Introduction: Backpack Customization

About: I'm a student who loves to make stuff better-- the world, my shoes, burritos, etc.

I love having many different specific pockets inside my backpacks, but it seems like every time they add a pocket, they add an extra $20 to the price tag. Instead of shelling out, you can take apart an old simple backpack to add many extra features. In this tutorial, you can learn how to add a water bottle holder, a laptop compartment, a removable pencil pouch, and a glasses pocket to your typical Jansport backpack.

Materials you'll need:

Measurements are somewhat dependent on your backpack and laptop; check out the next steps for more exact ideas of how much you'll need.

  • 3/4 yard soft fabric
  • 1/4 yard tougher fabric
  • 1/4 yard batting or thick fusible interfacing
  • 1/4 yard tough mesh
  • 1/4 yard thin elastic
  • 1 8 inch (or more) zipper
  • 1 4 inch (or more) zipper
  • 2 sets of magnetic snaps
  • Embroidery floss
  • "Heavy" thread

Tools you'll want:

  • Sewing machine
  • Seam ripper
  • Pinking shears
  • Scissors
  • Measuring Tape
  • Embroidery hoop

Of course, this is a customization tutorial, so I highly encourage you to be creative and consider if there are extra features and pockets you'd like in a backpack and add those in!

Step 1: Take Apart Your Backpack

First, identify the main parts of your backpack. I had three, a front, middle, and back section. In order to take them apart, you'll first have to seam-rip off the bias tape covering the seam. Once you have all the bias tape removed, you can seam-rip apart the three sections. Be careful not to take apart more than is necessary-- for example, there was no need to take off the front pocket or the straps.

Step 2: Make Your Laptop Compartment

First, you'll need to decide which way to orient your laptop within your backpack. My laptop perfectly fit my backpack sitting horizontally (I have a Dell XPS 13), but many laptops will be too big to fit that way, so you may want to orient your laptop vertically. In that case, you'll have to change your measurements to fit.

Next, measure your laptop. My laptop was 12 inches long, 8 inches wide, and 0.5 inches tall. Cut your piece of interfacing to the width and length of your laptop (if vertical orientation, the width should be the width of your backpack, and length should be the length of your laptop.

Fabric will cover the interfacing on both sides, so to find the measurements of the fabric, double the length of the interfacing, and add the height of your laptop and 0.75 inches of seam allowance along the three not-folded sides.

For my more math-minded friends, these equations might be less confusing to find the measurements of the soon-to-be-folded fabric--

widthFabric = widthInterfacing + 2(heightLaptop) + 2(seamAllowance)

lengthFabric = 2(lengthInterfacing) + heightLaptop + seamAllowance

Lastly, fold the length of fabric over the interfacing so that its covering both sides, iron, and sew along the not-folded sides to keep the interfacing in place.

Step 3: Make the Removable Pencil Pouch

Choose two types of fabric: a softer lining fabric, and a tougher outside fabric, and cut out two rectangles of each with pinking shears. I cut 10 x 7 inch rectangles, which included 0.5 inches on all sides for seam allowance.

If you wish, you can embroider one of the outside pieces of the pouch. I drew a pattern using washable marker, and used a back stitch to sew my design.

Before you sew together the pouch, make the tabs that we'll put the magnetic snaps on. Cut out 3 x 3 squares, fold them in half, and sew along one side. Then fold down the tops 0.5 inches and sew there. Lastly, flip the tabs inside out. Set aside two tabs for when you're putting the backpack back together later.

Sew the longer zipper onto the rectangles, layering one piece of tough fabric, one piece of soft fabric, two tabs, and then one side of the zipper facing down. Sew along the zipper, being careful not to sew over the tines. Next, layer the other side with tough fabric, soft fabric, and the zipper, but no tabs, and sew. Lastly, open the zipper and sew along the three unsewn sides. Flip it inside out, add the magnetic snaps, and you're ready to go.

Step 4: Make the Water Bottle Carrier

Cut the elastic to be length of the middle section of your backpack plus 0.5 inches on each side for seam allowance, which worked out to be 8 inches for me. The length of the mesh should be cut about two inches longer than that, so 10 inches for me. The width of the mesh should be from the bottom of the zipper to the point the backpack touches the ground, plus an inch of seam allowance, which was 8 inches in all for me.

More equations, for clarity:

lengthElastic = middleOfBackpack + 2(seamAllowance)

lengthMesh = lengthElastic + 2 inches

widthMesh = zipperToBottom + 2(seamAllowance)

Mach up the elastic to the side of the mesh that is 2 inches longer than it, and pin one end in place. Then stretch the elastic so that the end of it reaches the end of the mesh, and pin it in place. When you sew the elastic into place, use a stretch stitch and stretch the elastic so that it seems to lie flat along the mesh.

Unless your backpack has a seam along the bottom, (in which case, seam rip it open, insert the bottom of the mesh, and sew it back together,) you'll have to sew the bottom of the mesh pocket directly onto the middle section of the backpack. Roll the bottom edge twice to guard against fraying and sew the bottom of the mesh pocket onto the "bottom edge" of your backpack, where the side meets the ground. Pin the top into place, and set it aside for when you sew the whole backpack together.

Step 5: Make the Glasses Pocket

I will be using this pouch to store my glasses, but of course it could be used for many different purposes, including holding keys, cards, money, jewelry, and more. For glasses, I recommend choosing a soft lining fabric for the inside, but it may not be necessary for storing less delicate items.

Measure the object(s) you wish to store in the pocket. The length of both the tough and soft fabric should be the length of your object(s), plus 1.5 inches for seam allowance. The width should be the distance from the edge/back of your backpack to the zipper, plus 1.5 inches of seam allowance.

Sew on the zipper to the lining and outside fabric first, and make sure that if its longer than the space you need filled, you sew across the zipper where you want it to stop, then trim off the excess. Sew the other side of the zipper onto the top edge of the backpack, making sure you center the pocket on the top of the middle section. These stitches will be able to be seen on the outside of the backpack, so make sure your stitches are straight and the thread color matches. Pin the rest of the pocket into place, folding over the two 1 inch seam allowance sides so that you don't see raw edges. Carefully sew those two sides onto the backpack, leaving the fourth side to be sewn up when the whole backpack is sewn together.

Step 6: Sew the Backpack Back Together!

Lay out the laptop pocket right side down, and the back of the backpack on top of it, strap side up. Carefully pin the pocket around the bottom of the backpack piece, making sure that you leave space for the height of the laptop around the edges. Pin down the pencil pocket tabs on the top of the backpack on the "outside" of the seam, the same distance apart as the pencil pouch tabs. Finally, pin down the middle piece of the backpack, wrong side facing out. Sew all around the backpack, where the original seam was. If you see two lines of holes, sew on the outermost line.

Lay out the two sewn together pieces right side up, with the middle section's wrong side facing out. Open the zipper and carefully pin the front piece back into place, then sew.

Sew the bias tape back into place all along the two seams you sewed, along the innermost line of holes.

Now you should have a more functional, exciting backpack!

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