Today I’m going to show you how to make a drawstring backpack! This is one of my all-time favorite beginner sewing projects; it’s simple yet nice enough for gift giving! It’s also a great way to show off some beautiful fabric. I chose this adorable zebra print from Dear Stella…I ended up making three bags so that each one of my little girls could bring one to the zoo. This backpack is sized for kids. If making one for an adult, add a few inches in both width and length.
Finished size: 13.5in W x 15.5in L
- Two pieces of fabric, cut 15in W x 17.25in L (or one piece of fabric, cut 15in W x 33.5in L)
- Two strips of fabric, cut 1.5in W x 2.75in L for the loops
- Polyester cord, approximately 3 yards (up to 4 yards depending on child size)
This cording is also known as parachute cord; it’s inexpensive and widely available at craft stores.
In the past, I’ve made several drawstring bags and the edge of each channel opening always seemed to fray with use. I decided to fix that problem with this tutorial, so the first step is to seal in the long edge of each fabric piece by pressing the fabric to the wrong side 1/4in. Fold over again 1/4in and press. This encases the raw edge which will be very helpful in the end.
Unfold the edge back once and edge stitch down that first fold that was made. The reason for this is that we don’t want this stitching to show on the outside of the backpack.
Then, fold that edge back the way it was after it was pressed twice to the wrong side. This stitching will be hidden at the end when the backpack is sewn together. Repeat with the other long side on this fabric piece. Next, repeat these steps with the other bag piece, so all long sides have been encased this way.
Now sew the two pieces of fabric together at the bottom, right sides together with a 1/2in seam allowance. If you are using one long piece of fabric, skip this step!
Press the seam open like this:
Make the top channel on both the front and back of the bag. Fold the top edge over 1/4in and press to the wrong side, and do this again. Press and fold one more time 3/4in to the wrong side. This is the drawstring channel. Edge stitch the channel down, repeat this process for the back of the bag.
*Tip: use a straight pin to push any raw edging in toward the middle of the channel before you secure it. Sometimes a tiny little bit will poke out, so pushing it back in ensures that the channel won’t fray.
Now make the two loops that will hold the drawstring in place on either side the backpack bottom. Press the two small 1.5in W x 2.75in L fabric strips in half the long way, with the right side of the fabric facing out. Then, unfold and press each side the middle like this:
Fold this strip in half along the middle and sew close to the edge to create the piece for the loop.
It’s time to insert the loops and sew up the backpack! Pin the sides of the backpack together, right sides together. At the corner of the bottom, insert the loop (folded in half first), facing the inside.
The fold of your loop should be pointing toward the middle of the backpack, the raw edges should be sticking out beyond this edge as below. Make sure to have the raw edges stick out beyond the edge of the backpack about 1/4in, which ensures that the loop will be securely sewn. Below you can see my loop inserted, edges extending out beyond the side slightly (I should have had them extend out more, which I did for the second loop).
Here is the tricky part, probably the most important to the success of this project! Using a scant 1/4in seam, sew over the loop, all the way up to the channel and stop right below the channel.
The channel needs to remain free so that the drawstring can be threaded through at the end. You could also start right under the channel and sew down to the bottom and over the loop, depending on how well your machine starts off on a thick section of fabric layers.
Sew back and forth several times when you get to the loop and also when you get to the top right below the channel.
This is what it will look like after the sides have been sewn. I stopped right below the channel, and I actually ended up sewing right between 1/8in and 1/4in seam allowance.
Turn the backpack right side out.
Cut two pieces of polyester cord, each piece 50 inches long.
*Note: (50in long fit my 8 year old perfectly! In my photos, my 5 year old is wearing her backpack, and the string is a bit long. I might shorten it for her, so for an average 5 year old 46-48in might be a better fit. Experiment to see what works best before this final stage where the strings will be attached to the bottom.)
Thread your string, attached to a safety pin, through one side and all the way around. Then, start at the opposite side you did before, repeat and it will look like this.
Close the bag, and bring your drawstrings through the loop on each side. Tie a knot. Sew across the loop right next to the string (you can see where I pinned it below), trying to catch the string as you sew. This will secure the string in place. Melt the ends of the cord with a lighter to prevent fraying.
All done! Now you can take your bag anywhere.