DIY "Brown" Bag (waxed Canvas Lunch Bag)




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

About: I like to make things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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

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...

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!

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90 Discussions

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!

1 reply

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

love the natural feeling loooks great


2 years ago

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.

2 replies

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.

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!

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

1 reply

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 :)

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.


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

5 replies

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


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 :)

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!

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.

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 :)

1 reply

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