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Beach Duffle Backpack

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It’s a duffle and a backpack in one! The drawcord top looks great and makes it fast and easy to load and unload the bag’s contents. Then, slip it on as a backpack for hands-free strolling to the beach (or river or park or....) and back again. We love all the clever fussy cutting we were able to do with our three Neptune and the Mermaid fabrics. Front and center is the vintage diver plunging into the ocean waves of the pocket panel. A bit more hidden, but nonetheless clever, are lining panels with their hints of a sly octopus. 

Four generous 6” deep pockets encircle the duffle; each seam secured with a tough double cap rivet so they can take extra stress and strain.

With such great pocket storage on the exterior, we kept the inside of the bag open and free. Fill it up to the brim with all the necessities for a day at the beach. If things get damp, no worries, the lining is water resistant ripstop nylon. And, we sized the lining just slightly smaller than the exterior so it sits more snuggly; the bagginess common to nylon is kept to a minimum.

We use Dritz® rubberized metal grommets and cotton rope, which is more stylish (and more beachy) than the more traditional hidden drawcord channel. Plus, you even get to make your own drawcord slider… aren’t you clever?! New to sewing? Don’t worry about those grommets! This is Sew4Home, so you know we have a full, step-by-step tutorial you can link to if you’re new to the technique.

A free pattern download is included below for the bag’s base panel. We created a modified oval pattern that is straighter along one side. This side is positioned against the back of the bag. Then, when it’s worn as a backpack, the flatter side of base rests more comfortably against your back.

The backpack straps are traditionally adjustable with rings and sliders so you can get your best fit. At 19’ tall when fully extended, the bag is a great size for adults and even older children – not too big, not too small. Made with soft webbing layered with fabric, they won't bite into your bare skin when wearing the duffle against a sleeveless top or swimsuit.

Our duffle finishes at approximately 19" high x 11" wide with adjustable backpack straps.

Sewing Tools You Need

  • Sewing Machine and standard presser foot
  • Satin Stitch foot; our choice on this project for construction as well as for precise edgestitching and topstitching

Fabric and Other Supplies

NOTE: Our yardage recommendations for the featured Neptune and the Mermaid fabric include extra to allow for the specific fussy cutting shown in our sample, such as centering the diver as he plunges into the cresting wave on the pocket. If you are not fussy cutting, you can get away with ⅝ yard for the main exterior, ¼ yard for the exterior pocket panel, and ½ yard for the lining/facing/straps.

Getting Started - Pattern Downloads

  1. Download and print out our Beach Duffle Backpack Pattern consisting of TWO pattern sheets (one for the base and one for the grommet placement template), which have been bundled into one PDF to make the download easier. 
    IMPORTANT: Each pattern is ONE 8½" x 11" sheet. You must print the PDF file at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page. There is a guide rule on each page so you can confirm your final printout is to scale.
  2. Cut out each pattern piece along the solid line. 
  3. The base pattern is designed to be cut on the fold, which works fine for cutting both the fleece and the poplin. See below for how to trace and cut the plastic canvas.
  4. Butt together (do not overlap) the three grommet placement template pieces, aligning the arrows printed on the pieces. Tape together to create the full template.
  5. From the fabric for the main exterior (Song of the Siren in Navy in our sample), fussy cut ONE 31" wide x 18" high rectangle.
    NOTE: To get the look of the diver plunging into the pocket at the center front as on our sample, position the diver so his shoulders are centered and his fingertips are just slightly off center to the right. His finger tips should be 7” up from the bottom raw edge of the panel. The photo below shows how we folded our panel to get the center point and then measured the depth.
  6. And here is our full panel so you can see the position of all the divers.

  7. From the fabric for the exterior pocket panel (Oceanus in Aqua in our sample), fussy cut ONE 31” wide x 7” high rectangle.
    NOTE: To get the look of the cresting wave into which the diver is plunging as on our sample, position a full wave motif at the center of the panel with the “foam” of the wave’s crest 1” down from the top raw edge of the panel. 

  8. From the fabric for the exterior pocket panel lining, the upper facing, and the backpack straps (Neptune’s Neverland in Yellow in our sample); fussy cut the following:
    ONE 31” wide x 7” high rectangle for the pocket panel lining
    ONE 31” wide x 3” high rectangle for the upper facing
    TWO 1¼” x 36” strips for the backpack straps
    NOTE: When fussy cutting this fabric, we worked to center the octopus to its best advantage for the width of each strip, focusing on his head and body on the wider panels and on his tentacles on the narrow straps.

