DIY Backpack: A Lesson in Upcycled and Reclaimed Materials

I decided I “needed” a retro style, drawstring backpack. I’m 38 weeks pregnant and I felt that it was the only kind of bag that was going to be useful for quick trips out and about. I love my over the should bags and larger totes, but the straps tend to get in the way when you are babywearing.

I have seen more and more of the retro style backpack bags with modern updates lately. Some are beautifully crafted from leather and others from fabric. I thought I could scour the thrift shops to see what I could find, but that was quickly ruled out when I realized how much walking could be involved (although I will still keep my eyes open for one every time I go to the thrift store).


I began to research what I knew I could do…sew.  I searched for different DIY backpack sewing patterns to see if there was anything that would work. I came across many different patterns (I really liked this one  and this one) and I decided I could use the concepts from a variety of styles to come up with a simple pattern for myself.

The next part was more exciting and eye opening. Materials! What did I have on hand to make this bag. Could I make it completely from materials I had in my stash? I’m not talking about pretty fabric I have collected over the years with the intent of someday making something out of it; I’m talking about scraps that I have laying around from previous projects. I also have a stash of old clothes that could have gone to the thrift store, but I kept because I either liked the fabric or some component of the item seemed like it could be useful in the future.  These reclaimed materials would be the base of my DIY backpack.


I know this sounds like I’ve got this huge hoarding problem, but really all this fits in one big plastic tub so its not that bad! I love that I can go to this stash and find bits and pieces that can be used to create something new, useful and beautiful.

With my backpack ideas swirling through my head, I went to my stash to see what I had. I knew I had some thicker fabric that I could use for the outer shell and I had a lots of pretty bits that I could create a lining. I was surprised when I found a pair of my husband’s cargo shorts. One of the pockets had a zipper pouch and a snapped pocket. Perfect for the front pocket of the backpack. (Although, now I owe my husband another pair of cargo shorts because apparently they were only in my stash pile because they needed a new button…oops!!)

Once I sorted out which materials could be used, I began to take measurements and think about construction. Once I figured out what needed to be sewn together when, the process went pretty quickly. The one thing that I still need to figure out is how to make the straps adjustable. I could buy a backpack hardware kit or the likes or I could see what I have laying around that might work. Currently a safety pin is doing the job.

What really inspires me about this project are the endless possibilities of upcycled and reclaimed materials. Giving new life to something that people don’t want anymore. Going to the thrift store and looking at clothes, not just for what they are, but what they can become is a very exciting. It really keeps your creative juices flowing.

Time and Comparison

Time is an interesting thing when you are working in a product based business. People want things now. Instant gratification! I understand; you see something beautiful and the desire to hold it, touch it, use it is immediate. But, how does it look from the makers perspective? Coming up with original, creative ideas takes time. Making the first, second and maybe third prototype takes time. Once you are happy with the final product you need to photograph it and market it…more time.

It’s hard to be on the maker end. The one man factory as such.  People are starting to see the value of handmade goods, but you can still feel like you need to be working faster to keep up with all the beautiful things you see on Instagram or Etsy. How is it that everyone else’s hands seem to work so much faster than yours?

(The start of a little something using upcycled cotton yarn that will be naturally dyed once finished)

How do you keep your focus and not compare yourself to others? This is not a new dilemma. It’s something that others have talked about at length. It comes back to the idea that I want to look at others work and feel inspired, not the overwhelmed. The maker community is so supportive, but sometimes the first thought is to compare yourself. It’s hard to remember that through the lens of a camera people can make their lives seem completely different.  You don’t know what’s going on in the background, just as they don’t know what’s going on in the background of yours.

As more and more people begin to talk about this balance of work and home life, it becomes a little easier to give yourself the time and space to figure out how it works in your own individual life. Giving yourself grace. What gets done, gets done. Being able to focus on the “why” and not the “should” or the “have to”. So, I’m going to make myself some more tea and a few lists of all the ideas in my brain and attempt to give myself some space to focus. And remember, one step at a time!

How do you manage balancing work, time and comparison?


Ideas and where to go with them

I have been feeling like I have a million ideas in my head lately. There are so many things I want to make; either original work, trying out a new knitting or sewing pattern, or hacking one of my already owned patterns to make it new and different. I’m trying to balance this with thinking of ways to get my business and my work more visibility (oh, and take care of my family). All of these ideas and thoughts have made it hard to focus. Where do I start? What do I want and/or need the most? Does someone in my family need/or want something? What would customers be interested in? What can I do to get my name out there in a world that is so bombarded with info everyday? I could go on and on.

I want to create useful, beautiful things for myself, my family and others. I would love to be able to help provide for my family through my work. My making provides me with an outlet, both creative and physical. If I’m not doing something with my hands when I’m still, I can feel out-of-place. This is difficult when my mind has so many ideas swirling though it and I have a hard time focusing on my work. Recently, I have finished a few works in progress and it feels nice to have those completed and ready to be listed on Etsy. Clearing my mind and hands of these couple of projects has left some space for my other goals.

