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Our bold, full size messenger bag is a true show-stopper. We used a classic Pendleton® wool fabric, carefully fussy cutting the Native American motif for optimum dramatic effect. The dense softness of the wool creates a stable bag without any additional interfacing. The lining is tough canvas divided into two sections with multiple pockets so you can keep all your papers, devices, and accessories expertly organized – there’s even a handy swivel hook to capture your keys. The bag closes with a full, fold-over flap that securely snaps at the bottom with a sturdy pair of side release buckles. 

This project is a bit more complex than many of the tutorials here at S4H. But don’t let that scare you away. Read through the instructions a few times; we call this “making it in your head.” If there’s a section that seems challenging, try making a prototype out of scraps prior to jumping into the full project. That’s exactly how we do it when creating our samples.

The main body of the bag starts as a multi-section panel and then turns into a loop. The lining panel is added, and rather than a traditional inset base, the side panels are wrapped instead. This is somewhat similar to how a sewing machine cover is created… just with the opening at the top rather than the bottom.

Fussy cutting the fabric for the main body of the bag and flap is important to the design. We outline the steps we took for our fabric below, but if you are new to the technique, take a look at our full tutorial on fussy cutting.

The modern style of our messenger bag works equally well for men or women, making it an excellent gift idea for those hard-to-buy-for folks on your list. You can find beautiful wool in a wide range of traditional and modern designs, and in a variety of stunning color palettes. And, even though we adore the eye-catching look of a strong motif, a solid color could also be wonderful. Those of you with embroidery machines could even consider adding a tone-on-tone monogram to the front flap. There are always lots of ways to customize and personalize.

With such a large fold-over flap, we opted for no carry handles in order to maintain a sleek look. The wide, cotton webbing strap is adjustable, but is not fully detachable.

We’re confident you are up to the task, but one word of warning: make sure your machine is up to the task as well. Test your machine with a multiple layer ‘mock-up’ first to insure you can power through. With Janome as our Signature Sewing Machine Sponsor, we know they are famous for their powerful motors and precise needle penetration, and many have an extra-high presser foot lift, which helps when sewing through multiple layers.

We are lucky to have the Pendleton Woolen Mill Store in our backyard here in the Pacific Northwest, and that is where we found the beautiful wool jacquard fabric used for the exterior and well as the bag’s flap lining. The fabric does have a higher price tag but the quality and lasting beauty is worth it! A rich wool is our top recommendation for the best finish.

The finished bag is 15″ wide x 11″ high x 3″ deep with an interior canvas pocket/divider and an adjustable shoulder strap from 1½” cotton webbing.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

Click to Enlarge

  • 1 yard of 60″+ wide wool fabric or similar for exterior: we originally used Pendleton’s Spirit of the Peoples wool jacquard
  • ½ yard of 45″+ wide wool fabric or similar for the flap lining: we originally used Pendleton’s Eco-Wise wool in Maize
    NOTE: See our link above for a Pendleton where-to-buy option.
  • 1 yard of 50″+ wide mid to heavyweight canvas or similar for the bag lining and pockets: we used a 9oz natural canvas
  • 1 yard of 1″ wide cotton webbing to attach the buckles to the flap and the key hook to the inside of the bag: we used a black cotton webbing
  • 1 yard of 1½” cotton webbing for the shoulder strap: we used a black cotton webbing
  • 1 yard of 45″+ wide medium-weight fusible interfacing; we used Pellon Décor Bond
  • ½ yard of heavy-weight interfacing (fusible or non-fusible will work) or similar to stiffen pocket area; we used Pellon Deco Fuse
  • TWO 1″ side release buckles for bottom closure: we used black plastic
  • ONE 1½” slide adjuster for the strap: we used black plastic
  • ONE heavy-duty 1″ metal swivel hook for the inner key fob
  • TWO heavy-duty 1½” metal O-rings or D-rings for the adjustable strap
  • ONE heavy-duty 1½” metal swivel hook for the adjustable strap
    NOTE: We found all our plastic and metal hooks and rings at a hardware/tack store not a fabric store. A store that caters to horse people or professional metal crafters often has a good selection of very heavy-duty pieces. We have a local outdoor equipment retailer that we also often turn to for specialty hardware: The Rain Shed.
  • All purpose thread to match fabric
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Straight pins
  • Regular hand sewing needle
    Optional for interior seam binding:
  • 2 yards of 2″ wide ribbon; we used a chocolate brown grosgrain
  • Fusible seam tape, such as Stitch Witchery

