Fuel saver pattern

Hayboxes and similar methods of getting food cooked in its own heat after bringing it to boiling point are not new, some version has probably been around as long as cooked food.   I once posted about making  sewn versions, Betsy asked if I can make a pattern available for those who want to make their own. This post is to explain how you can make your own pattern.

Wonderbag 1

Wonderbag 1

DSC_0491Making the pattern

(Its a bit more elaborate than some, because I have removable cushions for the polystyrene, and easier to pull drawstrings.)

First measure loosely round your cooking pot from the centre of the base to the centre of the top, holding the tape measure two or three inches wide of the side and top. You need this to be wide because there will be insulation around the pot. Use this measurement as the radius and draw a circle.pot

Cut the circle out and fold it so as to get eight segments and draw lines along the folds like the spokes of a wheel. Mark one inch in from the edge on each line with a dot.

Trace a segment off. Add half an inch turnings to the two straight sides.

Measure or calculate  the circumference. Draw a rectangle three inches by half the circumference plus one inch.

Draw round the base of the pot and add an inch all round this circle.

Your pattern will now be a large circle, a segment, a smaller circle, a rectangle.potpat

Making Up

lumberjackThis is going to rely on text with the odd diagram. I removed most of my photos of the process when I took down the old post, I’m limiting my sewing while the ligaments in my hands come to terms with my having played lumberjack .

(Picture of my doppelganger from here)

Materials  cotton or linen fabric with a close weave, cord, tape or ribbon for drawstring, polystyrene beads or other insulation.

Cut 2 of the large large circles. One is lining, one is outer, so you might want to have pretty fabric for the outer.

Cut 4 small circles – these make a base cushion and a top cushion to help the insulation.

Cut 16 segments. These make cushions that tuck in between the outer and lining, so scrap fabric like old sheeting is fine.

Cut two rectangles which will bind the edge of the outer circle making channels for the drawstring to draw it up around the pot.

Fold the large circles pressing the folds so that you have guidelines for stitching the 8 segments. Mark on the lining piece the dots you put on the pattern an inch from the edge.

Hem the edge of the lining circle by turning in the edge 1/4 inch  to the wrong side,  stitching along the fold, turning a second time taking 1/2 inch and stitching .

On each strip of binding, turn the short edges under 1/2 inch and stitch. Fold in half lengthwise and press the foldline.

Bind the edge of the large circle like this:- stitch one piece of binding to the edge starting from one of your segment lines and ending half way round, putting right sides together and taking half an inch turnings. Ease the binding in as you go, it will be slightly longer than the line you’re stitching it to.  Do the same to the second half with the other piece of binding. Fold half an inch under on the other long edge of the bindings and stitch  down enclosing the raw edges on the wrong side, along the first stitching line or close to it.


Thread a length of ribbon or tape through each of the channels you just made, passing it out in the spaces between the two bindings.

With the lining circle wrong side down on the wrong side of the outer circle and the segment lines matching, stitch along the segment lines, stopping at the dots you marked and back stitching to secure. Stitch across these ends for about an inch each side of the line (less if you’re making a small version). This T shape stitching is to help hold the segment cushions in place, but you need to leave a big enough gap to push them in.

Now you will have a large circle with eight pockets and you make eight segment shaped cushions to fill with beans.

To make and fill  segment cushions put two segment pieces wrong sides together, stitch round, leaving a gap at the pointed end. Turn right side out and using a funnel fill it with polystyrene beans about two thirds full. Stitch the gap closed. Repeat for the other segments. Tuck them into the pockets.

This was the make-shift funnel I used to fill the segments, cardboard lashed up with parcel tape. I  recommend filling outside if possible, the beads go everywhere.


To make and fill top and bottom cushions stitch two of the small circles wrong sides together leaving a small gap, turn right sides out, fill loosely and stitch closed. You’re done!


The pot sits on one cushion, another goes on top, and the sides are drawn round by pulling up the drawstrings.

Ready made sewn cooking bags in attractive fabrics can be bought from this company. I have no affiliation. I read that they set up to help the cooking fuel problems in South Africa, and now sell in many countries. Please only use my instructions to make something for your personal use .

I have made this with eight segments, but if the pot is large you could make more, say ten. Then you will need to use a protractor to get the segments even, and you will need to cut yourself a guide for stitching the segments.

Simpler versions don’t have the segment cushions and tape channels. They are made with two circles, stitched  together along the spokes , the segments filled directly and closed at the wide end, a single channel made at the top by turning under the edge of the circle and threading tape through it. I am indebted to another maker on The Sewing Forum for the idea of making the drawstring channels as separate binding pieces. Its definitely a neater solution for making at home.  For users with not much strength in their hands, you could have the channels in four pieces instead of two, to make pulling it closed even easier.

Advantages of my version for making at home :-

its easier to manipulate the small segment cushions under the machine without getting filling jammed in your feed dogs

if you spill casserole on your bag its easier to launder with separate little cushions

Straight binding for the channels is easier to get neat than a wide fold round a circle

Two drawstring openings make it easier to close the bag round the pot.

Another idea

You could make a pot shaped container instead, circle for base, sides with pockets created by stitching straight strips divided by vertical lines into pockets to the base circle and a lid cushion. These could all be filled with polystyrene sheet recycled from packaging.cush2

Any insulating material should work instead of polystyrene. You don’t need to purchase new materials to make insulating bags. Any recycled cotton or linen is fine. Other fabric may be ok, but check that it stands up to the heat of a just boiled casserole before cutting and stitching.

Betsy asked about pots with handles. Pots with those small handles on the side should be accommodated by the squishyness of your insulation . I use my second example with a pot with side handles.

If you want to make something to fit a lidded saucepan with a long handle, you would need to have a space for it. I haven’t tried this but I think if you make the straight sided version in the last sketch you could easily have a  small gap at the top of the seam where the side pieces join. At this small gap you would tuck your turnings in and top stitch near the edge to keep it neat. The drawstring closure would be at this seam, so little heat should escape.


To make  something like this, I’d draw a circle a couple of inches or more bigger  in diameter than the pot, to allow for insulation and cut five of them. Four would make top and bottom cushion, the fifth to serve as the base to stitch the sides to. To make the sides I’d cut 2 rectangles the length of the base diameter plus turnings and stitch channels in them, finishing a little below the top. These would be seamed leaving a handle gap and joined to the base and have a drawstring channel made at the top.

An advantage of making your own, which Betsy pointed out, is that you can change the size to suit the pot. The top example, first one I made, is small. I use this more often in our family than the larger one, its very good for cooking rice which we don’t eat by the bucketful.

How good are these at saving steam and smell in the house? I cooked some pre-soaked dried pulses – actually chick peas – a couple of days ago. On the hob only this takes around 40 minutes boiling. Using the bag, five minutes on hob, transfer to bag, leave to cook for remaining time. (I don’t have a pressure cooker) You might want one just for camping/picnic trips, as a classier alternative to wrapping your dinner in your sleeping bag.


About jay

I design and draft patterns
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4 Responses to Fuel saver pattern

  1. Pella says:

    A very interesting post Betsy, such an array of solutions! The bag for the pot with handle would only need very basic sewing skills by the way.


  2. Pingback: Photo of the Week: The Hay Basket: Low Tech, Free, Tried & True | 100 under $100

  3. Virginia says:

    I am thinking that foam rubber might work, do you think so?


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