I have also started work on a small quilt using hand dyed fabric. It is going to be hand quilted and I’m really looking forward to the slow, meditative work of stitching. I would love for this quilt to be the basis for future work that I could sell. I have been greatly inspired by the work of,, and The work of these women has left me wanting to learn so many new skills to further the depth of my work.

For my making, it is a work in progress, everyday. Making a decision and focusing, knowing that there is no wrong decision. I want to be intentional about my making choices and not just jump into something because I think I have to. I want to make things that will bring myself and others joy.

Beginnings of Slow Fashion

A few years ago when I started sewing for myself, the motivation was based on the enjoyment of the making process and the speed at which I could have a completed project. I was a knitter and at the time very slow, but I knew the joy of wearing something that you have made for yourself with your own two hands. With sewing, I could create something much quicker, almost instant gratification. It was a magical discovery!

At the time, I knew nothing of the slow fashion movement. I did know that I didn’t like to shop because I was not happy with the ever changing styles and lack of good fit. I hated spending a lot of money on something I could tell was going to fall apart after a couple of wears and I couldn’t afford the really good stuff.

Once I began to sew and knit in much more earnest, I began to follow along with the conversation of slow fashion. I began to understand why I had such a dislike for fast fashion. There was a reason the clothing would fall apart so fast and why it seemed like I could never keep up with the latest and greatest. I began to see that I wanted to know more about where my clothing came from and that I wanted to hold on to what I already had longer.  Thrifting and mending took on a whole new meaning, not just that I couldn’t spend the money on new clothes, but that I wanted things to last and to give a  new home to items that had a lot of life left in them.

I started looking at my crafting practices and the materials that I was using.  I was really thinking about how I would use a garment once it was made and how does fit into my lifestyle. What was I most comfortable in and how I do I like to wear clothes? When I really started to think about this and pay attention to what I already had, it helped to reduce the desire to just cast on the next cute sweater or cut out a cute top. The question was will I wear this regularly? Do I have something similar? Would my time be better spent thrifting or fixing something to fit that hole in my wardrobe?

All of this also began to form other desires for my making. I wanted to participate in the slow fashion movement beyond just for myself. Could I take my skills and create things others could wear and love too? This is something that I have been contemplating over the last few months.

Recently, I was able to finish up two pieces that are the beginning of this undertaking. A simple tunic dress made from linen that I dyed myself. This tunic dress is flattering for a variety of body styles and can be worn on a variety of occasions.

The second piece is a cotton scarf/wrap that is a perfect transition piece for the spring. I dyed the cotton and used Shibori resist techniques to create  the pattern on the fabric. This piece also has a variety of uses, from scarf to wrap to swaddle blanket and nursing cover, etc. Creating things that have multiple uses means that our resources go further.

You can check out both of these items in my shop. Custom orders are always welcome, just let me know.

Contemplating Process: A Zero Waste Shirt

In my last post, I talked about surface design and the struggles I was running into. What I had neglected to do during my weeks worth of work was take more process pictures, so I don’t have pictures from every step of the following process…lesson learned. I was concentrating on the end product and I was not thinking about the process as much as I should have been.

Through the process of making, we are learning so many things. What would make the project work better next time? Would I do any of this again or is there a better/different way? Is this the direction I want the project to go or do I have a new idea/inspiration? The list could go on and on about what you learn from the process.

During this particular dyeing session, I was trying to create some Itajime Shibori with some tea towels dyed in a red onion skin bath. After seeing some pictures in books, I assumed that I knew what I was doing. I mean, how hard can it be?!?! Well, I learned the hard way that I should have done some more research on the actual techniques of Shibori resist dyeing. My biggest problem was that I had not folded the fabric correctly (in a accordion fashion) so the dye did not take to the fabric the way that I wanted it to. I also had some tea towels that I had just put in the dye pot to get overall color and the result was very uneven.

In the end, I was not happy with the red onion skin dye color which resulted in a muddy brown. They just looked like dirty cotton tea towels. I’m sure if the intended use was not a towel or if the color had been even, it would have been ok.  I was having a really hard time with the thought of drying my hands on a towel that looked like mud had been wiped all over them. I decided to put the tea towels in an iron bath to see how that would modify the color. As a result, the towels turned out to be an olive green.

I was still not entirely happy with the towels and I couldn’t pin point why. I stared at them for a few days hoping some kind of inspiration would hit me. I was doing some research on zero waste sewing patterns for another project, when I came across this post from A Verb for Keeping Warm by Cal Patch and this post from Sew Obsessed. I began to wonder if I could do something like this with my tea towels and some stash fabric. The design process began all over again. Measuring, cutting, ironing, piecing, and hoping that something would come of this.

The end product is not perfect by any means, but I learned a lot during all the steps of the project. I take away many more ideas for future projects, during which I’m sure I will make more mistakes and learn more.  It’s a cycle and I’m learning to embrace all parts of it, as you get so much from each step.