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Every year on their first day of school, my daughters get new backpacks and lunch boxes. At least at this point in their lives, these items get super nasty and worn out from year to year, so replacing them is well worth the money. What is so sad, though, is how expensive it is to buy embroidered lunch boxes or backpacks! Adding that name or monogram costs around $15-$20 to purchase online.
So, that’s why one of the first things I started doing when I got my embroidery machine was embroidering and monogramming lunch boxes on my own!
If you want to personalize lunch bags for your kids too, I’ll show you how to monogram a lunch box in this embroidery machine tutorial.
Picking a Lunch Box: Not All Boxes Will Work
I grabbed two great lunch boxes from Walmart this year on back-to-school clearance for $2 each. (Since paying for embroidery is expensive, I’m patting myself on the back for saving money on the embroidery fee as well as the full cost of the lunch box!)
Not all lunch boxes or lunch bags will work perfectly for this project, though. If you have a single-needle embroidery machine, you’ll need to pick a lunch box that unzips or unbuttons enough for you to get the lunch box onto the hoop of the machine. You also need to make sure that you are able to embroider on the front only because you don’t want to stitch the front to the back!
If you have a pocket on the front of the lunch box, unless you remove it with a seam ripper and then sew it back on, you’ll have to embroider on top of it, thus making the pocket nonfunctional.
And lastly, you’ll need to check the material that’s insulating the lunch box. My lunch box had a thin layer of foam padding, which was easy for my machine to stitch through. If your insulation is cardboard or something thicker, pick a new lunch box or test a small area before you start stitching to make sure you won’t hurt your machine.
Lunch Box Embroidery Supplies
Here’s what I used for this project.
- Embroidery machine and biggest hoop to allow for easier hooping
- Stabilizer: tear-away stabilizer (love pre-cut sheets!)
- Needle: a 75/11 embroidery needle did the trick, but you may want to switch to an 80/12 if you’re having issues
- Thread: 100% polyester embroidery thread
- Temporary fabric adhesive (Odif 505, optional)
- Marking tools
- Embroidery design (check out some free embroidery machine fonts if you don’t already have a design!) If you want to monogram and don’t know how to make one, check out my Sew What Pro monogram tutorial.
A Note on the Best Stabilizer for a Lunch Box
Most lunch boxes are made from canvas or other stable fabrics. This means you have your pick of stabilizers to use!
Since I don’t like residual stabilizer left on the back after finishing up, my favorite two types of stabilizers to use for lunch boxes are tear-away stabilizer (using temporary fabric adhesive spray) and sticky self-adhesive tear-away stabilizer. I’m running low on the sticky stabilizer right now so opted for a regular tear-away stabilizer.
If you find that dense designs are sinking into your lunch box surface, you could even try adding an extra layer of water-soluble topping to the top of the lunch box. This will give the stitches more support and keep them from sinking into the insulation of the lunch box as much.
How to Monogram a Lunch Box
The lunch box I took pictures of for this tutorial is the one where I embroidered my daughter’s name using the built-in letters on my Brother SE1900 embroidery machine. The process is the exact same if you’d rather add a 2- or 3-letter monogram to the lunch box instead of a name! (I monogrammed my other daughter’s lunch box.)
Preparing to Embroider
The first thing you need to do is mark your lunch box where you want the embroidery design to go. I like to mark long straight lines horizontally and vertically. On dark fabrics, I’ll typically use my chalk wheel, and on light fabrics, I’ll use a water-soluble fabric marking pen. The chalk dusts away after embroidering, and the pen is easily removed with water.
If you have a hard time visualizing where you want your monogram or design to go, try printing out a template from your embroidery software, cutting it out, and playing with the location.
I recommend floating this project rather than hooping it, which would be VERY difficult. It’s also important to float the lunch box with the bulk of the lunch box to the left of the machine head. (You may end up squishing the lunch box and moving it around if it’s hooped to the right and constantly running into the body of the machine.)
To do this, hoop one piece of tear-away stabilizer in a hoop big enough to accommodate the bulk of the lunch box front. If you’re using sticky tear-away adhesive, score the top layer off. If using regular tear-away, spray a very light layer of Odif 505 (or another fabric adhesive) onto the stabilizer, and then press the inside front of your lunch box onto the stabilizer. And, if you have a hard time eyeballing the center of your hoop, you can first draw horizontal and vertical lines on your stabilizer to denote the center of the hoop. Then, try to match the center of your lunch box’s markings with the center of the pencil lines.
Place your embroidery hoop back into your machine. If you feel your lunch box is unstable, you can add painter’s tape around the borders or pin the sides to the stabilizer. I felt that the fabric adhesive kept mine in place well enough, so I didn’t need to add anything extra.
Check that your design loaded to your machine is oriented in the correct direction relative to the lunch box. Line up your embroidery foot with the center of your markings on the lunch box. Then, make sure to preview the design so you can make sure your lunch box will clear the head of the machine on all four sides. If not, you’ll have to readjust the design placement.
Embroidering on the Lunch Box
Check that you have the right threads and needle set on your machine. Then, lower the presser foot and press start!
I gently held the layers of the lunch box as it first started to embroider to make sure there would be no shifting during stitching. After the first hundred stitches, I was able to stop babysitting it. Since my designs were all one thread color and fairly simple, these lunch boxes were done quickly!
Remove the stabilizer from the hoop and tear it away from the inside of the lunch box. Trim any jump stitches on the front of the lunch box with small, sharp scissors. Wipe off or wash off any markings that you added. And that’s it! You’ve now learned how to monogram a lunch box with your embroidery machine!