How to Sew a Backpack

  • 01 of 08

    Make Your Own Backpack

    Completed self-sewn backpack
    Debbie Colgrove

    This type of stylish, durable, full-size backpack can cost a small fortune. If you have some sewing skills, it's much more economical to sew the backpack yourself.

    When you make your backpack, you can guarantee the quality of the finished product by using a quality thread and back-stitching to secure all of your seams. Since you are choosing the fabric and trims, your backpack can be in any color or pattern you want. There will be no mistaking which backpack belongs to who when yours is an original.

    This free back pattern features two front and two side pockets. The padded straps ensure it's comfortable to wear and is large enough to hold everything you need to carry.

    Materials Needed

    • Print out of pattern pieces
    • 1 yard of 60-inch wide fabric: 1 1/2 yards of 45-inch fabric—nylon, ripstop nylon, canvas, denim, duck, or other sturdy fabric. Consider using pieced scraps and coordinating fabrics or quilted fabrics.
    • Thread to match your fabric
    • Batting or padding: two 5 inches by 16 inches or more if you want to pad more than the straps Padding can be batting, fleece scraps, blanket scraps, or similar material.
    • Two strap adjusters (fits 1-inch strapping)
    • 18-inch purse zipper
    • 24 inches of 3/8-inch wide elastic
    • Piping
    Continue to 2 of 8 below.
  • 02 of 08

    Pattern Assembly, Lay Out, Cutting, and Marking

    Sewing templates for self-sewn backpack
    Debbie Colgrove

    Prepare the Pattern

    1. Tape the two print out sheets together aligning the green line and edges.
    2. Use a second print out or trace the pattern from the blue line for pocket A to create the pattern piece for Pocket A.
    3. Use the third print out or trace the pattern from the pink line down, adding 1 inch to the fold line to create the Pocket B pattern piece.

    Cutting the Pattern Pieces

    1. Cut two for the body of the bag, cutting the pieces on a fold as indicated on the pattern piece. Note: If you have allowed enough extra fabric, you can cut four so that you can double the fabric and add padding or interfacing to add body. Baste the pieces together and use them as one piece throughout the remaining directions. You may also want to add a lining pocket. If you use batting, be sure to check the documentation with the batting to quilt the fabric appropriately.
    2. Cut two of Pocket A on the fold.
    3. Cut two of Pocket B on the fold. Also, cut one 14-inch piece of 3/8-inch wide elastic for pocket B.

    Transfer the pattern markings to the appropriate cut out pattern pieces.

    Padded Straps

    1. Cut two 5-inch by 17-inch pieces and two 5-inch by 16-inch pieces of batting.
    2. For the webbing cut two pieces 3 inches and two pieces 15 inches.
    3. Use fusible web to fuse the back side of the batting fleece or padding material.

    Sides of the Bag

    1. Cut two pieces 20 inches by 2 1/2 inches for the sides of the zipper.
    2. Cut two pieces 37 inches by 5 inches (these will be worked as one piece but two pieces give you more body).
    3. Mark 10 inches from each end on the long edge. (This will be the placement mark for the bottom of the side pockets.)

    Side Pockets

    1. Cut two pieces 10 inches by 7 inches for side section pockets.
    2. Cut two 5-inch pieces of 3/8-inch wide elastic.
    Continue to 3 of 8 below.
  • 03 of 08

    Prepare the Front Pockets and Piping

    Assembling the front pockets on this full sized back pack
    Debbie Colgrove

    Pocket A (Flat Pocket)

    1. Using a 1/4-inch seam allowance, attach piping to the top straight edge of one Pocket A piece.
    2. Place both the pattern A pieces with right sides together, aligning all the edges.
    3. Using a 1/4-inch seam allowance, sew the pieces together on the straight top edge.
    4. Turn so right sides of the fabric are out, and press well so the piping is on the edge.
    5. Top-stitch just under the piping, through all the layers, to hold the top seam and piping in place.
    6. Align and baste the edges together.

    Pocket B (Elastic Topped Pocket)

    1. Place both Pocket B pieces with the right sides together, aligning all of the edges.
    2. Sew a seam across the top straight edges using a 1/4-inch seam allowance.
    3. Turn right sides out, with both pieces on top of each other and press so the seam is at the top of the joined pieces.
    4. Tops stitch a full 1/2 inch from the top edge.
    5. Thread the elastic through the casing that you just created at the top of Pocket B, sewing the ends of the elastic to the ends of the casing.
    6. Align and baste all of Pocket B edges.
    7. Sew two rows of basting stitches between the dots on the bottom of pocket B.

    Join the Pockets

    1. Matching the bottom and side edges, lay Pocket A on top of the front body fabric.
    2. Lay pocket B on top of Pocket A.
    3. Align the sides and gather the basting so the bottom of the pocket fits the bottom of the front section.
    4. Pin the layers together.
    5. Baste the side and bottom edges in place.

