Busanta United Women’s Group

We were able to get a sample bag to this women’s group in eastern Uganda and hope it will inspire them to make Cook-in bags for their community.

learn more here





First training session

I returned to the António Guterres Community Centre to work with a group of women, showing them how to make a Cook-in bag. We worked through the process step by step so they all understood what to do. Some took notes as we went along.

I also took with me my prototype circular bag which the women liked the look of; they liked the idea that it would easily adjust to different size pots. I left the prototype with them to test out and copy.

I hope they will now be able to produce some bags, although cost of materials may be a constraint. I am working with UNHCR to see how we can ‘kick start’ production with some seed funding to buy an initial supply of fabric and notions.

Round Cook-in Bag: step-by-step instructions

This is another shape bag, which will adapt to different size pots, which may be an advantage.


2.5m of 100% cotton fabric

3m cord


foam chips (approximately 250gms for bag + 200gms for cushion)/sheet foam/polystyrene balls [see method]


The pattern is a circle – cut two from fabric placed wrong sides together.P1010133

Easiest way to cut circle is to fold fabric along one edge to diameter of circle. Take bottom left corner at fold and place it on top edge towards the right (it won’t be at right edge unless fabric is 95-100cm wide). Then take bottom right corner  created by previous fold, and fold to top left. Take top left across to top right, so you have a small triangle.

first foldsecond foldmarking circle

From the centre point mark a series of points 50cms away (or a little less if your bag will be 95cms wide) and join points to form a curve. Cut through all layers along this line and when you open it up you have a circle. Before you open it, mark the centre point with a pin. You can also mark part of the centre circle before unfolding, or measure out from centre once flat.

Mark the stitching lines using tailor’s chalk or pins. Try to align vertical and horizontal lines with warp and weft of fabric.

P1010109Use the fabric trimmings to cut 5cm (2″) wide bias strips for edging. Or cut two right-angled triangles and follow this neat method.

Begin by sewing 3/4 way round centre circle. Use the gap to introduce foam – I used a circle cut from a 4cm sheet of foam and trimmed the edges to slope upwards [scraps are used to stuff later], but you could stuff with chips and level. It needs to provide good insulation but be a sound base for the cooking pot.



Complete sewing round circle. Sew from centre ring towards outer edges along marked lines, stopping 5cms short of edge.

Now stuff the pockets you just made. Insert a good handful of chipped foam and push down to bottom of pocket – it is important to get it down to bottom. You can also use polystyrene balls for stuffing (but less environmentally sound than recycling foam chips). After stuffing, close top of pocket with pins or clothes pegs to hold stuffing in place while you sew – I found I could manage three pockets at a time without making too much mess. Sew around top of pockets parallel to edge.

After I had finished, I found the foam had a tendency to rise up the pocket, so I pushed it down and sewed a smaller circle about 8cms inside the outer one. You may wish to fill the pockets more or do the same – insulation at the top of pockets is not so critical as the cushion fills the top of the finished bag.

On the under side of the bag, choose a point on outer edge where fabric threads are at right angles to edge and snip towards stitching. Take a narrow piece of bias tape or fabric strip and pin, right sides together along both edges of snip.

Sew close to edges, then turn bias strip to back, turn under edge and sew flat. This creates the entrance for the cord.

Next, sew together the bias strips until you have over 3m. Sew bias strip around outer edge of fabric, right sides together and edges matching. Turn down 1cm at start and overlap by 2cm at end of circle.

Turn bias strip to the other side, fold under edge and sew close to edge and close to first stitching. This creates a strong, neat edge.

Time to thread the cord; first briefly put ends of cord in a flame, or wrap sticky tape around ends to prevent fraying. Jam end into a pen top and use pen to thread cord through outer pocket.

Push ends through stopper while pressing on centre button and tie ends to prevent them slipping back through.

Make cushion from strip of fabric approximately 90 x 48 cms (36 x 19″); fold in half, right sides together and stitch around two and a half sides. Turn to right side, stuff half full and stitch remaining side tucking edges in. Continue sewing around all sides, close to edge to strengthen. You could make cushion circular, but this makes sewing more difficult and does not really have any advantage.

You are ready to use your Cook-in bag: place hot pot in middle and pull up cord. Tuck in cushion over top of lid and tighten cord fully. Leave your food to cook!



First beginnings

We visited a community centre, supported by UNHCR, for refugees in Kampala where refugees are taught many skills and have access to an internet cafe. There is a workshop set up to teach tailoring, so we thought this would be a good place to present the Cook-in bags and teach the tailors how to make them.


We met with a group of refugees, mostly women, but one man joined too, from DRC, Sudan and Somalia and a few Ugandans. With the help of the centre coordinator and an interpreter we were able to explain the principle of the bags and urged our audience to ask questions. Quite naturally, many were sceptical, but some were very keen to try the bags for themselves. We left two samples with them to try out and undertook to return next week to hear their feedback and, if they are suitably impressed, to teach them how to make the bags.


We also met with Sarah who is in charge of another project based on the site, making charcoal briquettes and fuel efficient stoves to burn them in. She was very impressed with the bag idea and was keen to partner with the tailors in the marketing of both products together as they both offer savings to the consumer and the environment.

Our trip to Mengo seems to have been a success, so I will report back next week on how the trails have gone and whether the tailors are keen to make a new product.

How to use a Cook-in Bag

Choose a pot with a lid which will be 80% full when the food is prepared. Short, squat pots are better than wide ones. A heavier pot is better than light aluminium. It can be metal or glassware or ceramic.

Heat the food until boiling, then: for rice and pasta 3-4 minutes will suffice. For meat, beans, vegetables; cut into small pieces (approximately 2-3 cms in diameter) and boil for 12-15 minutes to ensure everything is heated through.

Place pot in Cook-in bag. Optional: place newspaper on base before pot – this adds insulation, can prevent soiling of bag from charred pot and absorb any spillages. Make sure lid is securely over pot (you can secure it in place with flour and water paste) and tuck in top cushion. Pull up cord tightly.

Do not peek during cooking period – you will allow heat to escape!

The only exception is, if your bag has room, you can add a pot of rice or pasta 20 minutes before end of cooking time for beans/meat/stew. The new pot adds heat which might be briefly lost while adding it.

To adapt recipes: multiply cooking time by 3 and reduce liquid by 25% (as little with be lost). Soak dried beans overnight (wash before soaking, then cook in soak water to retain nutrients) or for 15 minutes prior to cooking.

If on opening food is not hot enough, or underdone, simply place back on stove and heat until ready.

Here is a guide to cooking times


Rice and pasta

 Time on heat/fire

2 minutes

 Time in bag

20 minutes

Dried beans (soak for some time, overnight if possible) 12 – 15 minutes 3 hours
Irish, sweet potatoes, cassava, pumpkin etc 8-10 minutes 2 hours
Matooke 10 minutes 90 minutes
Meat (cut into small pieces) 15 minutes 3 hours
Stew 10 minutes 3 hours
Soup 5 minutes 2 hours
Maize Porridge 5 minutes 30 minutes

For more inspiration see this recipe booklet.