Backpack Insert




Every backpack I've ever owned, I often find myself thinking:  "There's not enough pockets in here". 

Ikea taught me one important lesson.  If there is a specific place to put something, it will get put away.  I found this out after I bought a bunch of drawer dividers from them a few years back.  Once a thing has a particular place that is its home, it always winds up there and there is a certain pleasure to putting it away.  It feels good.*

The problem I have, and possibly many others have this one, is when I want to put something away in a backpack - all the pockets are occupied already and the thing usually winds up in the bottom of the backpack in a big jumble of stuff.  Then the next time I look for it, I've got to paw through all the stuff on the bottom till I find it.

For the longest time I fantasized about creating my own perfect backpack - with just the right number of pockets and what would be the perfect set of things to put in it to take with me when I go out the door.

Trouble is, I go through phases of interests.  Sort of a long stretched out form of ADD where each interest lasts about 6 weeks tops.  If I can't get something done in that time frame, it winds up shelved in favor of something shinier.

The really great thing about Instructables, is it gives me an excuse to act on those "one of these days I'm gonna ..." type of ideas.  This is one of those.   This will be my attempt to quiet that refrain of "If only I had my ____ with me!".

I've actually tried several times previously to make my own backpack just the way I want it.  I've taken several apart that were old favorites and just finally wore out.  I sat there with a seam ripper and my camera and deconstructed them piece by piece and assessing how they were made.  What I quickly realized is just how much labor goes into one of those things. 

The more I try to make things, I continue to marvel at the beauty of things that are made in China.   There is so much amazing tailoring and perfection in the construction of the simplest thing that I take for granted every day.  It's hard to justify making things because it takes so much effort and so much time and it's just so much cheaper and easier to just go and purchase something.  My results are usually kind of ghetto or amateurish.  Nevertheless, I still feel the inspiration to try.  I try not to be intimidated by the quality of products made overseas.  Especially when I stop and think about the people making these things.  Of course I've heard tales of the horrible life of a factory worker over there.  Even here, in the US, factory work is considered the worst sort of employment: a repetitive, mind-numbing, soul crushing, low-paying last resort sort of job.  So, ironically, here I am, trying my best to do it myself at home.  I strive to be my own low-paid slave laborer!  Of course, it is infeasible to do that.  I still rely all the time on inexpensive products all the time, made in China by underpaid but very talented people.   Anyway, I think 3d printers will start to change all that and it will be interesting to see how that unfolds. 

Okay already, what am I getting at?!  Well, it's too hard to make a specialized backpack for every hobby.  What is easier is to make a backpack insert!  Just make an insert that fits inside your favorite backpack.  Then you can just grab the insert that suits the hobby you are wanting to work on that day and slide it into your backpack and out the door you go, all prepared. 

Okay, lets get started then.

*Maybe it goes way back to those little infant toys where you put the shaped block into its little matching shaped hole or whatever. 

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Step 1: Make a List

The first trick is gathering up all the tools you think you might ever want to have with you for your  particular hobby.

For this Instructable, I'm going to go with a typical sketching and watercolor art type of insert.

Let's see, what will I need:
start with the basics
  eraser, pencil, pen
branching out:
   favorite brushes
   colored pencils
   water color paints
   water supply
   rinse cup (2x)
   towels for mopping up
extra pencil leads
maybe a small ruler
maybe a ruling pen or two
an extra to loan to that person who will ask for one - one you don’t care if you lose
something to keep your paper in
inspiration sources
lead holder
extra leads
lead pointer

smarty pants glasses that say leave me alone I’m a serious person and very busy
also they help with closeup detail work

invariably, as much as I plan ahead there will always be that one thing I didn’t bring.  We’ll just take that as a given though and carry on.

No doubt some extras will have to be sacrificed based on available space.

Step 2: A Structural Support

This insert needs something to give it a structural shape.  I happen to have these cool very flat sturdy plastic paper enclosures that will work wonderfully.  You could also use some stiff plastic or cardboard instead.  Or you could use your favorite notebook or sketchpad.

Figure out the inside dimensions of your backpack.  Then trace it onto cardboard and cut it out.  Make sure it fits.

