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Over Christmas, I decided to make myself the rucksack for work. I carry an A4 hardback notebook, floor samples, a tablet with a keyboard, plus lunch, as you can imagine the weight quickly adds up. Swapping from a shoulder bag to a rucksack is an easy change I can make to protect my pelvis and back. It’s never really recovered from childbirth seven years ago, it’s time to prioritize my health.
Do you remember the Handmade with Love bundle of sewing and craft patterns? As part of the bundle purchase I received the Retro Rucksack Pattern written by Sarah of Radiant Homes. Naturally, I opted to use a pattern I have. My love of denim and sashiko overrode a sensible office grey/black choice for the retro rucksack. Mentally the plan was that the bag with leather accents could be suitable for work.
The flaw in my plan – my modern Janome sewing machine point blank refuses to work anywhere near leather. For years I have been dreaming of owning a Bernina. So within a few hours, I had purchased vegan leather from Stoff & Sthill plus a Bernina 830, I suspect the machine is a little older than myself. I rarely make impulsive purchases or spend so much on tools, a complete treat.
I have not sewn a rucksack before so I had no prior knowledge to work from. I had to read and follow the instructions properly – which is always a good thing so that I don’t jump ahead and guess the instructions:)!
Now I am about to share you worts and all with the making of this rucksack, it was very difficult sew due to the materials I chose, I hasten to add it was not the fault of the pattern. If you follow me on instagram you will have seen some of my frustrations along the way! Initially, I had a lovely time creating denim panels for the front and back of the rucksack. I pieced together various pieces of denim, stitching together with crochet thread. The result is similar to sashiko but a little simpler. If you have not sewn like this before I have a couple of posts with more details, sashiko tote tutorial, and
The pattern starts with building the outer bag before moving onto the internal lining. The first step is to attach the leather accents and straps. The positions are marked on the paper pattern ready for you to transfer to your fabric. My Bernina, although a workhorse, just did not like sewing through nine layers of vegan leather plus denim, each strap is fabric folded in on itself. The thread kept breaking.
I tried various solutions including hammering the layers to reduce the thickness, sellotape to the underneath of the foot, a leather needle and buttonhole thread. The machine really was unhappy. At this point, there are two choices give up, or change approach. Sewing can be a challenge, a new pattern to figure out, material not behaving as you anticipate, difficulty with a sewing machine. I opted to change approach, creating straps made from jean waistbands. This does change the look of the bag, but does mean I can sew the bag!
This photograph was taken so I could consider the denim sashiko design – I decided to add an additional patch of denim and stitch with circular stitch marks.
The vegan leather feels like cardboard, it is strong, giving a firm structure. But it is not that flexible – therefore I skipped some of the pattern instructions, for instance lining the side pockets. With the trimming of pieces (when I unpicked the unsuccessful breaking thread) and not lining the side pockets I was not able to line up neatly both sides of the rucksack. I opted to line up at the front and not worry about the back.
The lining came together beautifully. Some thought was given to the insertion of the recessed zip, pausing to gaze at the illustrations for this step (dare I admit I made an almost identical mistake three times, in this case, fourth time lucky!).
The pattern for the retro rucksack has a section on choosing appropriate fabrics, I clearly would have had a much easier time if I had adhered to the suggestions! Alternatively, Radiant Homes has great tutorials demonstrating how to wax canvas. A waxed fabric for the accents would look great and be considerably easier to work with, whatever your sewing machine.
I have increased my knowledge and skills with bag making. I love the recessed zip and value understanding how to make the back straps. The bag fits all my work-related items, it’s definitely me in terms of style and design and clearly spreads the weight I have to carry. Whether I will use it for work? I suspect its just a little too casual in appearance.
If you decide to make the rucksack yourself think carefully about your fabric choices for the straps. If your machine does not like many layers reduce the bulk of your fabric or buy pre-made straps. Find the Retro Rucksack pattern for purchase here.
Not sewing it up now? Pin for later
There are so many benefits to sewing a challenging project, whatever it is. You will learn, develop skills and have a great sense of satisfaction once complete.