Introduction: DIY "Brown" Bag (waxed Canvas Lunch Bag)

Picture of DIY "Brown" Bag (waxed Canvas Lunch Bag)

Inspired by this Etsy blog post, I became intrigued with the waxed canvas process and decided to try it over the weekend. I loved the end result so much that I made an extra dinner last night just so that I could bring lunch to work this morning!

This DIY is a great way to to replace your brown paper bag with a re-usable, durable waxed canvas version. Waxing canvas makes the fabric water resistant and stain-proof to protect your snacks on-the-go. Plus, you can't really argue with using less paper and bringing lunch instead of eating out!

Step 1: Cut Your Fabric to Make a Brown Bag

Picture of Cut Your Fabric to Make a Brown Bag

To make your brown bag, you'll need sturdy brown canvas (ask your fabric store for duck canvas), matching brown thread and your basic sewing tools (scissors, pins, ruler, chalk, sewing machine).

To cut your fabric, fold it in half and trace a 16 inch x 14.5 inch square using chalk. Cut along your chalk marks so that you cut through both halves of fabric. Pin just the long sides together. My fabric looked the same on both sides but if your sides are different, make sure the the good sides are facing inwards when you pin them together.

Step 2: Sew the Two Pieces Together

Picture of Sew the Two Pieces Together

Sew along the sides that you pinned together, removing pins as you go. Make sure to leave an inseam of at least 1/4 inch. Iron the inseams down as shown in the picture. After a test run, I started to do an overcast stitch on all of the "raw" edges to prevent fraying. I'd highly recommend you do the same if your machine allows, especially on the bottom edge.

Step 3: Fold and Sew the Bottom

Picture of Fold and Sew the Bottom

Turn your fabric inside out so that the good sides are facing out. Fold and iron each of the long sides 2 inches from the seam like a paper bag would look. I found this YouTube video on how to fold a paper bag quite helpful, especially when folding the bottom. Following the pictures above, fold the bottom of the bag and tuck the very top edge under so that the raw edge isn't showing. Pin and sew along this top edge. Almost done!

Step 4: Sew the Hem

Picture of Sew the Hem

Turn the bag inside out again so that the good sides are facing inwards. Iron the top 1 inch down. Fold the raw edge inside and iron again. Feel free to pin as you go. Sew the hem down as close to the bottom edge as you can. You're done!

Step 5: Wax Your Bag

Picture of Wax Your Bag

To wax your bag, you'll need paraffin wax, beeswax, 1/2 inch brush and a double broiler set-up (I just used an old clean can).

Chip away at the wax on a hard surface so that you get about 1/2 cup of paraffin and 1/2 cup of beeswax. I know that some people use just paraffin wax so that the bag has a fully clear rather than slightly yellow coat, but I love the smell of beeswax and I think the yellow tint makes the waxed canvas look more natural.

On your stove top, boil water inside of a pot and bring the temperature back down to a minimum so the water is no longer bubbling. Place your tin filled with wax into the pot. Stir it as it melts until it is completely liquid.

NOTE: Please use safety and common sense here. Don't touch the liquid wax, don't put a tin in violently boiling water, don't melt wax on a open flame, don't let your children melt the wax, etc. Also, don't use tools that you want to cook with later as dried wax is very difficult to clean.

Step 6: Brush Liquid Wax Onto Bag

Picture of Brush Liquid Wax Onto Bag

Using a brush (1/2-1 inch bristles), spread wax onto your bag. I left my wax in the hot water so that it wouldn't dry as I waxed my fabric. Make sure to get wax into all of the hidden nooks so that the entire outside of the bag is covered. Feel free to add a little bit more wax to the bottom and seams (the thicker the wax, the sturdier and darker your final waxed fabric). Let your bag dry so that the wax hardens completely.

Step 7: Magic!

Picture of Magic!

The final magical step! Place your bag into an old pillowcase, tie at the top and place in your dryer on it's highest heat setting for 15-45 minutes depending on the thickness of your wax. When you remove it from the dryer, the wax should be completely soaked into your fabric. If there are still white chunks left, place it back into the dryer or use a blow dryer to deal with any remaining spots. As your bag cools down, it will harden so it can stand on it's own. Super cool!

NOTE: The wax does soak into the pillowcase a bit so definitely use an old one and make sure to tie it tightly at the top. My dryer didn't seem to have a waxy residue after this step but I wiped it down with an old shirt just to make sure. I also placed a towel in the dryer for about 10 minutes after and it came out totally normal with no wax residue. Just don't wax your bag and dry your regular clothes in the same load :)

Step 8: Enjoy

Picture of Enjoy

Enjoy your awesome new brown bag! I like using a large metal clip to secure the top, but you can just fold it over too.

Step 9: And, If You're Feeling Ambitious...

Picture of And, If You're Feeling Ambitious...

