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Back to School: The Perfect Slouchy Book Bag

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What should you use to carry your school stuff this year? Well, if you're all about form and structure, the venerable back pack is your friend. But if you want something comfortably soft and slouchy, then go with the book bag: the wild child of school totes. Ours uses no stabilizer, only a lining. The exterior fabric is a velvety corduroy from Valori Wells with the thinnest of wales. Wooden beads, stone buttons and waxed cording create the closures. And, tiny golden rivets attach the strap. So cute... maybe you should keep it as your everyday bag!


A big thanks to our friends at Fat Quarter Shop for providing the cool Valori Well's Nest Corduroy for this project. It's called "Autumn Paisley", which conjures up the perfect swirl of falling leaves and colors.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

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  • Fabric for bag exterior: 1¼ yard of 44-45" wide fabric: we used Valori Wells' Nest Corduroy from Free Spirit Fabrics in Autumn Paisley
  • Fabric for bag lining: ½ yard of 44-45" wide fabric: we used Moda Fabric's Bella Solids in Natural
  • Two 1" buttons
  • Two ¾" buttons
  • Eight rivets: we used ¼" brass plated rivets
  • Hole punch, hammer and rivet setting tool
    NOTE: See our How To Rivet tutorial for more details on these tools.
  • 18-19" of 2.5 mm waxed cotton cord to match fabric: we used dark brown
  • Two large-hole wooden beads
    NOTE: Hole must be large enough to thread onto waxed cord.
  • All purpose thread in color to match fabric
  • All-purpose thread in color to contrast with fabric: we used dark brown
  • See-through ruler
  • Seam gauge
  • Fabric pencil, pen or chalk
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Straight pins
  • Hand sewing needle

Getting Started

  1. From the exterior bag fabric (Valori Wells' Nest Corduroy from Free Spirit Fabrics in Autumn Paisley in our sample), cut the following:
    NOTE: We wanted the corduroy's wale to run vertically for our bag, and so cut all our pieces accordingly.
    ONE 15½" wide x 36½" tall rectangle for the bag body.
    ONE 15½" wide x 20½" tall rectangle for the exterior bag pockets.
    ONE 8" x 8" square for the interior bag pocket.
    ONE 6" wide x 39" long strip for the bag strap.
  2. From the lining fabric (Moda Fabric's Bella Solids in Natural in our sample), cut one 15½" x 33½" rectangle.

At Your Sewing Machine

  1. Fold the main exterior bag piece in half and press well to form a crease.
  2. Unfold and lay this piece flat, wrong side up, on your work surface so you can see the crease.
  3. Use your fabric pen to draw a line straight across right on the crease line.
  4. Draw two parallel lines to this line, one 1¼" above and one 1¼" below.
  5. Draw two intersecting vertical lines 1¾" in from each side.
  6. The resulting 2½" x 12" rectangle is the bottom of the bag.
  7. Repeat these same markings on what will be the wrong side of the lining.

Exterior pockets

  1. Make a simple 2" hem along each 15½" side of the exterior pocket piece. To do this, fold in the raw edge ½" and press, then fold in again 1½" and press again. Stitch in place close to the folded edge. Repeat for the opposite edge.
  2. Fold the hemmed pocket piece in half and press well to form a crease.
  3. Unfold and lay this piece flat, wrong side up, on your work surface so you can see the crease.
  4. Use your fabric pen to draw a line straight across right on the crease line.
  5. On the right side of your fabric, draw a vertical line down the exact center (7¾" from each side).
  6. Thread your machine with contrasting thread in the top and bobbin.
  7. Stitch in a straight line following the marked vertical line.
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  8. Lay the exterior body piece flat, right side up, on your work surface.
  9. Lay the exterior pocket piece, also right side up, on top of the body piece, aligning the bottom crease lines and the raw edges of both sides. Pin the pocket piece to the body piece.
  10. Fold the pinned together piece in half and check to make sure the top hemmed edges of the pocket piece are even when the bottom crease lines are aligned. Un-pin and adjust if necessary to make sure the top hemmed edges are even.
  11. Un-fold, and stitch the pocket piece to the body piece, going right over the top of the existing center stitch line. That's all, just stitch together along the center line.
  12. Sew two buttons in place at the center line, one at the top hem line and a second one just above it.
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Side seams and boxed bottom corners

