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Retro Diner Bucket Bag

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It's a fabulous fifties flashback with a modern twist. Our Diner Bucket Bag is retro cool but with current features that make it easier to construct and stylish to carry - even without the perfect sweater set and pearls. This bag has a great structured shape thanks to a brand new product by Pellon: Flex-Foam™. We're excited to be able to showcase this cool, new product, which is a "just right" sew-in stabilizer consisting of a layer of foam sandwiched between two layers of soft fabric. 

Flex-Foam™ is all about shaped style and so is our Diner Bag. To start, there's the bold chevron accent on the bag's front and back, reminiscent of the two-tone tail fins of 1950s era automobiles.

Fashion buzzwords in the mid-fifties were "shape" and "sheen." We checked-off "shape" with a chunky 4" boxed bottom in combination with big round grommets to hold the handles. And of course, the sparkle vinyl fabric wraps up "sheen" with the perfect retro look. We chose two of the most popular colors of the time period: ivory and taupe. You can find good color selections of sparkle vinyl at Fabric Depot as well as Fabric.com and Online Fabric Store

We even added extra topstitching detail to mimic the look of the booth upholstery in an old-school diner. And the lining has a great retro geometric design. 

Vinyl can be tricky to work with if your layers get very thick. To make sure our bag construction was as easy as possible, and with as few layers as possible, we came up with unique ways to create the handles as well as how to achieve that dramatic front chevron. We also show you to when and where to cut back the vinyl and/or the foam to help reduce bulk. 

Pellon is our go-to brand for interfacing and stabilizer products, and we were not disappointed by their new Flex-Foam™. It was very safe and easy to sew through and added body without being too rigid. 

The layered foam is not heavy at all, so it can be used in place of or in addition to other stabilizers. We also liked that it can by purchased by-the-yard, allowing you to get exactly how much you need. There's no grain, so you can cut in any direction. 

Flex-Foam™ comes in a natural color in a 20" width. And though our bag isn't designed for anything other than a simple wipe-clean, we were happy to know Flex-Foam™ can be machine washed (warm on gentle cycle, tumble dry low) or dry cleaned.

Pellon launched Flex-Foam™ through the network of Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft Stores. Availability will continue to spread in-store and online over the next few months. 

Our Diner Bucket Bag finishes at approximately 13" wide x 14" high x 4" deep with two generous loop handles.

If you're new to working with vinyl, take a look at our tutorial: Working with Laminates and other Sticky Stuff

Our thanks to Portland, Oregon landmark, Fairley's Pharmacy for letting us photograph our Diner Bag at their classic counter. Their soda fountain has been serving up shakes and malts since 1913!

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

Getting Started

  1. From the fabric for the top exterior, handles and binding, cut the following:
    TWO 18" wide x 7" high rectangles for the exterior
    TWO ¾" x 34" strips for the straps
    ONE 1¼" x 36" strip for the top binding
  2. From the fabric for the bottom exterior, cut TWO 18" wide x 16½" high rectangles.
  3. From the lining fabric, cut the following:
    TWO 18" x 16½" high rectangles for the main lining panels
    ONE 10" wide x 14" high rectangle for the lining pocket
    On the bias: TWO 1¾" x 35" strips for the strap backing
  4. From the Flex-Foam™, cut TWO 18" x 16½" rectangles.
  5. From the lightweight interfacing, cut the following:
    FOUR ¾" x 17" strips for the straps
    ONE 10" x 14" rectangle for the pocket
  6. From the plastic canvas (or super firm interfacing), cut ONE 3¾" x 12½" rectangle. 