After discovering the waxing canvas process and loving the final results, I decided to make larger size brown bags that emulate the grocery store version. Here are some photos of a test run at the market. I have to say that they held up nicely after carrying what felt like a ton of groceries!

To make these bags, I made a few adjustments. I cut 21.5 x 19 inch rectangles for the body. For a sturdier bottom, I sewed close to the fold on all rolled edges. To make the handles, I cut two 2 x 22 inch strips, folded them to the middle with an iron and rolled each side in another time so that the raw edges were tucked in. I sewed close to the fold line on each side and then sewed the straps onto the bag 6 inches from the top and 3.5 inches from each side. After waxing, these bags were good to go!


zeeeeeeecore (author)2017-05-17

for those who do not have a dryer, what option do we have to dry the wax applied to the fabric? thank you in advance!

asergeeva (author)zeeeeeeecore2017-05-17

You can use a blow dryer (like the one for your hair) instead!

paul the maker (author)2017-04-16

love the natural feeling loooks great

zatman (author)2016-05-28

Love your work. I do have a question. I'm tired of buying cheaply made, expensive lunch bags for my kids for school, so I'm going to make these for them but I was curious as to how long things stay cold? We usually use ice packs in their insulated bags and they last the kids get home from school. I have a few ideas of insulation material but if I don't need to use them I won't. Thanks again and keep up the awesome work.

starthorn (author)zatman2017-02-07

You could always sew an insulated material into the inside of it (many bigger fabric stores sell insulated fabric/lining specifically for things like this). It's not terribly expensive. You could sew that into the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 of the bag or something, to make it insulate better.

asergeeva (author)zatman2016-05-31

Hey! It definitely protects the food but I'm not sure how long it will stay cold if you use an ice pack (my lunch doesn't usually require refrigeration). Please do share your findings!

milyron (author)2017-01-24

I'm a beginner in sewing and I'd like to make it for my daughter for school but it's very hot here and I prefer to not wax the canvas. Any suggestions about what kind of canvas to get and the #number? I don't really understand much in fabric

asergeeva (author)milyron2017-01-24

I'm not sure what the correct number would be, but I'd just encourage you to go to a local fabric shop and check out different canvas fabrics to see what weight you like. Another good option could be thick denim. Good luck :)

NikhilN43 (author)2016-12-28

fabric stores don't carry wax fabric, i had to purchase mine from, really inexpensive, i messed up a few times but didn't mind it since i bought extra fabric.


OhLeita (author)2014-09-04

Off to the store I go for brown fabric and to rob my beehive for some wax. Thank you for posting this!

asergeeva (author)OhLeita2014-09-04

You have a beehive?! Super cool. Have fun!

OhLeita (author)asergeeva2014-09-04

Yep, a Kenyan Top Bar. They make great super weapons for fighting off dragons, too!

asergeeva (author)OhLeita2014-09-05

That's too cool! Thanks for sharing a photo. I'd love to have a beehive once I move out of a tiny San Francisco studio into a larger space :)

sarah209 (author)asergeeva2016-10-05

Bees can live in cities very happily, assuming your property owner can be cool with with bees. They have a wider variety of foods in urban areas, take up very little space, and are less likely to be sprayed with pesticides than wild bees! So, move those little friends in, now! We need more bees! Rooftop spaces( like the Chattanooga Discovery Museum Apiaries) are prime for them!

neo71665 (author)sarah2092016-12-02

As a beekeeper I'm all for everybody having bees but you need to check with more than the property owner. Some areas (even rural in my case) require you to register any hive in the area. In my case it's free you just have to do it or face a possible fine. Some areas even require approval before you can bring in a hive. We need more bees we just have to play by their rules so we can keep them.

MikaelaHolmes (author)2016-05-05

I'd never seen this Instructable of yours! This is really wonderful! Such a great process, it must smell really good with the beeswax too! Yum. Bzzzzzzz. I want to try this now :)

asergeeva (author)MikaelaHolmes2016-05-05

Hehe thanks! Very handy and I use them often :)

ChrisR222 made it! (author)2016-04-02

Figured i'd go ahead and make one since I've been taking my lunch to work and was tired of throwing away plastic bags. When I make my next one, i'll make it smaller since this seems to be a tad bit too big, and now I know how to fold the bottom after some trial and error! Also, I pt a tad bit too much wax on it, so it has a slight waxy feels, but doesn't take away from the overall aesthetic. Overall, loved the Instructable!

asergeeva (author)ChrisR2222016-04-02

That looks amazing Chris!! Thank you so much for sharing and glad to hear you're switching from plastic bags :) Also, I've found that the wax does soak in more with time, so it won't feel too waxy for long.

DanielleS51 (author)2016-01-09

Is it bad if I wax the fabric before cutting and sewing?

asergeeva (author)DanielleS512016-01-11

I would definitely discourage you from waxing prior - not only will it be much harder to sew but you may also damage your machine!