  1. Making sure the pocket panel stays nice and flat from edge to edge, and the top pocket hems are even (as checked above), fold the bag body in half right sides together. The crease line should be at the exact bottom... right at the fold - makes sense, huh?
  2. Re-thread your machine with thread to match the fabric in the top and bobbin.
  3. Stitch both sides together from the bottom to the top, using a ½" seam allowance.
  4. With the bag still wrong side out, the next step is to box the bottom corners of the bag.
  5. Using both hands, pinch and pull apart the bottom corner.
  6. As you keep pulling, the fabric will begin to make a little peak with the corner point at the top and the seam line running down the middle of one side.
  7. Carefully and precisely, line up the side seam with the bottom crease line.
  8. You should also be able to see the placement line you drew earlier (the 2½" side of the bag bottom rectangle).
  9. Pin your folded 'peak' and stitch along this drawn line.
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  10. Stitch back and forth along the line two or three times to reinforce. Trim away the peak on each side to about ½" from the seam line.
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  11. Turn right side out and push out to form the boxed corners.
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Interior pocket

  1. Find the 8" x 8" interior pocket piece. Orient it on your work surface so your fabric design is running the right way.
  2. Fold in ½" on both sides and the bottom and press well.
  3. Fold in along the top ½" and press, then fold again 1" and press.
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  4. Re-thread your machine with contrasting thread in the top and bobbin.
  5. Stitch close to the folded edge to create a simple hem along the top of the pocket.
  6. Find your lining piece and lay it flat, right side up, on your work surface.
  7. Position the pocket piece approximately 4¼" from the bottom crease and both raw sides. Pin in place.  
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  8. Edgestich the pocket in place along both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners.
  9. Fold the lining in half, right sides together, sandwiching the interior pocket to the inside.
  10. If you want, re-thread again with thread to match your lining. Since it is a lining, I didn't bother to switch thread as the seam lines won't show.
  11. Stitch both sides from the bottom to the top, using a ½" seam allowance.
  12. Box the bottom corners of the lining following the same steps you used for the body of the bag.
  13. Set aside.


  1. Find the 6" x 39" strip.
  2. Fold in half, right sides together, so it is now 3" x 39".  Press. Pin in place.
  3. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch along one short end and all along the 39" side. Leave the opposite short end open.
  4. Clip corners and turn right side out.
  5. Press well, keeping the seam along one edge.
  6. Press in the raw open end to match the sewn seam. Slip stitch closed.
  7. Set aside.

Assembling lining and bag

  1. Insert the finished lining into the finished body of the bag, wrong sides together. The interior pocket should be against the front of the bag.
  2. Push the lining all the way down into the bag, matching up the bottom boxed corners and the side seams. The top raw edge of the lining will stop about 1½" from the top raw edge of the bag.
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  3. Turn down the top raw edge of the bag ½" and press. Then fold down an additional 1½" and press again. This second turn will fold the lining along with the body of the bag. Pin in place.
  4. Edgestitch all around the top of the bag. If you have a free arm on your machine, now is a good time to use it.
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  5. Hand stitch one 1" button at the center of the top hem on the front of the bag, measuring to make sure it is exactly in line with the two buttons at the center of the pocket panel.
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  6. Hand stitch the other 1" button at the center of the top hem on the back of the bag.
  7. Find your length of waxed cord.
  8. Thread a bead on each end and knot to hold in place.
  9. Hook the cord around the back button and tie a knot to secure.
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  10. To close the bag, holding both cord tails together, bring them up and over the top of the bag, and loop them counterclockwise around the front button, pulling straight down to secure. 
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Riveting the strap in place

  1. Find your completed strap.
  2. Fold under each end 1½".
  3. Pin in place, centered on the side seam.
  4. Mark four corner points, ¼" in from each top/side and bottom/side.
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  5. Insert a rivet at each marked point.
  6. Repeat to attach the opposite side of the strap.
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  7. If you are new to riveting, take a look at our tutorial.

