Bento bags, AKA azuma bukuro
Bento bags are a popular Japanese style of bag, more properly called azuma bukuro (or fukuro. Bukuro and fukuru are different pronunciations of the same word, which is a blend of two words that translate to “good fortune” and “bag.” Azuma is the historical name for the eastern region in Japan now known as Kanto and Tohoku).
These are also sometimes called Japanese market bags, triangle bags, even origami bags, although there are other styles called origami bags, too.
I discovered bento bags a few weeks ago myself, and I am so glad that I did, because these are incredibly useful. I told you in January that I planned to sew for Christmas in July, and I’ve actually been doing this since June. So I’ve been making lots of bento bags as wrappings for the gifts I am sewing now. And for my own personal and household use, too.
There are different ways to sew bento bags. Whichever method you use, they end up the same shape. It is useful to know how to make these both ways, though, so that you can use scraps to make them. You might choose one way over the other depending on what size fabric scrap you have.
How to sew bento bags from rectangles
To make a bento bag from rectangles, you need two same sized rectangles that are three times as long as they are wide. Your rectangles could be 5″ x 15″ for a small bento bag, 6″ x 18″, 7″ x 21″, 8″ x 24″, 9″ x 27″, or any size, as long as it is three times as long as it wide.
Choose most any fabric you like to make these. Use 2 layers of cotton or linen for a soft and relaxed bag, or try denim or canvas for a sturdier bag that holds its shape well.
One rectangle will be the outside of your bento bag; the other is the lining. Align these with right sides together and sew around all four sides, leaving an opening for turning. Turn, press, and sew this opening closed.
Now place this lined rectangle with the outer fabric on top, and fold into thirds, with the lining fabric folded over the front. Sew two seams attaching each outer third of the rectangle to the center at opposite ends.
Then, sew across the two outer corners of the bag to box the corners. The shape and size of the bag will differ depending on how deeply you box these corners. Or you can choose not to box them at all.
Turn right side out and your first bento bag sewn from rectangles is complete. I’m betting you will make many more.
Sew bento bags from squares or triangles
There a couple of different ways to construct these from squares and triangles. Here are two slightly different variations on one method:
Take two same sized squares of fabric. They could be the same fabric for a bag with outsides and linings the same, or two different fabrics for a bag that will show both fabrics on both sides. If you want to use this method to make a bag with one fabric showing on the outside and one other fabric for the lining, you will need to first cut a square of each fabric in half diagonally and start the next step with four triangles rather than two squares.
Now you will either fold your squares in half diagonally with right sides together to form right triangles, or lay two different triangles right sides together, if you cut them as described above. Sew these together with an opening. Turn triangles right sides out, press, and sew the opening closed.
Then lay one triangle on top of the other at the right angles, forming a square where they overlap. Sew down along the edges of this square.
Now fold bag with right sides together and sew along both side seams. Box the corners and turn right sides out.
One More Way
Yet another way to make these is to start with three same sized squares, or six for a lined bag. You can use smaller scrap squares for this method than you can for the previous method, since this way uses more of them.
Sew two sides of one square to two sides of another square. Then sew two sides of the third square to the other two sides of the middle square.
You could line these as in the above methods, by sewing outer and lining squares right sides together and turning. Make three of these lined squares and then sew together.
Or you could sew the bag and lining pieces separately, forming two bags. Then put them right sides together and sew, leaving an opening. Turn, press,and stitch opening closed. Sewing it this way creates a reversible bag, by the way.
What to do with bento bags
Now you know a few different ways to sew bento bags. You can probably think of plenty of things to do with them on your own, but here are quite a few ideas from me for how to make use of these handy bags.
These make “re-useful” wrappings because rather than just being a fabric gift bag, the recipient can then use it for some handy purpose like any of the ideas below.
I first found out about these bags when I saw an anime character on TV using one to carry her bento boxed lunch. You can use these to carry your lunch as a pretty package whether you also use a bento box or not.
Bread basket and cloth all-in-one
I’m thinking they are perfect for wrapping loaves of bread as gifts, and these can go straight to the table for serving the bread and keeping it covered, too
Grab and go sack
For pencils, yarn or knitting supplies, small patchwork pieces, works-in-progress: anything you need to keep together and carry along.
Make a set for sorting nails or other hardware; fabric, scraps, or trim; cords, wires, or anything else. I plan to make a rainbow set for myself to sort small pieces of fabric and scraps by color. This could be a solution for organizing tools, a kitchen junk drawer, or bead and jewelry supplies collection, too.
Basket / bin
You can make these with interfacing or even quilted for sturdiness. Especially when these are small, they will nicely stand up and hold things on a bureau, desk, counter, or table. Or stand one in a dresser drawer or cabinet.
Sew another strip of fabric to connect the two ends and it becomes a handy tool for harvesting your garden.
For separating fruits and vegetables on the counter or to use while shopping. Unlike many reusable bags, bento bags are easily machine washable.
Purse or shopping bag
Sew a strip for a handle and carry a bento bag, small or large, as a casual purse or a shopping bag.
Add to this list by sharing your ideas for how you will use these in the comments below. Happy sewing!