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Create the bag exterior

  1. Find the two upper 18" x 7" vinyl panels (Sparkle White in our sample). Place one panel right side up and flat on your work surface. 
  2. Measure to find the center of the bottom edge (9" from each raw side edge). Mark this center point. 
  3. From the upper raw edge, measure down 4" along each side. Mark these side points. 
  4. Place a clear ruler from the side point to the center point, creating a diagonal edge to follow. Using a rotary cutter, slice along the diagonal. 
    NOTE: You can cut with scissors if you do not have a rotary cutter, however, this edge should be smooth and sharp. If you must use scissors, they should be very sharp, and your cuts should be as long as possible. You don't want any choppy little cut marks. 
  5. Repeat to create a matching diagonal cut from the opposite side point to the center point, forming a "V".
  6. Repeat to create a matching "V" on the remaining upper panel. 
  7. Find the two lower 18" x 16½" vinyl panels (Sparkle Taupe in our sample). Place one panel right side up and flat on your work surface. Place a "V" cut upper panel right side up on the lower panel. Align the top raw edges and the side raw edges of both panels. The finished height and width should be 18" x 16½". Clip the panels together. 
  8. Thread the machine with a heavy weight thread in the top and bobbin to match the upper vinyl. Lengthen the stitch. 
  9. Using a Walking foot, Teflon® type foot or a layer of parchment paper, topstitch along the "V" through both layers. The topstitching should run about ⅛" from the diagonally cut edge of the upper panel within the upper panel.
  10. Repeat to stitch the remaining upper and lower panels together. 
  11. Flip each sewn front/back panel to the wrong side. Trim away the bottom panel along the "V", leaving just a ½" - ⅜" seam allowance. 
    NOTE: Hey.... I'm wasting a lot of vinyl! Well, yes, you will end up with some excess vinyl for your stash, but you will also end up with two perfect front and back exterior panels. Had we tried to cut the bottom panel as an inverted "V" and then attempted to align top and bottom, the chances of the two "V" cuts getting out of alignment would have been very high. With our method, you are stitching the cut piece to a flat piece – no shifting, no muss, no fuss. 
  12. Place the front and back panels right sides together. Carefully align the side edges of the "V" front to back; you want a perfect match along the side seam. Clip together along the sides and across the bottom.
  13. Re-set the stitch length to normal. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners. We continued to use our Walking foot
  14. With the bag still wrong side out, create 4" box corners, which means your "box" will be half that size or 2".
  15. Cut out the corner boxes. To reduce the bulk of the vinyl in the corner, trim away an additional ¾" along both the side and bottom, leaving a ¼" seam allowance from the original side/bottom seam. Your corner will have a bit of a stair-step look. 
  16. Flatten each corner, aligning the side seam with the bottom seam. Clip in place.
  17. Using a ½" seam allowance, double stitch across the corner.
    NOTE: If you are new to this technique, check out our tutorial: How To Box Corners for more details.
  18. Turn the bag right side out and push the corners out into position. 
  19. Find the plastic canvas (or heavy interfacing rectangle). Drop it into place at the bottom of the bag. 

Optional purse feet

  1. If adding the optional purse feet, find them now. Measure ½" in from each corner and use a pin to mark the position for insertion. Cut a small hole at each marked point
  2. Following manufacturer's instructions, set each foot in place, inserting them from the outside through to the inside.
  3. Secure them on the interior of the bag through the plastic canvas.


  1. Find the 10" x 14" lining pocket and the 10" x 14" interfacing panel. Following manufacturer's instructions fuse the interfacing to the wrong side of the fabric panel.  
  2. Fold the fused panel in half, right sides together, so it is now 10" x 7½".
  3. Pin along both sides and across the bottom, leaving a 3" - 4" opening along the bottom for turning.
  4. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch along both sides and across the bottom. Remember to pivot at the corners and to lock your seam at either side of the 3" - 4" opening. 
  5. Clip the corners and press open the seam allowances. 
  6. Turn right side out through the bottom opening. Use a long, blunt end tool, such as a knitting needle or chopstick, to gently push out the corners so they are nice and sharp. 
  7. Press the pocket flat, pressing in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam. 
  8. Measure to find the center of the lining pocket and draw a vertical guideline at this point.
  9. Find one of the two lining panels and one of the two Flex-Foam™ panels. 
  10. Place the foam flat on your work surface.
  11. Place the lining panel right side up on the foam, aligning all four sides of the fabric with the foam. 
  12. Place the pocket on the layered foam/fabric panel so it sits 3½" down from the upper raw edge of the panel and is centered side to side. Pin in place through all layers.
  13. Edgestitch the pocket along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corner. This edgestitching secures the pocket in place and closes the original opening used for turning. 
  14. Stitch along the center drawn line to divide the one pocket into two sections.
  15. As above, layer the remaining foam panel and lining panel. 
  16. Place the two lining/foam panels right sides together, sandwiching the pocket between the layers. Pin in place along both sides and across the bottom.
  17. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners. 
  18. Following the same steps as above, measure for 4" boxed corners, cutting out 2" squares from each corner. Trim back the foam to about ¼" to remove the bulk from the seam allowance.
  19. Flatten and double stitch each corner as above.

Assemble, bind, and add grommets

  1. Leave the lining wrong side out.
  2. Find the exterior bag. It should be right side out. 
  3. Slip the lining inside the main bag so the two bags are now wrong sides together. Align all the seams, the bottom corners, and the top raw edges. Clip all around the top.
  4. Baste together the exterior and lining, running the seam about ⅜" from the top raw edges. 
  5. Trim back the foam to the basting line to reduce the bulk. 
  6. Find the four grommets. 
  7. Each grommet should be placed 1" down from the top and the inside edge of each grommet should be 4" from the center of the bag. The drawing above helps show the position of all the elements.
  8. We clipped a tape measure onto the upper edge to make measuring easier. First find and mark the center. Then measure 4" to either side of this center point and mark. Finally, measure 1" down from the top at each 4" marked point. 
  9. The Dritz Home Grommets come with a template, which we clipped into place in order to trace the circle. 
  10. Cut out the circle through all the layers. Then carefully separate the vinyl and lining and trim back just the foam ⅜” - ½” from the original cut circle. This is necessary to reduce bulk so the grommet will fit and can easily snap shut.
  11. Following manufacturer's instructions, or our Plastic Grommet tutorial, snap each grommet into place. 
  12. Find the 1¼" x 36" binding strip. 
  13. Fold the strip, wrong sides together, just shy of exactly in half. One side should drop about 1/16" below the other. This will help insure you catch both the front and back of the binding with one seam. Clip the fold in place.
  14. Starting at a side seam, slip the binding over the top raw edge. That slightly longer side of the binding goes against the lining. To maintain an even fold, just unclip a few inches at a time. Unclip the fold, then re-clip in place over the top raw edges.
  15. You two ends should butt together at the side seam. If necessary, you can trim just a bit to make sure the two edges are flush. 

