A Cloth Merchant

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Make New Bags, and Keep the Old

Debbie Christensen

*I made this bag, and wrote this blog post, two months ago. Apparently all I had to do to finish this post was insert the pictures that I had taken the day I finished the bag (which is why you can still see chalk marks). At least I’ve had plenty of time to test out its durability!

This is an ode to my ratty old backpack. It’s been with me for three long years, and is one of the few things I own that I feel very sentimental about. Together we’ve climbed four mountain, visited 28 states and two Canadian provinces, gone on countless hikes, sneaked beer into places. If I had to pick an object to represent me, I think this would be it.

I had originally bought this bag from Target for $30 to take as a day pack on a very long camping trip, and I can’t think of a single day since that it hasn’t been with me. Now it shows the wear of its thousand days. It must have absorbed gallons of my sweat, and it sure smells like it. The metal parts are rusting, the canvas is deeply faded and wearing away, and the lining is practically in shreds; totally beyond repair. It’s ready to go into retirement.

Making a new one came to mind, and I searched and searched online for a backpack sewing pattern or tutorial, but none could live up to my high standards. The Green Pepper makes outdoorsy patterns, and their day pack came closest to my vision, but it didn’t make the cut. I tried looking for a good replacement, but couldn’t find anything similar enough. Meaning, I couldn’t find the exact same bag again. I’m really picky about some things.

I waited a few months, and occasionally a pen or some precious laundry quarters would slip through a hole. I couldn’t take it apart to make a pattern from it because I had nothing to replace it. Also I love it too much.

One day I was flipping it over in consternation and discovered that most of the pieces for this bag are rectangles and rounded rectangles, so making a pattern was really just a matter of measuring. Doy. I counted the various metal doodads I would need and ordered them from Pacific Trimming. This is where I also got the twill tape, crossing my fingers that it would match the brown cotton webbing we had here (it’s all gone now, so I won’t even bother linking to it. Of course it doesn’t match, but I think they go together quite nicely!

I had to figure out an order of operations based on looking at how my bag was constructed, and I wrote it all out with diagrams. I created some pattern pieces on brown paper and marked where all pockets and pieces should go. All of the canvas pieces are interfaced (it’s this canvas, by the way) and the straps are padded with this organic cotton fleece because I had scraps of it.

The lining, believe it or not, is also from scraps! The original was made with polyester, so I figured I needed something lightweight, smooth, and durable. I loved the look of the canvas with this Bird print voile from Cloud9, and then I remembered that I had a good amount of fabric with a similar color scheme. This is Liberty of London Tana Lawn in Lodden, which is all gone. We may reorder it, though. I had made a dress in it a long time ago, and it wasn’t super comfortable so I’d only worn it twice. I forgot the dress was stained with nachos and coffee, but really the lining’s just gotten a head start on the rest of the bag.

I can’t say that the bag went off without a hitch — it actually had many hitches. Most of them were a result of my not measuring things correctly. The rest were from my frugality in not purchasing extra hardware, and also not purchasing the correct tools to install said hardware. The hardware alone cost as much as the original bag, and considering most of the fabric was stuff I’d already had, I shouldn’t have been so foolish. I tried to install the snaps and grommets using a hammer on a cutting mat; my snaps are smashed and my grommets are bent out of shape.

The bag itself wasn’t too difficult to sew. I used a denim needle when sewing the canvas. I did have trouble binding the edges with the cotton twill tape, especially around tight curves and along the bulky straps. I think there are industrial machines that specifically do binding, so I don’t feel too sore about it. It looks okay from the front, anyway. And the bottom was ridiculous to attach.

Overall, though, I’m super happy with my new backpack! It for sure has some quirks, but I think it will serve me well in the future.

. . .

* This is Debbie, from two months in the future. The bag has held up very well, with daily use and frequent tossing around. Except one of the eyelets came out, and it’s annoying that the snaps on the side pockets don’t work. I’d like to replace those. It’s great for carrying receipts and scraps of paper. Both my cat and dog find it to be very comfortable.

Anyway, next week I’ll have another, beter bag on the blog! Stay tuned!

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