How to Make a Backpack

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If you are looking for a custom backpack that isn't plastered in cartoon characters or logos, you may be out of luck. Make your own instead, customizing it with simple and stylish fabrics and patterns.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Things You'll Need

  • 1/2 yard fabric for the top
  • 1/2 yard fabric for the bottom
  • 1/2 yard accent fabric
  • 24-inch sports zipper, 1
  • 14-inch sports zipper, 1
  • Sharp scissors
  • Sewing machine
  • Iron
  • Pins
  • 1 yard braided twill trim
  • 1/4 yard fusible fleece (optional)
  • 1 yard piping (optional)

Tip

  • While almost any fabric is suitable, twill, denim or similar heavy weight fabrics work best. You can also use laminated cotton or oil cloth for the bottom of the bag to make it more durable.

Step 1:

Cut your pieces to size. The measurements below are in length-by-width format.

  1. Zippers
  2. Top of bag front and back, bottom of bag front and back, front pocket: 5 pieces (8 3/4 inches by 12 inches)
  3. Front pocket accent pieces: 2 pieces (8 3/4 inches by 6 inches)
  4. Zipper tab pieces: 4 pieces (2 inches by 4 inches)
  5. Top zipper bands: 2 pieces (2 1/2 inches by 28 1/2 inches)
  6. Side pockets: 2 pieces (4 3/4 inches by 8 inches)
  7. Back straps: 4 pieces, optional 2 from fusible fleece (24 inches by 4 inches), curved if desired. 
  8. Bottom straps: 2 pieces (14 inches)
  9. Top handle: 1 piece (8 inches)
  10. Bottom zipper bands: 2 pieces (1 1/2 inches by 16 inches)
  11. Bottom front pocket: 1 piece ( 2 inches by 24 inches) 
  12. Bottom band: 1 piece (4 3/4 inches by 28 1/2 inches)
(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 2:

Take one of the side pockets, fold the top edge under by 1/4 inch twice, and sew along the edge to secure. Repeat on the other side pocket.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 3:

Fold the bottom edge of the side pocket under by 1/2 inch. Then place the side pocket along the bottom band so it is 1/2 inch from the top. Mark the placement of the bottom fold. Sew the pocket in place along the bottom edge only. Repeat with the other side pocket on the opposite end of the band. You will fold the pocket pieces out of the way for a few of the following steps and then sew the side edges in place when you sew step 18.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 4:

Prepare both zippers the same way -- the pictures show the top zipper only. Fold and press the top and sides of the zipper tab pieces under by 1/2 inch. Repeat for all four pieces.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 5:

Fold the zipper tabs in half around the top and bottom edges of the zippers. Sew around the edges to secure.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 6:

With the right sides together, sew one zipper band along one side of the zipper.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 7:

Press the zipper band out flat. Top stitch along the edge as shown. Repeat steps 6 and 7 for all sides of both zippers. Set the bottom zipper piece aside.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 8:

With the right sides together, sew the top zipper to the bottom band. Sew along both short edges to create a loop.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 9:

Lift the top zipper piece upward and out of the way, and top stitch along the bottom band. Repeat with the other side. Set aside.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 10:

Fold the front pocket accent pieces into a triangle by folding the right sides together. Then place the triangles on the front pocket piece. Sew where the triangles overlap in front as well as along the sides and bottom edge of the pocket piece.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 11: (Optional)

If you are opting to use piping, add it now by sewing it around the edge of the front pocket piece.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 12:

With the right sides together, sew the pocket zipper piece to the bottom front pocket piece, creating a loop just like you did for the top main zipper in steps 8 and 9.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 13:

With the right sides together, sew the zipper band around the front pocket piece. Pivot at each corner to sew around the rectangle.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 14:

Turn the front pocket piece right-side out.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 15:

Place the right side of the lower front piece to the wrong side of the zipper band on the front pocket and sew them together along the edges.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 16:

With the right sides together, sew the upper front piece to the pocket piece along the top back edge.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 17:

Fold the upper front piece upright.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 18:

With the right sides together, match up the edges of the main zipper band with the top of the bag and the pocket edges of the bottom band. Sew the main zipper band along the bag edge. Be sure to catch the side pockets in the seam.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 19:

With the right sides together, match two back straps together and one layer of fusible fleece. Then sew along the edges, leaving just the top open. Repeat to form the other back strap.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 20:

Turn both back straps right side out, press well, and top stitch down the center.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 21:

Place the back straps along the top edge of the main zipper band, a few inches in from each corner. Place the top handle in between the back straps. Pin in place to secure. Then pin the bottom straps in place at the bottom edges of the side pockets.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 22:

With the right sides together, sew the back top and bottom pieces together. Press the seam open. With the right sides together, sew the back piece to the zipper band. Catch the back straps, top handle and bottom straps in the seam while sewing, and match up the top and bottom pieces all around so all the seams match up.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 23: (Optional)

To finish the seams of the inside of the backpack, enclose the seams in bias tape and sew to secure in place.

(Image: Shauna Wightman)

Step 24:

Turn the backpack right-side out and sew each back strap to its corresponding bottom strap at the desired length to secure the straps. Now you have a nicely finished backpack inside and out.

(Image: Shauna Wightma)
(Image: Shauna Wightman)
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