41. How to Make a Backpack from an Old T-shirt

Make a backpack out of an old t-shirt

This episode is subtitled: ‘October, yay…!’

The weather has been very kind to us the last couple of weeks with the west of the county being sunnier than the east for a change. This has made me want to spend longer outside (much to Blue’s delight) Blue with lead collecting conkers to ward off spiders (does that really work?), exploring routes we’ve not tried before, and generally soaking up October in all it’s blazing glory. Actually, I know I’m a bit ahead of myself because the best colours are yet to come, but it might be raining by then!

In the winter I stuff the pockets of my walking coat with all that I need – ball, poo bags, phone, tissues etc but it’s a bit more tricky when it’s not cold enough for the coat and I end up cramming things into the pocket of my jeans and tying a cardigan or thin waterproof (sometimes both) around my waist in case I need them. I’ve thought for a while that a little drawstring backpack is what I need, whatever the weather, to carry my (and Blue’s) paraphernalia so I picked out an old t-shirt that my brother-in-law, Ray, had given me and made it into a backpack. Details of how I made it begin at Blue’s paw print.

Apart from enjoying October, I haven’t got much to report……..oh, except that I saw Jeremy. If you remember, we’d had a pleasant evening at Kim and Gary’s when my friend, Julia, was up for the weekend. I didn’t ask Kim whether she’d given Jeremy my number, after I’d left that evening, until we had our Teacups & Tulips catch-up meeting the following Saturday afternoon. Apparently she had, but she was a little coy about whether he’d asked for it or she’d forced in on him.

I’d had a missed call on my phone around the middle of last week week but didn’t think much of it – probably just a PPI cold call. Then the same number had popped up again on Monday while I was busy with a wedding consultation. Well, whoever it was could have left a message if they’d wanted to. But I started to think that it might be Jeremy, slightly awkward and unsure of himself, and probably not very likely to leave a message. Did I want to see him? Not really, but shouldn’t I give it a try? There might be something soft and loveable under that stuffy exterior. Or maybe it could be the start of a beautiful friendship – you don’t get many new friends once you’ve reached 50.

On Friday morning he popped into the flower shop, bolder than I expected.

‘Hello Jenny, how are you?’ he said, in his usual clipped diction.

‘Jeremy. Er…nice to see you.’ Me, less bold.

‘Do you have any spare time today?’ he asked me. Tulips was quite busy so I offered him a long walk with Blue and me this evening, but, actually, Jaz could cope with everything in the shop so I added, ‘Or we could nip next door into Teacups for half an hour if you prefer.’

He chose the Teacups option and as we walked in I could see Kim in the kitchen with a gleeful look on her face giving me a very silly and surreptitious thumbs up.

Thankfully we were served straight away so any uncomfortable silences could be filled by me munching on my millionaire’s shortbread, but just as I was about to take my first bite he said, ‘Would you mind letting me have Julia’s number, I’d really like to see her again?’

It was dark before I got home from the long walk with Blue that evening, new backpack on my back. I’d spent the whole time with thoughts flitting between feeling sorry for myself for not having been chosen and chuckling at the irony of me getting so worked up about how I was going to say no to him. Ah well, hopefully it will still be a budding friendship! I wonder what Julia will think.

Blue's signatureI know Laura used to make fun of Ray in a tie-dyed t-shirt at his age but I’ve always liked it so I was delighted when he offered it to me for a Salvage Box project. The only thing I needed to add was about 4 metres of cord from a haberdasher.

Make a backpack out of an old t-shirt

I cut out two rectangles 40cm x 52cm, although if I was doing it again I’d choose 36cm x 48cm (you’ll see why later).

Make a backpack out of an old t-shirt

For the first time ever my overlocker had the right colours of thread in it! So I overlocked all of the edges. You could zig zag or do a double hem like we did for the cotton drawstring bags but I found the jersey material quite difficult to work with so I was glad of my overlocker.

Make a backpack out of an old t-shirt

If you’d like to add any embellishment, now is the time to do it. I hand-drew a simple flower shape on some Bondaweb that I’d attached to some denim (salvaged from these jeans!).

Make a backpack out of an old t-shirt

Then I removed the backing and ironed the flower onto the piece of fabric.

Make a backpack out of an old t-shirt

And sewed a pretty Cath Kidston button to the centre (a new button, this time).

Make a backpack out of an old t-shirt

I pinned and stitched the casing at the top. I made mine about 3cm deep so there was plenty of room for two pieces of cord to pass through.

Make a backpack out of an old t-shirt

This is how the pieces looked on the right side, prior to pinning the side and bottom seams, right sides together.

Make a backpack out of an old t-shirt

Once the side and bottom seams have been pinned (not sewn yet) you need to add two pieces of cord to the casing. I cut my 4 metres of cord in half and then trimmed off what I didn’t need when it was pinned into position but if you use the suggested 36cm x 48cm size for your bag then you’ll probably only need about 3.2m of cord but best to buy a bit extra and test out what works for you. Attach a safety pin and feed it through the casing from one side, across the opening and through the other side so both ends are now on one side of the bag.

Make a backpack out of an old t-shirt

Repeat with the other piece, starting from the other side. Now, drop the loose cords inside the bag and poke the ends through to the outside, in the bottom corners. Make sure they are securely pinned into place. Sorry I’ve only got a photo of this after I’ve stitched my seams.

Make a backpack out of an old t-shirt

Turn the bag right way out, pull the cords away from each other to close the bag then test it on your back to make sure the straps are a comfortable length for you. Mine were too long so I shortened them but because I’d made the bag quite large it meant that the bag doesn’t lie flat when it’s fully open because the cords aren’t long enough, hence my recommendation to make it smaller. But having said that, I’ve used this back pack very happily every day since I made it so there was no detriment to its function.

Once you’re happy with the length and position of your cords, sew the side and bottom seams, turn it right way out and there you are!

Make a backpack out of an old t-shirt
Make a backpack out of an old t-shirt

It’s now an essential accessory and I’m not sure how I did without it.

Make a backpack out of an old t-shirt
Make a backpack out of an old t-shirt


  • Make sure your two pieces of cord are identical lengths.
  • When you pin (and, more importantly, sew) the side seams, make sure the straps on the inside are pinned out of the way of your stitches.
  • When you test the length of the cords before you sew your seams, put a couple of things in the bag, as you would if you were using it for real.
  • You could use an eyelet instead of sewing the cord into your seams like they did in this tutorial.

Salvaged Items:

Right, my next job is to contact Julia and ask whether she’s happy for me to pass her number on!

Jenny signature


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2 thoughts on “41. How to Make a Backpack from an Old T-shirt

  1. Just signed up…..
    Great to see the tee shirt being re-used…brilliant idea
    Looking forwRd to many ideas.to pinch😳
    I too am a reuser🤓

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