I was asked to make a back pack for a friend’s daughter who will be starting kindergarten in September. There were no special requirements other than it be able to carry school files and a lunch bag. Oh, and that it had a cat on it.
I spent a LONG time looking at my kids’ own (store bought) back packs, looking at pictures online and scrutinizing pattern envelopes. I have some experience in making bags for my etsy store but I had never attempted a back pack before (and I don’t think I’ve ever sewn a cat before either) but I’m always keen to give something new a go and I like a challenge.
In the end I came up with my own version based on some of the ideas I liked best from my research. I like this design because it is endlessly customizable (I don’t think that’s a word?!?!?) and though I have taken MANY photos for this tutorial, it’s pretty straightforward and simple. Honest.
I will tell you the precise measurements for each pattern piece as I work through the tutorial, but you should know that you need roughly 2 yards of main fabric and about 1 yard of fabric for your lining. I also used a small piece of a 3rd fabric for the flap. I added an insert between the outer and the lining to give it body, shape and protection (which sounds like an ad for shampoo). I used felt (because I had some to use up) but you could also use quilt batting or fleece.
Finally, you will need some bag hardware; 2 loops and 2 sliders, both measuring 1.5″ and some cord for the drawstring.
1. Cut front pocket pieces. 2 pieces of main fabric and 1 piece of felt 8.5″ x 10.5″.
2. Sew the main fabrics right sides together, with the felt on the back but leave the bottom seam open for turning.
3. Clip corners and turn right side out.
4. Top stitch along the top edge of the pocket.
5. Cut 2 pieces of main fabric (I changed color here for contrast) 13.5″ x 16.5″.
6. Pin and sew the sides of the pocket piece to the center of one of these pieces. This is the front of your bag.
7. Back stitch at the top edges for reinforcement.
8. Your pocket is now sewn to the front of your bag.
We are now working on the handle, straps and loops for your bag. For the handle you will need 1 piece of fabric 5.5″ x 11″. For the straps 2 pieces of fabric 6″ x 20″. For the loops 2 pieces of fabric 6″ x 20″.
9. On all pieces, iron in half down the length. Open up and iron edges into the center.
10. Fold one half over and iron.
11. Top stitch along the long edges.
12. Repeat for all pieces for the handle, straps and loops.
13. Thread your loop pieces onto metal bag loop, fold in half and pin ends 4″ from the sides of the bottom of the back of your bag.
14. Repeat for both sides.
15. Take your strap piece and thread over the center bar of your slider and stitch in place.
16. Take the long end of this same piece and thread it through the loop on the bottom of your bag.
17. Bring that end up through the slider from underneath.
18. And thread it back behind the other side.
19. Bring the strap end all the way to the top edge of the bag and stitch. Pin, then stitch your bag handle to the center. YOUR BAG STRAPS NEED TO BE CLOSER TOGETHER THAN THEY ARE IN THIS PICTURE, I HAD TO UNSTITCH AND MOVE THEM. PUT YOUR STRAPS RIGHT NEXT TO THE HANDLE WITH NO SPACE IN BETWEEN!
Cut 2 strips of fabric 2.5″ x 16″5 ” for the bottom edge detail.
20. Pin 1 strip along the bottom edge of the front of your bag, covering the untidy bottom part of the pocket.
21. Fold back and press.
22. Pin second strip onto bottom of bag back and stitch. Make sure you catch all the ends of the loops. Go back and forth over the loops a few times for reinforcement.
23. Again, fold back and press.
24. Put your bag front and your bag back right sides together.
25. Stitch down each side only. Not along the bottom. I like to reinforce my stitching with a zip zag inside the seam.
26. Cut bag base piece 7″ x 11″ (I made sure this was the darker fabric since it’s likely to get dirty because it’ll be the part touching the floor)
27. Pin the base into the bottom of the bag. Line up the side seams with the center of the short sides of the base. Use lots of pins to get it right.
You then need to make a felt insert and a lining. For the lining, you need 2 pieces 15.5″ x 16.5″. Sew down the long sides, leaving the top open. Add a bag base piece 7″ x 11″ and pin the sew to the bottom (28). Make the felt insert in the same way with the same measurements.
Now it’s time to work on the flap.
29. Cut 2 pieces of fabric and 1 piece of felt 9.5″ x 14″. I rounded off the corners at the bottom.
30. I knew I wanted a cat face on the flap (at the little girl’s request) so I experimented using a plate as a template.
31. I cut out a cardboard circle and tried out some ideas on that before committing to cutting up fabric and once I was happy with my design I stitched it all up. Experiment with different animals here. I made it up as I went along and there’s no shortage of ideas and inspiration online.
33. I used a zig zag stitch to attach the eyes and a satin stitch to attach the face to the flap. I hand stitched the mouth and whiskers. The ears are separate triangles and are flaps which stand out from the bag. They are my favorite part! Sew your flap pieces together in the same order that you sewed the front pocket, turn the right way out, press and top stitch around the edge.
34. Turn your main bag right way out and push in your felt insert and the lining. Baste around the top edge of all 3 bag pieces then pin your flap to the back center and baste again. Make sure your flap covers the straps and handle ends.
This is honestly the last step! Are you still with me??
36. Make a casing for the draw string cord by cutting 2 pieces of fabric 2 1/4″ x 17 1/2″.
37. Pin then stitch one short end together to make one long strip.
38. Press in the 2 short ends and 1/4″ along one long edge.
39. Pin the non-ironed edge all the way around the top of the bag making sure the 2 ends are front center.
40. I actually inserted my drawstring cord at this point and just kept it out of the way when sewing. I am NOT patient and cannot bring myself to spend hours threading cord through a casing and getting nowhere slowly.
41. Fold the pressed edge over the top of the bag (and in my case, also over the cord ~ though you can’t see it in the photo).
42. Pin the casing to the back and then stitch all the way around the bottom of the casing so that the cord is inside its own long tube.
43. Tie knots to the ends of your cords. You don’t want them disappearing into the casing ~ ever!
And phew! YOU ARE DONE! I personalized mine by adding my own label and a name tag for the bag’s owner. I think it makes a nice touch and adds to its one of a kind-ness.