    Piping

    1. Starting at the center bottom of the front body piece, sew your piping to the edges using a scant 1/2-inch seam allowance.
    Continue to 4 of 8 below.
  • 04 of 08

    Padded Straps

    Sew the padded straps
    Debbie Colgrove

    To get started on the padded straps, complete the following:

    1. Cut pieces as described in step 2.
    2. Apply fusible web to the batting or padding pieces. 
    3. Fuse the padding to one end of each strap piece on the wrong side of the fabric, leaving 1-inch un-padded on each strap.
    4. Fold the straps lengthwise with the right sides of the fabric together, aligning the long edges. Pin in place.
    5. Sew a seam in the long edges using a 1/2-inch seam allowance.
    6. Turn the tubes right side out.
    7. Press flat with the seam pressed to one side and centered on one side of the fabric.
    8. On the un-padded end, turn in a 1/4 inch and press in place.
    9. Place a strap adjuster on each 3-inch piece of webbing/strapping, putting the webbing on the bar closed to the "bumped end" going in and out on the back side of the adjuster, centered on the length of the strip.
    10. Fold the strip in half and bring the ends of the webbing strap together. Baste them together.
    11. Place the strap adjuster and strap combo into the end turned under the end of the padded fabric strap, centered in the un-padded end of the padded fabric strap. Keep the right side of the adjuster on the same side as the un-seamed side of the fabric.
    12. Fold in the sides of the fabric to fit the webbing strap and press the fabric in place.
    13. Pin in place if desired.
    14. Stitch across the end of the fabric to hold the webbing strap in place and then sew along the angled edge to the padded area, and pivot to sew across the end of the padded area. Pivot again to sew to the angled edge to the end of the strap and pivot and sew across the end of the fabric to reinforce the webbing.
    15. Using the markings on the top of the body of the bag, align the ends of the padded strap with the edge of the bag and the side of the strap with an edge of the strap, placing the strap toward the edge of the bag.
    16. Stitch the strap in place in the seam allowance of the bag.

    Webbing Straps

    1. Melt both ends of the webbing to prevent fraying.
    2. At the mark on the side bottom of the body of the bag, center one end of each strap aligning the ends with the edge of the bag.
    3. Stitch the end of the strap in place in the seam allowance.

    Piping

    1. Starting at the center bottom of the back body piece, sew your piping to the edges using a scant 1/2-inch seam allowance.
    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    The Zipper

    Sew on the zipper
    Debbie Colgrove
    1. Using one of the two 20-inch by 2 1/2-inch pieces, place the fabric right sides down on the right side of the zipper aligning the long edge to the edge of the zipper.
    2. Stitch the fabric to the zipper using a 1/4-inch seam allowance.
    3. Sew a seam finish to prevent the fabric from fraying.
    4. Press the fabric back on itself leaving the zipper exposed.
    5. Top-stitch through the fabric and zipper tape to hold the seam allowance in place to the side of the zipper teeth.
    6. Repeat for the second side of the zipper.
    Continue to 6 of 8 below.
  • 06 of 08

    Side Pockets

    Side Pockets with Elastic Tops
    Debbie Colgrove

    Prepare the Side Pockets

    1. Sew two rows of basting stitches on a bottom 7-inch edge.
    2. Turn under 1/4 inch on the opposite 7-inch edge. Press.
    3. Turn under again 1/2 inch to enclose the first turned under edge.
    4. Sew the turned under hem in place sewing as close to the edge as possible. (Stitch the edge that is near the body of the pocket.)
    5. Place the elastic in the hem, stitching it in place at each end of the hem.
    6. Repeat on the second side pocket.

    Attach the Side Pockets

    1. Place the pocket upside down, with the right sides of the fabric together, laying the seam line on the bottom of the pocket on the marks on the side piece.
    2. Match the center of the pocket and the center of the side piece and pin in place.
    3. Gather the bottom of the pocket to fit the side section.
    4. Sew a seam on the seam line.
    5. Turn the pocket upward enclosing the raw edge.
    6. Press.
    7. Sew across the bottom of the pocket sewing as close to the edge as possible.
    8. Baste the sides of the pocket in place, aligned with the sides of the side piece.
    9. Repeat for the second pocket.
    Continue to 7 of 8 below.
  • 07 of 08

    Side Pieces and Zipper Section

    Joining the Zipper Section and the Side Section
    Debbie Colgrove
    1. Place the top end of the side section with the pockets attached, on top of the zipper section, keeping the right sides of the fabric together.
    2. Align and match the ends.
    3. Place the other side piece on the opposite side so you are sandwiching the zipper section and when turned right side out the right sides of the side sections will face outward with the wrong sides together.
    4. Sew the two side sections and the zipper section together using a 1/2-inch seam allowance.
    5. Repeat for the other end.
    6. Turn so the sides are right side out and press the ends of the zipper sections.
    7. Top-stitch the ends of the side sections where they are attached to the zipper section.
    8. Baste the sides of the side sections together.
    Continue to 8 of 8 below.
  • 08 of 08

    Joining the Sides, Front, and Back

    Attaching the Side to the Front and Back Section
    Debbie Colgrove
    1. Mark the center top and center bottom on the front and back sections. This will be where the fold was on the pattern piece and can be found again by simply folding the pieces in half lengthwise and marking the center at the seam lines.
    2. Mark the centers of each seam side of the sides but matching the ends of the zipper sections and folding the zipper section and side section in half. Mark the folds at the seam lines on both edges.
    3. Keeping right sides together, match the center of the side zipper section to the center top of the front section. Pin in place.
    4. Keeping the side section straight, match the center of the full side section with the bottom center of the front section. Pin in place.
    5. Align the remaining edges and pin them in place.
    6. Sew the edges together, using the scant 1/2-inch seam allowance that was used to sew the piping on to the front section.
    7. Open the zipper.
    8. Repeat the process to sew the back section to the sides.
    9. Trim and even the seam allowance.
    10. Apply a seam finish to prevent the fabric from fraying.
    11. Turn right side out.
    12. Press and enjoy!