The small forest backpack — part 1: materials, design and pattern making

Like many, I frequently have trouble with neck and shoulder pain. Besides doing something wrong when I sit at work, I’m pretty sure running around with a heavy shoulder bag (I always like to have lots of things with me, especially my laptop) is not helpful.  I do have backpacks of course, but I find all of them a bit too big for everyday use: I end up leaving extra stuff in there, that I then carry around for no good reason. Also, they don’t necessarily fit well with some of my clothes. So when I came across this nice oilcloth fabric with a black and white tree pattern, I decided to make a small backpack made to measure to fit my computer and just a few essentials.

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Materials

For the kind of backpack I imagined, I needed an outer fabric, a lining and some ribbons for the straps. I first picked the tree fabric for the outer shell, because I liked the pattern and I thought it would be convenient to be able to wipe dirt off the coated surface. Since the forest fabric is rather thin, I choose a thick, waxed ochre cotton fabric.

Finally, I found a very nice, bright yellow ribbon, that I though would give a happy splash of color to the dark tree fabric. Unfortunately — and I didn’t realize that at the time — the ribbon seems to have an unusual width (45 mm or 1.75 inch), which made it difficult to find appropriate hardware for the straps. More on that later.

Design and pattern making

I took inspiration from the convertible backpack presented on project aika, this simple drawstring backpack from trashtocouture, as well as this drawstring backpack with flap made from oilcloth presented on u-handbag.

Based on these, I came up with the following design:

It’s quite simple, composed mostly of rectangles [top left photo]: one for the front, one for the back and two smaller ones for an inside and outside pocket. The two non-rectangular pieces for the bottom [top] and flap [below] are shown above in the top right image. All pieces, except the small inside pocket, need to be cut out from both the forest fabric and the lining.

Hardware for the straps

I wanted the backpack to have adjustable straps. To make adjustable straps for the backpack (or any bag, for that matter) one needs to fold part of the strap back onto itself. The simplest way to do this, is to make a strap composed of two pieces, a long one, which will be used to make length adjustments, and a short one. In addition you need a minimum of one (rectangular) ring, and an adjuster slider. The strap is then assembled as follows:

  • Short strap piece: Secure one end of the strap to one side of a by forming a small loop around the ring and fixing the strap to itself.
  • Long strap piece: Attach one end to the middle metal bar of the slider (again by forming a small look and fixing the end of the strap onto itself. Then take the other end of the strap piece and thread it through the rectangle ring to which the short piece was attached. Then take that same end of the strap and thread it through the slider.
  • Now you can attach the free ends of the short and the long piece to your bag.

To achieve symmetry, often a second ring is introduced at the other end of the strap. An other option is to not directly attach the long strap to the rectangle ring, but rather inset an other ring with a (swivel) clip and then connect the two pieces through that clip [see photos below]. In this case, I would use a D-shaped ring or triangular piece instead of the rectangular one. Here is an example of a set to do just this.

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Adjustable strap on a bag I made previously.

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I tried hard to find clips, D-rings and a slider for adjusting the strap length for a 45 mm ribbon, but mostly unsuccessful! So I decided to try pieces designed for 38 mm straps (see links above). For the closure I ordered a black quick release buckle. I would have liked to get a metal buckle, but again the options for a 45 mm ribbon were rather limited. The buckle won’t be load-bearing, so hopefully plastic will be fine.

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I have a fairly large collection of hardware for straps, but none of these were a very good fit for the 45 mm ribbon.

This was all a bit theoretical, but I’ll show later some photos of how it looks in practice. Unfortunately some of the parts I ordered won’t arrive until mid February, so for the moment the project is put on hold.

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