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Why make a backpack from repurposed fabric

I designed this backpack ahead of the school holidays with the idea of a bag that would carry everything I needed for a day out with the kids.

I wanted to be sure I would have reusable items like water bottles and a tote bag. I have been trying to live more sustainably, one of my shortfalls in the school holidays is leaving the house unprepared. Then ending up buying things that are completely unnecessary like bottled water. Not only is it a waste of money but also not good for the planet.

The idea connected with another plan to find ways to use old toiles. I nearly always make a toile before making the real garment. Once the fitting is adjusted and the real garment complete the toile tends to be redundant. As I often use calico to make my toiles I have a pile of matching fabric in the form of garments.

For years I have always collected old or damaged denim. I love the way different denims look when stitched together. My project timing happened at the same time my husband was about to through out a badly stained and ripped old pair of jeans.

Free backpack sewing pattern video tutorial

I made a short video tutorial demonstrating how to sew the Day Out backpack and talking through the inspiration behind the pattern.

You can watch the tutorial below, follow on YouTube, or head over to my YouTube channel home page and browse all the sewing tutorials. Don’t forget to like and subscribe!

Download the backpack pattern

Simply sign up to our newsletter using the form below and download the free backpack pattern.


Sourcing fabric for the Day Out Backpack sewing pattern

The inspiration for this project was to use fabrics from old clothes and stash scraps to make the whole backpack as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible.

First, collect together fabrics of similar weight. You need something fairly sturdy for the outside of the bag so denim is perfect for the main fabric. Cotton drill or heavy weight fabrics like furnishing fabrics such as old curtains would also work well.

Calico or medium weight woven cotton is ideal for the lining. Collect together old toiles or you could use a damaged duvet cover or sheet.

Low loft fusible or sew-in fleece. Approximately 50cm depending on the width of the fleece.

Notions and accessories

You’ll also need the following notions and accessories to complete this backpack sewing project:

  • 1m bias binding
  • 5 x 30mm D-rings
  • 1 x 20mm D-rings
  • 1 x large 30mm lobster clasp – for front of bag.
  • 2 x small lobster clasps – for attaching the internal pouches to the inside of your bag.
  • 2 x plastic teeth dressmaking zips (these can be cut to length)
  • piece of rigid cardboard approx 30cm x 15cm
  • Large metal eyelets – optional
  • 1m x 7mm elastic

Pattern pieces included in this pattern

  • A – Back lining
  • B – Mini purse
  • C – Front + Front lining
  • D – Strap
  • E – Back
  • F – Flap
  • G – Phone pocket + zip pouch
  • H – Base
  • J – Elasticated pocket
  • K – Lower back gusset

Fabric preparation

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

Before you start making the Day Out Backpack, you’ll need to gather together a few pairs of jeans or the fabrics that you would like to use. The fabrics needs to be similar in weight so everything stays balanced when sewn together.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons
How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

If you are using old garments they will need to be deconstructed so they are usable fabric. Unpicking is very time consuming and a bit deflating on a large scale so I tend to cut fairly carefully along the seam lines of each piece. Cutting the stitch line and seam allowance away.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

This is the remains of a garment that I cut up to make the lining for this bag. This could be saved for a different project. These kind of scraps make good stuffing for soft toys or cushions.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

Once you have a few pieces of unpicked fabric, give them a good press so they are nice and flat to work with. Draw a straight line along one of the larger edges of two pieces. Cut along these lines. With right sides together pin and stitch using a 1 cm seam allowance. Press again. Now draw another straight line cutting off the minimal amount you can. This is similar to a crazy patch work technique however the aim here is to create the largest piece of fabric with the least amount of waste. The seam lines may not be in a particularly attractive formation.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

Keep pressing and joining until you have pieces large enough to cut your pattern out of.

The denim outer you might want to be a bit more strategic looking for minimal lines and contrasting pieces that look good together.

Cutting out your backpack sewing pattern

From the main outer fabric cut:

  • C – Cut x 1
  • D – Cut x 3
  • E – Cut x 1
  • F – Cut x 1
  • K – Cut x 1

From the lining fabric cut:

  • A – Cut x 1
  • B – Cut x 4
  • C – Cut x 1
  • F – Cut x 1
  • G – Cut x 5
  • J – Cut x 1
  • H – Cut x 2 (add seam allowance on all edges)

From low loft fleece:

  • C – Cut x 1
  • E – Cut x 1
  • F – Cut x 1
  • K – Cut x 1

How to make the Day Out Backpack

Prepare the lining

Note the seams shown on many of these pieces are the seams created by patching the fabric together. I have overlocked the edges of seams that are not enclosed such as the inside of the elasticated pocket shown in the first step. You could also use a zig-zag stitch to neaten the edges. I haven’t neatened any seams that are enclosed internally behind lining.

