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A lightweight, string style backpack is the perfect storage solution for outdoor activities, sport team practices, or just as an everyday carryall. It’s compact and easy to carry but can really hold a lot. We used water-resistant nylon inside and out, which means this pack would be great for a day trip to the river or beach. And, for summer activities, when the days are longer and warmer, staying out late is more tempting, so we opted for a reflective fabric on the exterior to add a bit of safety on-the-go.

The top drawcord opens wide so you can easily pack it up then gather it closed.

This easy-to-pack style of bag can hold an amazing amount of stuff!

We added two clever zippered pockets to the front. Use these no-spill storage spaces for phones, snacks, keys, and more. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to install our rather fancy-looking zips. We love showing you fast, fun ways to add professional accents to your projects.

There’s a downloadable pattern for the set-in tabs at the base of the pack, which feature metal grommets to hold the cording strings that form the shoulder straps. By placing the grommets outside of the body of the bag, the inside is roomier and the pack lays flat against your back.

This easy string style is made to hit the road. Fill it up with necessities for a walk or run through the neighborhood, grab it for an early morning workout at the gym, or slip it on for a bike ride to your favorite picnic spot.

Our backpack finishes at approximately 16½” tall x 15″ wide.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

  • ⅝ yard of 45″+ waterproof nylon fabric for the pack exterior: we originally used a reflective nylon material similar to what would be used for a rain jacket – ours was purchased from outdoor gear experts, The Rain Shed
  • ½ yard of 45″+ rip stop nylon fabric for the pack lining: we used black
  • ¼ yard of nylon mesh; we used black
  • Scrap or ¼ yard of fold-over elastic to coordinate with mesh; we used black
  • Scrap or ⅓ yard of medium-weight fusible interfacing (you need just a 10″ square); we used Pellon 809 Décor-Bond
  • 4 yards of coordinating ¼” polyester cording; we used bright orange, also purchased from The Rain Shed
  • TWO 7″ plastic zippers to match cording; we used bright orange with decorative metal zipper pulls
  • TWO extra-large eyelets; we used Dritz Extra-Large Eyelets in Nickel (7/16″)
  • All-purpose sewing thread to match fabrics
  • 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 a seam sealant, such as Fray Check or Fabri-Tac

Getting Started and Pattern Download

  1. Download and print the Grommet Tab Pattern.
    IMPORTANT: This 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 line on the page so you can confirm your final printout is to scale.
  2. Cut out the pattern along the solid line.
  3. From the fabric for the exterior, cut the following:
    TWO 16″ x 16″ squares for the main exterior panels
    ONE 16″ high x 12″ wide rectangle for the pocket backing
    TWO 4″ high x 16″ wide strips for the top casing
    Using the pattern, cut FOUR tabs
  4. From the fabric for the lining, cut TWO 16″ x 16″ squares.
  5. From the cording, cut ONE 6″ length for the hanger loop, then cut the remaining cording into TWO 65″ lengths.
    NOTE: Tape all the ends to prevent the cording from unraveling.
  6. From the mesh, cut one 11″ high x 9″ wide rectangle.
  7. From the elastic, cut ONE 6″ length.
  8. From the fusible interfacing, use the pattern to cut TWO tabs.
    NOTE: We folded our exterior fabric and interfacing and layered both, allowing us to cut all tab pieces at once.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Insert the zippers

  1. Find one of the 16″ x 16″ main exterior panels.
  2. Using a fabric pen or pencil that will wash away or vanish with exposure to the air, mark boxes for the two vertical zippers.
  3. To do this, first find the top intersection points for each vertical box. For the higher box, measure 5½” in from the left raw edge and 3″ down from the top raw edge. Mark this intersection point. For the lower box, measure 5½ in from the right raw edge and 7½” down from the top raw edge. Mark this intersection point.
  4. From each intersection point, draw a 7″ line. You are drawing from the intersection point down towards the bottom of the fabric.
  5. Measure ¼” to the left and ¼” to the right of this first 7″ line and draw two additional parallel 7″ lines. Then, connect the top and bottom of the lines to create a finished box ½” wide x 7″ long.
  6. At both the top and bottom of each box, draw diagonal lines from the center point up into each corner, forming a small triangle.
  7. Cut open each box by slicing along the center line, stopping at the point of each top/bottom triangle, and snipping up into the corners.
  8. Fold back the cut edges of each box to create a long, narrow window. Finger press, then pin in place.
  9. Find the two zippers. Center a zipper behind each window and re-pin through all the layers.
  10. Attach a Zipper foot. Thread the machine with thread to match the exterior fabric in the top and bottom.
  11. Edgestitch the zipper in place around all four sides.

    NOTE: Be very careful and go slowly. You can stitch with the zipper open or closed. If you have trouble maneuvering around the zipper pull, you can stop with your needle in the down position. Twist your fabric around slightly and carefully close the zipper. Re-position your fabric, and finish sewing to the end. If it’s an option on your machine, you can also move your needle position to the left to get your seam closer to the zipper’s teeth.
  12. Place the exterior panel right side down on your work surface.
  13. Find the 16″ x 12″ pocket backing panel. Place this panel, also right side down, over the exterior panel. You want right side against wrong side so when you open the pocket from the front, you see the right side of the fabric.
  14. Align the pocket backing panel so it is flush with the top, bottom and right hand side of the exterior panel. The left side of the panel extends about 1″ beyond the leftmost zipper window. Pin the pocket panel in place.
  15. Flip over the pinned panels so they are right side up to make the final vertical seams that will create the left sides of the pockets. The top, bottom and right sides of pockets will be created within the construction seams.
  16. Using a see-through ruler, align the edge of the ruler with the left stitching line of the zipper window.
  17. Using the fabric pen or pencil, extend a drawn line up to the top of the fabric panel and down the bottom of the fabric panel. You need one full vertical line to follow along each zipper window. Place a few pins along the drawn lines to secure the layers.
  18. We switched back to a Clear Satin Stitch foot, but you could also continue to use a Zipper foot.
  19. Topstitch along each drawn line through both layers, being especially careful that your new stitching goes directly over the top of the existing zipper window seam line.
  20. Wipe away any visible marking lines.

