Feels like 1996 – Retro backpack from pillow case

retro backpack

Do you have recognized the return of the backpack, too?!

– I had my last backpack when I was probably 15, which was back in the 90s. After using it less and less frequently, I finally sorted it out – and the 90s had passed.
I guess, a lot of people did so, cause for years you couldn’t see a lot of people using backpacks apart from when they went trekking or on a day trip.

But lately backpacks are worn again. But not all kind of backpacks. Hipsters today  have small, simple backpacks with a retro charm that ressemble satchels (Have a look at this or this collection.).

So I decided to give as well backpacks a chance again, sewing my own retro backpack,… “feels like 1996“… Before I started my own sewing a I had a look around the web for some orientation. This (p. 52-57), this this and this tutorial were inspiring and helpful for me on my way to my DIY backpack from a pillowcase. Of course, you can use every other fabric for the exterior, f.ex. canvas or denim… but I had this beautiful patterned pillow case at hand, that seamed to have just the right size for this project.

retro backpack

In the meantime my backpack has stood its first tests. It’s comfy and it can hold quite a lot of things, f.ex. everything you need for a picnic for two persons. I would only make the straps a little bit longer on a second time, so that you really can adjust them.

So, finally I’ve managed to write down the step-by-step tutorial for this backpack. Hope you have fun with your one!

retro backpack

What you will need

– for the bag body

2 pieces exterior fabric, each 49 cm wide and 52 cm tall (f.ex.pillowcase with cut of zipper)

2 pieces lining fabric, each 49 cm wide and 52 cm tall

– for the flap

1 piece exterior fabric, 25 cm wide and 25 cm tall

1 piece lining fabric, 25 cm wide and 25 cm tall

1 piece interfacing, 25 cm wide and 25 cm tall

– for the front pocket

1 piece exterior fabric, 20 cm wide and 17 cm tall

1 piece lining fabric, 20 cm wide and 18 cm tall

1 piece interfacing (Vlieseline H250), 20 cm wide and 17 cm tall

– for the straps

4 pieces of 4cm wide cotton webbing, each 50 cm long (I made mine 40 cm long and that works well, but – especially for taller people – I would suggest the longer option)

adjustable strap hardware

4 small pieces strong interfacing (z.B. Decovil Light)

– for the optional inserted pocket

1 piece exterior fabric, 20 cm wide and 17 cm tall

1 piece lining fabric, 20 cm wide and 18 cm tall

– for the optional handle

1 piece of fabric, 14 cm wide and 24 cm tall

– 2 snaps for front pocket and flap (KAM-snaps, magnetic snaps)

– cotton cording (or shoe string), about 120-130 cm long

– 2 eyelets

backpack tutorial

1. Cut all your fabric pieces. Iron interfacing to corresponding exterior fabric pieces.

2. Right sides together sew lining pieces of bag body together, leaving the top side open. For the bottom of the bag cut 5 x 5cm notches into the bottom corners of the exterior and the lining fabric (see picture). Fold and sew along the seam to give your backpack some depth.

backpack tutorial

3. For the optional inserted pocket sew exterior and lining fabric piece together, right sides facing, leaving a small opening for turning. Turn right sides out and iron. Attach centred to the back side of the backpack lining, about 10 cm from the top.

4. For the front pocket you can go the same way as with the inserted pocket. Then, exterior and lining fabric should be exactly the same size. What I did was to first sew the top of exterior and lining fabric together, right sides facing. Then I folded the lining fabric around the edge, pinned with needles and topstiched – creating a fake binding (see on picture). Then I turned the two pieces right sides facing again and sewed them together, leaving again a opening for turning. Now you can attach the pocket to the front of the backpack exterior, about 10 cm above the bottom seam. Fix snaps to front pocket and backpack front (exterior fabric), using some fabric scraps to reinforce the snap on the body (It doesn’t have interfacing).

backpack tutorial

backpack tutorial

5. For the flap place exterior and lining pieces right sides together and pin in place. Curve two edges of the square fabric pieces. f.ex. with the help of a small bowl (see picture). Then sew together, leaving the top edge open. Turn flap right side out, iron seam flat and topstich.

backpack tutorial

6. For attaching the straps, first of all you should reinforce the points were the straps are sewed to the body with some heavy interfacing on the wrong side. Place two of them 14 cm apart from each other, centred and about 8 cm away from the top edge; place the other two 20 cm apart from each other, centred and about 8 cm apart from bottom seam.

Then pin the four pieces of webbing to the (exterior) back of the backpack at those reinforced points. You can create a small cover for the webbing – like I did for the bottom strap pieces – or just tuck under the end of the webbing a little – like I did for the top pieces. Sew strap pieces to the backpack by creating first a retangle and then adding a sewed cross for some further stabilization (see on pictures).

backpack tutorial

backpack tutorial

7. Assemble the strap pieces, fold the edges, pin in place and sew, again making the retangle-cross-thing. I usually stand helpless in front of those hardware pieces for adjustable straps agonizing which way I had done it the last time … This time this tutorial helped me to get it right in less than half an hour ;). I also made those detailed pictures of how it should look like, which hopefully makes it easier for you to manage this task.

backpack tutorial

8. This should be the point now, where you are attaching the second snap to the flap (4 cm from the curved side, centred) and the backpack body (about 14 cm from the front top, centred). Actually I forgot about this and had to do it later. (You can now see the back of the snap on the inside of my backpack.)

9. Now to the cording: Fix eyelets about 4 cm from each other, centred and about 5 cm from the top of the bag exterior. Then assemble backpack body: Lining piece into the exterior piece, wrong sides facing. Align, pin in in place and sew a line for the cord tube right under the eyelets (see picture). Pull through cord and press to the bottom line.

backpack tutorial

10. Optionally you can now sew a handle. Therefore fold in the fabric piece lenghtwise as seen on the picture and topstich two (or three) lines lengthwise.

11. To assemble the bag pieces and finish your backpack, both exterior and lining top seam should be folded inwards, creating an even seam. Therefore I highly recommend to use your iron to get a neat edge. Pin in place and don’t be thrifty with needles at this point. On the back side layer lining, flap, handle, exterior fabric as seen on the picture. Handle and flap should overlap inside about 2 cm. Topstich all along the edge – take your time to do this slowly and accurate. Be careful not to sew accidently over the cording.

12. Have fun with your new backpack!

backpack tutorial

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