1.5cm seam allowance throughout unless otherwise stated.

Abbreviations

RST = right sides together

Making the backpack lining

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons
  1. Turn and press a double turned hem measuring 1.5cm on both long edges of the elasticated pocket (piece J). Edge stitch close to the inner edge.
How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

2. Cut 2 pieces of elastic measuring 34cm and 36cm. Thread one piece of elastic on to a safety pin. Insert into one of the channels. When the edge of the elastic is almost flush with the edge of the pocket stitch the end so that the elastic doesn’t disappear inside the channel. Secure the other end in the same way.

The shorter elastic will be the upper edge of the pocket and the longer elastic the lower edge.

3. Mark a point 5cm up from each corner of the back lining (piece A). Draw a chalk line between these two points for the next step. Place the lower edge (36cm width) of the elasticated pocket ( J) at the 5cm point, pin the pocket matching raw edges to the side seams. Machine tack in place within the seam allowance.

The lower edge of the pocket is left free.

4. Place the lower edge of the pocket (J) along the chalk line created in step 3. Divide the upper edge pocket measurement into 3 (11.3cm) Place a pin at the upper edge at these points. Draw a chalk line at right angles to the upper edge of the pocket to the lower edge. Stitch along this line. I stitched this line twice to make it extra strong. Reinforce the upper and lower edges with back stitching.

You can change these dividing lines to different sizes if you prefer. I use these for water bottles and carry 3 regular water bottles. However if your water bottle is particularly wide or narrow its probably best to check these measurements.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

5. Turn and press a double turned hem on one short edge of one piece G. This will become the phone pocket on the front lining. The other pieces will become the zip pouch. Edge stitch close to the inner edge.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

6. Turn and press the remaining three edges. 1.5cm.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

7. Following the markings on the pattern pin the prepared pocket onto the front lining piece C.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

8. Edge stitch reinforcing with back stitch at the start and finish.

Prepare the detachable zip pouches

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

9. Measure the attachment end of the lobster clasps you are using to clip the internal bags inside your backpack.  Cut a strip of calico twice the width plus 1cm for a seam allowance. Cut the length approximately 20cm – long enough to cut lengths for both pouches. With RST pin and stitch along the long side of the strip using a 0.5cm seam allowance.

Using a loop turner turn to the right side and press.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

10.  Both pouches are made in the same way they are just different sizes. The small one I designed to uses as a coin purse to carry a few pound coins for lockers or car park change. The larger bag is designed to carry a reusable tote bag. I made a simple rectangle tote bag measuring 43cm x 37cm which folds away neatly into the larger pouch.

The zips for these pouches can be cut to size, its a good way of using those random zips that have been lying around or perhaps a zip unpicked and rescued from an unwanted garment or cushion cover.

Cut two pieces of fabric 3cm x 6cm for the end of zip tabs. Turn both the short ends in approximately 1cm. Place the opening end of the zip between these two folded edges. Pin in place.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

11. Close the zip measure the length (including the pinned on tab) against one of the longer edges of the pouch. Cut the zip so that the finished length is 3cm in total smaller than the longer edge of the pouch.

Stitch the tabs in place. The machine will be able to stitch through the soft plastic teeth of the zip.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

12. Place the zip RST with one of the pouch long edges.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

13.  Place one of the other pouch pieces at the back of the zip so the right sides of the pouch are facing each other and the zip is sandwiched in the middle. The zip should be centralised. There will be a 1.5cm gap at either end of the zip. Using a zip foot stitch the zip in place.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

14. Repeat with the remaining two pouch pieces on the other edge of the zip.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

15. Thread one of the lobster clips onto the prepared strip you made at step 9. Cut the strip leaving enough length to insert into the seam allowance. This needs to be approx 3cm when folded in half or you might find the machine foot struggles to get past the bulk of the lobster clip.

Place the folded strip with the lobster clasp enclosed in the centre at one of the shorter edges. Place near the zip but not too close, again avoiding to much bulk will make this easier to sew. Stitch in place through one thickness of the pouch.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

16. With the zip in the middle fold the outer sides RST together (the zip should be slightly open). The lining will automatically be aligned. Pin and stitch around all four edges leaving a small opening in the lower edge of the lining as shown.

