Duffles have always been a great option for a weekend getaway or short trip. They can be just as handy when you’re out and about in town and need room to pack necessities, like extra layers and on-the-go snacks, but still want enough space to tuck away whatever treasures you might find on a shopping adventure. Don’t resort to the “gym bag look;” you can make your own Modern Duffle!
Save money by creating your own signature bag! We originally used two eye-catching prints from the Canvas Prints 2 collection by Sevenberry for Robert Kaufman Fabrics. The generous size of the duffle’s main panels is perfect for fabrics with a bold motif. And a canvas weight adds just the right element of toughness and structure, yet it can still fold flat for storage. But you know what’s the very best part? The construction of this winning bag is easier than you might think!
The yardages shown below allow enough fabric for precise fussy cutting to center large motifs and well as to get that wonderful front pocket match. Those exterior accent lines are standard packaged piping – fast and easy.
We chose a cool green color palette set against a cream background with fun pops of turquoise. It’s beautiful for Spring and Summer. A rip stop nylon for the lining means the interior is water resistant and easy to wipe clean.
We’ve designed the bag to have interior seams, which makes the construction much simpler without sacrificing the overall the look. The deep interior and the dark color of the rip stop make the seam allowances barely visible. We used a machine sewn finish the raw edges, but you could also use a serger or even bind the edges for a sleeker appearance. Check out our multi-part tutorial series on Machine Sewn Finishes for your favorite option.
As with most commercial bags, for the longest life, this duffle is meant to be spot cleaned. Spraying the outside with a stain repellant, such as ScotchGard or similar is a good protective step. All the elements are machine washable, and on a gentle cycle in cold water, you could maybe get away with a full wash, but it wouldn’t be our first choice, and tumble drying is never recommended. Let the bag air dry after any cleaning.
The handles are soft cotton webbing and sized to work both over the shoulder or hand held.
A tough sport zipper extends all the way across the top and wraps down each side so you can open the duffle wide for packing and unpacking.
Our Modern Duffle finishes at approximately 20″ wide x 11″ high x 7” deep. The handles have a 12” drop and the wrap-around zipper opens a full 27”.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing Machine and standard presser foot
- Zipper foot
- Overedge foot; optional, can be used it to finish the interior seams
- Ditch Quilting foot; optional, for precise topstitching along the piping
Fabric and Other Supplies
NOTE: The quantity given for the two main fabrics allows for fussy cutting a very large motif on all the panels. If you have a smaller motif, you may be able to get away with smaller amounts. However, for this design, we do recommend a large, bold print for the best look.
- 1½ yards of 54″+ wide mid-weight canvas or similar in a bold print for the upper exterior; we originally used 59” Sevenberry Canvas in Green Dots from Canvas Prints 2 by Robert Kaufman Fabrics
- ¾ yard of 54″+ wide mid-weight canvas or similar in a coordinating print for the lower exterior; we originally used 59” Sevenberry Canvas in Green Wonky Squares from Canvas Prints 2 by Robert Kaufman Fabrics
- 1 yard of 54”+ nylon rip stop or similar for the lining – a darker color is best; we originally used 59” nylon rip stop in army green
- 1¾ yards of 1½” wide cotton webbing; we used 1½” wide cotton webbing in natural
- ONE 28” – 36” sport or parka zipper in a coordinating color; we used a Coats Separating Parka Zipper in Cream
NOTE: You need a minimum of 28”, but a longer zipper could be cut to fit.
- ONE package (2½ yards) of standard piping in an accent color; we used Wrights Bias Tape Maxi Piping in Leaf Green
- 1 yard of 45″ wide mid-weight fusible interfacing; we used Pellon Décor Bond
- 1 yard of 45” wide fusible fleece; we used Pellon Thermolam Plus one-sided fusible fleece
- ¼ yard of 20″ wide fusible foam for the base panel; we used Pellon One-Sided Fusible Flex Foam
- All-purpose thread to match fabric
- See-through ruler
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Iron and ironing board
- Straight pins
- From the upper exterior fabric (Sevenberry Canvas in Green Dots in our sample) find the exact center of your main motif, measure 10½” to the right of center and 10½” to the left of center, capturing as much of the main motif as possible within the 8½” height of the panel.
- You are fussy-cutting ONE 21” wide x 8½” high panel.
- Using this first cut panel as your guide, cut two additional 21″ wide x 8½: high panels that exactly match the original fussy cut.
NOTE: If you are brand new to this technique, take a look at our full Fussy Cutting Tutorial as well as our Pocket to Background Panel Tutorial.
