Back to School Backpack


On a recent visit with my dear friend, Mollie, we got to catch up on a lot of news. This family has been a part of my life for a while, having known them in NYC. I had not realized how soon it was until her daughter, Maggie, was starting Kindergarten. Like this week! Being one without kids keeps me oblivious to these things. We chatted about buying school supplies, a favorite activity of mine growing up, and that Maggie would need a backpack. Lightbulb! "Maggie, would you like me to make you a backpack?"

Needless to say, I got fairly explicit instructions that I was happy to oblige. It's something I know as a sewist I take for granted--getting to produce and wear or carry exactly what I would like. Now I'm on a mission to produce a purple backpack with a baby brown bunny holding a carrot and with Maggie's name in pink.

I had purple canvas in my stash but we've got neutrals and fun colors in stock. I do recommend something with a little more heft to it, like canvas or home dec.

Canvas Selection

These cars or trains would have been awesome. Maybe for her brother. But I'm under strict orders!

Echino options

First up, embroider or applique the bunny? Since time was a factor and I'm no Anna Joyce, I found a sweet little bunny over on Urban Threads. Embroider, check!

Embroidering bunny

Name in pink, check!

placement of embroidery on backpack pocket

Pattern time. I'd heard through the grapevine that Melissa's Not-So-Big Backpack (from the Fall 2010 Stitch Magazine) shape and size was good for all of Maggie's Kindergarten needs. But I definitely wanted it lined. I simply cut the front, back, and side & bottom panel pieces out of a lining as well. I also interfaced the panel pieces of the exterior.

Stitch, Fall 2010

Hardware. I think metal teeth zippers look awesome so I picked some of those up along with these backpack straps we are now carrying.

backpack straps available-quick and easy!

Easy enough to change length--simply shift the foam insert up and trim away the excess. Then slip it back down and trim the cover. There should be some cover that extends past the foam. I left approx 1/2". Nylon webbing for lower strap, check!

Altering backpack strap

The construction felt fairly straight forward. It was very similar to other bags I've made, namely Amy Butler's Weekender Bag (but without all the headache that one caused). The majority of the work was done in under 2 hours, plus strap fitting and hand finishing and machine embroidery.

I took a cue from Oliver & S's Little Things to Sew book for sewing in the lining. Here you can see the exterior and lining have been pinned together at the bottom seam. 

pinning lining to exterior along stitch lines

A trick I learned for being uber-accurate when lining up two seam lines (and I think works well for darts too) is to pin on top of the stitch line through both layers. That way you ensure no slippage and the seams match up.

pinning for accurate stitching

sewing lining to exterior

Once the bag is right side out with the lining inside, you simply hand stitch the zipper opening in the lining to the zipper tape. 

pinning lining around zipper

When using a metal or molded zipper, I always walk the machine's hand wheel over the needle. That way I can prevent needle breakage and reinforce the area with backstitching. This is definitely a stress point. No needles were harmed in the making of this backpack!

walk handwheel over metal teeth zippers

For the bottom panel, I subbed in a faux leather. I thought this would make it more durable. And attractive!

faux leather bottom

All set and ready for the first day of school, check!

Hanging-finished Front

Maybe you've already got a backpack ready to go but still want to send them to school with something handmade? Erica's offering an Insulated Lunch Bag class that's perfect for back to school. Take it a step further and join me in Embroidery DIY to personalize your project. I'm offering a free spot in the class, just leave a comment over on the MD blog!