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Project Design: Alicia Thommas  
Sample Creation and Instructions: Liz Johnson



Comments (44)

ht said:
ht's picture

i like the pattern but can you please explain the waxed cord part that is in the end . i can't understand it 
Thank you 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ ht - you did not say what part of the steps you did not understand. The steps and pictures take you through the process of stringing a bead on each end, then wrapping the cord around the button on the back and knotting it in place. You then simply bring the cord tails from the back to the front and loop them around the front button to close. 

ht said:
ht's picture

okay thanks for the explanation. i got a bit confused , just wanna ask one more thing as i desperately wanna make this bag .
are the back and the front buttons same i am getting confused . the picture below the assembling of the bag and lining does show waxed cord wrapped around somethin is it a button (it does not seem like ) if yes ? then is it the same button as the front ?
kindly reply as soon as possible would be very thankfull

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

See my note below - yes, those are both buttons.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ ht - I believe I see your confusion. It seems that a picture from these instructions disappeared. This sometimes happens if an edit is made at some point to the instructions. As this is an older article, it's hard to tell exactly what happened. I have replaced so you can see that, yes, you sew a button (the supply list calls for two 1" buttons) on both the front and back.

ht said:
ht's picture

ok now myconfusion is cleared . Iam very thankfull that you replyed soon. now i would be able to make this easily

Kinchan said:
Kinchan's picture

I use this bag more than my purse now. It fits much more and the four easy access pockets on the outside are so handy. The cordorouy I used was very thin, so I added craft weight interfacing and fused a layer of muslin with heat n bond to all the pieces except the lining. The bag crinkles a little bit, but it's super tough. Couldn't add the rivets (too many layers to go through), but the "X-box" is working just fine. Thanks Sew4Home! 

Beefoutz said:
Beefoutz's picture

I just made this bag.  I love your tutorials.  So easy to follow.  Didn't do the rivets, turned out very well!


Debbie doonan said:
Debbie doonan's picture

Would love a video tutorial step by step for making this bag!!! My daughter and I always find it easier to follow, especially for us beginner sewers

Maggielynn said:
Maggielynn's picture

Starting my 3rd year of college and decided to make this im picky about my bags and this is perfect and what im looking for cant wait to start it

Blynne said:
Blynne's picture

My step 5 under Assembling lining and bag was blank. Was it to say "Hand stitch a 1" button at the center of the top hem on the front of the bag"?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Blynne -- that was just an extra number that popped up in the list when the photo was added. I've deleted it. All the steps are correct as listed. Thanks.

