This is my perfect everyday bag. It’s a comfortable, easy-to-wear backpack that’s a little bit smarter and more compact than most backpacks. I’ve kept this one simple, but you could add a front pocket or internal pockets to the lining to keep things organized, if you wanted.
Be sure to use medium-weight fabrics for the outside of the bag, and heavy-weight fabric for the lining, which will give the bag a structured shape and slightly utilitarian feel.
The color contrasts between the main and base fabrics and the straps and tabs are key to making this design work. I like to use a fairly neutral color for the main fabric, something a bit darker for the base to give it a feel of weight, and something bright or strong for the straps and tabs to make them pop.
Tools & Materials
• Medium-weight cotton, canvas, or denim fabric (5/8 yard)
• Medium-weight cotton, canvas, or denim contrast fabric (3/8 yard)
• Heavy-weight canvas or denim lining fabric (5/8 yard)
• Webbing, 1-1/4 inches wide (2-3/4 yards)
• D-rings, 1-1/4 inches wide (2)
• Sliding bar strap adjusters, 1-1/4 inches wide (2)
• Snap fasteners with fixing tool* (2 sets)
• Bradawl, optional
• Basic sewing kit
*NOTE: If you don’t want to buy a fixing tool, use sew-in snap fasteners or hook-and-loop tape.
• 2 pieces, 18 1/2 inches long by 12 inches wide
• 2 pieces, 4 inches long by 12 inches wide (for base)
• 2 pieces, 18-1/2 inches long by 12 inches wide
• 2 pieces, 4-3/4 inches long (for loops)
• 2 pieces, 7 inches long (for closure tabs)
• 1 piece, 7 inches long (for hook loop)
• 1 piece, 5-3/4 inches long (for hook loop)
• 2 pieces, 29-1/2 inches long (for straps)
Step 1: Lay out one main fabric piece right side up, in a portrait position. Measure 3-1/8 inches up from the bottom short edge, and use tailor’s chalk to mark a line all the way across. Lay one base piece right side down on top, above the line, so its bottom long edge lines up with the chalk line. Pin along that edge, and then sew 3/8 inch up from that edge. Fold the base piece down so the unsewn long edge meets the bottom edge of the main piece, and then press along the seam. This is the front panel of your backpack.
Step 2: With the other main piece, begin in the same way by drawing out a chalk line 3-1/8 inches up, but this time, before you add the base piece, you need to add the webbing loops and D-rings for the straps. Thread each loop strip of webbing through one D-ring, folding the webbing in half over the straight edge of the D-ring. Place the webbing loops 2 inches in from each long side of the main fabric piece, with their raw ends 2-3/4 inches from the bottom edge (they should be overlapping the chalk line by 3/8 inch), and pin. Zigzag stitch over the raw ends of the loops to hold them in place.
Step 3: Lay, pin, and sew the base piece, and then fold it over and press, as you did in Step 1.
Step 4: Next, you’ll add the closure tabs to the same panel. (Although this is the back panel of the bag, when the top is folded over, the tabs will be on the front.) On each closure tab strip of webbing, turn one end over by 3/8 inch twice, pin, and sew 1/4 inch from the end. Turn the other end of each strip over by 3/8 inch, and pin to the bag panel 2-1/4 inches from the top edge and 2-3/8 inches in from each side. Sew a square with a cross from corner to corner at the end you pinned in place.
Step 5: Still working on the same panel, you’ll now add the hook loop and straps. Pin the 7-inch strip in place with its top edge 4-3/8 inches from the top edge of the bag panel, and centered on both sides. Fold both raw ends of this strip under by 3/8 inch, and pin. Fold the 5-3/4-inch strip into a loop, and tuck the ends 3/8 inch under the middle of the strip you just pinned in place.
Step 6: Tuck one end of each strap under the strip pinned at the top of the panel, on either side of the loop. Pin in place.
Step 7: Thread the other end of one strap through the top of a strap adjuster from back to front, over the central bar and through to the back again, down and through the corresponding D-ring from front to back, then back up and over the central bar of the adjuster again, as before. With about 1-1/2 inches of webbing coming out of the adjuster, fold the end under by 3⁄8 inch, and pin to the strap at the back to make a loop. Repeat this step for the second strap.
Step 8: Sew the two loops closed with two rows of stitching. (I also added a few stitches by hand at the sides to stop any frayed ends showing).
Step 9: Return to the strip holding the hook loop and the tops of the straps in place, and sew all the way around, 1/8 inch in from the edge. Do this a couple of times to make it secure.
Step 10: Lay the back panel of your backpack (the one you’ve just sewn the straps to) right side up, and arrange the straps in the middle so they don’t overlap the edges and get caught in the seams. Lay the front panel on top, right side down. Pin along the sides and bottom edge, and then sew along those three edges with a 3/8-inch seam allowance.
Step 11: Square off the bottom corners of your bag by flattening the corner so the side seam is stacked on top of the bottom seam and then sewing a perpendicular line 1-1/4 inches from the corner. Turn right side out.
Step 12: Repeat Steps 10 and 11 with the lining pieces, but don’t turn the finished lining right side out.
Step 13: Slip the lining into the main bag, and line up the seams. Fold the main bag’s top edge in and the lining’s top edge out (so the folded parts are facing each other), both by 3/8 inch all the way around, and pin together. Sew 1/8 inch in from the edge all the way around.
Step 14: Add the positive snap halves to the closure tabs 2-3/8 inches from the ends, making sure the caps are on the front. (A bradawl is helpful here.)
Step 15: Fold the top of your bag over by about 3-1/2 inches, so that the strip holding the loop and straps is at the top of the back. Check that your tabs are both roughly the same distance from the side edges, and mark where the snaps meet the front of your bag. This is where the negative halves of the snaps will go.
Step 16: Add the other halves of the snaps to the front of your bag where you’ve marked, making sure the caps are on the inside of your bag.
Anna Alicia is a designer-maker and craft writer living in East London. Her label, A Alicia, offers handmade textile and ceramic jewelry, bags, and homeware. This article is excerpted with permission from her book Bags (Quadrille).