Getting Started

  1. From the exterior wool fabric, cut the following:
    THREE 16″ wide x 13½” high rectangles for the front, back, and flap panels
    TWO  4″ wide x 12″ high rectangles for the side panels; our side panels were cut so the pattern went lengthwise as you can see in the ingredients photo above
  2. From the interior wool fabric, cut the following:
    ONE 16″ wide x 13½” high rectangle for the flap lining
  3. From the lining fabric, cut the following:
    ONE 27″ x 16″ rectangle for the main panel
    TWO 4″ x 12″ rectangles for the sides
    ONE 16″ x 28″ rectangle for the pocket insert
  4. From the medium-weight fusible interfacing cut the following:
    THREE 16″ x 13½” rectangles
    TWO 4″ x 12″ rectangles
  5. From the heavy-weight interfacing/stiffener cut the following:
    ONE 15″ x 11″ rectangle to support the inner pocket
  6. The webbing will be cut within the instructional steps.

We spent extra time carefully fussy-cutting our exterior wool fabric to get the very best look.

  1. When you lay out your exterior fabric, plan your cuts to capture your favorite part of the design and keep it centered. We first fussy-cut the front and back 16″ x 13½” main body panels to be identical, centering the woven pattern both vertically and horizontally and taking into account the seam allowances. We labeled one front panel and one back panel and marked which edges were the top to keep everything clear during construction.
  2. Make a 16″ x 13½” paper pattern for the front flap. You want the woven pattern on the front flap to match to the front panel of the bag after it is finished. On your paper pattern, draw a line ½” away from all four edges to mark the seam allowance, and draw in a big arrow pointing up. The arrow points to the top edge of the flap, which will seam to the back panel of the bag. Now draw a line 3″ down from the top edge; this marks where the front flap bends over the top opening of the bag. The rest of the pattern is what will overlap onto the front of the bag.
  3. Lay the front panel piece you cut on top of the remaining fabric and match up the pattern exactly. Next, lay the paper pattern on top of the front panel piece, matching the line you drew at 3″ along the top cut edge of the front panel piece. Hold the paper pattern in place and slip the front panel piece out of the stack. Pin the paper pattern to the remaining fabric. Cut, label and mark the top edge. (If you can get through this step, you can pull out the tablecloth from beneath all the dishes at your next family gathering!)
  4. As mentioned above, for our side panels, we cut the two 4″ x 12″ side rectangles so the feature motif ran lengthwise.
  5. Remember to label each piece you cut and make note of which edge is the top of each piece.
    Click to Enlarge