- Select one of these three matching panels. It will become the pocket panel.
- Along the top edge, slice off ¼”. This allows for the piping while still maintaining your perfect fussy cut.
- Find the exact center along the trimmed top edge. Mark this center point. Measure 4¾” down from the top corner along each side. Mark these two side points.
- Using a ruler, connect the center point with each side point and draw in two diagonal cut lines.
- Cut along each of the drawn diagonal lines. A ruler and rotary cutter will give you the smoothest slice.
- Also from the main exterior fabric, fussy cut TWO 38” x 8” rectangles with the motif running lengthwise. Then cut 4¾” from each end. Set aside two of these 4¾” x 8” panels for the upper side panels. The other two are extra – toss them in your scrap bin.
- Slice the two main pieces (the remaining 28½” x 8″ pieces) down the center, creating two sets of 28½” x 4” panels. These will form the zipper panel.
NOTE: We folded our panels to create a shorter, and therefore more controlled, cut.
- From the lower exterior canvas (Sevenberry Canvas in Wonky Squares in our sample), fussy cut the following:
TWO 21” wide x 4½” high rectangles for the front and back base panels
TWO 8” wide x 4½” high rectangles for the lower side panels
ONE 21” wide x 8” high rectangle for the base
- From the rip stop lining, cut the following:
TWO 21” wide x 12” high rectangles for the front and back panels
TWO 8” wide x 8½” high rectangles for the side panel lining (below the zipper)
ONE 21” wide x 8” high rectangle for the base
Using the trimmed exterior pocket as a pattern, cut a matching angled piece for the pocket lining.
- From the mid-weight interfacing, cut the following:
TWO 21” x 8½” rectangles from the front and back upper exterior panels
TWO 8” x 4¾” rectangles for the upper side panels
TWO 27½” x 3” rectangles for the zipper panel
Using the trimmed exterior pocket as a pattern, cut a matching angled piece for the pocket interfacing, then cut the interfacing ½” shorter along the angled top edges as shown below.
- From the fusible fleece, cut the following:
TWO 20” x 11” rectangles for the front and back panels
TWO 7” x 7¼” rectangles for the full side panel below the zipper
- From the fusible foam, cut ONE 20” x 7” rectangle.
- Cut the webbing into TWO 30” lengths.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
Create the front pocket
- As shown above, following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse the mid-weight interfacing to the wrong side of the exterior pocket. The side and bottom edges are flush and the angled top edge of the interfacing sits ½” in from the fabric.
- Cut a length of piping to fit along the pocket panel’s top angled edge. At each end of the piping, we recommend you pull out and trim away about ½” of the cording. This helps flatten the piping at each end so it lays better within the side seams.
- Using a Zipper foot, baste the piping along the top angled edge. The raw edge of the piping should be flush with the raw edge of the fabric. You may need to clip into the seam allowance at the peak to get a smooth curve
- Find the pocket lining. Place it right sides together with the pocket exterior, sandwiching the piping between the layers. Still using a Zipper foot, and following along in the basting seam, stitch along the top angled edge only. The sides and bottom remain raw. Again, you may need to snip into the seam allowance at the peak to get a smooth curve.
- Turn the panels so they lay wrong sides together and the piping is revealed along the top angled edge. Press lightly. The rip stop is not a fan of high heat, so be careful with your iron’s settings.
- Topstitch along the top angled edge. We lengthened our stitch and used our Ditch Quilting foot with a left needle position to keep a super even seam along the piping.
NOTE: This topstitching is optional. The photos below show the prototype we made without topstitching, but for our final sample (shown above in the beauty images) we did opt for topstitching.
- Draw in three parallel guide lines for the pocket divisions: one at the exact center point – in line with the top peak of the pocket, one 5” to the left of center and one 5” to the right of center.
Assemble the full front and back panels
- Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse the mid-weight interfacing to the wrong side of the 21” x 8½” front panel.
NOTE: Your front and back panels should be identical, but if you feel you have one panel that’s a better match to the front pocket, use it as your front panel.
- Place the fused front panel right side up on your work surface. Place the pocket right side up on the front panel. The bottom raw edges of the front panel and the pocket should be flush. Make sure the top piped peak of the pocket is sitting just over ½” down from the top raw edge of the front panel. This is to insure the peak of the pocket goes right up to but not into the top seam. Pin the pocket in place on the front panel.
- Cut a length of piping to fit along the bottom of the layered pocket and front panel. As you did above, at each end of the piping, pull out and trim away about ½” of the cording. This helps flatten the piping so it lays better within the side seams. Pin the piping in place through all the layers.