mom taxi julie said:
mom taxi julie's picture
That is such a darling bag! I love the fabric too! (followed a pin from pinterest)
TrinaC said:
TrinaC's picture
I just made this bag with my 16yr old daughter. Thanks for the great project!!! It turned out super cute. I wish I could attach a picture or link to show it off. It is a great 1 day project. Easy enough for those of us without a lot of sewing experience.
Micaela said:
Micaela's picture
I just made a list of materials... this is def. going into my to do list... top priority!!
michele921 said:
michele921's picture
going on my list of things I want to make. I know I have some material hanging around screaming to be made into this bag. I will be modifying it though, bags always need a lot of pockets for those little things this one will get a phone,pencil and pockets for paper.
Thanks for the tutorial
Susannah said:
Susannah's picture
I am going to change the size a little bit and make the outside pockets of different sizes. It will be perfect to carry a plastic box of scrapbooking paper (12" x 12") and many tools in the pockets. I think I'll match it with some other little bags in the same fabric to hold more tools and supplies. Perfect for taking my craft with me!
MelissaS said:
MelissaS's picture
Love,love this bag. Made one as a diaper bag for my sis, one as a laptop bag for my SIL and I am currently making one for myself because I was so jealous of the other two! So easy!
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi kbenevides - yours is a common problem. You could move to Portland, Oregon -- we have a tremendous selection of retail fabric stores smilies/cheesy.gif. Aside from that, I would recommend buying what you love as soon as you see it. Online ordering does sounds like your best best. Many outlets have VERY good customer service and I think you'd be surprised how quickly things arrive. We love the folks at FatQuarterShop.com, HawthorneThreads.com and QuiltHome.com. As we often mention in our "Love That Fabric" series, fabric comes and goes just like fashion. If you don't buy something when you first see it and fall in love with it, the design can sell out quickly and then you're sad when you can no longer find it. If you can afford it, I'd recommend trying to buy about 3 yards of something you're crazy about but not quite sure what to do with. That is plenty for just about any project we do here (aside from really big things like full length curtains or duvets). It's my normal "default" cut if I'm simply adding to my collection without a specific project in mind.
kbenevides said:
kbenevides's picture
I'm new to sewing and I'm having trouble building up my fabric collection. Where I live there is extremely limited selection in stores. When I have a project I want to make I'm anxious to get started right away and going online and then waiting for fabric to arrive makes me lose steam. However, I'm not really sure how to buy fabric in advance of knowing what I'm going to use it for. I never know how much to get or what coordinating fabrics to buy etc etc. Help!?
gracieladedero@htomail.com said:
gracieladedero@htomail.com's picture
Bellisima la bolsa, la tela es muy original!! gracias por el tutorial, bien explicado, gracias cariños
JaniceK said:
JaniceK's picture
Love, love, love this pattern!! It will be perfect for my dgd!!! Thanks.
JaniceK said:
JaniceK's picture
This is perfect for my dgd!!! She's finishing her last semester at college and she will really like this!!!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi JgC -- So glad you're going to make this. I used 1/4" rivets. Thanks for noticing that. I'll add that dimension to the list above.
JgC said:
JgC's picture
Love it. I am going to make it for my daughter. Could you tell me what size rivets you used? Thanks, Joyce
Liz Johnson, Editor, Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson, Editor, Sew4Home's picture
Hi sewalaskan -- those sound like dandy adaptations to this project. We love it when folks are inspired by our projects and then take the ball and run with it on their own smilies/smiley.gif
sewalaskan said:
sewalaskan's picture
I just made one for my niece. I changed a couple things - I lined the outside fabric & made the lining a little longer & turned it down so that the hem of the pocket showed the lining fabric. I also added another pocket on the inside. Made that pocket longer & sectioned for a couple pens. I used webbing for the strap - covered it with fabric & sewed it on - no rivets. Thanks for the great pattern.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Ruth O --- TWO already! That's awesome. The rivets aren't a deal-breaker -- sewing on the straps is dandy. I just love rivets!
Ruth O said:
Ruth O's picture
I made two so far, easy and fun. Didn't do the rivet thing but otherwise...great!!!!
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Amy M - so glad you love our bag. It would make a GREAT gift. As long as you stick with a fabric similar to the corduroy we used, you could certainly stitch it on rather than use a rivet tool. Make sure you have a sharp, new needle (a denim needle would be good), increase your stitch length, and stitch away. As you mention I would suggest sewing it on in a box to start and then reinforcing with a "X". To be super tough, you could stitch around the box and the "X" twice. You could also attach the handle in between the lining and the bag, but I wouldn't suggest that; I think it would be too much strain on just the one top seam of the lining. Have fun!smilies/cheesy.gif
Amy M said:
Amy M's picture
I love love this bag and can see making it for holiday gifts but I don't want to invest in a rivet tool. Can the straps be sewn on and reinforced with the box stitch where you sew in a square and then sew an x through the square? Or other suggestions for attaching the strap?
Liz @ LivingMySweetLife said:
Liz @ LivingMySweetLife's picture
I LOVE LOVE LOVE this bag! I may make one just for me!! smilies/grin.gif
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Ha! Hi Wendi ... you need to study our slogan: "We believe EVERYONE can and should make their own home decor... even if they've never sewn before." Get on board. You'll love it!
amy@accidentalcrafter.com said:
amy@accidentalcrafter.com's picture
I love this bag and Im way too many years from going back to school! The fabric is lovely, I have to get some. Thanks for another great tutorial!
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
We're so glad this bag has been such an instant hit ... 'cause we love it too! In fact, I'm having a little bit of a problem adding it to our "sample closet" ... I think it might need to be mine. The fabric is available now at Fat Quarter Shop; get it while it's hot, and make your own perfect bag. If we ever show up at a party with the same bag, we'll simply smile, knowing we both are smart and stylin'! smilies/cool.gif
runa said:
runa's picture
ooh! love the colours....what a pretty looking bag....must make this for my little sister.......thanks for the tutorial.....
vickit said:
vickit's picture
Great bag. LOVE that fabric and another excellent tutorial. Thank you!