Every summer I run into the same problem; it's hot, I want to wear a dress, but most dresses don't have pockets. So what's a dog-walking girl to do when all she wants to carry are her keys, maybe her phone and wallet and a plastic doggie poop bag or two?
A clutch is too formal, and a shoulder purse tends to fall off your shoulder exactly when you are bending down to pick up the mess. Fanny packs are uncomfortably hot and look hideous, especially with a light summer dress. Traditional back-packs, with their two shoulder straps, are too cumbersome. All of the above tend to be way too large and heavy because of all their bells and whistles, pockets, hooks, cup holders, adjustable straps and other useless features.
So naturally, the solution is to design and make a minimalist, micro, sling backpack!
Step 1: Design for Your Materials and Tools
I had to design my bag around a few constraints, which had a direct impact on the choices I made.
- I have an antique featherweight Singer sewing machine, which only does straight stitches and struggles with thick materials.
- I have a wooden awl, which CAN go through multiple layers of thick material, but it's slow and I hate using it.
Most of my projects are made with either found or recycled materials, and this one was no different:
- A few months ago while walking the dog (of course), I spotted a brown leather couch on the curb, waiting for the garbage truck -- so I did the only thing a sane person would do. I ran home to grab my box cutter, stripped the couch bare, rolled up the leather and shoved it to the back of my closet till I could put it to good use. Unfortunately though, my poor Singer is no match for this thick and sturdy leather so I had to make sure my design would not require too much stitching.
- Initially I thought I would use a ready-made pocket from an old, battered backpack -- the idea was I would glue it or use rivets to attach it to a leather strap which I would sling around my shoulder. No sewing needed! So I cut the backpack apart and ripped seam after seam, but none of the pockets worked the way I wanted them to. I ended up stripping the backpack down till I was just left with a small zipper.
- Luckily I also had some leather left over from an old, embarrassing skirt which I had already destroyed to make a no-sew pencil case. The skirt had been made with light-weight black leather, so I would be able to use the Singer to sew on my recycled zipper.
- I probably could have done without this, but since I had it on hand, I reinforced the leather strap with a polyester ribbon, repurposed from the packaging of a set of Target sheets.
- Paper (for pattern)
- Contact cement (for leather strap)
Step 2: The Design
I wanted a backpack pared down to it's most basic functional and visual elements;
- One strap, making it easy to swing the bag to the front for access
- On pocket, just big enough for a wallet, phone, and keys
I opted for a zipper closure even though a snap would have been easier to make, so there would be no visually distracting flaps or rivets (also, because the backpack opening is either horizontal or vertical, depending on its position, a zipper seemed more secure). Because this bag will carry so little weight, the extra reinforcement of a rivet is unnecessary.
Since this bag is custom-fitted, there is no need to have an adjustable strap.
Step 3: The Pattern
The pattern I drew was made specifically to fit me, so there would be no point in re-creating a downloadable version, but I will describe how I developed my pattern so you can make your own (click on the notes on the pictures for more details).
To create the pattern I cut a long strip of paper and draped it over my shoulder, letting the ends cross near my hip, where I wanted the bag to rest. I adjusted the angles at the intersection of the strips of paper to insure that the strap would lie flat on my front and back. When I got the height and angle right, I taped the paper pattern in place.
To figure out the shape of the pocket, I took off the strip of paper, pasted another sheet over the intersection of the paper loop, and drew the curves by hand. I then cut it, tried it on (twirling it around to see it both in the back position and front), made adjustments, and tried again. I marked where my shoulder was when the bag was in its lowest position (on the hip), then folded it in half on that line, because I wanted the bag to be symmetrical.
When I thought I was going to use a ready-made pocket from the backpack, I figured I would cut the leather in one piece, with the seam on the shoulder... but that would have required a very large piece of leather, so instead I cut the strap from one long narrow piece of sofa and the pocket from a small piece of skirt -- so I then had to sew two seams by hand, one on either side of the pocket, but it was worth the trouble.
Step 4: Making the Bag
Cut the pocket pieces and sew on the zipper. Since my pattern was a cut-up mock-up of the final shape and size, I left a sewing allowance on all 4 sides of the pocket pieces. When you sew in the zipper, leave about 1/4" of leather un-sewn on either end.
Sew the bottom of your pocket (on the reverse) but do not sew the sides yet.
Cut out the strap. One side is straight, and the other is curved. Since the leather I was using already had a folded, straight side I decided to use it, rather than have an unfinished edge. I also didn't have a single, uninterrupted piece of leather which was long enough, so I positioned my pattern with the center straddling an existing seam. I left a seam allowance on the curved side which increased in size as the strap widened towards the pocket... that way when it was folded into place it would be straight and cover the edge of my reinforcing polyester ribbon.
Glue the ribbon to the back of the strap with contact cement and glue the leather folds over the ribbon. If you have a good sewing machine, sew along the edges; this will give the strap a better defined look, plus it will make it stronger. My Singer couldn't do this, and you couldn't pay me to sew that length of material by hand with the awl, so I skipped this part.
Attach the strap to the pocket with clamps and try it on (the flat edge of the strap is attached to the bottom of your pocket). If everything fits and looks good, sew the strap ends to the pocket by hand. Since I was having a hard time going through all the layers of leather and ribbon with the awl, I used some super sharp, hand-forged nails I have saved from my stained glass making days to hammer guide holes first -- regular (sharp) nails should do the trick as well. I also nailed the leather pieces together at the end so they wouldn't shift too much as I worked. Another option would be to tape them together with paper masking tape which you could rip off when you're done sewing.
Step 5: Finishing Touches
I removed the dirty pull from the backpack zipper and replaced it with a small piece of leather (a wedge shape, with a slit part way down the middle of the tip. Push the narrow end of the wedge through the zipper, then push the wide side of the wedge through the center slit.
Stop all the stray threads, then take that dog out for a walk with your new micro backpack!
Do you want to see what else I make? Check out my pop-up cards!
Runner Up in the