Trim the seam to approximately 1cm and cut away some of the bulk from the corners.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

17. Turn through the gap in the lining. Pinch and press the two edges of the lining together. Edge stitch close. Push the lining back inside the pouch to complete.

Construct the outer section of the backpack

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

18. Make the back pack straps – with RST pin the long edges together of each piece of strap (D). Stitch using a 1cm seam allowance. Turn through to the right side. I use a loop turner for this but you can use any method you prefer.

Press the prepared straps. You can press them so that the seam is in the middle or at one side. For the centre front strap I pressed the seam to the centre of the strap so the edges are not bulky.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons
How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

19. Draw a chalk line down the centre of the outer flap (piece F)  so that you have a line to follow for the position of the front strap. Thread the large lobster clasp onto one end of one of the straps. Position the attachment part of the lobster clasp 1.5cm above the lower edge of the flap. Fold the strap up approx 3cm behind the clasp so that when the strap is stitched in place it will secure the clasp too. Trim the strap level with the upper straight edge of the flap. Keep this piece of strap for use at step 23.

Stitch the strap down starting at the upper edge, edge stitching along one side of the strap, pivot approximately 2cm above the lobster clasp and stitch across the width and up the other edge.  Step 22 shows how the stitched strap looks.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons
How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

20. Fuse or place the low loft fleece to the back of the outer fabric flap (F). With RST place the lining flap (F) to the right side of the flap. Pin all layers together. Stitch making sure the lobster clip is tucked up inside and clear of the seam as you sew.

21. Trim the fleece away from the seams. Trim the seams and clip if necessary.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

22. Turn the flap to the right side. Press, top-stitch the outer edge.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

23. At this step there is an alteration to the photo. As I didn’t have the right sized D-rings I used these slider buckles. However I would recommend D-rings.

Cut 2 x 25cm pieces of strap. – lower half of the shoulder straps

1 x 27.5cm pieces of strap – upper handle

2 x 56cm pieces of strap – upper half of shoulder straps

1 x 24cm piece of strap – lower half of front closure

Take the two 25cm pieces and thread two 30mm D-rings onto one end of each. Turn the strap down at the back approx 4cm.  Using a narrow wide zig-zag stitch sew across raw edge of the strap approx 4 cm below the D-rings. Edge stitch the strap starting at the lower short raw edge, stitch up the length pivoting as close as you can to the bar of the D-rings and down the other side.

Edge stitch the upper should straps in the same way tucking one short edge inside as you go.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

24. Place or fuse the fleece to the reverse side of the back piece (E). If you are using sew in fleece it is a good idea to tack it in place to stop it moving while you work on the piece.

Measure in 5cm from the corner at the lower edge. Pin one of the prepared D-ring straps wrong side to the right side of the bag. Machine tack along the bottom edge within the seam allowance.Repeat on the other side.

Measure 6.5cm in from the side seam corner at upper edge of the bag pin the strap in place. Repeat on the other side. Machine tack these in place within the seam allowance.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

25. With RST pin the flap to the back of the bag. Stitch. The end of the straps will be sandwiched between the flap and the back.

Fuse or tack the fleece to the lower back panel (K). With RST pin one long edge to the lower edge of back panel. The end of the straps will be sandwiched between the back and lower back panel when stitched.

26. Stitch a channel for the handle strap. Measure 4.5cm from the flap seam down the shoulder straps, draw a chalk line and stitch this line reinforcing well with back stitch at the start and finish. Mark and stitch a second line on the strap 1cm from the flap seam so there is a 3.5cm channel in the strap.

Edge stitch the handle strap in the same way as the other strap pieces. Thread the handle strap through the shoulder strap channel, pin at either end, machine tack within the seam allowance.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

27. Prepare the bag front. Fuse or tack the fleece to the reverse of the piece. Take the 24cm piece of strap, thread a 30mm D-ring on to one end. Tuck the strap behind the D-ring by approx 4cm. Measure and mark a straight line vertically at the centre front to help you position this strap. Pin the strap in place ensuring the end is pinned down and holding the D-ring securely. Edge stitch the strap from the base to just under the D-ring (the machine foot will determine how close you can get to the D-ring) pivot and stitch across below the D-ring and down the other edge.

See image below for stitch line diagram.

