Introduction: Ita Bag Without a Sewing Machine (but Not No-sew)

About: IG@xunglu3dx | tumblr@xunglu3dx | TW@unglu3d_by -- someone show me The Answer to the Great Question, of Life, the Universe and Everything - Deep Thought

So there's a trend I found out about, that circulates among (mostly female) anime and manga fans in Japan and Asia, and has spread to North American fandom and elsewhere, called the "ita bag".

"Ita" is a Japanese expression similar to what "ouch" represents in English: いた ("ita") is the interjection for "ouch; ow" My understanding is that the name conveys how the fan's bag has a multitude of buttons and pins pierced throughout the bag as decoration and declaration of one's devotion!

A bag ready to decorate, waiting for the emblems of your fandom love, is usually called a "base". New bases may be found for the relatively low price of USD$20, to as high as USD$55 and more, before shipping, depending on the make and the unique qualities of the bag. Bases usually have a clear vinyl window to protect your collectibles investment.

If you browse through commercially-made bags, most of them do have a pleasant design where the collectibles access is entirely on the inside of the bag. These can look very good and highlight your fandom easily.

However, I wanted to save some money and put it towards collectibles, and I don't have a sewing machine. With the supplies in my inventory and a couple of small purchases, I decided to try making a one-of-a-kind fandom backpack where I could do nearly everything by hand. The following article will hopefully inspire you to make your own. This is my first Instructable, I tried to be fairly detailed, so it may seem rather long.

Step 1: Supplies and Equipment

"Shopping list":

  1. backpack
  2. clear vinyl material, enough to cover the bag
  3. embroidery thread, silver
  4. snap fasteners, pearl/silver color
  5. scissors, 1 large, 1 small pointed
  6. craft needles
  7. straight pins

    not shown (my apologies):
  8. tissue paper, for pattern making
  9. writing implement(s), such as ballpoint pen
  10. hammer, or snaps pliers if you have them
  11. masking or painter's tape
  12. small block of wood
  • optional: thread wax, pictured
  • optional: thimble, pictured
  • optional: small binder clips, not pictured
  • optional: electric iron
  • optional: clean, white fabric, like from an old tee-shirt or a kitchen towel
  • alternate tool: seam ripper, not pictured

Details on the supplies and my cost:

  1. backpack, approximately USD$6 - purchased in "new, with tags" condition from a local resale shop. This may be free for you if you already have an unused backpack in your inventory.

  2. vinyl, medium weight, $0 - had this lying around, saved from the giant vinyl bags that new bedding linens come packaged in. If you do not having something similar your supplies, you may need to find a better fabric store and purchase some. If you shop at a JoAnn's Fabrics or similar, hopefully you can get a "cut-fabric" coupon where the material is included in the promotion.

  3. thread, $0 - from my existing supply inventory. I opted to use silver embroidery thread for the strength and for appearance, since in this design it would be fully visible on the outside of the bag as well as through the transparent material.

  4. snap fasteners, approximately USD$4-5 - Dritz brand snaps, acquired at the fabric store with a coupon, so my cost was closer to USD$2 without tax. The pearl/silver buttons have a nice finish, although I would have preferred more white and less gray in the pearl cap. It looks fine alongside the silver embroidery thread.

  5. scissors, 1 large, 1 small pointed, $0
  6. craft needles, $0
  7. straight pins, $0

  8. tissue paper, $0 - a similar lightweight paper should work, like plain newsprint. If you choose pre-printed paper, like leftover newspaper, be careful none of the ink transfers to your project. The paper should be a large enough piece to trace the front of your backpack.

  9. writing implement, $0 - I recommend a regular ballpoint pen because it seems to have good traction to leave light marks on the clear vinyl.

  10. hammer, $0; or snaps pliers - secures the snap fasteners

  11. masking or painter's tape, $0 - holds the vinyl in place

  12. small block of wood, $0 - protects your work surface and supports the backpack fabric when the snaps are applied

Step 2: Prepare the Bag and Create the Pattern

The artwork on the backpack was added by me long before I decided to make the "Ita Bag" cover; the instructions for the image is not included in this article.

Remove the outer pocket: As seen in the photos, after gathering my supplies, my next step was to remove the outer pocket. You may not need this step if your backpack came without a pocket, or if you wish to only make a "half" cover. Not shown in this article is how I painted the image and the additional 'frame'. If there is demand for how I replicated the character image in paint, let me know and I can work on it.

Set to work: Lay the backpack as flat and smooth as possible on your work surface. Be mindful of the straps, that they do not cause large lumps that would prevent you from capturing the correct size of the backpack surface.

