Sew Along Toddler Backpack {Part One - Cutting}

So, today I'm trying something new. I've posted a few tutorials already, but wanted to do something a little different... 

I don't know about you, but I find it really frustrating when I see something online, or in a magazine which promises to be a 'tutorial' but has such vague instructions that I still end up feeling mystified by the end of it! So, I decided that I 'd like to start writing a series of really in depth tutorials for some of the things I've loved making! 

I tend to come up with things after seeing (or imagining) something I like and playing around until I've figured out how to make it, so mostly these tutorials will be for things I've figured out along the way, and there should be lots of room for alterations or adjustments! 

To avoid these posts becoming too laborious, I've decided to split them up into stages if it looks like they're going to be too long. This way, if you'd like to join in, you can follow the instructions 'sew along' style! 

A few months ago I made this mini-backpack for my friend's little girl's first birthday. I've played around with backpacks and bags in the past, but this one came out just how I'd pictured it (except for one small error - I'll point that out later so you can avoid doing it too!) I'm told she loves it, and I was really pleased with finish I achieved on it - it looked real! 

It's also quite easy to put together, especially if you do all the cutting first, so that's what this first post will focus on! 

Even though my friends little girl is only one, I decided to make her a larger back pack than she would need right now so it will last her a long time. This could easily be sized up or down, or made into an adult version using your own measurements! 

I did a little research to find out what a sensible sort of size would be, and decided to aim for a finished bag of roughly 30cm top to bottom, 20cm wide and 10cm deep, with a drawstring closure covered by a flap, a quilted back and two pockets, one on the outside and one on the inside. 

So, if you'd like to sew along, the first step is to gather your materials! You will need:

  • Medium weight canvas fabric - I used some recycled chino fabric - approximately one and a half mens legs!
  • Lining fabric - I used some plain cotton calico, but you could use any lightweight fabric.
  • Accent fabric for the flap and pockets - I chose a star print quilting fabric and some plain red cotton, but you could choose anything you like, or use the same fabric as the main bag for a more grown up back pack.
  • Bias binding in a co-odinating (or contrasting!) colour - width depending on how obvious you'd like it to be! 
  • Wadding/batting/stabiliser for the quilted back, I used an iron on foam stabiliser
  • Webbing for the straps (I bought 2 meters and had more than enough)
  • 4 'D' Rings for the strap adjusters
  • One Toggle
  • Cord for the drawstring opening
  • Beads for the cord-ends
  • Velcro/popper for fastening the flap - I used permanent, self adhesive velcro

You'll also need:

  • Sewing machine with both regular and button hole feet (unless you fancy a very very long hand sewing job!)
  • Thread to match each of your fabrics
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Ruler/scissors/scrap paper/pins/pencil or chalk/mug of tea/a cake or two  - basically all the usual sewing paraphernalia! 

Materials assembled? Lets begin...

First cut your front and back panels. For a finished bag measuring 30 x 20 x 10cm, I added a 1cm seam allowance all around meaning my pieces were 32cm high by 22cm wide. Adjust your sizes according to how large you would like you finished bag to be! 

For the gusset part you need a long strip which will go down one side of the bag, across the bottom and back up the other side. This means it needs to be the length of two long sides and one short side of your front/back panel. For me that was 86cm (32+22+32cm) The width of this strip should be equal to the depth of your finished bag, plus seam allowance, so for mine that was 12cm (10cm + 1cm seam on each side)

Next, cut the same front, back and gusset pieces from your lining fabric. As I was sewing I realised the gusset of the lining was much easier to sew in three pieces, so cut your 86 x 12cm strip into three pieces equal in length to the three sides of your front/back panels - two of these will be 32cm x 12cm (for the two long sides) and the third will be 22cm x 12cm (for the bottom)

To attach the straps to the bag I made some small flaps (which I later sewed in completely wrong...but never mind that now!) To cut them, use your webbing as a guide and leave approximately a centimetre either side. The short edges of mine were 4cm, and the long edges were 9cm - use some scraps of paper to draw the shapes out until you get a size and shape which feels right for you.

