Tutorial: Little Hitchhiker's Backpack by Christina McKinney!

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We are thrilled to share this tutorial with you!  The tutorial was written by Christina McKinney and features fabric from the Robotic collection by Rebekah Ginda, available at Fabricworm.  Please enjoy!

Backpack Supplies:

A few notes/tips before you get started: Prewash/press all fabric. Always be mindful of fabric direction if that is a factor with the fabric you choose. All seams are 1/2 inch unless otherwise stated. Starting with a new needle on your machine will be extremely helpful for this project since it involves sewing over some bulk in a few places. Please DO NOT run over pins as you sew for any reason. This can really damage your machine!

      1 yard main fabric
      3/4 yard lining fabric
      1/2 yard flap/pocket fabric

      1 package piping in coordinating color (2 1/2 yards)
      1 pair of 2 inch D rings
      3 inch strip of velcro
      31 inches of 1/2 inch elastic (Cut in 3 pieces: 2 - 5in pieces & 1 - 21in piece)
      1 1/2 yards medium weight iron-in interfacing

Fabric Cut List

From the main fabric cut:
      2 - 10in x 13in rectangles (front and back panels)
      2 - 5in x 13in rectangles (side panels)
      1 - 5in x 10in rectangle (base)
      1 - 4in x 7in strip (hanging strap)
      2 - 4 1/2in x 20in strips (back straps)

From the lining fabric cut:
      2 - 10in x 13in rectangles (inner front & back panels)
      2 - 5in x 13in rectangles (inner side panels)
      1 - 5in x 10in rectangles (inner base)

From the accent fabric cut:
      4 - 6in x 7in rectangles (pockets)
      2 - 8.5in x 10in rectangles (flap)
      1 - 4 1/2in x 28in strip  (elastic casing) This can also be cut as 2 - 4 1/2x14 1/2  strips & sewn into a 28in strip with a 1/2 inch seam.

From the interfacing cut:
      2 - 10in x 13in (front & back panels)
      2 - 5in x 13in (side panels)
      1 - 5in x 10in (base)
      2 - 1in x 7in (hanging strap)
      2 - 6in x 7in (pockets)
      1 - 8.5in x 10in (flap)
      4 - 1 1/2in x 20in (back straps)

EXCLUDING the strap pieces (back straps & hanging strap), iron interfacing to all MAIN BODY pieces. They should be -

      1 of the 2 flap piece
      2 side pieces
      2 main body pieces
      1 base piece
      2 of the 4 pocket pieces

You could also do this as you go along, but I find it easier to just knock out all at once.

First, we’ll construct the flap. Using the rounded edge of a cup or bowl, trace a rounded corner on the bottom two corners of your flap. If your fabric has a directional print, make sure you have your flap facing the correct way so it doesn’t end up upside down.

Once you’ve traced the edges, cut both pieces to match. (cutting through the interfacing as well)

The piece with the interfacing will be your liner (inside piece). This is the side you will attach one piece of your velcro to. Center the piece of velcro about 2 inches from the bottom, pin and sew in place.

On your interfaced piece of flap, pin your piping with raw edges out then baste stitch in place. (You will need to pin the piping then cut the correct length because the size of your curve will determine the exact length you need.)

Once piping is basted in place, align flap with right sides together and stitch around 3 sides. You will leave the top straight edge open for turning. Be sure to stitch on the side where your piping baste stitch visible. You want to stick as close to this as you can to ensure your piping stays nice and snug.

Snip the rounded edge for easier turning, just be sure not to cut through your stitch line.

Turn right side out and press.

Now, take your 4 pocket pieces, 2 of which should have interfacing on the back, and pair up an interfaced piece with a non interfaced piece. With right sides together, sew down the long side (7in) using a 1/2in seam.

Open and press seam to one side.

Fold over wrong sides together and press top seam.

Repeat with second pocket.

In coordinating thread, sew a stitch line 3/4in from the top to create a casing for your 1/2in elastic.

Cut a 5in piece of elastic and using a safety pin, feed into one open end of your pocket casing. (Be sure not to lose the other end inside or you’ll have to pull it out and do it again)

Pull slowly until the end of the elastic barely shows at the end of the casing and then sew in place using a 1/4in seam.