Pin the tissue: Taking one straight pin at a time, lightly pin the tissue paper against the backpack. As you can see in the photo, the pins barely protrude into the fabric underneath the tissue paper. This is to prevent tears, and to avoid lumps in the surface of the tissue paper that would affect the measurement.

Trace your pattern: Using your ballpoint pen, or other writing utensil, gently mark the the tissue along the seam of the backpack, where the front piece joins with the side panel. As you can see in Photo 1, I pressed my writing implement into this seam to leave a light line on the tissue paper.

Cut your pattern: In Photo 3, I used the small scissors to cut the tissue paper along the mark which follows the seam. If you do not have a pair of small scissors, then your regular scissors should be fine. In my photo, I left the tissue paper on top of the backpack. Work slowly and carefully, so that the seam nor fabric of the backpack are accidentally cut. You may also choose to remove the tissue from the backpack to cut the pattern - either method should work.

Release your pattern and check: After cutting, remove the excess paper, and you should have a pattern that follows the front piece of the backpack. See Photo 4.

You can double-check the pattern by placing it on the front of the backpack. If it covers the entire front piece, then the vinyl should fit, if cut correctly. You may wish to cut the pattern slightly larger all-around, if you have larger collectibles or need more space to maneuver and attach them when the bag is complete.

Step 3: Prep and Cut the Cover Material

Prepare the vinyl for cutting: If your vinyl came from an empty bed linens bag or similar, you may need to gently remove the zipper, using the small scissors or your seam ripper. You may wish to cut your piece from the middle of your material and ignore the zipper.

[I preferred to save as much material as possible, and removed the zipper first. As the zipper is likely quite long and barely used, having only been used to keep the bed linens inside the bag, it may be worthwhile to save the zipper to your supplies inventory.]

Flatten the vinyl: If it is too wrinkled, you may need to apply a warm - not hot! - electric iron to flatten it. Only use a heat level on the iron that aligns with the thickness of the vinyl. I placed some clean, white fabric over the vinyl, and set the iron to a cool-warm setting. Iron on top of the fabric and check your vinyl often. It does not need to be perfectly flat, just remove the worst of the wrinkles and bumps. You want to avoid stretching the vinyl or wrinkling it.

Align the pattern: Line the pattern up to a good edge of the vinyl and set the binder clips, to hold the pattern and the vinyl together. When you removed the zipper from the bed linens bag, there may have been small holes remaining along a side. You can take advantage of these holes for the sewing later, or you can set the pattern to trim the holey edge later, depending on your personal preference. I knew sewing by hand would take a long time, so I elected to take advantage of the pre-existing holes when I laid my pattern.

Trace and cut: Using the ballpoint pen, trace the pattern to the vinyl, then cut out the vinyl piece. Or you may elect to cut following the edge of the pattern as shown.

Step 4: Sew the Vinyl in Place

Double check and triple check: Now that your vinyl is cut, make sure the vinyl is the correct size by comparing it to the front of the backpack.

Secure the pieces: Use some tape to secure the vinyl to the backpack, which will help to hold the vinyl in place during sewing.

Decide where to sew: I wanted the cover/ pocket to be able to stay closed once collectibles were underneath the vinyl. Depending on your backpack, you may be able to use the bag's zipper as a guide, or you may determine how wide the opening in the pocket should be based on personal preference. Remember that you may need to place your entire hand and wrist, or even your forearm, inside the pocket to adjust or retrieve collectibles underneath the vinyl.

The zipper of this backpack only came down partway on each side, which determined my design. The terminal points of my stitching was approximately where the zipper ended on each side. In other words, the area of my pocket that remained open generally followed the same length and shape of the zipper on the backpack.

Thread your needle: You may have your own preferred method for calculating the amount of thread you need. I used a 'doubled' thread when I sewed the vinyl. I planned to use a simple straight stitch so I used the following method to measure the thread I would use.

I lay the thread loosely along the perimeter of the bag where I planned to sew and added a few extra inches to that. Then, taking this length, I doubled it, then cut the thread from the spool. Thread your needle, then bring the cut ends of the thread together, and knot. You should end up with enough thread for a straight-stitch along the edge.

If you are unclear on hand-threading a needle, or don't know what I meant by using a straight-stitch, please look up a basic sewing Instructable, like this one:

I did end up with a few inches left over, which is what I had hoped for as I was very concerned to sew on the vinyl in a single pass. The more sharp-eyed reader will notice that yes, there is a different spool of thread shown here than in the Supplies photo. The thread between spools are basically the same, I just ended up completing the project using a different spool.

