Making Backpack / Sewing Notes & Tips
In the first post on the Making Backpack by Anna Graham (Noodlehead) from Making No. 5 / COLOR, I shared my backpack and mentioned that this a little more of a challenging project; Anna rates it as advanced-beginner. The techniques aren't tricky, but the combination of working with many pattern pieces and a thick fabric does make it more challenging, which may just be the kind of project you're looking for! Below, I'm sharing my sewing notes and tips to help make the process a little easier for you.
First, let's talk about supplies. There are quite a few things needed to make this backpack, including fabric, hardware, webbing, and interfacing.
Anna recommends 7-9 oz canvas or 10-12 oz waxed canvas. I used our Fray Print Fabric, a sturdy canvas that's probably about 15 oz, so has a little more weight than recommended. I've worked with this fabric before, using it for the Tool Roll, so I already had a feel for what it was like, and since I love it so much, I really wanted to make it into the backpack. Even though it is a little heavier, it worked beautifully for this pattern. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that if you use a heavier fabric, it will be more of a challenge to sew (more on this later). Using a thinner material could also work, but the overall look and stability of the project will be a little different in the end.
Denim would also work great for this backpack, and I think it would look adorable with some added patches. Making a backpack from denim could also be a fun way to repurpose old jeans or collect material from other older garments and fabric found at garage sales and thrift stores, a great way to do this project on a budget and be more sustainable!
Hardware & Webbing
One thing I truly appreciate about Anna's patterns is that even though they call for specific and sometimes hard to find parts, she often sources them for us and provides them right in her shop. This pattern requires rectangle rings, rectangle sliders, two different zippers, and two different widths of webbing. These items can be found online and in some local fabric shops, but I love that Anna has the kit with everything needed available in her shop, saving the maker a lot of time. I used the Making Backpack Hardware and Webbing Kit in the colorway Cream/Natural.
There are three different types of interfacing used in this pattern; all were purchased from my local Joann Fabrics. The one I'd like to talk specifically about is Pellon Flex-Foam. This was the first project that I've made requiring this interfacing, so I was interested in how it would come together and sew. The Pellon Flex-Foam gives the backpack its sturdy, free-standing shape, which is what gives it that professional look and also makes it super comfy while being worn. But, this is really thick interfacing, and it was a challenge to sew. If you're unable to sew this interfacing without having lots of skipped stitches, I'd recommend replacing it with something that gives extra stability without the thickness, such as Fusible Fleece Interfacing (Pellon 987-F) as used in the Making Bag from Making No. 6 Black & White.
One Step at a Time
Sewing a backpack is a pretty big project, and if it's not the kind you're familiar with, it might seem a bit overwhelming; my first backpack did! So, my recommendation is to take it one step at a time, slowly working your way through the process of collecting supplies, cutting, and sewing. Since each stage takes a good amount of time, I'd tackle this project in sessions:
- Cut fabric and interfacing,
- Apply interfacing to fabric,
- And then break up the sewing, maybe just doing the front panel one day, gusset another, etc.
When you purchase interfacing, it comes with a little guide for how to attach it, which comes in handy, especially if you're working with an interfacing that's new to you. With the types of interfacing used in this project, steam is recommended, and it definitely helps.
When applying interfacing, you want to try and avoid dragging your iron along, but instead, press it down and use steam for about thirty seconds, then pick up your iron and move it to another spot. You also want to start in the center and work your way out to try and avoid the fabric shifting, stretching, or bubbling.
Also, before you attach the interfacing, try to make sure the fabric is clear of strings or dust that could be sandwiched between the material and interfacing. Most of the time, it probably won't show, especially with thick fabrics. But it's good to get into the habit of clearing away these little things because you might end up with a project one day where it would show through either in color or texture.
This pattern calls for basting several times throughout it. Basting is the act of sewing a line of stitching, usually with a longer stitch length, to temporarily secure pieces together typically before they're attached to something else. This is often done when more than two pieces are being sewn together, like when the front pocket is attached to the front main piece in this pattern. When basting, I like to start a little before where the stitching needs to begin and finish a little further than it needs to end so that I don't have to backstitch at the beginning and end. Depending on the project, sometimes I remove basting, and if there isn't any backstitching, it's much easier to remove.
I decided not to add rivets to the front pocket, but instead added a second line of stitching about 1/4" away from the original. I love adding extra topstitching wherever possible because not only does it look beautiful and professional, but it also strengthens the item. If you're not adding rivets, an additional line of stitching is a great alternative.
When attaching the webbing handles, I find it's easiest to prep them by marking how much of the webbing will be folded under at the end and then ironing that piece down using steam to flatten it as much as possible before attaching it to the main panels.
I was a little nervous about attaching the leather front patch because I knew I only had one shot at getting it right since sewing through leather creates an unrepairable hole. Because of this, I decided to make myself a stitch guide. I wasn't sure if my removable pen would leave a mark, so instead, I used a ruler and pin to create tiny holes along the entire outside of the patch for me to follow as I sewed. This method worked out really well, and though my stitching isn't perfect, I think it looks pretty stinkin' good!
Even with interfacing applied, I found that the fabric I used would shift while being sewn with a regular foot, so I started using a walking foot, and this made things much more manageable.
Handling Stiff Pieces
Between several layers of canvas, lining fabric, and interfacing, you've got a beautiful, sturdy piece that you're sewing. And since the size of this backpack doesn't allow for it to be worked on flatly since it's too large to fit under the neck of the machine, rolling it can be helpful. Additionally, later in the sewing process, when finishing the backpack and attaching bias binding, it helped to smash flat the bottom portion of the bag.
Zippers are one of those things that can seem intimidating, especially if it's a more substantial zipper like the ones used on the gusset in this pattern, so I decided to dedicate a whole post to the topic, which you can read here—Zippers!
The most challenging part of this project, for me, was the final step of attaching the bias binding. One of the most helpful tools at this step was lots of sewing clips and sewing very slowly. I made my bias binding out of the same fabric I used for the lining. I usually choose to make my bias binding because I like for it to match perfectly. Additionally, it helps to hide my imperfect stitching here. Making bias tape is very simple, and because it can be used for all kinds of things, I decided to create a Bias Tape Tutorial for how to make your own!
I hope these sewing notes were helpful! Stay tuned for the zippers post and bias tape posts next week! - Emily