This backpack is roughly the same dimensions as the first pack I posted earlier this summer, but I changed the pattern and construction to allow for some different options for pockets and shape.
- Simple roll top design
- Made from heavy cotton duck canvas
- Bottom portion brushed with latex for durability
- Cotton webbing, with snap hook closures
- Billow style front pockets are slightly expandable
- Added side pockets
- Fully lined, with removable back foam insert (for more or less padding/structure)
- Carry-on size, fits in overhead bin storage, and under the seat on airplanes.
I am really happy with the way this turned out. Before sewing a single stitch, I tried to think through the entire construction process. My goal was to keep the construction as simple as possible: no button holes, no basting, no pinning, no changing sewing machine feet, and no pressing. I wanted simple, efficient, no nonsense sewing, and I was able to do just that.
Obviously that approach won’t work for every project, and I’m certainly not knocking basting or pressing when they are necessary, but I tried to factor the need for those practices into the design to eliminate their necessity from the beginning.
I want to get back to making clothing soon, but right now I’m having too much fun with backpacks!
I have a thing for backpacks. Actually, I like all sorts of bags as long as they are useful and serve a purpose. Maybe it’s their utility, maybe there is some nostalgic, deep rooted tie to my school days. After all, a properly packed backpack that had the right books, homework, and lunch for the day ahead meant the difference between having a great day and a crummy day at school. The backpack in many ways is a survival tool, and I love that there are seemingly endless variations on the same concept.
As a result of my obsession, I’ve decided to spend some time working out the design for a new pack. I had a great time making my waxed canvas backpack a while back, but as always, there is room for improvement.
This is a basic roll top design made with reverse denim. I had lots of denim scraps lying around, which is really the only reason I used denim for this prototype. The next version will probably be made with heavy canvas instead. It features several exterior pockets as well as a few simple interior pockets for small items. The backpack is fully lined with another layer of reverse denim. All of the webbing is cotton.
Most of the pockets need to be re-evaluated. The loop/button closure on the outside isn’t ideal, but I was simply using supplies and materials that I had on hand for this first version. There are SO many things to think about in terms of webbing placement, weight distribution, finishing seams, pocket closures, etc. I actually love this challenge, and have already starting making plans for the next version.
I recently had a chance to “field test” the pack on a quick trip to Philadelphia and the surrounding area. It makes a great carry-on, and has enough space for three, possibly four nights worth of clothing depending on how you pack.
A few iPhone shots from the road. The upper left is Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed. I truly enjoyed seeing this historic building and being in the same room where history was made.
The bottom right is the Reading Terminal Market, home of DiNiC’s, which won Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America in 2012. It’s a roasted pork sandwich, with a broccoli rabe topping and sharp provolone cheese. Serious business. It was only 10:00 in the morning, but I had to have one. If there is one thing I like better than backpacks, it’s a well crafted sandwich
When I first started thinking about making a back pack, I knew I wanted to use canvas, and I knew I wanted a simple “traditional” design. My goal was to create something that could hold a couple days worth of clothing for a weekend getaway, or be used as an airplane carry-on. Serious hiking, climbing, or long heavy hauling were not factors I considered when designing and constructing this pack. For inspiration, I looked to both the Archival Rucksack and Makr Farm Ruck Sack, which both seem to be nicely designed and well made.
The pack features a double layer of canvas throughout the body and flap for durability and some structure. Ideally, I would have preferred to use one layer of really heavy canvas, but as I mentioned in the post about the canvas I dyed for this pack, I found the canvas on sale and couldn’t pass it up. At the time it was the heaviest canvas available in the store, and while I saved a little money, I should have just bought the right fabric to begin with. All things considered though, I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out.
All of the blue webbing is polypropylene, and while it isn’t my preferred material, it was easy to work with. Cotton webbing would have been a nice option, but was difficult to find in small quantities. I also thought about using leather for the shoulder straps and flap closure, and on a future pack I may do so. Working with leather, however, requires a lot of practice, special tools, and skills that I haven’t even begin to learn.
For both the shoulder straps and flap closure I used a simple double D-ring setup for adjustments. This works great for the shoulder straps because I don’t need to change the length of those very often, but the D-rings make getting into the main compartment a little difficult. On my next pack, I will probably use different hardware such as a lobster claw, or some type of snap hook to close the top flap.
The main compartment closes with a drawstring woven through grommets, which were surprisingly easy to install. I decided to lightly wax the outside layer of canvas with Otter Wax to give some texture, a weathered look, and most importantly, resistance to water. I should probably apply a heavier coat for more protection, but this is something I can do at a later date. I chose Otter Wax because it is a natural product, is environmentally friendly, and is relatively easy to apply. The two outer pockets have slots for pens/pencils, and close with a jeans style button. There are also several pockets on the inside for thin, low profile items.
Materials and hardware:
(materials are approximate measurements and are usually more than enough)
- 2 yards heavy canvas
- 16 ft. 1″ webbing
- 12 ft. 2″ webbing
- 8 D-Rings
- 4 metal slides
- 2 jeans style buttons,
- 16 size #1 grommets
- 2 yards 1/4″ rope for draw string
- Heavy topstitching thread
- 5 yards 1″ bias tape, or twill tape to finish inside and top opening seams
- Fabric dye and wax, optional
I bought a couple of yards of canvas on sale knowing that I wanted to make a canvas backpack at some point. When it actually came time to make the backpack (post coming soon), I realized that the natural canvas color would quickly get really dirty. I’ll just dye it I thought, it’s easy right?
The process is actually pretty easy. The hard part is getting the right color. This was my first time dying anything, and while it was fun, I’ll probably look a little harder for the exact color of fabric I want next time, rather than trying to dye fabric to a certain color. I used a simple, inexpensive dye that you can find at most hobby/craft stores.
*Please note, this post is not meant as an endorsement for Rit dye. It just happened to be the easiest product to find in my area.*
I started with a grey powder dye. If the first dying session had resulted in the color shown on the box, I would have been pretty happy with the outcome.
Unfortunately, the result was a very cool light grey, borderline lavender color. Not exactly what I had in mind for a backpack. I followed the instructions, used two packages of dye, washed the fabric before I started, etc. Maybe my water wasn’t hot enough? Maybe my sink was too small? I’m not sure what went wrong, but I’ll blame my lack of experience rather than the dye.
So…I switched to liquid dye, picked out a “nice” taupe color and repeated the process.
My lavender canvas turned into the color shown below, which is actually fairly close to the color on the bottle, and not a bad choice for a backpack. If I do decide to embark on a dying adventure again, I think I’ll try to seek out a non-conventional, more organic approach and use something like coffee or tea to give plain cotton some color. This will do for now.
I hope to have the backpack I made with this canvas up soon.