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Front and back of the bag

  1. Find the front, back and flap exterior panels as well as the two exterior side panels as well as the five pieces of matching mid-weight interfacing.
  2. Place an interfacing on the wrong side of each exterior panel. All edges of both layers should be flush. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse each panel in place.
  3. Find the exact center along the bottom raw edge of one main body panel. Measure 2½” to the right of center and 2½” to the left of center. Mark both of these points with a pin. These are the placement points for the buckles that will hold the front flap closed.
  4. Cut two 7″ lengths of the 1″ cotton webbing and slip one length through each male end of each buckle (the end with the prongs). Finish the top end of the webbing with a simple double turn hem. To do this, fold back the raw edge ¼” and finger press, fold an additional ¼” and finger press again. Pin in place. Stitch across the fold to secure.
  5. Center the raw end of each webbing buckle strip over each of the 2½” pin points you marked above. The raw end of the webbing should be flush with the raw edge of the fabric panel. Pin in place. You can machine baste in place for added security.
    Click to Enlarge
  6. To create the bag’s bottom seam, place the front and back main panels right sides together, carefully aligning them along the bottom raw edges. The buckle strips are sandwiched between the layers. Remember, your front and back panels should be identical, which means the motif should align perfectly along the two bottom raw edges.
  7. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch across the bottom .
    Click to Enlarge
  8. Press the seam allowance open and flat.
  9. Slightly lengthen the stitch. As shown below, stitch down to either side of the seam allowance. Before stitching, check to make sure the buckle straps are flat against what will be the FRONT exterior panel so the stitching catches them, securing and reinforcing the webbing and insuring they pull up in the proper direction against the front.
    Click to Enlarge
  10. The seamed front and back exterior of the bag should now measure the same as the single piece of canvas (or similar) you cut for the main lining of the bag.
  11. Cut a 5″ length of the 1″ cotton webbing and slip it through the 1″ swivel hook. Align the raw ends of the webbing and place the ends along the top edge of the front panel approximate 3½” in from the left raw side edge. Pin the webbing in place. Machine baste in place for added security.
    Click to Enlarge
  12. Place the canvas and the exterior wool right sides together, aligning the top raw edges. Pin in place across the top.
  13. Stitch through the layers with a ½” seam allowance.
  14. Press the seam allowance towards the canvas lining. Fold the webbing with the swivel hook down against the lining and stitch again all the way across on the lining. This secures the lining in place against the seam allowance and secures the snap hook against the lining so it will fall to the inside of the bag.
    Click to Enlarge

The bag flap

  1. Find the exterior wool panel you cut for the front flap (which should have its interfacing panel already fused in place) and the lining flap panel.
  2. Cut two additional 5″ lengths from the 1″ webbing.
  3. Find the female ends of the buckles (the blunt ends). Slip a length of webbing through the bottom loop of each buckle, pulling it through so the raw ends of the webbing align.
  4. On the exterior wool flap piece, mark the placement for the female ends of the buckles along the bottom edge of the flap. Use the same measurements you made for the male ends of the buckles so they match up perfectly: center the flush raw ends of the webbing buckle straps 2½” to the left and the right of the center of the flap panel.
  5. Place the lining piece right sides together with the exterior flap piece, sandwiching the buckles in between the layers. Stitch along this bottom edge with a ½” seam allowance, backing up to double-stitch across the webbing ends.
  6. Open up the panels so they are flat: exterior flap to one side, lining flap to the other side as shown in the photo below. Press the seam allowance open and flat.
    Click to Enlarge
  7. Place the top edge of the exterior wool flap piece, right sides together, with the main back panel. Pin in place. Stitch across, using a ½” seam allowance.
  8. Laying out flat, this is what the bag should look like now: lining, front panel, back panel, exterior flap, lining flap.
    Click to Enlarge
  9. Now you are going to make this flat piece into a giant loop by aligning the bottom raw edge of the canvas lining to the top raw edge of the wool flap lining… right sides together of course. Pin across, then use a ½” seam allowance to stitch across.
    Click to Enlarge
  10. Flatten this ‘loop’ so the wool flap lining and the wool exterior flap are laying right sides together. Align the sides of the flap and pin in place. Stitch both sides of the flap, using a ½” seam allowance, stopping at the seam where the flap attaches to the back bag panel. Clip the outer corners then carefully clip into the seam allowance so when you turn right sides out and press the flap, the raw side edges of the main bag panel are still exposed but the flap side seams are finished.
    Click to Enlarge
  11. Press the whole bag flat and smooth.
  12. Working on the lining panel, measure and mark 1½” to the left and to the right from the bag’s bottom center seam. Draw two parallel lines at these marked measurements. If you measured correctly, these lines should be 3″ apart on the canvas lining. This will become the bottom of the bag.
    Click to Enlarge
  13. Stitch through all the layers along these two drawn lines. These two seams will help keep the bottom of the bag square and firm. Clip into the raw edges of the layers ½” to either side of each seam.