Step 3: Layout All Your Tools

Track down all your tools and lay them out on the insert.  This will help you decide where to place pockets.

Try to line up all the items by size.   If any of them are the same size, that’s a win.

Step 4: The Basic Envelope

Start by laying your structural support out on some fabric of your choosing.

I made a couple of these with different fabrics found at Goodwill.  By the way, oftentimes Goodwill fabrics have an odor to them.  But you can get rid of many types of sweat and perfume odors in fabrics by adding a half cup of Borax (sodium tetraborate) to the wash.   Mildew or mold odors, a half cup of vinegar in the washer works well.  Pet odors, you can try "Anti-Icky-Poo", which is a very good product, but it takes a few days to work.  Worth your time to give remnants from Goodwill a quick sniff before purchasing.  :)   

user: kakashibatosi adds:  'baking soda works well for removing odors as well'

The idea is to make a tube which surrounds your support and then we will square off the bottom in later steps.  You can add a flap to fold down over it as well.  I am also considering adding some sort of clothes hanger attachment so you can hang it in the hall closet when not in use.  I am probably going to add that in the next iteration.

The fabric ideally should have a wee bit of stretch to it, but not too much.  I would not recommend t-shirt material, it tends to stretch too much and in too many directions and doesn't have enough strength.  I chose a lightweight and slightly stretchy dress pant fabric and an old gentleman's suit jacket for this project.  Denim is okay but it will get very difficult to sew as the layers build up.

Trace around your support with chalk.  Roll it over and trace again.  Leave allowances for the thickness of your support.

Step 5: Make a Long Strip of Pocket Material

Start by cutting a long strip of your fabric which will become many pockets.

Finish the top edge.

Iron down a hem.  Unfold it.  Fold it back in.  Fold again.  Iron.  Top stitch.

Step 6: Create Individual Pockets

Cut a section of the prepared pocket fabric to fit your tools.

Hem all around the edges.

Clip corners to reduce bulk.

Step 7: Attach Pockets to Fabric Envelope

Pin your finished pockets to the envelope according to the layout you devised earlier.

Stitch in place over the topstitching.  Keeping the top edge free.

Step 8: Sew Tube Together

With right sides together (pockets facing each other), sew along three edges of your envelope.

Step 9: Create Bottom Edges

Pinch a triangle into the bottom corner as illustrated.  Sew along the bottom of the triangle.  This creates the bottom side edge of the box shape.

Step 10: Invert and Topstitch

Invert the tube right side out and top stitch along all the edges if desired - to give it a crisper, less soggy, look.

Step 11: Feed the Little Bird

This little bird likes to find and eat stray bits of string.

Help him find all the stray threads here and there!

Step 12: Fill It With All Your Good Things

Now fill it with all your good things and never be bored wherever you go!

Step 13: After Thoughts

The dress pant fabric was easy to sew and work with - even when there got to be many layers and thicknesses to sew through.  And it looked handsome when finished. But once you stuff it with things, it looks rather lumpy and not so good.  A fabric with more structure is better.

The suit fabric worked well as I was able to incorporate the suit lining into it and it came with many pre-made pockets I could repurpose. 

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    20 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Great idea! I hate it when everything drifts to the bottom of my purse.


    2 years ago

    Exactly what I've been looking for, thanks!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    i like this a lot i have tons of bags in my bag with usbs, mice pens, meds ect this is on my todo list.


    1 reply

    5 years ago on Introduction

    I actually did the same thing in middle and high school! I didn't make my own, I used one of those inserts that goes in a zipped double three ring binder, like in this picture. It wasn't exactly what I wanted, but mine had a few elastic loops for pencils and a few pockets for erasers and other things. It worked for a few years, and I even carried it with my books in my arms in middle school when they didn't allow us to carry backpacks from class to class.

    1 reply

    5 years ago

    Your "feed the bird!" direction and video made my day! :-)

    1 reply

    5 years ago

    It turned out amazing! Another reason I need a sewing machine. You should sell these!

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    wow thank you for that compliment!! =D Maybe I will think about selling some. =)