Birthday party treat bags are usually flimsy plastic things filled with candy and trinkets – those tiny treasures ultimately lost and sucked up by the vacuum. Forget that! Instead, you can bestow these dandy mini backpacks on your party guests. They are oh-so cute, actually useful, reusable, and fun to make! Fill them with the souvenirs and prizes from the day’s activities, personalizing each with a handwritten name along the bottom panel. Like we said: cute, useful, and fun.
We used a combination of three fabrics to create our backpacks. The back is a 100% quilting weight cotton, the top front is a soft knit, and the bottom front is ultra cool chalk cloth. You could certainly use two cottons rather than a cotton and a knit. We thought the knit was a nice touch for both its soft feel as well as for the additional stretch to allow the bag more flexibility.
Similar to oil cloth, chalk cloth is heavy yet pliable and waterproof. You can write on it with regular or liquid chalk, then wipe it clean with a damp cloth or baby wipe. For best results with your writing, most companies suggest prepping the chalk cloth first. To do this, rub a piece of chalk side to side across the entire surface to be written on. Wipe it clean. Then, rub the chalk up and down across the entire surface and wipe it clean again. Now you’re good to go. We wrote the name of each party guest on the bottom of their backpack, using liquid chalk.
Our original fabrics were from the Sew4Home stash, but when it comes to fun prints for kids in both quilting cotton and cotton knit, the options are endless!
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing Machine and standard presser foot
- Size 14-16 Denim or Jeans needle: necessary to stitch through the Chalk Cloth; if you don’t use Chalk Cloth, you can probably get away with a universal needle
Fabric and Other Supplies
NOTE: Supply quantity shown are for a party set of FOUR matching mini backpacks.
- ⅓ yard of 44-45″ fabric for the top front of all four bags or a 9″ x 11″ scrap for each bag
- ½ yard of 44-45″ fabric for the back of all four bags or a 9″ x 14″ scrap for each bag
- ¼ yard of 47-48″ wide vinyl or heavy decorator weight fabric for the bottom front of all four bags or a 9″ x 4″ scrap for each bag: we recommend Chalk Cloth so you can easily write the party guests’ names on this section; it can then be wiped away for future re-use
- 12 yards of ¼” color-coordinated cording or 3 yards per bag: we used bright orange
- All-purpose sewing thread in colors to match fabrics
- All-purpose sewing thread in contrasting color(s) for topstitching
- 8 large eyelets (2 per bag) and eyelet setting tools: we used a Dritz® Large Eyelet Kit , which came with 12 eyelets and a tool set, in size ¼”
- Leather or plastic hammer
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- See-through ruler
- Straight pins
- Pressing cloth for working with chalk cloth
- Iron and ironing board
- Large safety pin
- Lighter or match to melt ends of cording
- One set of Liquid Chalk markers: optional if you want to write a name on the bottom of each bag
- From the fabric for the top front of each bag (the knit dots in our sample), cut FOUR 9″ x 11″ pieces.
- From the fabric for the back of each bag (the cotton stripe in our sample), cut FOUR 9″ x 14″ pieces.
- From the fabric for the bottom front of each bag (the chalk cloth in our sample), cut FOUR 9″ x 4″ pieces.
- Cut the cording into eight 1½ yard lengths.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
- Place one 9″ x 11″ top front piece and one 9″ x 4″ bottom front piece right sides together, aligning one 9″ side. Pin in place.
NOTE: If you are working with a directional fabric, you are aligning the bottom edge of the top piece and top edge of the bottom piece.
- Stitch together, using a ½” seam allowance.
- The heavier chalk cloth will naturally cause the seam allowance to go towards the top of the bag. From the front, very carefully press the top fabric piece up. Do not iron on the chalk cloth. Use a pressing cloth.
- If you’d like, re-thread your machine with contrasting thread in the top and bobbin. Lengthen the stitch.
- Topstitch approximately ¼” from the seam line within the top fabric, securing the seam allowance in position. This completes the front panel.
- In order to create a nice finished seam on the inside of our bag, your are going to sew the sides and the bottom of the bag together with a French seam.
