Thursday, February 21, 2013

Drawstring Backpack Tutorial

A good friend of mine has a daughter who is turns three today! Her birthday party tonight is themed around the birthday girl's latest love, the zoo. When I found some cute "Noah's Ark" fabric, I decided to use it to make Lucy a drawstring backpack. 

Here's the tutorial to make your own drawstring backpack:

You need about a half yard of material and a cord of some kind for the straps. I used a pair of 45-inch shoelaces for my straps (which are the perfect size for a small child's backpack).

You can cut your fabric in one of two ways. One way is to cut two separate pieces for the front and back of your backpack, each 16 inches wide and 18 inches long. The other way is to cut one long piece of fabric, 16 inches wide and 36 inches long. The only real difference is that you will eventually fold the one long piece of fabric over so that the bottom edge of the backpack is creased, not sewn.

Next, iron the 18-inch (or 36-inch) sides with one-inch folds.

Then, iron the 16-inch edges with two-inch folds. If you have two separate pieces of fabric, the top edge should be ironed with two-inch folds, and the bottom edge can be ironed with a one-inch fold, like the sides.

Fold the two-inch folded edges a second time. You are now creating the top opening of your drawstring bag. Sew along the edges of the first folds in order to create tubes.

Now that the top edges are finished, just pin the sides of the bag. You need to add the drawstring cords before you sew up the sides.

There are a couple of tricks you can use to thread the cord through the tubes. If you use shoelaces, like I did, the stiff ends are already easy to push through the fabric with your fingers. A soft-ended cord needs a little help. You can either wrap tape of some kind around the end to make it stiff, or you can stick a safety pin into the end. Either way, your fingers will now have something sturdy to grab on to.

After you finish pushing the cord through one tube, you need to loop the cord around and enter the other tube. This means that your cord ends will enter and exit the same side of your backpack.

For the second cord, start threading the tubes on the opposite end of the first cord (same place as the loop). Like the first cord, the ends of the second cord should enter and exit the same side of the backpack.

With the backpack still inside out, pull the ends of one cord inside the backpack (though the opening at the top). Then grab the ends of the cord and make them stick out of the bottom corners of the bag. Pin the fabric so that the cord ends stay put.

Now it's time to sew the side of the bag. Be careful to not sew the tubes shut at the top of the back. Your side seams need to end just below the tubes. At the bottom, your seam should go over the ends of the cords that are sticking out.

Complete the same procedure for the other side of the bag: tuck in the cords, pin the ends at the bottom, sew up the sides.  If you have two separate pieces of cloth,  you also need to sew the bottom of the bag at this time.

Finally, turn the bag right-side out, and close the drawstring. Your backpack is ready for wearing, anywhere and everywhere you go (even the zoo!). Happy Birthday, Lucy!


  1. Wonderful job. I have seen them made out of t-shirts or knit before, but love cotton so much better. I may have to use this for some of my kiddoes who love these bags and their current ones are falling apart.

  2. Thanks for the great tutorial! I just made 2 of these as stuff bags for some dog crate covers I made for a friend. Your instruction are very clear. You might check the measurements for using a single piece of fabric. 56 inches would make a very long bag.

    1. Thanks for the feedback! You're right, I meant 36 inches, not 56. I don't know what I was thinking (the math teacher in me in blushing right now!) :)