  9. From the fabric for the base, upper grommet panel, and drawcord slider (the poplin in our sample), cut the following:
    ONE 31” wide x 3” high rectangle for the upper grommet panel
    ONE 4” x 2½” strip for the drawcord slider
    Using the assembled base pattern, cut ONE on on the fold
  10. From the fabric for the lining (the ripstop in our sample), cut the following:
    ONE 31" wide x 16¾” high rectangle for the main lining panel
    Using the assembled base pattern, cut ONE on on the fold
    NOTE: The lining is meant to be slightly smaller around than the exterior in order to reduce the inherent “bagginess” of the ripstop.
  11. From the fusible fleece, cut the following:
    ONE 30” wide x 17" high rectangle for the main exterior
    Using the base pattern, but cutting along the dotted stitch line rather than the outside solid line, cut TWO on the fold
  12. From the fusible interfacing, cut ONE 30” x 6” panel.
  13. Using the trimmed base panel (the version used for the fusible fleece). Trace one half onto the plastic canvas with the pattern right side up. Then flip the pattern at the center line and trace the other half with the pattern wrong side up to get the complete base outline. Cut along the outline with craft scissors.

  14. Leave the drawcord rope as a continuous length; it will be cut to size at the very end.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Prepare the straps

  1. Find the two lengths of webbing and the two 1¼” fabric strips.
  2. On each fabric strip, fold back each long raw edge of the fabric ¼” and press well, creating a finished strip that is now ¾” in width.
  3. Center a fabric strip on each webbing strip. Pin in place.
  4. Thread the machine with thread to best match the fabric in the top (we used pale yellow) and thread to best match the webbing in the bobbin (we used natural). Lengthen the stitch.
  5. Edgestitch along the folded fabric edge on both sides of both straps.
  6. Cut 3” from the bottom of each strap. These pieces will become the bottom tabs.
  7. Set aside the strap elements.

Assemble the exterior with its pocket

  1. Find all the exterior fabric panels as well as the main fleece panel and the interfacing panel.
  2. Place the fusible fleece panel on the wrong side of the main exterior panel. There should be ½” of fabric showing beyond the fleece on all four sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
  3. Place the interfacing panel on the wrong side of the exterior pocket panel. There should be ½” of fabric showing beyond the interfacing on all four sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place.
  4. Place the fused exterior pocket panel and lining pocket panel right sides together. The raw edges of the two layers should be flush on all four sides.
  5. Pin in place along the top 31” edge.
  6. Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the fabrics in the top and bobbin. Re-set the stitch length to normal.
  7. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along the top edge.
  8. Open up the seam and press flat to set. Then fold the lining around to the back so the two panels are now wrong sides together and the seam is the top edge of the pocket panel. Press well.
  9. Mark for the three pocket divisions. First find the exact center of the panel and draw a vertical line at this point. Then measure 5½” to the right of center and draw a parallel line and 5½" to the left of center and draw a parallel line.
    NOTE: As always, when working on the right side of the fabric, make sure your marking tool is one that will easily wipe away or will vanish with exposure to the air or the heat of an iron.
  10. Place the fused exterior panel right side up and flat on your work surface.
  11. Place the pocket panel right side up on the exterior panel. The pocket panel should be flush with the exterior panel across the bottom and along both sides. Lightly pin in place.
  12. Lengthen the stitch. If necessary, re-thread the machine to make sure you have thread to best match the exterior pocket panel in the top.
  13. Stitch along each of the three drawn lines from the bottom to the top of the pocket panel through all the layers. For the neatest finish, use a lock stitch to secure the seam at the beginning and end. If you don’t have this feature, leave the thread tails long, pull them through to the back, and knot to secure.
  14. Find three of the rivets and the rivet setting tools.
  15. Cut a hole at the top of each pocket division seam through all the layers. This hole should be ¼” below the top of the pocket.
  16. Insert the rivet top from the front through to the back.
  17. Attach the cap at the back and using the tools, hammer to seal and set.
  18. Repeat at the top of each of the three seams.
    NOTE: The steps for riveting are really quite easy, but if you’re brand new to the technique, you can certainly review our general tutorial on How to Install Metal Rivets.
  19. Find the two strap tabs and the two rectangle rings.
  20. Slip a tab through each of the rings. Bring the tab through so it is folded in half and the raw ends are flush.
  21. Pin a tab 3½” in from each raw side edge of the assembled exterior panel.
  22. The illustration below shows you these tab positions and well as the pocket division and rivet positions. 
  23. Fold the exterior panel right sides together aligning the 18” raw edges and sandwiching the pockets and tabs between the layers. Pin in place.
  24. Re-set the stitch length to normal.
  25. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch the seam to form a tube.
  26. Press the seam allowance flat.
  27. Find another rivet. Cut a hole at the top of the center back seam of the pocket panel. It should be ¼” below the top of the pocket just like the other three rivets you set.
  28. Following the same steps as above, set this fourth rivet.