DanielleS51 (author)asergeeva2016-01-19

Oh, OK. Thanks!!!

Dnelle06 (author)2015-12-14

Is there a better explanation as to how to fold the bottom? How do you get it square with the sides? Are the sides tucked in first before the bottom is attempted?

asergeeva (author)Dnelle062015-12-15

Yes, the sides are tucked in first (I used an iron). It's a little bit trial and error. I'd recommend practicing with paper or taking apart a real brown paper bag to see how it works!

PattyL11 (author)2015-11-12

Too awesome!!! Trying it out this weekend!!

Eefcouf (author)2015-06-14

I love this! I'm gonna make this for my husband (and for myself), who hates little plastic lunch bags :). Just one thing I'm wondering about: is it totally food safe? Just a few days ago I read an article about how paraffine "isn't toxic but can do harm to the body". But that was about paraffine used as a binder in medicines. Does anyone know the answer? Maybe I'm gonna try to wax some fabric with the bee-wax (already found a food-safe bee-wax) paraffine mixture, and try to wax some with a soy-wax/bee-wax mixture. I will post the results here ;)

asergeeva (author)Eefcouf2015-06-15

You can actually buy food grade paraffin wax which is what I did. You can purchase a pound of it on for $8. If not, you can totally wax it with just beeswax as well. Good luck! Would love to see pictures when you're done :)

Eefcouf (author)asergeeva2015-06-19

Thanks! I now saw the amazon link to the gulf wax :) too bad amazon isn't available in the Netherlands but I'm looking for another way to get my hands on gulf wax or another food grade paraffin. I think it isn't very common here..

buttermere4 (author)Eefcouf2015-11-11

You can buy the waxes from Amazon.Uk sites. I lived in sweden and used them a lot friends in Germany do too...... Or buy from or nl if you can it's cheaper posting prices..... I am sure you could find it at specialist food store too :)

ValerieS10 (author)2015-09-30

Making all my Christmas presents this year. Can't wait to try this!

gserrano701 (author)2015-09-04

Great instructable. I think an iron at low temp and either parchment paper or aluminium foil could work too.

abunda (author)2014-09-08

very very beautiful!! do you know how can i give the bag the dryer step, if i dont have a dryer. ¿hair dryer

definingsound (author)abunda2015-07-27

Use a dryer at the laundromat (coin laundry)

I used this same method to waterproof a pair of boots, and I used a heat gun to melt the wax in. It worked great! A hair dryer wasn't powerful enough, at least not for my liking. You can get a heat gun from Home Depot, but you might be able to borrow one if you don't want to buy.

asergeeva (author)abunda2014-09-08

Thank you! I think that you do need a hair dryer or drying machine in order to get the wax to combine with the fabric properly. I tried to do that step with an iron and that worked well on small spots but I don't think it's the best way to wax the entire bag.

pete_ made it! (author)2015-07-20

used your instructions for the waxing part to make a canvas tool roll! Turned out great!

asergeeva (author)pete_2015-07-20

Wow - turned out awesome!! And your dog is super cute :) Thanks for sharing!

kennethharris (author)2015-05-11

Nice work

stevenelson55 (author)2015-05-07

Impressive :-)

adamrussell (author)2015-05-04

Good work

denniscook (author)2015-05-02

Very creative work.. Really good

Kewl_Carlos made it! (author)2015-04-13

Great tutorial! I decided to use faux leather instead of the canvas.

asergeeva (author)Kewl_Carlos2015-04-14

Wow! The faux leather looks amazing!! So glad to see pics :)

lindy.liggett (author)2015-03-21

Thank you for this instructable! It's clear and so gorgeous. I've made a few of these and find that topstiching (edgestitching? I never know the difference) on all vertical edges and the smaller sides of the bottom helps the bag stay super crisp and looks great. It was also useful when I wanted to try with thinner, less sturdy fabrics. Now my friends have waxed canvas lunch bags since I keep making them :)

asergeeva (author)lindy.liggett2015-03-23

I'm so glad to hear you found it useful! I totally agree that adding topstitching on the edges would make it more durable - that's a nice touch. And your friends are lucky, that's for sure :)

dmoonen made it! (author)2015-03-02

I used this waxing idea for my everyday bag. I used a heat gun since I don't have a dryer. Now he can stand on his own unsupported.

Still have a lot of beeswax and paraffin left for more projects.

But very good instructable.

Thank you very much.

asergeeva (author)dmoonen2015-03-02

That looks awesome!! So glad that you found the Instructable useful :)

dmoonen (author)2015-02-24

Do you know how much beeswax you used in grams or kg?

asergeeva (author)dmoonen2015-02-24

No, I'm not sure. I used about half beeswax and half paraffin wax but you can play around with the ratio! Good luck and definitely post a photo here if you end up making something :)

asergeeva (author)2014-10-21

Hi! Do you mean printing a Native American pattern with wax on the fabric?

About This Instructable




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