Introduction: Rolltop Commuter Backpack

Picture of Rolltop Commuter Backpack

This is the very first backpack I made while I was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).

The inspiration to make my own backpacks started a few years ago during my sophomore year, when I took an introduction to metal working course. Every class, my metals teacher would ride in on his bicycle with a slick, gorgeous green canvas and leather backpack slung on his back, and prop it on his bike rack before he sat down. I would constantly get distracted, taking continual stares at his backpack in the corner. It was definitely the most eye-catching, beautifully crafted backpack I had ever seen. After several weeks of staring, I asked my teacher what brand his bag was, with the intention of buying one of my own. I was blown away by his response: "I made it."

After my metals class finished, I asked my professor if he would do an independent study, to teach me his process. He happily agreed, and this backpack is the one I created during the time we studied together. Since then, I have made several more, and every time I create a new backpack, it expands my breadth of experience and love for creating, and the self gratification that comes with making something that you can use everyday. This feeling is second to none.

I designed this particular backpack with the goal accommodate the user with an all-inclusive, multifaceted bag. Too many times do backpacks only do one function well, while others are left to be desired. With water resistant and breathable fabrics, versatile pocketing, ergonomic and cushioned straps, seatbelt webbing, Mil Spec Monkey hardware (the U.S. military standard) and constructed with thick polyester thread used for sewing leather, this bag will last for decades to come.

Behance Line:


- Hunter Green, Dry Waxed Canvas

- Neon Yellow Spacer Mesh

- Black Polyester Thread

- 1.75" Seat Belt Webbing

- Elastic Black Trim

- 18" Black Zipper

- Two, 1.75" Slide Release Buckles

- Two, 1.75" Austri-Alpin Slide Block Buckles- Aluminum Snaps

- 1/2'' Upholstery Foam

- Snap Fasteners (or called press stud, popper or tich)


Juki Industrial Sewing Machine



Snap Pressing Machine (or snap fastener pliers)

Binder Clips

Rubber Cement (optional way to temporarily stick black trim to edges of canvas before sewing)

Step 1: Hardware

Picture of Hardware

- Two, 2" D-Rings (Left; Optional)

- Two, 1.75" Austri-Alpin Slide Block Buckles (Middle)

- Two, 1.75" Slide Release Buckles (Right)

Step 2: Brand and Market Research

Picture of Brand and Market Research

Product research helps understand the market and trends, and as a designer I often draw inspiration from other brands. Once I've collected a variety of different brand images, I will incorporate elements I find successful into my own interpretation.

Some of my personal favorites are Chrome, Filson and boutique backpacks on Etsy.

Step 3: Sketching

Picture of Sketching

Sketching is a vital step in any design process. In order to visualize my designs, I will sketch out concepts that help flesh out my ideas.

Step 4: Oak Tag Paper Model

Picture of Oak Tag Paper Model

Oak tag paper is a popular material in apparel design used to make templates, but any thick paper, such as bristol, can work fine when creating a paper template or model.

Creating a full-scale paper models helps me visualize general dimensions and proportions of how big I want my backpack to be.

Step 5: Muslin Model (Looks-Like Prototype)

Picture of Muslin Model (Looks-Like Prototype)

I'll often quickly build a muslin model, or looks-like prototype. This allows me to practice my sewing, order of operations, and general functionality and proportions. From this practice model, I can make adjustments and take mental notes on what I want to look different. For example, in this model I made the front pocket way too big, so I scaled down and added snaps to my final version.

Step 6: Cutting Out Panels

Picture of Cutting Out Panels

I first start with cutting out simple, rectangular shapes as panels for the backpack.

Front Panel: One 16x30" canvas + 16x18" canvas

Back Panel: One 16x30" canvas + 16x30" spacer mesh + 15x29" upholstery foam + 16x18" canvas

Side Panels: Two 5x48" canvas

Bottom Panel: Two 5x16" canvas + 4x15" upholstery foam

Step 7: Sewing Back Panel, Upholstery and Zipper

Picture of Sewing Back Panel, Upholstery and Zipper

For the back panel, I sewed upholstery foam in between a layer of waxed canvas and spacer mesh. Afterwards, I clipped a zipper to the edge of the panel and sewed it on top of the spacer mesh, which will serve as a back pocket for a laptop.

Step 8: Pressing Snaps

Picture of Pressing Snaps

To add snaps to my backpack, I punched holes into the canvas with a hole punch, and then pressed the snaps into the fabric, making sure (and double checking!) that I wasn't pressing the the male and female parts of the snaps on the wrong side.

Step 9: Testing Out Backpack Straps

Picture of Testing Out Backpack Straps

Another great reason to create a looks-like and works-like model is because you can test out proportions and styling when building your final. Here, I played around with the width of my shoulder straps.

