Have you got an old pair of jeans lying about?
Learn how to create a funky color-block backpack, virtually for free, by using pre-loved denim clothing.
This is also a great way to recycle fabric which may have otherwise ended up adding to the landfill. And if you don't have an old pair of jeans about, a cheap and easy option for this project is to buy a pair from your local thrift store.
This project makes a perfect daypack suitable for any adventure!
Skill level: beginner-intermediate
Step 1: Gather Your Tools
For this project you will need:
• Marking Pen
• Contrasting thread
• Matches (or lighter)
• Cutting board
• Seam ripper
• Zipper foot (you can use the normal sewing machine foot if you don't have one)
• Sewing machine
• Tin snips (not necessary but I used them to cut a bit of plastic off the repurposed leather strap)
Notes before you start:
• Iron your project regularly. This will make a much better finish.
• Fold your fabric in half to find the center. Mark with a pin for easy reference when lining up different pieces.
• The dimensions I have given here make a bag big enough for a small day pack. Feel free to up the sizes if you are after something a bit bigger.
• When attaching things like your straps and handles to the material before sewing the bag up, use a smaller seam allowance so you don't end up seeing the stitching when everything is finished.
• Use the seam ripper to undo any seams you aren't happy with.
Step 2: Materials You Will Need
1. Fabric. (About a meter squared) Any hardy material will do such as denim, corduroy, canvas, etc. I used an old denim skirt and the bottoms of some jean trousers. (Sorry no picture for this, I got a bit excited and cut them up before taking any photos!). If using trousers you may have to sew two pieces of the fabric together to achieve this size.
2. Two plastic webbing adjusters with two 28cm long pieces of webbing to match the width.
3. A small square of contrasting fabric for the detail on the front. (I cut a piece leather from an old sunglasses pouch)
4. A 42cm zipper.
5. Two straps 47.5cm long. (Mine was a 95cm leather strap from an old bag which I cut in half)
Step 3: Cut the Front and Back Pieces
Cut out of your fabric two matching rectangles 37.5cm x 25cm. Lay them one on top of the other and then fold the two lengthwise in half. Use your scissors to cut a gentle curve around the top two corners of all layers, and a slightly sharper curve around the bottom two corners so you end up with a more backpack type shape as shown.
Step 4: Make the Front Pocket
Cut a square 17cm x 17cm out of a contrasting fabric. Feel free to get creative here with the color, just make sure to use a sturdy fabric.
Fold under the top of the square twice and sew a straight stitch to hold it down. I sewed another line in my contrasting thread across the top for show.
With the pocket folded vertically in half, cut a slight angle on the bottom of the pocket from the fold outwards to create a pocket shape.
Fold under 0.5cm of all edges except the top of the pocket, and pin it to the middle of your front piece.
Sew it down in two rows of stitching with your contrasting thread.
Step 5: Cut and Sew the Sides.
Cut three strips of the jean material 42cm x 9cm.
With the first two pieces I faced them right side to wrong side of the fabric and sewed them together along the 9cm side. This is how I achieved the color-block look.
Next open the two pieces out flat and top stitch the seam allowance down, as shown in the picture. This will stop it from fraying on the inside.
Step 6: Inserting the Zipper
With the third strip you just cut, find the center lengthwise and cut it in half down the middle as shown.
Change to your zipper foot on your sewing machine. Don't forget to change the needle placement to the side, otherwise you'll hit the zipper foot when you sew! (If you don't have a zipper foot don't worry about doing this step)
Pin one of the half strips, face down to the right side of the zipper and sew the two together as close to the zipper teeth as you can.
I sewed the second strip exactly the same to the first but with the wrong side of the fabric down so as to get two tones.
Fold the fabric back over the seams and top stitch it down on both sides of the zip.
Step 7: Sew the Side Pieces Together
With the right sides together, sew the zipper piece to the other side pieces along both the ends so that you end up with a large loop.
Top stitch the seam allowances down.
Step 8: Sew the Sides to the Front
Face the front piece of the bag to the side zipper piece, right sides together. Make sure to line up the middle of the zipper to the top middle part of the front piece. Pin all around easing the fabric around the curves.
Sew this up carefully to not catch any rolls of fabric.
