Look! I made a backpack!!
Ok, let me back(lolz) up a little first here!
When I travel around (whether it’s personal or sewing workshop related!), I like to check my luggage and bring a carry-on bag that is big enough for all my entertaining shit (knitting, Kindle, etc), but not so big that I’m forced to keep it in the overhead bin. I’ve dabbled around with different sorts of shoulder bags – totes, giant purses, I dunno, all sorts of stuff – which worked fine, but I didn’t like that they weren’t super useful once I got off the plane (like, who wants to walk around NYC with a giant tote bag?). I have a tendency to overpack more than I need to, and I’m really trying to pare down on the amount of stuff I lug around when I go out of town. I wanted a bag that would work for both my flight *and* getting around whatever city I was hanging around. Big enough to hold some essentials – a notebook, my water bottle, phone charger, stuff like that – but not so big that I would be tempted to put everything I own in it and weigh myself down for the day.
I bought a small backpack while I was in Peru when I realized that my normal backpack wasn’t gonna hold all the shit I was trying to carry home, which ended up being really awesome for my purposes, except when it fell apart at the seams while I was last in NYC. Boo! I was on board with the backpack idea at that point, so I decided to change what I didn’t like about the Peruvian pack (too soft/no support, drawstring, not enough pockets, straps weren’t adjustable, etc) and turn it into my dream travel pack.
I used the Toddler Backpack pattern, except enlarged it for a school-age child (there are instructions on how to do this in the pattern). I first discovered this backpack thanks to Kelli and her awesome versions made for actual toddlers (this one is particular makes me want to cry because it is SO FREAKING BEAUTIFUL), and I realized the size was exactly what I needed. I wanted to keep the essence of a small backpack – like the tiny packs we carried around in the 90s and felt real cool about – but I wanted it to have some features like my big traveler backpack had, like extra pockets and a place to carry my water bottle. I also wanted it to be structured, because I am not about those sad and droppy cloth backpacks!
I feel real good about the finished size! It’s just big enough to hold an 8.5″ x 11″ folder (which I will not be carrying around in this thing, but, that gives you an idea of it’s size). I included a few pockets that weren’t part of the pattern, to make organizing more useful – there is a big pocket in the front, a pocket on either side, a small velcro’d pocket on the inside, a large padded laptop pocket on the inside, and also a secret pocket in the back! The backpack is fully lined, the outside fabric is interfaced, there is self-made piping around the outside, the straps are adjustable and padded, and the bottom is also padded and quilted. There is a double pull metal zipper at the top, and little zipper tabs on either end (to help with zipping and unzipping – they are just folded and interfaced rectangles). It was a lot of work, but it’s pretty much exactly what I want!
This pocket is for my water bottle – the bottom is gathered, and there is elastic along the top. It fits my water bottle pretty securely. The pattern doesn’t include instructions for a water bottle pocket, but it was easy to figure out. I used this post as a guide on how to cut the pieces and assemble them.
The opposite side has a sort of bastardized bellows pocket that closes with a little piece of velcro. I used this tutorial as a general guide to draft the pocket. I did consider adding a flap to completely cover the top, but figuring out how to insert it without crossing over the side seamlines was starting to make my head hurt, so I just went with a velcro closure instead. I don’t think I’ll use this pocket to carry anything necessarily worth stealing – but it will be handy for my reusable bag, or tissues, or something like that.
The front pocket closes with a zipper (pulled from my stash) and is lined.
I spent a little more (aka- bought one instead of taking one from my stash) on the main zipper and bought a metal one intended for purses, with two pulls. When you’re trying to quickly get into your pack, it’s nice to not have to find which side the zipper pull is on. Also, I like that I can clip the two pulls together with a keyring, to discourage someone from trying to take a peek inside. I bought the zipper on Etsy from ZipIt Zippers, who I’ve always had good experiences with!
The straps are plain cotton webbing, with gold D rings so that they are adjustable. The upper portion of the straps are lightly padded with cotton batting so they are a bit more comfortable. Just a word of warning – if you are making this bag for an adult, check the sewn strap length! The first pair I made was laughingly WAY too short and looked completely ridiculous on me. These were lengthened by about 5″, which works much better.
Here’s something I’m proud of – a hidden zippered pocket in the back! It’s sized to fit my passport/wallet, and no one can access the pocket while I’m wearing the backpack. I always hated that someone could theoretically open my backpack and take my stuff, and now at least the shit worth stealing is a little more safe 🙂
I added two more pockets to the lining – a small pocket for holding things like chapstick, Advil, tickets, etc; and a larger pocket that is sized to hold my tablet (a Microsoft Surface, one of the older ones). Both the tablet pocket and the back side of the backpack are padded with cotton batting (the pocket is also lightly quilted), to protect my tablet and also for comfort against my back. I finished all the pocket edges with leftover bias from my piping, which I think looks really nice! I also included a keyring, so I can quickly find my keys when I need them.
I am not going to lie – sewing this backpack was a fucking BEAST. There aren’t a of of pieces, and it’s not even necessarily hard – but there is a lot of bulk once everything starts getting sewn together, especially if you include piping. That being said, the steps are reasonably simple. The instructions are easy to follow, the pieces fit together well, and there’s a lot of room for customization to make ~your perfect backpack~. Despite this being sized for an 8 year old, it’s exactly the right size for my needs.
I bought all my fabrics locally here at Craft South. The outer is my favorite – it’s a great woven cotton from Diamond Textiles that I loved working with cos it’s so pretty! (it’s not on our website, but I can personally vouch that we have like 30 yards in the store, so if you want some – just call the shop! I think it was around $18-$20 yard). The red contrast is Kasse shot cotton, and the lining is just plain ol’ Freespirit quilting cotton. I interfaced all the outer pieces (except for the gathered water bottle pocket) with medium weight fusible interfacing – Pellon 809 to be specific. I did not interface the bottom pieces, which in retrospect I kind of wish I had (the padding/quilting doesn’t make it quite as stable as I’d like, but oh well!). Also from Craft South came the cotton batting, cotton webbing and D-rings. Even though I get a pretty generous discount at Craft South, this backpack still cost me around $50 for all the materials – so it definitely wasn’t cheap (I could buy one for less than that). However, it’s sewn exactly to suit my needs AND the outer fabric is just so beautiful! So there’s that. Also, I am much more likely to take my damn time and do the best job I am capable of when I drop that kind of cash on a project – ha! I think it definitely shows with this backpack. It turned out even nicer than I was expecting!
Anyway, my little backpack is ready for it’s first adventure! I’ve got a few travel dates coming up soon, starting in September, so I can’t wait to start using it. And OH, speaking of traveling – after much planning, saving, and brain-racking… I just booked a big solo trip! I’ll be visiting in Egypt in January 2017!! HOLY SHIT, right!? I have ALWAYS wanted to visit Egypt and see (touch) a pyramid – which I am finally gonna do! I am also gonna take a Nile River cruise from Aswan to Luxor 😉 (which I am MASSIVELY excited about!) Can’t wait to nerd out super hard at the Egyptian Museum, too! Until then, though, I’ve got a vacation wardrobe to flesh out and sew – because let’s face it, none of my clothes are very modest and I definitely need to stick out as little as possible! 🙂