUL/Insul-Bright layers together).It's a little hard to photograph, but here's what it should look like.

Almost done! Carefully turn the bag right side out.

Now we've got this opening to deal with. The best thing to do would be to hand sew it closed. I'm not that patient.I folded the edges in, and sewed a little seam across to close it up.Push the lining into the bag and zip it up. Ta-dah! Done.

Hope you hung in there. The finished product is really worth it.

Let me know what you think!


  1. I love the shape of this bag, and the fact that it is machine-washable! Thanks!

  2. Very cute! love the pics easy to follow!

  3. This is beautiful! And the step-by-step instructions seem easy enough for a beginner like me to follow. :) Also, LOVE the black and white mod fabric.

  4. Wow, this is fabulous! Thank you so much for taking the time to make up this tutorial! I will definitely be giving it a try before school starts this year.

  5. Ruby, I cannot thank you enough for this amazing tutorial!! I made one for my stepmother's birthday and am so pleased with it! Your directions are so clear and easy to follow!!Keep em coming!

  6. LOVE THIS!! I'm a super beginner sewer and rarely find anyone who posts step by step instructions WITH photos so I'm super excited to give this a go! Hopefully it'll turn out okay lol

  7. Very Very Cool! Thank you! MJ from Fishers, IN

  8. I have always had a problem with zippers but for some reason your pics and wording made it click for me....I did have to rip out the first one only because I had fabric reversed....Thanks for a great tutorial!!

  9. BEAUTIFUL project!!! And wonderful tutorial! Thanks a lot.

  10. I made your bag today. It took me a little while but it looks great! Thank you!

  11. Thank you for taking the time to make a tutorial for this! I made it for my mother-in-law but first showed it to my mom and now she wants one too! Both moms loved it!

  12. What a beautiful bag! Thank you for the tutorial.

  13. Do you happen to know how long it will keep the contents cold or hot? Thanks!

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. I LOVE the graphic black and white fabric with the red straps!!! Thanks for the links to the insulating products also. Donna-Sew Much Fun

  15. What are the final measurements? I am trying to see if it would fit a 9 x 6.5 ziplock on the bottom.

  16. I love this insulated lunch tote!!! I included it and your oilcloth lunch tote in my collection of diy lunch bags and totes here:
    Thanks for posting!

  17. Just finished this tutorial for a lunch bag for my son. It was VERY easy and simple for a newbie like me who has a terrible time following patterns. It looks great and the perfect size for his lunches. Thanks again for your pattern and all the pictures. I think i might make a few more as presents!


  19. Just finished my first one, hope to make another - great fun!

  20. Very nice tutorial! I love the black and white fabric, especially matched with the red straps. I just took a small insulated tote on a trip, but it was "clunky" and not at all as cute as this. :) I definitely want to make one of these. Thanks for taking the time to create this tutorial!

  21. LOVE this! Can you tell me the finished size porportions? I really need one that will handle a rectangular tupperware container but not sure this one will be long enough?

  22. How cute! You make it look easy. I plan on giving this a try tomorrow - thanks for the tutorial!!

  23. My daughter's school lunch box is getting gross. I love that this one is washable. I'm trying to visualize the finished size with the fabric dimensions. Would you say this is maybe for packing a few people's lunches together or small enough for a school lunch? It looks like an awesome tutorial!

  24. I love your tutorial and can't wait to try making one in matching fabric of a shoulder sling backpack I just finished. Would it be possible to get the finished dimensions?

  25. I really like your detailed tutorial and am looking forward to trying to insert a zipper. Do you have the finished dimensions?

  26. Thanks for all the comments and the patience. I have just updated this tutorial with the approximate finished dimensions. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

  27. Love the tutorial! Just finished it tonight, easy to follow, and results in a fantastic bag :) thank you!

  28. Wow what a great tutorial. I love the contrast of the print with the bottom of the bag. Great work.

  29. I love this tutorial, you have made it seem so easy! Thank you for sharing.