Upcycled Insulated Tote




Introduction: Upcycled Insulated Tote

These totes are great for grocery shopping, picnics, park days, and road trips. I was inspired to make them when my company was handing out free totes and I had a stack of insulation from meal delivery companies like Blue Apron and HelloFresh. I've made around 25 of these now, down from ~1hr for the first one to about 20-30 minutes each by the end of the run.

I use mine all the time and people have really seemed to appreciate them, so I've given many of them as gifts. If you start with a heavy duty tote bag it will last longer, hold its shape better, and make a better bag / gift in my opinion.

Materials and tools needed:

  1. Tote bag (heavier duty works better)
  2. Reusable shopping bag (Polypropylene bags work perfectly and are available at most grocery stores)
  3. Good scissors or kitchen shears
  4. Insulation material (I've used Blue Apron and HelloFresh)
  5. 22" zipper
  6. Sewing machine or needle and thread

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Step 1: Attaching the Zipper

Firstly, the zipper is not essential, but greatly improves the sturdiness and the amount of time the contents will stay warm or cold. I added snaps to close the first bag I made, but the zipper is so much better that I highly recommend the effort of adding one.

You'll want to take the tote in both hands and open the top of the bag to its widest opening. Pull the ends tight to where the bag is closed and make sure your zipper is slightly longer than that length. You'll be sewing the zipper in the top to close the bag.

Now, you'll align the little zipper stop (at the bottom of the zipper) with one of the ends of the bags (picture 1). You want the zipper to work on the full range of the opening, so there'll be a little extra material to tuck inside the bag.

When you have that alignment right, make sure you have the zipper facing down as you lay it onto the inner wall of the bag that it will be sewn to. Pin it into place to keep it from moving while you start to sew. You'll want to double check (triple check) the zipper is oriented correctly before you start to sew, to make sure it's not going to be upside down.

My method for sewing was to start, with the zipper closed, on the first side from the zipper stopper to the other end of the opening (picture 2). On the second side I opened the zipper, aligned the ends (on the open side of the zipper in picture 3) with the other side of the bag opening, and sewed back in the opposite direction of the initial side towards the zipper stop to finish.

Step 2: Adding Insulation

For the best variations of tote bag I used both of the insulation types shown here together. You don't have to use both, but it makes the bag more insulating and sturdy. If you have foil only you could double or triple layer it for sturdiness and to get roughly the same amount of insulation. The foil-type as the outer insulation should also improve insulation performance in direct sunlight (picnics, park days).

If you're adding the foil-type, I recommend cutting horizontally along the upper portion of the foil to be a couple of inches less than the height of the tote, with one vertical cut to adjust the foil circumference (picture 2). The bottom of the foil bag should be remaining. This can be cut down into 2 pieces that are rectangles the size of the bottom of the tote (picture 3) using the tote bottom piece, if available, as a rough guide (picture 4).

Step 3: Adding Recycled Denim Insulation

If you're using both the denim and foil insulation, you'll place the foil bottom in the tote now before the denim insulation (picture 1).

There are typically 2 sizes of denim insulation in a delivery box to choose from. In my experience and to increase sturdiness, one of the denim insulation pieces fits pretty well if you set it into the bag in one piece (picture 2) and then place the tote bottom insert on top of it (seen in picture 4 bottom).

You'll then need to cut pieces from the remaining denim to fit the sides (pictures 3 & 4). I've made several variations of the denim inserts, so you should be able to TetrisĀ® it into there one way or another.

Once you've finished adding the denim insulation, you'll add the foil insulation around denim to make it the outer layer of insulation. There might be some overlap of foil if you kept the entire foil piece intact, which you can remove if you want.

Step 4: Fitting the Inner Bag

The polypropylene bags work best as an inner liner. They're strong and they clean up well if you have a spill in the bag.

This step should be relatively simple. The inner bag needs to be cut at the corners to match the height of the insulation and fold down over it. To be more accurate it helps to place the inner bag inside, press it down to make sure it's well seated, and cut the corners in place roughly match the height of the insulation.

Fold down the sides of the inner bag and tuck them between the tote wall and insulation (picture 4). It's helpful to crease the inner bag to keep it from coming out of place. You could fix it in place with something, but I think it's helpful to keep it easily removable for cleaning.

Step 5: Finished Product

Behold, the one true bag.

I hope you've enjoyed my first instructable!

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    2 years ago

    That's a great idea to upgrade one :) This would be helpful to have on car trips.