28. Prepare the upper edge of the backpack.

Mark a chalk line 1.5cm (seam allowance) from the upper edge and at the first few cms of the top side edges so that you can see where the edge will be once the seam is sewn.

Mark the centre of the bag. You can then divide the space up so the the ties will meet in the middle and have even spacing. If you have an eyelet punch you could use eyelets. If not buttonholes will work just as well. The spacing I used here is 4cm down from the upper raw edge to the centre of the eyelet. 5cm from the side raw edge to the centre of the first eyelet followed by 6.5cm to the centre of each eyelet afterwards. Make the buttonholes or apply the eyelets once you have marked the positions

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

29. With RST pin the front lining (C) and front outer (C) together at the upper edge. Stitch.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

30. Press the seam towards the lining. Understitch the seam on the lining.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

31. Fold a piece of bias binding in half along the length, stitch the whole length. Cut into two pieces measuring 60cm each. Thread one piece of the prepared bias binding through the first eyelet or buttonhole from the back to front or so that when they come to the middle they come from the back so they can be pulled up. Repeat with the other side.

Knot the raw ends of the bias and cut close to the knot to finish the ends

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

32. With RST pin the lower back panel (K) to the front panel (C). Stitch. Trim away the fleece from the seam.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

33. With RST pin the upper back lining (A) to the upper back (E). The flap should be sandwiched in the middle. Stitch.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

34. Now working on the front. Pin the wrong sides of the front (C) and front lining (C) together along the side seams. Machine tack these together within the seam allowance. Finish the stitching at the lower edge of the side seam, don’t stitch around the corners.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

35.  Cut a small strip 5cm x 10cm. Fold RST pin and stitch a 0.5cm seam along the long edge. Turn to the right side, press and thread the 2cm D-ring onto it.

Fold the lining so right sides are together at the side seams and the front bag is sandwiched between the outer (E) and lining (A) back pieces. At the upper edge the back will extend beyond the front bag – you are folding from the seam at this point. It should line up at the lower edge of the side seam.

Pin the lower edge of the lining. Pin the lining to the bag  along the seam of the main bag. Pin leaving a large gap in the middle for turning through. The vertical pins show where the gap is going to be left un-stitched.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

36. Insert the D-ring on the tab into one of the side seams. Which ever side you like approximately 8cm down from the top of the front edge of the backpack.

37. Stitch these seams.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

38. Turn the backpack to the right side through the gap in the hem.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

39. Fold the corners so that the seams on outer and lining line up in the centre, raw edges are aligned on both ends. Press the seam of the gap along the seam line. Pin the gap closed.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

40. Slip stitch the gap in the centre closed. Machine stitch the corners followed by overlocking or zig-zag stitch to neaten the raw edges.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

41. Cut a piece of firm cardboard to the size of piece H. Cut two pieces of fabric 3cm longer and 3cm wider to cover this cardboard. With RST pin and stitch the two long edges and one short edge. Trim, turn to the right side and press. Push the cardboard into the middle.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

42. Turn the raw edges and push inside. Machine stitch closed. Push this into the base of the bag. I have left this free and unattached it can be removed for cleaning and replaced if it gets damaged or broken with use.

How to make the Day-out backpack from repurposed fabric by Bobbins and Buttons

Finally, add the clip on pouches to complete your Day Out Backpack.

Take your beautiful upcycled backpack for a great day out!

My back pack has been well travelled. Beach days its been ideal to carry water bottle, sun cream as well as a reading book and sketchpad.

I made a matching tote bag which has been perfect when out and about popping to the supermarket for an impromptu picnic or collecting forgotten items on holiday.

I also made a water bottle carrier, this has proved really useful when out for a full day with the kids. It frees up space inside the bag for more items. If you would like to make the water bottle carrier you can find all the details and instructions here: water bottle carrier tutorial.

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Julia Claridge

I was about 6 or 7 years old when I had my first go on a sewing machine, it was an old hand crank machine that my mum used with her patients, she was an occupational therapist. I still vividly remember watching with amazement as the tiny perfectly formed stitches were created as I turned the handle. I Grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when buying clothes was less affordable and dressmaking was an answer to updating your wardrobe more regularly. My own mother was a talented dressmaker who made most of my clothes and my sisters clothes as well as a many for herself. I soon got involved with making my clothes, I loved the whole experience of picking out fabrics, trims and a pattern to create a new outfit, then going home to make a new garment or outfit. When it came to leaving school I visited a careers advisor who asked what I wanted to do next. My answer was ..Sew! Read more...

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