- To do this, place the front and back panels WRONG sides together, aligning the raw edges along the bottom and both sides. Pin in place, stopping 3″ from the top on both sides.
- If need be, re-thread your machine with thread to match your fabrics. Re-set the stitch length to normal.
- Using a ⅜” seam allowance, stitch both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at each bottom corner and stopping 3″ from the top on either side.
- Trim the seam allowance back very close to your stitching – about ⅛” is good. Do not trim back along the 3″ unstitched portions.
- Turn the bag wrong side out. You’ll need to carefully push out the bottom corners with a blunt tool, like a large knitting needle, chopstick or point turner. The thick chalk cloth will make this a little difficult, so be persistent, but don’t be rough or you’ll poke right through the seam.
- Using a ⅜” seam allowance, stitch again along both sides and across the bottom, again pivoting at each bottom corner and stopping 3″ from the top on either side.
- Turn the bag right side out again. Poke out those bottom corners again… carefully. And you have a lovely French seam for a clean inside finish.
NOTE: If you are new to seam finishing, we have a great four-part series that covers French seams and so much more.
- Take the bag to your ironing board. Fold in the raw edges of the sides so they are flush with the sewn seam. Then, fold down and press the top raw edge along the front and back ½”.
- Finally, fold and press along the top of the front and back another 2½” (approximately) or until the edge of each side meets the top of the sewn side seams. Make sure the top of the bag, both front and back, is nice and straight.
- Edgestitch each folded flap in place (re-thread to stitch with contrasting thread if you want) straight across. This forms the front and back casings for the cording.
- To help reinforce the sides, stitch back and forth between the front and back pieces just above each side seam – across the “gap.” Keep the reinforcing stitching exactly in line with your original stitching. If your machine has a free arm, now is a good time to use it. It is much easier to slide the bag over a free arm and stitch with the fabric flat.
Apply the eyelets
- With a fabric pencil, mark the position of your eyelets on the bottom front of the bag. We placed ours approximately 1″ in from the side and 1″ up from the bottom. Trace the center of the eyelet, making a large dot.
- With small, sharp scissors cut a hole at each large dot. Make sure your hole is cut through from front to back
- Insert the eyelet top (the piece with the longer center section) into the hole from the front to the back. You should be able to just see the flange of the eyelet top poking through on the back of the bag.
- Put the back eyelet ring over the top. Place the anvil tool directly under the eyelet top and center the post tool into and over the eyelet ring. Holding the post firmly, whack the post with your leather or plastic hammer. Use smooth, strong strokes. Three whacks should be enough to allow the flange of the eyelet top to split and secure the eyelet ring.
- The flange of the eyelet top splits and secures the eyelet ring on the back (the left photo below), leaving a smooth round cap on the front (the right photo below).
- If you are new to using eyelets, we have a full tutorial on getting grommets and eyelets (which are really just tiny grommets). The keys are to carefully measure and mark exactly where you want your eyelets to be, use tiny, sharp scissors to cut the holes, and be even and steady with your holding and hammering.
Insert the cording
- Attach a large safety pin to one end of one 1½ yard length of cording.
- Thread the cording through the top casings of the bag. Go from right to left through the front casing, then from left to right through the back casing.
- Reverse to thread the second length of cording: left to right through the front and then right to left through the back.
- Pull the the cording so the double ends are even on both sides.
- Thread the ends of the cording through the eyelet from back to front. This is a little like threading a needle. The first piece of cording will go through pretty easily. But the second one is a little trickier. The ends are going to be frayed and it’s a tight fit through the eyelet. Try wetting the end and twisting it to compact the frayed edge. Then, pull the first cord down against the edge of the eyelet to reveal as large an opening as possible. Finally, you can help push the end of the second cord through with a pin. Once you get a good hold on it, it should pull right through.
- Tie a knot in each end and trim away the frayed edges. Our cording was polyester, so we were able to melt it with a lighter to seal the ends. It doesn’t take much, just gently pass the end of the cord through the flame four or five times.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructions: Liz Johnson