Next top stitch the seam allowance towards the side piece. I used black stitching here to change things up a little.
Step 9: Make the Handle Loop
Cut two rectangles 10.5cm x 7cm out of the same fabric you used for the front pocket, and sew them together along the shorter end.
Now open out the seam, fold the whole thing lengthwise right sides together, and sew together.
You will end up with a long tube.
Attach a safety pin to one end of the tube and push the tube inside itself and pull it through to get it the right side out. This may take some gentle tugging.
Fold over both sides so they meet at a point in the middle and iron everything down as shown.
Sew the loop to the right side of the back piece at the top.
Step 10: Make the Strap Inserts
Cut a square 11cm x11cm out of the jean material.
With a ruler draw a line from one corner diagonally to the opposite corner. Cut down the line.
Lay one of your 28cm webbing pieces at right angles to the long side of the triangle and fold in half around the webbing as shown. Leave a small tail of the webbing out the end of the triangle. Sew a straight line over this.
Pull the webbing and jean to the right side and top stitch around the corner. Sew a reinforcing square over the tail of webbing that you left sticking out.
Repeat the same steps for the other side but with the underside of the fabric out this time.
Place the strap inserts at equal height near the bottom of the back panel and sew down.
Step 11: Make the Webbing Adjusters
Cut another two pieces of webbing 8cm long and melt the ends slightly with a match or lighter to stop them from fraying. (Be careful not to do this near anything that could catch fire!)
Thread the webbing through the adjuster and back on itself and sew it down. You should end up with the adjuster on a short loop of webbing.
Attach the webbing ends to one end of your 47.5cm straps as shown in the picture. I didn't make the straps from scratch as I already had an old leather bag strap.
If you are confused about how everything will end up fitting together, refer to the first photo in step 16.
(If you need to make straps from scratch then cut two strips of fabric 47.5cm x 4cm and sew them up into a long tube and turn it the right way out. Refer to Step No. 9 and follow the same principles as making the Handle Loop).
Step 12: Make the Inside Keys Pocket
Cut a rectangle 24.5cm x 9.5cm out of the jean material.
Fold over one of the short ends twice and sew it down as shown.
Flip the whole thing over and fold the pocket up so that the right side is facing inwards. Sew down both sides.
Turn the pocket the right way out and make two smail slits on either side so that the seams that you have just turned inwards lie flat. Refer to the picture.
Turn under the little flaps that were made by the slits and top stitch around all the edges with your contrasting thread.
Step 13: Last Touches Before Sewing Everything Up
Line up your straps, right side facing out, at the top of your back panel on either sides of you handle loop.
Sew these down.
Line up your inside pocket to the top middle of the side ziper piece with the right side of the pocket facing the wrong side of the zipper piece. See second picture.
Sew this down.
The third picture shows how it will look when the bag is sewn together. The keys pocket ends up lying over top of the inside back seam.
Step 14: Sewing Up the Bag
Find the middle of the tops and bottoms of the back panel and the zipper panel. Line up and pin these points first.
Continue easing and pinning fabric all the way around. On the corners I faced the pins outwards to inwards, so that I could sew over top of them and not have to worry about anything slipping.
Sew around the whole thing carefully.
Turn the bag the right way out and check that you are happy with how everything is lined up. If so, go ahead and zigzag stitch the whole way around the seam on the inside to stop everything from fraying.
Turn the bag right side out and top stitch the seam allowance down where the straps come out at the top. There will be a lot of pressure in this area so this will help reinforce it.
Step 15: Front Detail
Cut out a small square of leather 4cm x 4cm. Fold it in half and curve the corners with your scissors.
Mark two parallel diagonal slits on the back side of the fabric and then carefully cut them out (look at picture).
Place the square at equal distance from the top and two sides and secure with pins.
Sew carefully around the whole thing with a straight stitch. Go really slow here because there are lots of curves and corners.
Step 16: And You're Done
Join up the straps by threading the webbing through the adjusters.
After doing this, fold the webbing ends over once and sew them down to stop the ends from slipping out.
Zip up your backpack, sit back and enjoy the finished product.
Set out on your next adventure, equipped with your rad new backpack!
Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions :)
Runner Up in the
First Time Author Contest