Tired of never finding the perfect backpack for you? This Instructable will show you how you can design and sew your very own custom backpack! It covers a broad range of sewing topics. Everything from drawing your design, creating a prototype and editing a pattern. To adding foam support structures and using darts to create 3D dimensions in fabric.

Be warned this is an advanced sewing Instructable! Read through the entire Instructable to get an idea of what you're getting yourself into before you buy materials!

If you'd like to get some practice in before trying this Instructable check out my sewing collection and try some of the great Instructables in there.

Feel free to make this backpack your own by editing the design to suit your backpack needs. If you feel so inclined make an Instructable about your unique creation!

Please note that I used an industrial walking foot sewing machine to make my backpack. It is possible to sew a backpack with a regular consumer sewing machine, you will just have to choose your fabrics appropriately.

For my backpack I used:

  • 1000 Denier Cordura fabric (2yards)
  • ripstop nylon fabric (2 yards)
  • nylon webbing 1"(with reflector strips) (4 yards)
  • 2" seatbelt webbing (1 yard)
  • 1" webbing binding tape, a sports mesh fabric (.5 yards)
  • 1/8th inch closed cell Volara foam (.5 yards)
  • 1" aluminum cam buckles (x2)
  • 2" quick release buckle (x1)
  • 1.25" D-rings (x2)
  • 2" velcro (5")
  • 12" zipper (x1)

If you're interested in the materials I used check out these links:

cordura, ripstop, 1" webbing, 2" seatbelt webbing, binding tape, sports mesh fabric, foam, cam buckle, D-Ring, 2" velcro, zipper, 2" buckle

Alternative (lighter) fabric options for consumer machines:

Cordura (outer fabric) - You can swap out for a mid weight denim, canvas, lighter upholstery fabrics, light faux suede or leather, non stretch velvet, mid weight packcloth nylon, etc.

Ripstop Nylon (lining) - You should be fine using this or a similarly weighted fabric. Try to keep the lining light so you not unnecessarily weight down your bag. (if you don't want to line your bag you can skip this completely)

1" binding tape webbing - A good lighter weight alternative is 1" gosgrain ribbon (there are lots of awesome color options!)

Sports Mesh (aesthetic for straps) - You should be fine using this but it isn't necessary, I used it for aesthetic reasons

1/8th Inch closed cell Volara foam (padding and structure) - You're going to want to use some sort of foam to give your bag structure and comfort. If you can't find any foam available locally check online. I got mine from foamorder.com don't buy anything over 1/8th inch as your machine likely won't be able to handle it. (my industrial machine struggled with 2 layers of 1/8th inch foam) You might also consider using a thin yoga mat or foam sleeping pad available at most outdoors stores.

Hardware - All of the hardware can remain the same as long as you do not alter the webbing widths as they do not need to be sewn through. If you do alter the webbing widths pick hardware that is compatible with the new sizes.

Step 1: Creating your design

This is the fun part, designing your backpack! Think about everything you use your backpack for. What do you like about other backpacks? (It's ok to base your backpack off something you've already seen and modify it) What don't you like about other backpacks? (if you hate using zippers don't design one into your bag!) Do you have a long torso? Do you like a small backpack for essentials or a big backpack to fit everything plus the kitchen sink?

I like to keep my bag simple but give a specific place for objects I carry everyday. It might be a good idea to empty out your current backpack and examine what you carry and how you might like to accommodate those items.

I designed my bag to include an internal laptop pocket to hold my laptop and sketchbook which I have on my at all times.

I like to have a small zippered pocket for smaller items that I need easily accessible, like my cellphone and wallet. So I made sure I would have a secure pocket located on the inside of the top of my bag. (easy for me to get to without having to dig through my bag but safe from thieves!)

I always carry a water bottle but with my old bag I could only store it inside my bag. While hiking through Arches national park I had to keep stopping to take off my bag open it up to get to my water. To fix this, I designed two front pouches big enough to fit my favorite water bottle and other quick access items that don't need to be as secure as my phone and wallet.

I commute to work by bike so I decided to include reflective webbing in my backpack for increased visibility on the road.

I liked the strap design of my old backpack so I kept the design mostly the same.

If you like to carry your pet cactus around why not include a cactus holding pocket!

Now that you've spent some time thinking about your ideal backpack it's time to draw it. It doesn't have to be perfect, you don't need to be an artist. This drawing is just for you! It's meant to help you understand your design, work out any potential problems before you start sewing, and facilitate the transition into pattern making.

You might have all sorts of plans about including enough pockets to hold 17 cats and shoulder mounted lasers. (I know I did) Drawing will help you realize if you can fit all these components and how they'll go together.

First I draw my design in orthographic views (front, back, side, top, bottom) this helps get the basic placement of things down without getting distracted by trying to draw in perspective.

Once I have the basic design down I draw it in different states in perspective to reveal any components hidden inside. What does it look like when the top is open? Is it a roll top bag? Are there internal pockets? Again remember it doesn't have to be perfect this is just for your own understanding. (I drew pages and pages before I got my design finalized and there's still changes I would make!)

Consider also using different colors or shading to reference material changes I noted reflective material by hatching with vertical lines.

Now start thinking about how your bag will be constructed. This is the first step to pattern creation. It might be a little confusing to visualize if you aren't familiar thinking spatially just take your time and try documenting as you go.

I like to think of it as an exploded view. What would it look like if all the pieces were suspended in space. I start with the back and pull it apart in layers drawing as I go. You might try thinking of it as something familiar like constructing a sandwich. There are layers of pieces that go together in a specific order. What are the "buns" of your backpack? What goes after each bun? You wouldn't want to put your mayonnaise outside of the bun just like you wouldn't want to put your fabric lining outside your bag. Making a Backpack is just like making a fancy sandwich that you get to wear at the end!