    The vinyl is too thick to overlap. It looks best to simply butt together. The vinyl is sticky enough that this tiny slit doesn't really show. If you are concerned about it or it doesn't seem to be coming together correctly for you, add a dot of vinyl epoxy to adhere the two edges. 
  16. Topstitch the binding in place all around. We used both our Walking foot and a strip of parchment paper. You are stitching through quite a few layers at this point. Use matching thread in the top and bobbin, lengthen the stitch, and go slowly. 

Create the straps

  1. Find the two ¾" x 34" vinyl strips, the two bias cut 1¾" x 35" fabric strips, and the four ¾" x 17" interfacing strips. 
  2. Place the fabric strips wrong side up and flat on your work surface.
  3. Place two interfacing strips down the middle of each fabric strip, centering them side to side. The interfacing strips should butt together at the center of the fabric strip. Following manufacturer's instructions, fuse the interfacing in place.
    NOTE: If your interfacing is wider, you may be able to cut two ¾" x 34" strips of interfacing. If so, you can simple center one strip on each strap. 
  4. Fold in and press the long raw edges of each fabric strip towards the center. One side should be pressed in ½" and the other side should be pressed in ⅜". The finished width of the fabric strip should now be ⅞".
  5. Fold in each end ⅜" to make a finished square end tab. We used a bit of seam sealant along all the cut edges. 
  6. Place a ¾" vinyl strap down the center of each folded fabric strip, covering the raw edges of the fabric. There should be only about 1/16" of fabric showing to either side of the vinyl as well as at either end. Clip in place the length of the strap. 
  7. Edgestitch the vinyl in place along both long sides. As above, use matching thread and lengthen your stitch.
  8. Loop each end through a grommet from front to back. Double check to make sure there are no twists in the loop of your strap. 
  9. Pin each end against the back of the strap approximately ½" above the bound top edge. 
  10. Topstitch across each end to secure. 


Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Debbie Guild


Comments (17)

hb8172 said:
hb8172's picture

Maybe a little late, but I use as foam Vilene Style Vill  comes in black and white. Online stores in Europe.

Anita said:
Anita 's picture

The directions call for medium weight sparkle vinyl, but all I can find is heavy weight - even at your two links to fabric.com and Fabric Depot. Is there such a thing as medium weight?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Anita - I believe this is a case of semantics more than anything else. Fabric.com does call it heavyweight; Fabric Depot and the OnlineFabricStore don't have a specific designation. We referred to it as medium weight because it wasn't as heavy as some upholstery vinyls we've encountered. If you order from one of the links, that should be exactly what we used for our sample. If you shop locally, just look for something that you can manipulate and mold without too much difficulty. 

cori said:
cori's picture

Working on the Trendy Faux Leather bag now. Ok this is my next project, will be adding a zipper though, thank you..

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Cori - Bag heaven  - great to hear. Let us know how they both turn out. Put up a post on Facebook (sew4home), Twitter (sew4home) and/or Instagram (sew4home_diy).

Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture

I cant get Pellon Flex foam in Australia. What could I use instead?

Liz Therrien said:
Liz Therrien's picture

You might want to try something called headliner fabric as well.  It comes 54" or so wide, and is only a bit thinner than the Soft n Stable or Flex Foam.  I have used all 3 and there is not alot of difference in the finished product, in  my opinion.  And, I still use all 3, depending on what I can get my hands on quickly when I'm making a bag. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

As this is a brand new product, it may be coming to Australia soon. In the meantime, Bosal and ByAnnie's are two manufacturers who make somewhat similar products. You could check online regarding their distribution. 

Captain said:
Captain's picture

I loved this and the staging was perfect.  I knew my sister would love this purse ... now if only I could find the vinyl in stock ...

KSusan said:
KSusan's picture

Yay!  I just bought some Flex Foam last week and now I have a reason to try it!  Thank you for another wonderful project!

crescentcity1 said:
crescentcity1's picture

OMGGGG, LOVE THIS!!!! Birthday and Christmas gifts!! Thank you for another wonderful project, Perfect!!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ crescentcity1 - so glad you love it as much as we do - and thanks for the shout-out on the photos!

Lanetta said:
Lanetta's picture

Thanks for this great project! I can't wait to make it.  You always have such great ideals for projects.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Lanetta - Thanks! We really love this bag 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ mpistey - Thanks! It's fun and very easy to make... best combo, right?!

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