￼I’ve been intending to make a backpack-sized tote for a little while. Back when we lived in SF, the Discount Fabrics on Mission was just a few blocks away, and I found a lot of glorious stuff there: one leftover was a 32 x 18 inch piece of natural nubby canvas that I wanted that to be the base of whatever I made.
From there, the design is a mishmash: I really like an old, no-longer-available “Smith” backpack from State, which Adam has somewhat adopted as his. I love the fold over bit, and it has a neat zippered hidden pocket in the side. But I want something slightly bigger, lighter weight, and with an inner pocket. ￼
Bag dreams from even further in the past: one I got in 2011 from a no-longer-open Etsy shop. It has since been worn into pieces, but had perfect pockets: two big ones in the front, and two smaller ones on each side. I can’t find exact pictures on Google, but the pockets looked similar to this.
I didn’t like the fold over flap on that one, and it was too heavy overall (like the State bag, it's lined: so much fabric and leather!), but man, those pockets. What a great design.
As I was sketching the design of my new tote last fall, Amy Bornman of All Well Workshop posted a design recipe for a convertible backpack / tote that was similar to what I’d been sketching, except circular, with thin leather straps and grommets. Her version is so good! Look at this amazingness:
Anyways, finally last week I realized: I could combine ideas from the three bags, and simplify to have just sides and no reinforced inches of side panel around the bottom. More like a bucket. Just sew the pockets on the front like patch pockets, and start with just a tote - no backpack straps - so I didn’t have to go find buckles. (I might add backpack straps and an inner pocket later, but this bag is done for now. Also, I will surely get it dirty and have to dye it a darker color someday.)
So here it is! It stands up on its own, the material is wonderful. I love it!
If you want to make your own, here’s what I did:
- ▫️32.5 in x 18 in rectangle for main body (only one side has a seam)
- ▫️Patch pocket 11 in x 6 in plus room for SA and fold over at top
- ▫️Rounded rectangle bottom 11 in x 6 in plus SA, double layer of fabric
- ▫️Two 18”+ long pieces of 0.5” binding material
- ▫️One 34”+ long piece of 1” thick binding material
- ▫️One piece of 1” canvas webbing, cut in half.
(1.) Gather Materials, press, and cut to size
(2.) Sew hem on top of main bag piece (I made it deep, to add structural stability, i.e. old over 1/2” and press, fold again ~1.5” and press)
(3.) Sew hem on top of pocket, and press other three sides in 1/2”
(4.) Fold main bag piece in half, and, ignoring the parts that will be gone into the seam allowance, center the pocket where you want it. Pin in place.
(5.) Sew the pocket onto the main body panel along the three un-hemmed side and bottom edges, using little triangles and backstitching at the tops.
(6.) Find the middle of the pocket and sew a seam from the bottom stitching up to the open top, backstitching at the top - now you have two pockets!
(7.) Sew the main body panel into a tube (right sides together). Iron the seam flat with the seam allowances apart. Use binding or otherwise finish the raw edges. (I used canvas tape and finished each edge separately, like Hong Kong style finish.)
(8.) Using a zig-zag or basting stitch, sew the two bottom panels of fabric along the edges, wrong sides together. This is just to help keep things all stay aligned, the stitching won’t show. (You can skip this step or just use one layer of fabric here too. Or you could add a tiny bit of padding between these layers if you wanted!)
(9.) Pin the double layer of bottom fabric to the bottom unfinished edge of the main body tube. I marked 3” on each side of the the side seam, and 3” from the middle of the other side, and used those to guide the placement of the corners. The corners will stick up a bit, and you can use fabric scissors to trim them to be a bit rounded.
(10.) Using a 3/4” SA, sew around the rounded rectangle, attaching the bottom to the side panel. This is going to take a lot of wear - you might want to go around twice or use a very strong stitch.
(11.) Trim corners and edges as needed, and bind the raw inner edges of the bottom-side seam.
(12.) Turn right sides out: almost there. Press to get a crisp edge on the bottom seam.
(13.) Attach the webbing handles where they seem like they should go - I marked with chalk, then pinned through to put the ones on the back in the same position. I sewed a big square with a slash through it to attach, with the raw edges of the webbing turned under a bit to hide them.
You're done! Send me a note (email below) if you make them or have any questions!