String style backpacks are in high demand right now for back-to-school, but they're really a year-round, on-the-go mainstay. They're compact and lightweight but can still hold plenty. You can find them in almost every style, from ripstop athletic gear to high-end leather bags. Ours is made in brightly colored quilting weight cotton. And to give the design even more functionality, we added unique front crossover pockets, which create four individual sections to hold smaller items.
Our sample backpack is modeled by an energetic seven-year-old on his way to school, but the size and shape would work for any age. With punchy colors and bold designs, it's a style that's ready to hit the road. Tote it to the gym, fill it up with necessities for a day hike or picnic, slip it on for a bike ride to the store. Fusible fleece between the layers softens and stabilizes, and the adjustable cording shoulder straps, which thread through bottom eyelets, make going smaller or larger a snap.
We originally used fabric from the Beatbox collection by Anne Kelle for Robert Kaufman Fabrics, an older collection that is no longer readily available for purchase. Below are a few new combinations that caught our eye. Click on a swatch for more information.
Our backpack finishes at approximately 15½" tall x 12½" wide.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing Machine and standard presser foot
Fabric and Other Supplies
- 1 yard of 44"+ quilting weight cotton fabric for the pack exterior front and pockets
- 1 yard of 44"+ quilting wieght cotton fabric for the pack exterior back, drawcord casing, and lining
- ½ yard of 45" medium-weight fusible interfacing; we used Pellon 809 Décor-Bond
- ½ yard of 45" one-sided fusible fleece; we used Pellon 987F Fusible Fleece
- 1 yard of ⅝" coordinating fold-over elastic: we used Dritz Fold Over Elastic
- 4 yards of coordinating ¼" cording: we used light blue, purchased locally
- ONE large eyelet and TWO extra-large eyelets; we used Dritz Eyelets in Nickel in Large (1/4") and Extra-Large (7/16"), both in nickel and both offered as eyelets with an installation tool
- All-purpose sewing thread to match fabric and trim
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- See-through ruler
- Straight pins
- Iron and ironing board
- Pressing cloth
- Large safety pin or hemostats to pull cording
- To finish the ends of the cording: lighter or match to melt ends (if polyester), or seam sealant, or transparent tape
- From the fabric for the exterior front and pockets (Beatbox in our sample), cut the following:
ONE 15½" high x 14" wide rectangle for the main exterior front panel
FOUR 13" high x 14" wide rectangles for the pockets
- From the fabric for the exterior back, drawcord casing, and lining (Headphones in our sample), cut the following:
ONE 15½" high x 14" wide rectangle for the back exterior
TWO 15½" high x 14" wide rectangles for the lining
TWO 4" high x 14" wide strips for the casings
NOTE: We recommend fussy cutting all the fabric, but it is particularly important for the casing strips. The back casing channel will look best if it appears to be an extension of the back panel.
- From the cording, cut ONE 6" length for the hanger loop, then cut the remaining cording into TWO equal lengths.
NOTE: Tape all the ends to prevent the cording from unraveling during construction.
- From the fusible fleece, cut TWO 15½" x 14" rectangles.
- From the fusible interfacing, cut TWO 13" x 14" rectangles.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
Prepare the front of the backpack
- Find the 15½" x 14" front panel, the 15½" x 14" back panel, and the two 15½" x 14" pieces of fusible fleece.
- Using a pressing cloth and following manufacturer's instructions, fuse a fleece panel to the wrong side of each fabric panel. Make sure the edges of the fleece and fabric are flush on all sides of both pieces.
- Find the four 13" x 14" pocket panels and the two 13" x 14" pieces of fusible interfacing.
- Break the pocket panels into two pairs of two. Place the two pairs of fabric wrong sides together with an interfacing piece between the layers. Do not fuse anything yet.
- Stack the layers together: fabric, interfacing, fabric, fabric, interfacing, fabric. If using a directional fabric, make sure the fabric motifs are all lined up properly.
- Adjust the stack so the edges of all six layers are flush on all sides. Place the stack flat on your work surface.
- Measure 6" down from the top along the right side and make a mark. Align a see-through ruler from the upper left corner down and across the front of the stack to the 6" mark at the right side. Draw a diagonal line.
- Cut through all the layers along the drawn diagonal line.
- Separate the stack back into two pocket sandwiches. Following the manufacturer’s instruction, fuse the interfacing to the wrong side of one fabric panel in each sandwich then re-layer as two pocket pairs, wrong sides together.
- Machine baste along the diagonal edge of each pair, staying very close to the cut edge.
- Cut two 15" lengths of fold-over elastic. Wrap the diagonal edge of each basted pocket pair and stitch in place. Stay as close to the edge of the elastic binding as possible, but make sure you are still catching both the front and back. Trim away the excess elastic at each end.