- Also just as you did above, use a Zipper foot to baste the piping in place. The raw edge of the piping should be flush with the raw edge of the fabric.
- Find one of the 21” x 4½” base panels. Place it right sides together along the bottom of the layered front/pocket panel, sandwiching the piping between the layers. Pin in place.
- With the Zipper foot still attached, and using the original piping basting line as your guide, stitch together through all the layers.
- Press the seam allowance together and down toward the base panel.
- Topstitch along the piping within the base panel, lengthening the stitch to match the topstitching you did along the top of the pocket.
- With the front panel complete, leave a few pins in place to insure the pocket panel is laying perfectly flat.
- Find one of the 20” x 11” fusible fleece panels. Center it against the wrong side of the completed front panel so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing on all sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse the fleece in place.
- Topstitch along each drawn pocket division line through all the layers. As above, lengthen your stitch to match all other topstitching.
- You are stitching right up to but on on the top and bottom piping. You can actually roll the piping a bit with your finger to get as close as possible with your stitching. If possible, use a lock stitch to secure your seam at the beginning and end. If you do not have this feature, leave the thread tails long and knot them at the back to secure.
NOTE: We are waiting to stitch the pocket divisions until this point to allow for the security of sewing through the fleece layer.
- Complete the back panel in the exact same manner but without a pocket.
- Find the two 21” x 12” panels of rip stop lining. Place one wrong sides together with each completed exterior panel. The raw edges should be flush on all four sides. Pin in place through all the layers.
- Find the two 30” lengths of webbing.
- The webbing should be placed against each panel so the ends of the webbing are flush with the top raw edge of the panel with 10” between the inner edges. Pin in place.
- Make sure the handles are exactly aligned front to back and that there are no twists or turns in the webbing loops.
- Machine baste the layers together along all four sides, keeping the basting within the seam allowance; a ⅜” seam allowance is a good option.
Create the zipper unit
- Find the four 28½” x 4” zipper panel rectangles and the two 27½” x 3” interfacing rectangles.
- Center the interfacing against the wrong side of two of the fabric rectangles. There should be ½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing on all sides. This will become the top of the duffle, so if one of your pairs is a better fussy cut than the other, use that pair to interface.
- Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse the interfacing in place.
- Find the 28” zipper. Measure your zipper teeth. Ours measured 28″ with just enough at each end for the seam allowance. We bought a separating zipper in order to get the larger teeth and the right color and length. We had to cut out the bottom zipper stop because it was too bulky for the seam allowance. The teeth are plastic, so it’s easy to clip around the stop and wiggle it off. If you do this, remember to secure the zipper closed with a few hand stitches so it stays together during construction. If your zipper is longer, cut it to 29” then cut the zipper teeth out of the way at the bottom and hand stitch closed – as described above.
- Place the zipper right sides together with one interfaced zipper panel. The edge of the zipper’s insertion tape should be flush with the raw edge of the fabric and the zipper should be centered end to end.
- Adjust the seam allowance to give a full ½” reveal across the zipper teeth.
- Using a Zipper foot, baste the the length of the zipper.
- Open and close the zipper to allow the presser foot to move around the zipper pull.
- Place a non-interfaced zipper panel (the lining) right sides together along the sewn edge, sandwiching the zipper between the layers. Using the original seam line as your guide, re-set the stitch length to normal and stitch through all the layers.
- Press the the two panels away from the zipper so they are wrong sides together. Be careful not to touch the iron to the plastic zipper for any length of time; it can melt the teeth.
- Repeat to attach the remaining strips to the opposite side of the zipper.
- Topstitch along either side of the zipper teeth through all the layers, using the same lengthened stitch as you have used previously.
Create the side panel units and attach to zipper panel
- Find the elements for the side panel units. Place the 4¾” x 8” interfacing panels on the wrong side of the upper side panel rectangles. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse the interfacing to the wrong side of the fabric
- Cut two 8” lengths of piping, one for each fabric panel. As above with the other piping lengths, at each end of the piping, pull out and trim away about ½” of the cording to flatten the ends.
- Just as you did above, use a Zipper foot to baste the piping along the bottom edge of each upper fabric rectangle. The raw edge of the piping should be flush with the raw edge of the fabric.
- Find the two 8” x 4½” lower side panels. Place one right sides together with each upper panel, sandwiching the piping between the layers. Pin in place.
- With the Zipper foot still attached, and using the original piping basting line as your guide, stitch together through all the layers.