Side panels and carry strap

  1. Find the bag side pieces, two from the exterior wool and two from the canvas lining, the 1½” cotton webbing, and the two O or D rings.
  2. Cut two 3″ lengths of the 1½” cotton webbing. Thread one piece through each ring. Pull the webbing through so the raw ends are flush. Pin the raw ends together.
  3. Place a ring/webbing unit at the center of the top edge of each side exterior panel. Pin in place. Machine baste in place for extra security.
  4. Place one canvas lining side piece right sides together with each exterior wool side piece, sandwiching the ring between the layers. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch across through all layers, backing up to double-stitch across the webbing.
  5. Turn so the exterior and lining are now wrong sides together. Pull the rings out and up into position. Press flat.
  6. Re-thread the machine as necessary with thread to best match the lining in the top and to best match the exterior fabric in the bobbin. Slightly lengthen the stitch. With the lining side facing up under the needle, edgestitch around all four sides of each piece.
    Click to Enlarge

Interior pockets

  1. Place the 16″ x 28″ canvas piece on your ironing board. Fold up one end 11″ and press. Slip the 15″ x 11″ stiffener in between the layers so that one edge of the stiffener is resting up against the fold.
    Click to Enlarge
  2. Flatten the fold. Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the fabric in the top and bobbin, and stitch along the raw edge through all the layers, securing the stiffener in place.
    NOTE: We originally used a non-fusible and so stitched in place. If you choose a fusible, you can simply fuse in place at this point.
    Click to Enlarge
  3. Along the upper raw edge (the remaining 16″ raw edge), create a ½” double fold hem. To do this, fold back ½” and press, then fold back an additional ½” and press again. Pin in place. Re-thread the machine with a contrasting thread in the top and bobbin (we used a chocolate brown). Lengthen the stitch.
    NOTE: The contrasting thread was our choice to highlight the stitching as a design element on the lining. It is optional. You could certainly use matching thread.
  4. Edgestitch the hem in place. You should now have 5½” from the top of the hem to the edge you just stitched down along the stiffener.
    Click to Enlarge
  5. Fold up this 5½” section over the stiffened canvas. This will become the pockets.
  6. Topstitch along the upper folded edge (the top of the entire lining piece, not the top of the pockets – it already has a hem). This means you will once again be stitching through the stiffener.
  7. Measure and mark pockets as you choose, remembering to leave a ½” seam allowance at each edge. We marked for two 6″ sections to accommodate a cell phone and a wallet, then made three 1¼” pencil/pen pockets.
    Click to Enlarge
  8. With the same contrasting thread and lengthened stitch, sew along each drawn vertical line, back tacking at the beginning and end of each seam.
    Click to Enlarge

Final assembly

  1. Place the bag body right side down (lining side up) on your work surface.
  2. Lay the canvas pocket panel you just made right side up onto the back lining section of the bag, matching the bottom of the pocket panel to the stitched line marking the bottom of the bag. The top of the pocket piece should site just shy of the top seam where the flap is sewn to the bag back. Pin the pocket panel in place.
  3. Stitch the pocket piece to the bag along both sides, staying within the ½” seam allowance. This step allows you to now treat the pocket/bag as one unit.
  4. Working right sides together and matching up the top edges, pin a side panel into place, wrapping the front and the back of the bag around the side panel.
  5. The clips you made above along the raw edge edges of the bag body (step #13 in the Flap construction) should align with the bottom corners of the side panels, helping the bag body ease around the corners of the side panel.
    Click to Enlarge
  6. It’s okay to trim and fudge at this point. The most important thing is to keep your top edges even. Your ½” seam allowance should be exactly flush with the seamed edge of the flap.
  7. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch each side panel in place along both of its sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners.
    Click to Enlarge
  8. Turn the bag right side out.
  9. Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the webbing in the top and bobbin.
  10. Insert the remaining full length 1½” cotton webbing through the large swivel hook. Pull the end through approximately 1½”, tuck under the raw end about ½”, and stitch in place to secure. We used a narrow X box stitch.
  11. Insert the remaining raw up and over the center bar of the slide adjuster.
  12. Slip the raw end through one of the side rings, then bring it back through the slide adjuster, going up and over the the initial layer of webbing.
  13. Hem the raw end as above, tucking under the raw edge approximately ½” and stitching in place.
  14. Clip the swivel hook onto the opposite ring.
  15. We also added one a Sew4Home label to the outside corner of the front flap, stitching it in place along the side edge through all the layers.
    Click to Enlarge

