Introduction: Hand Stitched Leather Rucksack

About: Husband, Father, Educator, Leathercrafter, Drone pilot

I found an old army surplus vintage backpack at an antique store and thought it would make a good project for the instructable backpack challenge.

It would require major restoration and repair, or it could become a new pattern and have a whole new life.

Military bags were well-made, and this one lasted a really long time. Although it had solid construction of canvas and leather, it was falling apart.

My vision was a new backpack following the same pattern and construction but made with Latigo leather for the body and a Horween Chromexcel Lid.

It's inspiring to bring new life in to vintage gear.

You can check out some other gear I've remade on my instagram HideGear.

Step 1: What You Need

1. An old backpack to use as a pattern (or you can use mine that I've included)

2. Material to make the new pack, I chose leather as that's what I wanted. Canvas, nylon, or any number of other materials would be great depending on what you want your final project to look like and how it will be used.

3. Knife or seam ripper

4. Dremel handy for grinding rivets off

5. Construction tools for the new bag. I used basic leather working tools. Something like this would be a good start: Beginner set For the bag you make you may want a sewing machine, but I hand stitched the leather for a more authentic, organic look.

Step 2: Find an Old Backpack in a Style You Want to Make

I like looking in antique stores for old bags that need a new life. It's a great place to find old bag hardware that has stood the test of time, and if the bag is in really bad shape it's usually cheap. This one was $18. I figured the hardware and the use of the backpack as a pattern was worth that much alone.

This pack was really solid when it was made (perhaps over 50 years ago?) and if someone would have treated the leather, I think it would have still been a clean and functional bag.

Step 3: Tear Apart the Old Backpack

My Spyderco Paramilitary 2 (knife in photos) didn't fail me taking apart this bag.

Carefully cut apart all seams while trying not to tear fabric. (This was difficult with this bag because the fabric was weak and the knife was sharp!)

I used a Dremel tool and grinding wheel to grind off the peened side of the old copper rivets.

Set aside all the hardware and other parts that you may want to reuse.

My favorite thing about this project was being able to reuse the high quality buckles and original shoulder straps.

Step 4: Use the Parts to Make a Pattern

Measure and mark your pattern.

I used a long ruler to measure everything out and used copy paper to mark the curve of the 2 gusset pieces.

If you're like me and might want to make the same pack again, find a way to save your pattern and all measurements. I took a photo and wrote measurements on my iPad for future replication.

I'm going to keep the fabric panels but throw away all the old leather bits.

Step 5: Cut Out All the Parts for Your New Bag

As you can see in the first picture, child labor can be helpful.

As with all cutting, measure carefully because you can't make fabric or leather grow larger... However, I cheated a bit on that front. The original bag was a long one middle section piece with two gussets, and the leather scrap I had wasn't long enough to make it that way so I made my bag a two part main section, making the lid of the backpack a different type of leather. I adjusted my pattern to make that work. It's okay to improvise based on your pattern, abilities, and fabric.

Step 6: Construction Part 1

For most sewing projects, figuring out the order of operations is important for proper assembly. This is a simple backpack design and I knew I had to assemble my lid first then add all my hardware and straps.

1. I used saddle stitching technique to attach the lid to the main panel.

2. Using a ruler and the old fabric panels from the original backpack I marked hole locations for all the rivets and buckles.

3. Check orientation of buckles before the next step.

Step 7: Construction Part 2

Rivet Rivet Rivet

Rivet down all hardware and straps as the original bag was riveted. Double check orientation of the buckles and straps and go to town. This bag has 22 rivets. I used solid copper saddle maker style rivets.

Each attachment has reinforcing leather on the inside of the bag so the panels of the bag spread the weight out, like the original.

The second photo shows the stitching I did of the reinforcing leather after riveting. It was difficult stitching through the heavy canvas straps.

Step 8: Construction Part 3

Sewing on the gusset panels.

Hand-sewing straight runs is easy with punched stitch holes; curves not so much. A trick to make it easier is using a stitching awl on the the straight runs (the whole center panel and the straight parts of the gussets), and hold off on punching the curved section. Then stitch the straight sections of both sides and use an awl to punch holes as you sew the curve. This should help make your stitches still look good around the curves.

Step 9: Finished

And finally it's all complete. If you measured right and assembled correctly you now have a complete restored/remade/recycled backpack that will go another lifetime or so. Maybe more this time.

If you want more details of this pack or a better pattern to make this exact bag please leave a comment or drop me a message.

Backpack Challenge

Second Prize in the
Backpack Challenge