Saturday, July 25, 2009

Make a drawsting backpack from a T-shirt

I know there are a zillion tutorials for draw-string backpacks out there. I didn't use any of them in coming up with this design, which requires just three seams (not counting the pocket or applique design). It also goes together in a big hurry: exclusive of the decoration it took me about 30 minutes, including photography. :)


* T-shirt. A child's large makes a good adult sized backpack
* Scraps (i.e. sleeves) from a second T-shirt in contrasting color, about 4x6 inches
* Optional: Scraps in a third color, about 4x6 inches
* Nylon cord, length about 2x the height of your T-shirt plus about 8 inches (I got my purple cord in a big skein from the hardware store for about $3. It comes in several neon colors.)
* Embroidery floss in contrasting color
* Stencil-style pattern for reverse applique design (I got my dino from
* Optional: beads for eyes or other accents; buttons, charms etc.
* Optional: 1 or 3 cord locks

* Sewing scissors
* (Important) Embroidery scissors - small bladed and very sharp. Like these. Mine weren't Ghinger brand, and cost about $6 or $8.
* Sewing machine - technically optional if you don't mind hand-sewing a couple long seams
* Disappearing ink fabric pen, chalk, or transfer paper

If you are unfamiliar with reverse applique or just want to make it easier on yourself, it would probably be simpler to applique the design on the pocket / patch prior to constructing the bag. I was in a hurry to use the bag and did the applique later.

Instructions for bag

* Cut sleeves off T-shirt, as close to seam as possible. Save for another project, or for pocket / patch on this project

* Position patch / pocket on front of T-shirt

Notes on this step:
     * You could use 1/2 of one of the T-shirt sleeves you just cut off, layered over a contrasting color or vice-versa.
     * Or, you can use two different colors, one layered over the other - this is what I did.
     * If making a pocket, position a finished edge for the pocket opening.
Position patch / pocket about 4-6 inches down and in the center. If you are doing the applique later, make sure you layer the two colors carefully so you can stitch both down at the same time.

* Machine-sew patch / pocket to T, using zig-zag stitch and being very careful not to catch the back of the T in the seam. Leave the top open if you want it to be a pocket.

I intentionally used a contrasting color of thread in the machine, and left the edges raw. If you want, using a matching color and turn under the edges for a more finished look.
* Optional: I found that my pocket was wide enough it gaped open when the bag was in use. I added a large button and hand-sewed a button hole using a blanket stitch.

* Turn T inside-out. Sew shut the arm holes, again using a zig-zag stitch to allow for stretch.

* Optional: Use a pin to mark a point about 1/2 way down each arm hole. Sew a diagonal line pin to neck opening. The shape of your bag will be a bit better.

* Trim about four inches of the finished edge from T-shirt in contrasting color, or sleeve trim from base T-shirt. Cut into two, two-inch pieces and fold in half. Pin one inside each corner at bottom of T, loop facing up.

* Sew the bottom of the T shut, back-stitching one or two times across each loop

* Using embroidery scissors, snip a very small hole in the neck binding on the *back* of the T-shirt - that is, the side that does not have the patch / pocket.
Thread the nylon cord into this hole and back out again, using a bodkin or large safety pin for assistance.

Even though the neck binding won't fray much, this hole will get a lot of abuse: it would probably be good to button-hole it by hand, perhaps with a blanket-stitch, or simple whip stitch. (Tutorials abound...)

* Center cord in neck hold, and thread cord-lock / toggle into place. (If you don't want to spring for a cord lock, you could tie a simple knot - NOT a square knot - around the cord. If your cord is thick enough, this will slide quite nicely.

* Using a lighter or candle flame, carefully melt each raw end of the cord to prevent fraying. A strong craft glue would probably also do the trick.

* If using cord locks, thread one on each end of the cord. Run each end of the cord through one of the loops at the bottom of the T and back into the cord lock. Secure with a knot. Alternately, thread each end of cord through one of the loops and tie it around itself to make a sliding knot.

That's it: your bag is done! Open and close the bag by sliding the top cord lock. Adjust the straps by sliding the bottom cord locks / knots up and down.

Instructions for Reverse-Applique Pocket Design
* Using the transfer method of your choice, copy the design you are going to applique onto the pocket.

I used my trusty disappearing ink pen and traced around my pattern

* Using 2-3 strands of embroidery floss and a simple running stitch, sew around the outline of your shape. If you already attached the pocket to the front of your bag (and you're using it as a pocket, not a patch), take care Not to sew through to the bag fabric. But on the other hand, make sure to go through both layers of the pocket itself! I placed a piece of card-stock inside the pocket to stop my needle.

* Using embroidery scissors, carefully cut through the *first layer only* inside the design, staying about 1/8 inch from the seam. (If you are very careful you can re-use the piece you cut out as a standard applique on another project.)
If desired, add a bead for an eye.

That's it! This technique can be used lots of places - on T-shirts, headbands, etc - anywhere you're using a non-fraying fabric. See The Alabama Stitch Book for lots more ideas.

1 comment:

Caley said...

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-Caley Walsh