Sew, sew, sew your backpack: Pick a starting point of your preference, right about where the zipper comes to a terminus. This helped me make a single pass around the entire perimeter. Insert your needle, from the inside out, so the knot is on the inside and does not show. If tied correctly, the knot will hold the thread in place.

Start sewing around the perimeter, making sure the needle passes between the vinyl and the fabric. Pull the needle all the way through each insertion point, making sure there are no tangles and the thread comes straight through, before you begin the next stitch. Because the thread was visible and part of the overall look, I tried to make my stitches as even as possible, and the same distance from the edge of the vinyl throughout.

[Here is where the optional thread wax and thimbles may be very helpful. I already had a product called "Thread Heaven" in my inventory. I originally obtained it for beading work. Turns out, I like to use the thread wax for some sewing projects. It helps keep the individual strands of a thread together, and allows the thread to slide more smoothly through the material. It also seems to help prevent extra-long thread from tangling on itself, like when hemming a curtain by hand. The thimbles prevented my fingertips from getting painfully stabbed multiple times, especially because the bag fabric was opaque.]

Step 5: Add the Snaps

With the pocket / cover now sewn on, the next step is to attach the snaps. I used snaps in this design, to help keep the open end of the vinyl pocket upright and in near as closed position as possible, while still being able to add and remove collectibles when desired.

Decide where and how many: In my version, I decided to apply only three snaps. If your backpack is larger, or smaller, you may wish to adjust the number to your preference. In my version, one snap was placed at the top-center, and one down each side, about halfway between the center fastener and where the stitching began/ended. If you need to, perform a practice run with scrap pieces of vinyl, or a piece of your ironing fabric, and put an entire snap together. I performed a practice run to make sure I had the correct sides facing each other.

Align the pieces and hammer: There should be basic instructions for assembling the fasteners on the back of the package. Using the hammer and small block of wood, I first hammered the pieces for the 'stud' or 'nub' (male) end to the backpack fabric.

Next, I lined up the 'socket' or 'receiving end' (female) part of the snap, making sure the opening of the socket lay directly on top of the stud.

To protect the appearance of the pearl cap, you might fold your ironing fabric a few times and lay it on top of, or otherwise cover, the snap before hammering.

Finally, the socket and cap were gently hammered into place with the vinyl in-between, the pearl side facing out.

If I could do it over: I would have reinforced each socket piece with a small square of vinyl, or a small square of the backpack fabric from the pocket I removed earlier. I would have sandwiched this material between the socket piece and the vinyl sheet; and then another piece of material right under the pearl cap, before securing everything with a whack from the hammer.
The vinyl, being a non-woven, non-reinforced material, could suffer too much strain from repeated pulling of the snaps. I completely forgot how many times snaps have torn from their moorings on things like cheap ponchos, especially when they are not reinforced.
Because my "Ita Bag" backpack lacks this fortification, I am extremely careful the way I pull the snaps apart to reach in and add/ remove collectibles. Depending on the type of fabric of your bag, you may wish to reinforce the bag under the stud component as well.

Step 6: Decorate and Declare

With the sewing complete and the snaps attached, all that remains is to admire your handiwork, and add your collectibles using safety pins or whichever method you prefer.

You can add pretty much anything you like at this point, and you are probably only limited by the amount of surface area you have available once all the collectibles are attached. Take into consideration the weight of the bag, and where and for how long you will be carrying it, as well as the weight of items you might end up carrying inside the bag. Prolonged excessive weight may affect the integrity of any part of your bag!

My buttons/ badges with their own pins were added directly. I hung phone (keitai) charms/straps and keychains from safety pins that I inserted from inside the bag. Fans add plushies, mini cushions, ribbons/ lanyards, bows, beading, chains, and all sorts of decorations to their bags to customize the look, changing them around when they want to.

Final thoughts: I believe different bag shapes can be adapted to become an ita bag, just by adding a pocket on the outside. One could also simply avoid the whole process and attach their goods without any pocket, but items may become lost or damaged. My completed bag has a larger 'viewing area' than most ready-made ita bags and backpacks, so I'm pretty pleased it can show a good array of collectibles. Take a look online for #itabag and let your imagination and fandom run wild!

I am very excited to share my first Instructable with you. In review, it seems like a pretty long one, but I hope this article helps you with your own projects! I did not think my Supplies list was presented optimally, but I wanted to separate the simple list from the explanations of the items, especially for experienced users. I also struggled with how to describe the snaps - it's difficult to explain in writing, or it's just me - maybe next time I will try to add a video of using the snaps. Lastly, I apologize for the poor lighting and lackluster color in the photos, will try to upgrade that for next time. In case you were wondering, the collectibles on my bag are from: Yuri!!! On Ice, Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler), and DRAMAtical Murder.