- Press the seam allowance together and down toward the lower panel.
- Topstitch along the piping within the lower panel, lengthening the stitch to match the topstitching you did before.
NOTE: In essence, this is just a mini version of the main exterior back panel.
- Find the 7” x 7¼” rectangle of fusible fleece. Center the fleece against the wrong side of the assembled side panel unit. Following manufacturer’s instructions fuse the fleece in place.
- Pin one assembled side panel unit right sides together with one end of the completed zipper panel
- Find the two 8” x 8½” rip stop lining panels.
- Pin one rip stop lining panel against the back of the zipper panel. The wrong side of the rip stop should be facing up. Pin in place.
NOTE: Not all rip stop has a definite right side and wrong side. If yours doesn’t, no need to stress about it.
- You have a sandwich: rip stop, then zipper panel, then side panel.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch together through all the layers.
- Fold the lining and the exterior side panel away from zipper so these two layers are now wrong sides together and their seam allowance is hidden between the layers.
- Topstitch across through all the layers approximately ¼” from the seam within the lower panel. This is when you’ll be stitching across the zipper. You should have trimmed away the bulky teeth, but it’s still smart to go slowly and carefully.
- Repeat on the opposite end of the zipper panel.
- As you did with the main exterior panels, run a basting stitch around all sides of the completed zipper/side panel unit to hold the layers in place. As above, keep your basting seam within the seam allowance – approximately ⅜” is good.
Wrap the zipper/side panel unit around the front and back panels
- As mentioned above, we are creating this duffle with interior seam allowances that will be finished with a machine stitch. This allows for easier construction than a traditional lining and is a solution used often in ready-made bags and totes.
- Find the front panel. Pin the zipper/side panel unit in place against the front panel, right sides together, in an arc from one bottom corner, up and over the top and ending at the opposite bottom corner.
- The key points are to: a) make sure the bottom raw edges are flush, and b) the zipper panel is straight and even across the top. The zipper should curve from the top down the sides approximately 3” on each side.
- Also be sure to carefully align the piping on the main panel with the piping on the side panel.
NOTE: If you’re having trouble with alignment, clipping a notch at the center of the zipper/side panel, along both the top and bottom edge, is a helpful guide to keeping everything straight and even. Align this notch with the center peak of the pocket on the front panel. On the back panel, clip a matching center notch along its top raw edge to align.
- Don’t be afraid to use lots of pins. Remember to keep the webbing loops out of the way.
- To make a smooth upper corner, clip approximately ⅜” (or less – do not clip as deep as ½” or you’ll jeopardize the seam allowance) into the zipper panel corners to allow them to expand and curve to fit the square corners of the exterior panel.
- Pin the remaining raw edge of the zipper/side panel unit to the back panel in the same manner.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch the front panel in place, starting at the bottom edge.
- As you stitch into the top corner, stop ½” from the raw edge and lock your seam. Remove the project from under the needle, turning it to be able to access the next side.
- Start again at the corner point (½” from the raw edge) and stitch into the next corner.
- Repeat the steps: stop ½” from the raw edge, lock your seam, remove the project from under the needle, turn it once again, and stitch down the final side to finish.
NOTE: This is similar to how the base is inserted. See the link below for a full tutorial on this process.
- If you feel you seam is not as smooth and even as you’d like, it’s okay to use additional lines of stitching. Check from the right side to make sure all your basting seams are hidden within the seam allowance.
- If not, you can stitch around again to hide. Although it is usually okay to simply remove basting stitches, in this project, there are quite a few and they will be hard to remove, so it’s best to hide them within the seam.
- Once you are happy with both your seams, trim the seam allowance back to ⅜”.
- Overcast to finish the seam allowance. We used a simple zig zag stitch. If you prefer, you could also bind the raw edges with commercial double fold bias tape for a smoother finish.
Insert the base to finish
- Find the canvas, foam, and rip stop panels that make up the base.
- Center the foam on the wrong side of the canvas panel so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the foam on all sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse the foam in place.
- Layer the rip stop wrong sides together with the fused canvas, sandwiching the foam between the layers.
- Baste in place along all four sides.
- With the bag unzipped about half way and wrong side out, find the center points along each side of the open base of the bag and along each side of the base panel.
- Insert the base into the bag, matching all the center points.
NOTE: If you are new to inserting a base panel, check out our step-by-step tutorial: How to Insert a Rectangular Base.
- When done, trim back the seam allowance to ⅜” as you did above and overcast to finish.
- Turn the duffle right side out through the open zipper.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Kathy Andrews, What Sew Ever