Insert the base panel

  1. Find the base panel and its matching piece of fusible fleece. Center the fleece on the wrong side of the base panel so there is ½” of fabric showing beyond the fleece on all sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place. 
  2. The base panel is sewn in place following the traditional method of inserting a flat base into a tube. If you are new to this type of technique, check out our full step-by-step tutorial
  3. Fold the fused base panel in half vertically to find the center of the front and back edges. Remember, the back edge is the straighter portion of the oval. Place a pin at each center point. 
  4. Fold in half the horizontally to find the two side center points. You now have four pin points, like the four points on the face of a clock. 
  5. Flatten the base of the exterior tube in a similar fashion to find its four center points. The back center point is the back seam, and the front center point is directly opposite the back seam. Fold in this direction first and insert marking pins. Then flatten in the opposite direction to find the side center points. 
  6. Turn the exterior tube wrong side out. Set the base into the exterior tube so the two pieces are right sides together (it's a little like setting a lid upside down into a box). Align the four "clock face" pin points of the base to these matching points on the tube. Pin together at these points first, then fill in around the base. Don't be afraid to use a lot of pins in order to get the two pieces to lay flat against one another. It's best to pin in small sections, easing as you go. 
  7. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch all the way around the base. Go slowly, holding the layers flat with your fingers if necessary to avoid any puckers, especially around the curves.
  8. Again, if you are new to this technique, check out our circle-into-a-tube tutorial
  9. Generously clip the curves.
  10. Turn the exterior bag right side out, pulling the bottom tabs out into position.

Create the lining and assemble the exterior and lining

  1. Find the main lining panel, the lining base panel, and the remaining fusible fleece base panel.
  2. Place the 16¾” sides right sides together and pin in place.
  3. If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the ripstop lining in the top and bobbin.
  4. Stitch this one ½” seam, which will become the center back seam. 
  5. Center the fleece on the nylon base panel. There shold be ½” of fabric showing beyond the fleece on all sides. Following manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place. You may want to use a pressing cloth as ripstop nylon is not a fan of high heat. 
  6. Insert the base into the lining tube following the same steps you did for the exterior. Find your center points on both the base and the bottom of the tube. Match up these point and pin all around.
  7. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch the base in place.
  8. Find the exterior bag; it should be right side out.
  9. Find the plastic canvas panel. Push it down into the exterior bag, fitting the plastic against the fleece.
  10. Turn the lining bag wrong side out. Slip it inside the exterior so the two layers are now wrong sides together. Flatten and align the base panels of all the layers and align the back seams of the exterior and the lining. The plastic canvas is sandwiched between the two layers of fusible fleece on the two base panels. The grippiness of the fleece keeps the plastic from shifting. 
  11. The top raw edge of the lining should be just below the top raw edge of the exterior. Pin together around the top.
  12. We simply pinned in place to hold the exterior to the lining. For extra security, you could machine baste around the top.

Complete the adjustable straps

  1. Find the two straps and the two sliders.
  2. Feed the bottom end of one strap through the slider, going up and over the center bar.
  3. Feed this same bottom end through one tab’s ring. You are feeding the strap through from front to back.
  4. Loosen the top of the strap where it crosses the center rung so it forms a loop and the center rung is clearly visible.
  5. Feed the bottom end (yep, you're working with the bottom end this whole time) of the strap over the center rung, bringing the end back on itself – webbing to webbing.
  6. The bottom end should be pulled back on itself about 1½”. Then tuck under the raw end ½”.
  7. Stitch this end in place. Make sure to move the rest of the strap out of the way; you are just stitching across the end.
  8. We used two lines of zig zag stitching to secure.
  9. Flatten the strap again. The bottom has been fed through the rectangle ring and is secured to create the adjusting loop. The top end of the strap is still raw.
  10. Repeat to attach the remaining strap in the same manner.
  11. With both straps in place, secure their top raw ends at the top of the bag. These ends should be centered to either side of the back seam with 3” in between the inner edges of the webbing.
  12. Pin or machine baste the strap ends in place.