Prepare and attach the mesh pocket

  1. Find the mesh panel and the fold-over elastic.
  2. Lay one 9″ cut edge against the center fold mark of the elastic. Align the edges of the mesh and elastic and pin in place at one end.
  3. Bring the layered elements to your machine and place under the presser foot.
  4. Set the machine for a long basting stitch.
  5. As you stitch, stretch the elastic to fit while keeping the mesh flat.
  6. Fold over the elastic.
  7. Re-set the machine for a zig zag.
  8. Again stretching as your sew, zig zag the folded-over elastic in place.
  9. Switch back to a straight stitch in a long length and run one or two lines of gathering stitches across the bottom 9″ edge of the mesh.
  10. Find the finished front exterior panel. Place it right side up on your work surface.
  11. Lay the right raw edge of the mesh pocket along the leftmost zipper window’s vertical topstitching seam. This means the edge of the mesh with be approximately ¼” from the leftmost (higher) pocket window. Pin the right edge of the mesh pocket in place.
  12. Re-set the machine for a zig zag and stitch the right edge of the mesh pocket in place from top to bottom.
  13. Gather up the bottom edge of the mesh pocket so the left edge of the pocket is flush with the left edge of the exterior panel. Pin in place along the bottom and left side of the mesh pocket. The pocket should bow out slightly, which is correct. Although the top does have elastic, you need the entire pocket to be flexible enough to expand to hold a water bottle or other items.
  14. Re-set the machine for a long basting stitch and baste the mesh pocket in place along the pocket and left side.

Attach back loop

  1. Find the exterior back panel. Measure to locate the exact center along the top edge.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 drawcord casings

  1. Find the two 4″ x 16″ 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 folded edge.
  2. Fold each hemmed strip in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, and press with a pressing cloth.
  3. Find the front and back exterior panels. Place them right sides up on your work surface.
  4. Place one folded casing strip along the top edge of the front panel and the other along the top edge of the back panel, aligning the raw edges of each folded casing strip with the raw edge of each panel. On the back panel, you have sandwiched the hanging loop between the layers.
  5. The casing should be centered so it sits ½” from each side. Pin the casing in place.
  6. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch each casing in place.
  7. Press the casing up into place, which means the seam allowance will fold down towards the main panel.

Create the grommet tabs

  1. Find the four exterior tab pieces and the two interfacing pieces.
  2. Following manufacturer’s instructions, and using a pressing cloth to protect the nylon, fuse an interfacing piece to the wrong side of two of the exterior tab pieces.
  3. Place a fused tab right sides together with a plain tab. Pin along the curved edge, leaving the bottom straight edge open.
  4. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along the curved edge. Trim back the interfacing and clip the curves.
  5. Turn each tab right side out through the bottom opening. Use a blunt-end tool to round out the curves. Press flat.
  6. Using the original printed pattern as your guide, mark the position for the grommet on each tab.
  7. Insert the grommet, following manufacturer’s instructions or our own handy tutorial on inserting metal grommets.
  8. Place one tab at each bottom corner of the front exterior panel. The raw edge of the tab should be flush with the raw side edge of the panel and the bottom of the tab should sit ¾” up from the bottom raw edge of the panel.
  9. Pin and/or baste each tab in place.

Assemble front to back

  1. Place the front and back exterior panels right sides together. Align the side and bottom edges and the hemmed ends of the casings. Remember, the casings should be pressed up into their final position. Pin along both sides and across the bottom.
  2. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch both sides and across the bottom. Remember to pivot at the corners.
  3. Be very careful at the top to make sure your seam runs in line with the open end. Your side seams should run right next to the casings, but should not penetrate into the casings.
  4. Clip the corners. Leave the exterior bag wrong side out.

Prepare and insert the lining

  1. Find the two 16″ x 16″ lining panels.
  2. Place the panels right sides together and pin in place along both sides and across the bottom.
  3. Using a ½” seam allowance, stitch along both sides and across the bottom.
  4. Clip the corners and turn the lining right side out.
  5. Press down the top raw edge of the lining ½” all around. We used our Clover Hot Hemmer.
  6. Find the exterior bag, which should be wrong side out. Slip the lining over the exterior so the two layers are now wrong sides together. Align the seams and bottom corners.
  7. The top folded edge of the lining should just cover the seam allowance of the casing. If it does not, adjust the top folded edge of the lining until it aligns all the way around. Pin the lining in place.
  8. Turn the bag right side out. Topstitch around the entire top of the bag, running the seam approximately ⅛” from the casing/bag seam within the main panel (not within the casing). This secures the lining. If your machine has a free arm, now is a good time to use it.

Insert the cording

  1. Attach a large safety pin or a pair of hemostats to one end of one length of cording.
  2. 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.
  3. Reverse to thread the second length of cording: left to right through the front and then right to left through the back.
  4. Pull the the cording so the ends are even on both sides.
  5. Thread each pair of cording ends through its corner eyelet from back to front.
  6. If possible try the backpack on its intended wearer to adjust the length of the string straps.
  7. Tie the ends together into a double knot. Finish the ends in your favorite manner. If your cording is polyester, you can carefully melt then ends with a lighter to seal. You could also use a seam sealant as we did. We used the heavier Fabri-Tac.


Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Debbie Guild

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