Once the first seam is attached, continue pulling the elastic through with the safety pin until it comes out the opposite side. Leaving a little poking out, stitch in place using a 1/4in seam. This should create a slightly gathered elastic pocket across the top.

You will now need to baste these to your OUTER side panel pieces. The pockets are going to require small tucks to lay properly across the bottom of the side panel. To do this, first match one of the lower corners on the panel to the lower corner of the constructed pocket piece and pin in place. (You may find it easier to run a basting stitch along the bottom of your pocket piece so that the two layers stay together.)

Match and pin the opposite lower corner, then pin up each side. The pocket is going to flex & pop outward once both sides are pinned properly.

You will then create tucks by pressing down on the bottom and creasing two spots about an inch from each corner.

Pin those two tucks in place. (Do not stress about exactness here. Simply eyeball 2 tucks in place. You just need the bottom of the pocket to be flush with the bottom of the flap.)

Repeat the process of pinning/tucking with the second pocket and then run a basting stitch 1/4 from the edge around the sides and bottom of each pocket piece. (Leaving the top open.)

Next we’re going to assemble the straps and hanging strap pieces...we’re going to need them soon!

Fold each long side of the 20in strap pieces under 1/4in and press.

Fold in half lengthwise and press.

Insert one strip of 20in interfacing up under one folded over side & iron in place. (Ensure your interfacing sits right against the 1/4in fold.)

Repeat on opposite side. The fold should still be visible down the center.

Once both interfacing pieces are secured, refold the strip down the center and press. In coordinating thread, topstitch 1/4 from the open edge to secure it. Repeat on the opposite side for decoration.

The process for making the hang strap is quite similar. Fold each long side under 1/2in and press.

Fold in half lengthwise and press.

Insert interfacing strip on one side, butting against the fold, and press into place.

Repeat with other half. (Again, fold line down the center should still be visible once interfacing is in place)

In coordinating thread, topstitch along each long side, 1/4 from the edge.

***You can go on and cut each strip into pieces at this point. Each 20in strip should be cut into 2 pieces - one 14in strip and one 6in strip. The short (6in) will be the top strap and the long (14in) will be the bottom strap. The hang strap does NOT get cut.***

Now, to assemble the outer body. Take your two OUTER fabric pieces (that should have interfacing on them already) and pin a length of piping to each long side on the right side, lining up the raw edges.

Baste in place and repeat with second piece. Each long side on both pieces will have piping.

To construct the form of the outer body, all pieces are going be sewn to the base on one side, then the side seams will be sewn. Basically in a plus (+) sign. (Don’t worry...you get more details and photos on that process!)

So, take one main body piece (with piping basted to it and interfacing attached) and pin the short side of it to the long side of the base piece. (Base piece should also already have interfacing attached as well) Stitch in place with a 1/2in seam. Fabric direction is important here, this is the OUTSIDE of your bag, so ensure you have placed it properly to be faced the right direction.

You will be running over 2 pieces of piping in this step, just ease your machine over them carefully.

You will repeat this with the second main panel as well, with one change - inserting the bottom straps. BEFORE you stitch, place your bottom straps (the long 14in pieces) 1 1/2 from the sides and pin/baste in place.

Once basted in place, sew a 1/2in seam across the whole side and secure straps in the seam.

To attach your first side panel, line up the bottom pocket edge with the short side of your base.

There is a previous stitch line from the 2 sides already attached, you will ONLY sew between those lines.

To check if your side piece and base are lined up properly, press the seams flat to make sure everything matches before stitching it into place.

Repeat with the second side panel and base.

Once all 4 pieces are attached, you should have the aforementioned “+” sign.

You should be able to pivot one side piece and one body piece until they lay with raw seams flush. You will lay them right sides together and then stitch along the basting stitch line from the piping. (There will be a slightly not lined up place at the very base, but do not worry, everything will still match up!) This is a photo of that not quite perfectly lined up spot on the lining because it’s easier to see:

Now, you will continue by pulling the sides together one at a time and stitch in place along the long sides.

