This week the Souris Plaindealer published and article about how an innovative grandmother engineered quality time with her grandchildren by showing them how to sew their very own back-to-school back packs. I was absolutely enamored by the idea (you may remember how enthusiastic I was about sewing a backpack for Calixa last year). Always a fan of homemade ditties and constantly on the lookout for paraphernalia that doesn’t cast my child as a walking, talking billboard for Dora, Spongebob or Spiderman, Bette-Jean Kohut’s homemade backpacks were the ticket! I followed her directions, changing only the main fabric layout (I didn’t want to make 50 patchwork squares- I’m keen but not that keen) and set to work crafting the bag that will take Calixa into Kindergarten this year. Instructions are below with helpful links for the tricky spots and the article is in italic at the bottom. Happy sewing!
To make Bette-Jean’s back-to-school backpacks you’ll need:
50, 5 inch squares of cotton fabric in various patterns (the easiest way to get these is to buy a package of pre-made cutouts called charm squares, but if you’ve got extra fabric at home, it’s easy enough to cut out what you need).
*If you chose to make the backpack with just one piece of fabric, cut it out into a rectangle that measures 18×45 inches
2 rectangular lengths of fabric for tabs measuring 7×4 inches
2 rectangular lengths of fabric for ties measuring 60×4 inches
Lining fabric cut into a rectangle measuring 41x 18 inches
* All seams are gauged at 5/8 inch
1. Begin by sewing the squares of fabric together until you’ve created a brand new material that measures 5 squares across and 10 squares down. (works out to be a rectangle about 18 x 45 inches). Press your seams.
2. Fold your tab material lengthwise with right sides together. Pin and sew up the side. Turn the tabs right side out and press.
3. From the top of your bag, count down four squares. Fold your tab in half lengthwise and place the raw edges of your tab at the middle of the edge of the fifth square- align the raw edge of the tabs with the raw edge of the side of the bag, pin. The folded side of the tab should be pointing toward the middle of the bag.
4. Fold your main fabric in half widthwise, right sides together so that each half measures 5 squares by 5 squares. Pin the sides of the bag together (this includes the pinned tabs). One inch from the top (the opening) of the bag, mark 1.5 inches along each side where you won’t sew (these will become the holes through which the straps go). Sew up the sides of your bag, omitting the 1.5 inch section that you marked out at the top.
5. Turn your bag right side out and press the seams open. Pin the edges where you pressed along the open 1.5 inch slits. Sew around the perimeter of the slits to finish the openings, (It’ll look like button holes).
6. Fold your liner in half widthwise with the right sides together. Pin and sew one side. Pin and sew the top half of the other side, leaving the bottom half unsewn. This opening will be used to turn the bag right side out once you attach the liner.
7. Press your seams open. Put your liner into your bag and pin the top. To do this, turn your main fabric bag inside out so the right side is inside. Put your liner into the bag with the right side facing out, this way the two right sides of the fabric are touching. Pin the top of the bag to the top of the liner making sure to match side seams together (this is purely esthetic). Sew the liner to the main fabric. Then, to turn the bag right side out again, simply pull the entire thing through the hole you left in the side of the liner.
8. Hand stitch the hole in the liner together.
9. Remember the 1.5 inch openings you made in the side of the bag in step 4 and 5? Pin your liner to your bag so the two pieces of fabric hold together the way you want them to. Then sew a stitch from the top of your 1.5 inch slit all the way around the bag (parallel to the opening). This seam will serve as a border to hold the straps in place once they’re in the bag. Sew another seam from the bottom of the 1.5 inch slit. Now you’ve created the tunnel.
10. Now your bag is done and you can work on your straps. Fold your straps lengthwise, right sides together and pin. Sew along the entire strap, leaving a 1.5 inch bit unsewn at one end. Use a safety pin at one end to turn the strap right side out.
11. Use the safety pin to thread your strap through the tab on the right of your bag, through the slit on the right, all the way through the tunnel at the top of the bag and back out the same slit on the right. Now, at the end of the strap that has the 1.5 inch opening, fold the edge into the strap and press. Then ease the sewn-up end of the strap into the open end and pin. Sew the two together for a finished edge.
12. Repeat step 11 on the left side of the bag with the other strap.
Make your own back-to-school backpack
Are you tired of Dora, Spongebob and Spiderman? Do you wish you could send your kid to school this fall with a backpack that doesn’t advertise kookie cartoon characters and action figures in skintight spandex? If you can sew (even just a little bit) then you might want to try making your own backpack for September 4th.
Bette-Jean Kohut loves to sew and has gifted family and friends with hand-made blankets, wall hangings and fabric art for many years. As a way to bond and perhaps even to pass on the torch, Bette-Jean has decided to guide her grandchildren through one sewing project each year. This summer’s selection was a patchwork square backpack.
“Last year the kids picked such a difficult project- honkin’ big teddy bears,” Bette-Jean recounts. “This year I picked the pattern.” What she chose, the patchwork square backpack, was, “much simpler,” she sighs. “The kids had to arrange the fabric squares and sew them together- then sew backpack together after that.” And with plenty of help from grandma- all four of Bette-Jean’s grandchildren completed their bags.
Riley Kohut will be starting grade five this year and says she really enjoyed the back pack project. “I like how you matched all the colors and put them together somehow. My grandma taught me how to chain piece and it made [the bag] easier to sew.” Her brother Jackson was excited to run the sewing machine and despite his tender age (he’s going into grade two), he had the best speed control. The children have been using their bags and are proud to show them off. “I will probably use the backpack for school in the fall. It fits lots of books, says Riley.
But something more than amazing backpacks materialized over the course of the project, the time Bette-Jean and her grandchildren spent together nourished that precious bond between children and grandparent and diminished the distance between generations. “It felt really good spending time with my grandma,” says Riley. “Normally I’m playing with all my friends and I don’t get to spend time with her so it felt good [sewing together].”