- Flip over one pair so the diagonal cuts are now mirror images of one another. Layer the two pockets one on top of the other, aligning the bottom and side edges. Mark and set the one smaller eyelet at the intersection where the pockets cross. The eyelet should be set down just far enough to clear the binding. If you are new to working with eyelets/grommets, check out our full step-by-step tutorial: How To Install Metal Grommets (don't let the name fool you; an eyelet is simply a small grommet).
- Find the main exterior front panel, which you should have already fused with a layer of fleece. Place it right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Place the pocket unit right side up on the exterior panel, aligning the bottom and sides.
- Using the installed eyelet as your guide, draw a vertical line from the bottom of the eyelet down to the bottom of the layered panels.
- Thread the machine with thread to best match the fabric in the top and bobbin. Slightly lengthen the stitch.
- Stitch along the drawn vertical line, locking your stitch just below the eyelet. If possible, for the cleanest look, use a lock stitch. If this is not a feature on your machine, leave the thread tails long and tie them to secure at the back of the front unit.
- This completes the front of the bag.
Prepare the back of the backpack
- Find the 15½ x 14 exterior back panel, which you should have already fused with a layer of fleece. Place it right side up and flat on your work surface.
- Measure to locate the exact center along the top edge. Find the 6" length of cording. This will become the hanger loop. With the center mark as your guide, pin the cording in place, creating an even loop. Our loop ends were approximately 1" to either side of the center mark. Let the taped ends extend beyond the top raw edge.
- Stitch across the loop ends to secure, running this short seam approximately ¼" from the raw edge. Trim away the taped ends so the cord lays flush against the fabric.
Prepare and place the draw cord casings
- If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the casing/back exterior/lining fabric in the top and bobbin. Re-set the stitch length to normal.
- Find the two 4" x 14" casing strips. On each strip, make a narrow, double turn hem along the 4" edges. To do this, fold in the raw edge ¼" and press. Fold in an additional ¼" and press again. Stitch the narrow hem in place, running the seam close to the inner folded edge.
- Fold each hemmed strip in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, and press well.
- Find the front and back exterior panels.
- Place one folded casing strip along the top edge of the front panel, aligning the raw edges of the casing with the top raw edge of the front panel, and centering the casing so it sits ½" in from each side. Pin the casing in place.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch the casing in place.
- Repeat to attach the remaining casing strip to the back exterior panel.
- Fold up the casing and press the seam allowances down, away from the casing.
Assemble front to back
- Place the front and back exterior panels right sides together. Align the side and bottom edges and the hemmed ends of the casings.
- Alilgn the pressed casing seam allowances up and out of the way so you can stitch all the way to the top edge of the exterior panels.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch both sides and across the bottom.
- Remember to pivot at the corners and be very careful to make sure you pull the casings out of the way at the top.
- Your side seams should run right next to the casings, but should not penetrate the casings.
- Leave the exterior bag wrong side out.
Prepare and attach the lining
- Find the two 15½" x 14" lining pieces. Place the lining pieces right sides together and pin along both sides and across the bottom, leaving a 5-6" opening along the bottom for turning.
- Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch both sides and across the bottom, remembering to lock your seam on either side of the 5-6" opening along the bottom. Clip the corners and press open the seam allowances.
- Turn the lining right side out.
- Find the exterior bag, which should still be wrong side out. Slip the lining inside the bag exterior so the exterior and lining are now right sides together. Pin together around the entire top edge. The casings are folded down and out of the way as they were when you first stitched them in place.
- Be very careful to match the side seams, opening up the seam allowance so it lays flat.
- Stitch all around the top edge, following right on top of the previously stitched casing seam.
- Pull out the lining and check to be sure the casings did not get caught in the stitching.
- Reach in through the 5-6" opening left in the bottom of the lining and pull the backpack right side out.
- The top corners should be completely sealed and but the casings should be free.
- With the lining still pulled out, press in the raw edges of the bottom opening so they are flush with sewn seam and pin in place.
- Edgestitch the opening closed.
- Push the lining down into place inside the backpack. Press the lining down and the casings up.
Bottom eyelets and draw cord
- Mark and cut a hole in each of the bottom corners. The center of the eyelet opening should be approximately 1" in from the side and 1" up from the bottom at each corner. Remember to place the bag face down on the table to set the eyelet.
NOTE: You are inserting through quite a few layers, which is why we used the extra-large eyelets for the corners. The neck of the eyelet will fit through, but you have to use some force to hammer the top in place. As mentioned above, if your are new to working with eyelets/grommets, check out our tutorial: How To Install Metal Grommets.
- Attach a large safety pin or a pair of hemostats to one end of one 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 ends are even on both sides.
- Thread each pair of cording ends through its corner eyelet from back to front.
- If possible try the backpack on its intended wearer to adjust the length of the string straps, trimming as necessary.
- Tie the ends together into a double knot. Finish the ends in your favorite manner. If your cording is polyester, you can melt then ends with a lighter to seal. You could also use a seam sealant or wrap the ends with a transparent tape as we did to simulate the look of shoelace ends.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Kathy Andrews, What Sew Ever