To stitch these in place securely, follow along the stitch line made when you basted the piping on. You will stick as close to that line as possible in order to keep your piping super snug. I tend to even go over a little to pinch it that much tighter. Don’t be in a rush, this part will take a little time.

You will repeat that step with the remaining 3 sides. Make sure you’re always aware of where your straps are so that they don’t accidentally end up in the way.

Before turning it out, you can clip down some of the corner seam bulk to make it lay better. DO NOT clip through any of your stitching!

Press these seams slightly to make the bag lay better over all.

For the inner LINER pieces, repeat these steps EXACTLY using a 1/2in seam.

You should end up with very nicely finished corners on your liner.

Once your lining is finished, leave it right side facing in and slip it down into your completed body piece. Pin in place around the top.

Now you will need to pin your remaining short straps (6in pieces) and hanging strap to the top, center back of the body. Fold your BACK panel piece in half to find the center and pin the hang strap in place. Leaving just about a 1/2in on each side, pin your top straps in place on either side of the hang strap. (NOTE: This is all being pinned/sewn to the side that has the lower straps already in place at the bottom.) Run a basting stitch 1/4in from the edge across the top back to hold the straps in place.

You will then center, pin, and baste the flap in place right on top of where you just secured the straps. Use a 1/4in basting stitch for this as well. (NOTE: Make sure you position the flap correctly - the velcro side should be facing UP.)

Continue basting all the way around the top of the bag to hold the lining and outer in place together. This will make installing the casing MUCH easier.

To assemble the casing, you will either need one continuous piece measuring 4 1/2 x 28, or you will need to stitch together your 2 - 4 1/2x14 1/2 pieces (with a 1/2in seam) to create a 28in piece. If you stitch 2 pieces, you will then press the seam open. (I did the 2 piece casing)

Whichever method you choose, continue by pressing under a 1/4in seam on both long sides of your strip.

Fold down the center lengthwise and press.

Now, you’re going to open the ends back up, pin them, and stitch together using a 1/2in seam.

Once your seam is stitched, press the seam open and repress the edges under.

This will create a continuous casing to enclose your edges at the top of the bag. (NOTE: Due to minor inconsistencies when it comes to sewing, you might need your casing slightly smaller or larger than this. This last seam is where you will make any needed adjustments. To determine if your casing is the right size, slip it over your raw edges and pin in place about 1/2in from the top of the bag. It should sit nicely without puckers or excess fabric. If it is too snug, pull out the previous seam and sew it smaller. Too loose, deepen the seam until it fits snug.)


Once your casing is sized correctly and pinned in place, mark off a start/stop point on the back of your bag. This will be where you insert your elastic one you create the casing.

Using a coordinating colored thread and sewing 1/4 from the edge, sew your casing in place along the bottom. (Make sure to pay attention to your start and stop points.) Take your time making sure your stitching through both layers of your casing evenly and ease over the spots with bulk. Also, DON’T stress if you get a pucker or two. You’re going to be inserting the elastic which will hide any little flaws that may be in the casing. However, if you find you didn’t catch the underside seam, you will need to pull out and restitch that in place. Again, GO SLOW!

Once you’ve stitched the first line in place, you’re going to run a second stitch line 3/4in from the top. This will be the casing for your 1/2in elastic.

Using a safety pin, take your 21in piece of 1/2in elastic and thread it through the TOP of the casing you just created. (NOTE: I stick my safety pin through the elastic twice. Nothing is worse than losing a piece on elastic in your casing because the safety pin rips through the elastic! Also, try not to twist your elastic as you go.)

Once you’ve pulled the elastic in a bit, secure the other end with a safety pin so it doesn’t slip into the casing making you have to start all over.

Once your elastic is in place, overlap it by about 1 1/2in and pin in place.

With the elastic PINNED, test out the stretch to see if it is too much/to little and adjust your elastic accordingly. (NOTE: I chose 21in because with the overlap, I like the size/stretch of the opening. This {for me} works better than a drawstring for little hands. You need something to keep things from falling out, but that won’t be too fiddly for say a 2 year old. Feel free to adjust to suite your own needs. I do NOT recommend using anything larger than 1/2in though. The elastic in larger sizes becomes pretty tight and would be too tough for a young kid to maneuver.)