Add the top grommet panel

  1. Find the exterior and lining grommet panels. Place them right sides together. Make sure the lining’s motif (the noble octopus in our sample) is right side up.
  2. Pin together along the top edge.
  3. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch across the top edge only.
  4. Press flat, pressing the seam allowance towards the exterior panel.
  5. Place the ends of the sewn strip together, forming a loop. Pin in place.
  6. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch together.
  7. Press up the raw edge of the lining ½” all around.
  8. Find the assembled bag. Slip the grommet panel loop over the top of the bag. The top raw edge of the grommet panel loop should be flush with the top raw edges of the bag. Align the grommet loop’s seam with the bag’s center back seam.
  9. Pin in place all around through all the layers.
  10. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch all around the top through all the layers.
  11. Grade the seam allowances if necessary. With our fabric choices, we didn’t find it necessary.
  12. Bring the loop up into position, pressing the seam allowance up. Press well all around so the seam is nice and sharp.
  13. Once you’ve gone around with the grommet panel flat, fold the lining down into position at the inside of the bag. The folded edge of the lining should cover the inner seam allowance. Press flat all around once more.
  14. Pin the lining in position, making sure it covers the seam allowance evenly and neatly all around. If need be, adjust the fold of the lining to create this even line.
  15. Re-thread the machine to make sure you have thread to best match the exterior grommet panel in the top and to best match the lining in the bobbin. Lengthen the stitch.
  16. Edgestitch once all around ⅛” from the bottom seam. The edgestitch around again ⅛” from the top seam.

Grommets, rope and slider to finish

  1. Find the Grommet Placement Template. Place it in position around the top of the bag. The Template has guide lines for the center front and the back seam so it’s easy to align correctly. Pin the template in place.
  2. Use an awl or similar to poke a hole at the center point of each grommet crosshairs.
  3. Using a fabric pen or pencil, push the tip through each hole all the way around the top of the bag to mark the center point of all twelve grommets.
  4. Remove the Template.
  5. We used our Rivet Cutting Tool to enlarge the hole at each marked dot.
  6. Then cut open each hole with small, sharp scissors.

    NOTE: After cutting each hole, you can add a drop of seam sealant, such as Fray Check to prevent raveling.
  7. Push a grommet top through the enlarged hole from front to back.
  8. At the back, slip the plastic ring over the grommet top’s post and then slip the metal ring into position.
  9. Use the setting tools to hammer and seal the grommet.
  10. Repeat to set all twelve grommets. If you are brand new to working with grommets, you can check out our full tutorial on How to Insert Metal Grommets.
  11. Find the length of rope. Tape the ends to make it easier to feed through grommets and to help prevent any raveling.
  12. Starting at the front left grommet, weave the rope in and out through the twelve grommets. 
  13. The final length of the rope is up to you. We recommend cinching the top closed to determine the longest length, then trimming the ends of the rope so they sit just below the top of the pocket panel as shown in our sample photos above.
  14. Find the little 4” x 2½” strip and the one remaining rivet.
  15. Fold the strip in half, right sides together, so it is now 4” x 1¼”.
  16. Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the fabric in the top and bobbin. Re-set the stitch length to normal.
  17. Using a ¼” seam allowance, stitch along the 4” side and across one end. Clip the corners.
  18. Turn right side out through the open end. Gently push out the corners so they are nice and sharp. A long blunt tool, such as a chopstick, knitting needle or point turner works well for this. Fold in the raw edges of the open end so they are flush with the sewn seam. Press flat.
  19. Hand stitch the opening closed.
  20. Fold in the ends to the center, overlapping them about ¼”. Pin in place.
  21. Stitch vertically through all the layers, securing the overlap and creating two open channels to either side of the center seam.
  22. Following the same steps as above, insert a rivet at the exact center point through all the layers.
  23. Feed each end of the rope through one side of the slider.
  24. Un-tape the ends and tie a knot in each end. If desired, you can add a drop of seam sealant to secure the cut ends of the rope.


Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Leah Wand 


Comments (2)

Mama Lusco said:

Great bag! I love the adjustable straps and grommets. Thanks for another fun tutorial.

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

@ Mama Lusco - You are so welcome! Let us know if you give it a try; we'd love to see pictures of your success.