Next lay these parts out into what they might look like as flat fabric pieces. How many do you need of each? What fabric will they be cut out of? What are their dimensions? (if you're not sure how big you want them you can take a backpack with dimensions that you like and measure off of that. Or feel free to use the measurements I used. (keep in mind I am 5'2") (I also altered the dimensions in the drawing above for my final bag see farther steps for accurate dimensions)

I find the most critical dimension is the length of the bag. Nothing is more awkward than having a bag that is too long and hangs past your back or too short and can't hold everything you want! If you do alter the length dimensions of my bag design consider also adjusting the width to match so you keep the proportions comfortable.

Since I was basing my straps off a backpack another bag I made sure they would fit the width of my new design. If you're recycling any patterns or dimensions from other bags be sure to keep these things in mind!

<p>Very interesting project. Tom Bihn's approach combining modular and backpack design is fascinating, but this process is something else entirely. I wish I got more industrial design at my school. Your resume on your website is really impressive, as a fellow student I would love to hear more about your education.</p>
<p>Looked up your website, looks like you're a computer geek too.</p><p>I don't have any sewing experience but bear with me. Assume someone would want to open source backpack sewing patterns, and put them on Github so that others can fork and edit. Which format would be ideal in your opinion? Plain SVG? CAD?</p><p>If you wanna talk about this more, find me on twitter: @teomaragakis</p>
<p>That's an interesting idea. Why not both file types!</p>
<p>Phenomenal Instructable! Very clear instructions and great images. I'll definitely use these techniques to enhance my next sewing project. </p>
<p>Would you be willing to make a custom backpack like this and let people buy it?</p>
<p>Yes, I do occasionally make custom items for people.</p>
<p>I wish this was more affordable than buying a backpack at the store. </p><p>This is so cool! if only I had the equipment to make this as well, though I make these wishes like 5 times every time I browse instructables. Thanks man!</p>
<p>Check out local art supply recycling centers or thrift stores that sell fabric for cheap. The selection can be limited but I've found some great materials at places like that. You can also make a backpack from lighter fabric than I used on a regular (more accessible less expensive) consumer sewing machine. I made a backpack out of canvas on a consumer machine before. </p>
Okay, I think I'll give it a try!
<p>I love the part about getting to wear your fancy sandwich XD This is going to help a ton because my dad got me a really awesome bag for college, but its a single big pocket with a front pouch vs the 2 big pocket type bags Im used to (and I plan on making it out of caprisun pouches so its waterproof ;D)</p>
<p>I've been modifying gear and salvaging materials from &quot;ruined&quot; packs for years; thank you for this intro. Satchels and messenger bags are most excellent for salvage due to large panels, generally less interrupted by pockets and details.</p><p><strong><em>Stuff to Keep:</em></strong> <strong>Zippers</strong> that are in good order should be salvaged, and the end tabs from string-style zipper pulls, Always.<strong> Hardware</strong> and <strong>Buckles</strong>, I sort mine by webbing size (standard and metric). <strong>Sports Mesh</strong>, some colors and mesh sizes are hard to find locally. <strong>Foam </strong>can be had directly from ruined packs, or very often from packages containing electronics or delicate items. Be aware that these cheaper varieties often break down when used in straps, use them for lower impact areas.</p><p><strong>Tips:</strong> Fold patterns down a line of symmetry to insure that all corners and designs remain even. Measure lengths and approximate sizes of pockets and packs you find particularly useful or versatile. Reinforce bottoms and corners, this is where books and cargo will punch/wear through first.</p>
<p>Really detailed, thank you for this. I had already decided to make a backpack and was having trouble finding any kind of instruction, this will help a lot.</p>
<p>Amazing job, i think i would never make this for me. actually i see it too similar to any backpack i could buy on the market, so for me i think the time spent isn't worth it. Maybe if the process was simpler i would think about it. Anyways you seem passionate about it, and i'm glad to see people like you.</p>
<p>cactus holding pocket!!! just the thing for this wonderful morning rush bus.. </p>
<p>Sweet jiminy that's a detailed instructable! Super awesome project!</p>
<p>This instructable is piece of art. Thanks.</p>
<p>Incredible job and tutorial ! You are a lot more ambitious than I am. What I have done in the past is purchase one that is a close to what I needed then 'tweaked' it to my requirements. (Am also notorious for doing the same thing to my handbags and even pieces of luggage as well. ☺)</p>
<p>Whew me to I was feeling like a lazy cheater for not doing it from scratch but packs are like rabbits you have a couple then they all start showing up everywhere that you didn't know you had. I think I'll stick with your plan of cannibalizing what I already have</p>
<p>Great job! Really awesome! </p>
<p>Amazing documentation - you are so patient and precise, keep up the good work and thanks for sharing!</p>
<p>WOW. This is so well-thought and written. Thanks for sharing!</p>
<p>Good job on the instructable. For those folks that would have a hard time gathering the supplies, &quot;The Ray-Way Backpack Kit&quot; via rayjardine.com is a good alternative. I'm in the process as I type having already sewn one of his sleeping bag kits.</p>
<p>Just checked out his website, looks awesome!</p>
<p>One of the best instructables I ever saw!</p>
<p>Great instructable! So detailed and the pack looks incredible!</p>
<p>Really awesome! :)</p>
<p>Really awesome! :)</p>
<p>Fantastic job all around.</p>

About This Instructable




Bio: Hey there! I'm recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University's Industrial Design program and a former Instructables intern. When I'm not working in ... More »
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