Step 10: Constructing Straps

Picture of Constructing Straps

For the straps, I punched two holes into the canvas and seat belt webbing to add snaps. Then I sewed the spacer mesh and canvas, with upholstery foam in between, together. I then sewed the black elastic trim around all the edges, rounding out the corners of the fabric. I also added a couple D-rings so I could clip items to the straps if desired.

Step 11: Sewing Pockets

Picture of Sewing Pockets

I then sewed the sides of the two side panel pockets together, inside-out. Each pocket is made of a front panel and a long strip of canvas that wraps around three edges of the front. Then, each pocket is sewn in between the same seam when the side and front and back panels are sewn together.

Side pockets: 5x8'' canvas + 5x8" spacer mesh + 5x21" canvas strip

Side pocket closing flap: 5x4" canvas + 5x4" spacer mesh + black trim

Front pocket: 16x18" canvas

Front pocket closing flap: 16x7" canvas + 16x7" spacer mesh + black trim

Step 12: Sewing Pockets to Panels

Picture of Sewing Pockets to Panels

Once you've sewed the front, sides and back panels, you can now start to sew each piece together!

Step 13: Sewing Roll Top Component to Top of Front and Back Panels

Picture of Sewing Roll Top Component to Top of Front and Back Panels

The front and back panels come in to two parts.

Step 14: Adding Elastic Trim to Edges

Picture of Adding Elastic Trim to Edges

I added trim to all of the exposed edges of my fabric. You can use clips, or rubber cement to temporarily stick the trim to the edges, allowing you to sew without the trim falling off.

Step 15: Sewing Panels Together

Picture of Sewing Panels Together

This is a view of both side panels sewed to the back panel, making sure that all were sewn together inside out so that the seams are clean.

Step 16: Sewing Trim on the Inside of the Backpack

Picture of Sewing Trim on the Inside of the Backpack

I then continue to add trim to the edges exposed on the inside of the bag.

Step 17: Sewing Bottom Panel

Picture of Sewing Bottom Panel

After sewing the side panels to the back panel, I sewed the bottom panel (with upholstery foam in between two layers of canvas) to the back, and then to the side panels, leaving only the front panel left.

Step 18: Finish Sewing Backpack Together

Picture of Finish Sewing Backpack Together

The last step was adding any remaining trim to keep the edges clean and consistent.

Step 19: Final Backpack

Picture of Final Backpack

And you have a finished backpack! Ready to be taken to school, bike commutes and long trips out of town. And if you can get your hip friend to model the backpack for you, even better!

Step 20: Detail

Picture of Detail

Detail of pocket.

Step 21: Ready to Use

Picture of Ready to Use


mehararslan (author)2016-09-29

Impressive work on this bag. I like it.

amyschlosser (author)2016-08-19

nice work on the prototyping process

Kinetic (author)2016-08-19

You studied (study?) at RISD? I'm at URI! Here's to beautiful Rhody!

Anyhow, for the past year I've been an avid commuter, and this bag looks great! I don't know if I quite have the skills, but I want to give this one a go.

Keep up the cool stuff and congrats on the feature on your first ible!

JoshuaGuess (author)2016-08-16

Really professional and clear instructions and images; I love it! What was the material cost for the whole backpack? Just curious.

lukegordon (author)JoshuaGuess2016-08-18

It really depends. Material like fabric and thread if you buy in bulk are cheaper and last for multiple projects, but the fabric was around $10/yard, hardware around $20, I'd say all in all I definitely spent at least $100+

MTKapp27 (author)2016-08-16

that is very impressive!!!

are you planning on selling any??? like on Etsy or something... I would be interested!

lukegordon (author)MTKapp272016-08-18

I've definitely thought about selling and have had friends suggest that to me. When I have more free time definitely will consider. I'll let you know!

seamster (author)2016-08-16

This is so cool to see your process. I made a backpack when I was in high school (in a class called "Sports Sewing" of all things!) and it wasn't very good at all. But I was so proud of it.

Yours looks excellent. Keep it up! :)

lukegordon (author)seamster2016-08-18

Thanks!! Agreed it's a very satisfying feeling

jfernan (author)2016-08-18

Love the design. Hope you take it to market. I would definitely buy.

AshaM1 (author)2016-08-17

This is truly wonderful! If I could draw I would give it a try.

tinaciousz (author)2016-08-17


SamB128 (author)2016-08-17

This is amazing. I've never considered sewing something like this before, but you've got me thinking. Thank you for taking time to share and document your process.

chienline (author)2016-08-16

Wow! My favorite color :D

Nice backpack ^^

NZcoffeeprincess (author)2016-08-16

I love your inspiring and upbeat opening paragraph- really cool to make something special you love and worked hard on and share it.

AbdulI10 (author)2016-08-16


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