OPTIONAL: Binding the inside raw seams

  1. Because we made this bag in the easiest way possible and tried to keep the layers to a minimum for home machines, our design leaves raw seam allowances on the inside. If this doesn’t bug you, you’re done. If you’d like a more finished look inside. You can wrap the four seams with 2″ wide grosgrain ribbon, adhering it with fusible seam tape.
    Click to Enlarge
  2. Turn the bag inside out, exposing the raw-edged side seams. Following manufacturer’s instructions, adhere a piece of fusible seam tape to one side of the seam allowance.
    Click to Enlarge
  3. Fold under the raw edge of one end of the ribbon. Align this finished edge with the very top of the seam. finger press in place against the seam tape.
    Click to Enlarge
  4. Iron in place to secure.
    Click to Enlarge
  5. Continue in this same manner around the bottom edge and back up the opposite side.
  6. Add another piece of fusible seam tape to the other side of the seam allowance and wrap the ribbon around to this side, covering the raw edges.
    Click to Enlarge
  7. Press in place with your fingers and then iron in place to secure as before.
    Click to Enlarge
  8. Repeat to finish the opposite side. Turn the bag right side out and push out the bottom corners. The very top edges of the seam allowances will still show a bit, but the majority of the raw edges will be covered. And, when the flap is closed, these top edges do not show.
    Click to Enlarge


Project Concept: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation: Kathy Andrews, What Sew Ever

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Marcedes Hofmann
Marcedes Hofmann
10 months ago

I see Lap top inside, what size or do you know, I have a 17” lap top I would love to make this bag, so I am guessing to add 3” to the width and 2” to the sides to accommodate for a 17” lap top?

Liz Johnson
Liz Johnson
10 months ago

Hello Marcedes — the laptop used in the photos is apx 12″ x 9″. The finished dimensions of this bag are: 15″ wide x 11″ high x 3″ deep. So, you would need to increase the width by at least 3″ – although 4″ might be safer. Check the dimension of your laptop to make sure the 11″ height will fit. In terms of the depth, unless your laptop is quite thick, the 3″ depth may still be okay. We can’t really guarantee size changes without testing on our end, which unfortunately we do not have time to offer, but… Read more »

3 years ago

This is exactly the shape/function messenger bag I’ve been looking for to make as a gift. He’s not a a fan of wool though (i do not understand why…) But I’m hoping to be able to make this in a waxed canvas. Do you know what type of interfacing or other substitutions I may need to make in order to be successful? (I’m quite new to sewing, and this will definitely be an ambitious project for me). Thanks for any suggestions you may have.

Liz Johnson
Liz Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  Carl

Hi Carl – This is an older project, but one of our favorites. I must admit we really haven’t done a lot with waxed canvas — even though I have a cut in a lovely buttery yellow that is sitting in my stash right now! So, I can’t tell you for sure what would be best with that fabric switch. In general, my guesstimate would be to substitute the mid-weight fusible interfacing with a fusible fleece. Wool has a softer hand, so the standard mid-weight interfacing helps stiffen it. With the waxed canvas, you have kind of the opposite issue… Read more »

3 years ago
Reply to  Liz Johnson

Thanks, so much. I’ll share my result (unless it turns out bad (lolz)!

Liz Johnson
Liz Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  Carl

You’re going to do great, Carl!!

Caroline from France
Caroline from France
5 years ago

Wow, this looks amazing and

Wow, this looks amazing and just what I need for carting around my files of organ music and shoes. Definitely a winter project for me! When I was last on holiday in Turkey I bought some lovely Ottoman-style upholstery fabric that will fit the bill perfectly.

Caroline from France
Caroline from France
5 years ago

@ Liz: all done! I’ve posted @ Liz: all done! I’ve posted a picture on Facebook under one of your posts about this bag. Hope it’s uploaded OK as I’m not an ace at these things… Just some more detail: I needed a wider bag and so I adjusted the measurements to make the bottom a good 4 inches wide (10 cm in fact, as I convert everything to metric). I also covered the seams but, as I did not trust the iron-on tape I had, I hand sewed the ribbon into place. As I say in the Facebook post,… Read more »

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