You'll need two flaps, which means four of these rhombus shaped pieces. However, I've found that rather than trying to pin and sew pieces this small together, its much easier to pin them (right sides facing) to a larger piece, then cut them out once they're sewn together! 

Next, use some scrap paper to work how how big you would like the front pocket to be, folding and re-positioning it to get a size you like.

I decided on a 15cm x 12cm pocket. I like to use a quilting ruler rather than a regular ruler to keep things square because you can see thorough it and line up the opposite edges with the printed lines - this is especially useful for things like adding a seam allowance (It's also useful for a lefty because you can turn it over and read the numbers from right to left - so much easier!!)

I used my quilting ruler to draw out a my 15 x 12cm pocket, then added a 1cm seam allowance. 

Pin this right sides facing to a piece of your canvas, which will become the lining of the pocket. 

Now for the flap! Use some scrap paper to play with the shape of the curve (or square if you fancy a square flap of course) 

I cut a piece of paper to the same width as my bags front/back panels, then folded it in half. This way you know that when you've decided on a shape you can make one cut and it will be both symmetrical, and the same width as your bag's front and back panels. 

I decided on a curved corner and straight bottom edge. Cut along your drawn line, then open out your template and make sure it is the same width as your bag. Arrange your bag's front panel, flap template and pocket to make sure everything is looking nicely in proportion. 

If you're using a patterned fabric for your flap (I've written flap so many times it no longer resembles a word!) you'll need to make sure you line up your template so the pattern is straight and central, or so that it picks out an interesting part of the pattern. 

I'm sure I could have been more pernickety about it, but I simply lined up the fold line on the template with the central point of one of the stars, and used the red and yellow row to make sure it was somewhere near straight! 

Have another check that everything is looking as it should - you should be starting to get an idea of how your finished bag will look!

Pin the flap to a piece of your canvas fabric WRONG sides facing. This is the opposite way to the pocket, and to what is instinctive when sewing, but as we will be binding the edge here rather than sewing and turning through, the wrong sides need to be facing. 

The last pieces to cut will be the inside pocket. Choose which fabric you would like the pocket to be (I chose the same star print as the flap) and use the same scrap paper method as we used for the outside pocket to decide on the size you would like. I made the inside pocket slightly bigger. Pin your pocket to a slightly larger piece of fabric (in my case red) this will become the pocket lining.

Thats all the cutting done! You should now have: 

  • one flap piece pinned wrong sides facing to a larger piece of canvas 
  • two rectangular canvas front/back panels 
  • one long canvas gusset panel
  • your two rhombus shaped flaps pinned right sides facing to a larger piece of canvas
  • one inside pocket piece pinned right sides facing to a larger lining piece
  • once outside pocket pinned right sides facing to a larger canvas piece
  • five (un-pictured) lining pieces (one front panel, one back panel, and three gusset pieces)

I hope that has all made sense. If you have any questions please feel free to ask, and stay tuned for 'Part Two - Sewing' soon!

UPDATE - Part Two - Sewing is now live if you want to carry on.... 


  1. Ooh, tempted by this. May have to give it a go. I'm sure Brian won't mind me converting his chinos into shorts...

  2. you are one crafty lady!
    So, I wanted to share this with you privately but I couldn't find an email to do that, and the rest of the social media won't give me enough room to write :P that's why I use the comments section! Sorry! (if you prefer to delete this comment, I won't object it!) In this Flickr album you will find a selection of pics I took whilst in Norwich, last Halloween.
    All places you may have seen a million times but through new eyes ;) The weather could not have been better to walk around and snap snap away all the beauty I saw. Gosh, it's a flipping gorgeous city. It's all hazy and blurry in my mind now, as I was shown almost the whole city by foot in less than 48hs. Hectic weekend it was! But unforgettable. Hope you enjoy it! xx

    1. Hi! Thank you so much, I'll go over and have a look at your images - it is the most fantastic city isn't it! My sister and I did a photo walk around it a few weeks ago and had such fun! Thank you so pointing out the difficulty in finding my email too - I'll definitely make that more clear! Hope you're having a wonderful day - it means so much that you're reading xxx