Once you’ve settled on a good length and made sure you have no twists in your elastic, secure the elastic in place with a series of zigzag stitches in 2 places. (Both ends of the overlap)

Pull/stretch your casing until the elastic settles up inside. Pin and finish both of your partial stitch lines to close up your casing.

Now you’re going to need to sew the other half of your velcro to the front of your bag. I picked a spot a little ways down, about 3 1/2in from the top of the casing, and centered it up.


Pin in place, making sure your inner liner isn’t puckered and stitch your velcro in place.


To finish off your top straps, you’re going to fold them under about 1/4in.

Lay your D ring on top.

Then fold over another 1/2in and pin with your D ring in place. This is another step that isn’t precise. Just get as close to your D ring as you can and still be able to stitch it in place.

From the side you can see your raw edges are now folded under.

This might seem a little scary, but now you’re going to sew right up next to your D ring. (Don’t worry, you can do it!) Just go slow and make sure you don’t somehow put the ring UNDER your presser foot. (Because that would be bad) For this step I back up a few stitches at the beginning and end to secure the stitches in place. I recommend this since it’s such a short piece.

Repeat with the other strap.

With your (long) bottom straps, you’re going to do a similar step. Fold under 1/4in then fold under again and pin in place. (Same as above just no D ring)

Sew this end shut with a narrow edge.

You will need to select 2 buttons for the straps (or 4 if you would like it to be even more adjustable) and sew a buttonhole onto the bottom of the long straps.

Once the buttonhole is sewn, cut open with a seam ripper rather than scissors. (Less chance of snipping important threads)

Fold the piece over the D ring and decide where you want to place your first button. Stick a pin in the center to mark the spot to sew your buttons on.

Sew buttons in place.

I sewed my buttons on the inside of the strap so they don’t show, but you can sew them on the other side and they will work just the same. (You would install a second set of buttons lower than that if you want to be able to make it tighter.)

And now, YOU’RE DONE!!


Thank you so much Christina for your in depth directions!  This toddler backpack is the perfect size for preschoolers and kindergarden goers!  Give this project a try and let us know how it went!

Featured Fabric: Robotic by Rebekah Ginda for Birch Fabrics.  


Anonymous said…
That looks great. I want to rush off and make one right now...
Mandy said…
fabulous! I think I'll be making this backpack for my kids for school next fall! Thanks for sharing.
Anonymous said…
Just wanted to check - the pattern requires 2" D-rings but it looks like the finished straps are only 1" wide. Is there a typo? Should I get 1" D-rings?
Not a typo, I used 2in D rings. The finished straps are slightly larger than 1in, so the 2in rings fit it well :)
Anonymous said…
I just made this last night! I LOVE this pattern!!!! Thank you so much!
Kelli! said…
I see that this is a good size for a preschooler/kindergartener...I'm curious if it will fit a standard folder for papers, for a 1st and 3rd grader? And if not could I alter it a few inches in some way to make it big enough to hold a folder? Which pieces? Thanks so much for the wonderful pattern, I want to try it if its big enough!
phinsmama said…
I'm having trouble finding piping. Any thoughts on how to modify without piping?
Edmund said…
Tutorial: Little Hitchhiker's Backpack by Christina McKinney! ... backpackcanvas.blogspot.com
Amazing tutorial! Thanksss!!! I think I'll make this backpak soon! :)
Joanne said…
I love this tutorial - I have now used it twice :) Here is my blog showing my most recent backpack made from here.
Unknown said…
This is an amazing tutorial! Cant wait to give this a try!! Whats the bags finished dimentsions? Im wanting to make a backpack for myself to use as a travel style diaper slash essentials bag.
Unknown said…
Thank you for the amazing instructions and pattern. So easy to follow and my favorite backpack
Patty Kay said…
I just made one and the first thing I found is that the fabric stated as required is about twice as much as was actually needed.
Instructions are great; easy to follow. I made my own piping... saved cost there -- and I put velcro on the straps instead of a button.