Introduction: Customizable Messenger Bag Hack

I've always wanted to add a patch to my messenger bag, but couldn't decide on which one to pick. That led to this simple, effective hack using the magic of Velcro.

Velcro-backed patches have been around for some time. The U.S. military originally used them to deprive the enemy of intel. Pilots would wear rank and unit insignia patches on their uniforms attached by Velcro. If shot down, they could quickly remove the patches and with the aid of a lighter destroy them.

I got the idea of this hack when serving as a youth hockey referee. The referees would be awarded a patch to designate their ability to serve as a referee for a particular organization (such as the youth program, U.S.A. Hockey). Some referees had multiple patches, if they also worked at the college level or with different organizations. Rather than have multiple referee jerseys, they would sew a Velcro loop area on one uniform and Velcro hook material on each patch. Changing patches was just a matter of pulling one off and affixing another.

Everyone reading this has probably already figured out the ending. I decided to add a Velcro loop area to my messenger bag flap, allowing me to change patches whenever I want. I can purchase Velcro hook-backed patches (of which there are many for sale on eBay and elsewhere) or add Velcro to my own.

If you want to see exactly how I did it (and see a few cautions), read through this Instructable. Or...just take off on your own. It really is an easy hack.

What you will need:

- A messenger bag with a flap suitable for affixing a patch (if your flap is pocketed or extra thick, you'll need to sew by hand - not exactly fun with Velcro - buy a thimble).

- At least two patches you want to use with your messenger bag.

- At least 15 inches of 2-inch wide Velcro. I've only seen this sold in black or white, but a fabric store will have it and will sell if by the foot at a reasonable cost. If you are machine sewing, DO NOT buy Velcro with an adhesive backing (it will gum up your needle and cause unnecessary headaches).

- A few pins to temporarily keep the Velcro in place while you are sewing.

- A sewing machine (unless you plan to sew by hand).

Step 1: Figure Out Where You Want Your Patches.

This is actually a two-part problem. You need to decide what size patches you want to accommodate and where they will appear on the bag.

By browsing the Internet, I found that many large size patches for sale were roughly squares with three-inch sides or three inches in diameter (for round patches). The messenger bag I've been using for a number of years has a black stripe in the middle that is about five inches in width. Because I was using Velcro of two-inch width, I decided on a panel of five inches by six inches (wide enough to match the black stripe of the bag and a height of three rows of Velcro). This panel would easily accommodate the large patches with plenty of room to spare.

I cut the Velcro (loop - soft) strips and temporarily attached them to the bag to check out the position and look. One thing I've learned from previous mistakes is don't judge the alignment with an empty bag laid flat on a work surface. Hang it by the strap - look at it somewhat empty and then toss a few things in the bag. For this hack, you also want to see how the panel looks without a patch attached. If done well (I was lucky with the black stripe), the empty black (or white) panel will look like a design element, giving you a neutral option for your bag.

Once you're confident in the layout, it's time to start sewing.

Step 2: Sew the First Velcro Loop Strip in Place.

If you are using a sewing machine, REPLACE the needle before starting. Velcro, especially the two-inch wide variety, is a tough sew. On my messenger bag, there was a layer of thick fabric, a waterproof plastic, and some Velcro on the inside to keep the flap attached to the bag when closed. A very, sharp needle and slow, careful sewing resulted in no problems (albeit, after I snapped the old dull needle on the first few strokes). Carefully, sew around the perimeter of the Velcro strip.

Step 3: Sew the Second Velcro Loop Strip in Place.

Align the second strip with the first and sew it in place.

Step 4: Sew the Third Velcro Loop Strip in Place.

Position the third and final strip. When it is sewn, your bag is done.

Step 5: Adding Velcro Hook to Patches.

As I stated earlier, you can find many Velcro-backed patches for sale on eBay and other sites. However, to truly customize your bag, you'll want to be able to add Velcro to any patch. I'll demonstrate adding Velcro to a circular patch (the same technique works for any odd-shaped patch).

When adding Velcro, you want it on the entire back of the patch. This will affix the patch cleanly and solidly to your bag. If you use one or two small strips, the patch will pucker and fold and basically look tacky.

To start, cut one or more strips of Velcro hook material to create a square or rectangle large enough to form a background for the entire patch. The sewing will be easier if the Velcro overhangs the patch a bit. Using pins, attach the patch to the Velcro.

With the patch side up, sew around it's perimeter. For an expert look, hide your stitching in the pattern of the patch. For this patch, there was a black ring in-between the two red rings. I stitched in that area.

Step 6: Trim Away the Excess Velcro.

Check your stitching to make sure the Velcro is secure. If you have multiple pieces of Velcro and a complex patch shape (beyond a simple rectangle or oval), you might want to add some additional stitching.

When the sewing is done, take a sharp pair of scissors and trim away the excess Velcro. You'll be surprised at how easy it is to get a professional result.

The only downside is that as you do more patches, you'll me consuming more Velcro hook material than loop material.

Step 7: Attach the Patch of Your Choice and Show the World.

Position your patch of choice on the panel and press firmly. If done correctly, it would take a careful examination for anyone to know it was attached via Velcro and not a permanent part of the bag

Now, you can pick a new patch each day. Or you can carry a few in your bag and change them whenever the mood strikes you. So you can enter the coffee shop restroom as an affiliate of Hydra and emerge an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

There are two more practical uses that motivated me.

First, I can go patch-less and neutral when meeting with a client or on other "serious" business as needed.

Second, I can use the same strategy when at the airport, particularly for international travel, when I want to keep a lower profile (and don't want to be delayed explaining that Hydra is a FICTIONAL terrorist organization).

I hope this has been helpful. Enjoy.

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