It’s always great to find a new, creative way to upcycle kids’ clothes and extend the life of some of their most beloved items. In this project, with two simple stitches, we can turn a favorite T-shirt or sweatshirt into a handy drawstring backpack that can be used long after they grow out of the garment!
For this project, we will use both an Overlock Stitch and a Coverstitch to sew durable and clean-finished seams. These will be sewn on two different machines (the bernette 62 AIRLOCK and bernette 64 AIRLOCK), but a combination machine, like the bernette 68 AIRLOCK, could handle them both techniques!
Supplies to Make an Upcycled Drawstring Backpack
- T-shirt or sweatshirt
- 2 spools serger thread (i.e. Mettler Seracor)
- 2 spools texturized thread (i.e. WonderFil Soft Loc)
- 1” or 1 1/2″ cotton webbing
- Cotton cording
- Seam gauge
- Wonder Clips
- Pressing mat
- CS Lock Tool
- bernette 62 AIRLOCK
- bernette 64 AIRLOCK
Steps to Make an Upcycled Drawstring Backpack
Prep Shirt and Materials
Start by cutting your shirt! We will use the body of the shirt (or sweatshirt) to create our drawstring backpack. Use a long acrylic ruler to cut a straight line from one armpit to the other.
Cut two 3” lengths of your cotton webbing. Fold in half with raw ends together and hold with a Wonder Clip.
Finally, cut two lengths of cotton cording to create your straps. To calculate the length for this cord, measure the width and length of your bag, add those together, and multiply by two. My bag will be approximately 18” wide by 15” tall. I will cut two 66” lengths of cotton cord.
18” + 15” = 33”
33” x 2 = 66”
Close Bag Bottom
Next, we need to close the bottom of our bag. When we do that, we will stitch two loops of cotton webbing into this seam, where our drawstrings will connect to create a backpack.
Turn your shirt (now just a wide tube of fabric) inside out. Lay flat so that the bottom hem is aligned, the top raw edge is aligned, and the side seams are laying smooth.
Measure 1” in from the left side at the finished hem. Insert the folded webbing, so that the folded edge is tucked in to the bag and the raw ends are aligned with the hem of the shirt. Hold all four layers together with a Wonder Clip.
Repeat on the right side. Use Wonder Clips to ‘pin’ the rest of the hem together.
4-thread Overlock Stitch
Setup the bernette 64 AIRLOCK for a 4-thread Overlock Stitch. This means you will need both needles in the machine and both loopers should be threaded. Your needle and looper tensions should all be set evenly at 4.
Because the seam we’re stitching is fairly thick and bulky (especially where we’re stitching through that cotton webbing), there are a few more settings to check before you sew. With these thick seams, you may benefit from increasing the cutting width from the standard 6 to a wider 7 or 8. Your seam will also likely benefit from increasing the Micro Thread Control (mtc). This setting moves the stitch finger to create more space in your seam to suit the thickness of your fabric.
Begin stitching your bag closed. If you experience any trouble with the fabric feeding through the machine, you can try increasing the presser foot pressure. If you notice any waviness to your seam (it’s not lying flat behind the presser foot), you may need to increase differential feed. This is a common adjustment to make, especially if your hem is a super stretchy ribbing like mine!
Stitch from one end to the other and chain off several inches of thread at the end before cutting.
Tie a simple overhand knot in the thread chain, pulling and tying off as close to the fabric as possible. Trim the excess threads.
Create Drawstring Casing
Next, we need to create the casing for our drawstring to pull through.
Turn the bag right side out. Fold the raw edge down to the inside by 1 1/4″ and press all the way around the opening.
Hold this fold in place with Wonder Clips.
We’ll finish stitching our bag at the bernette 62 AIRLOCK. This machine is one of the latest additions to the bernette overlocker range and it is a 2, 3, and 4 thread Cover and Chainstitch machine. This is a great tool to add to your sewing room if you already have a 4-thread overlocker, like the b64 or L 460. But if you’re interested in a combination machine that can sew both overlock and chain/coverstitches, you can check out the bernette 68 AIRLOCK!
Set up the b62 AIRLOCK for a 4-thread Coverstitch. This will use all three needles with the chain looper. All of the threading is easy on this machine, especially with the one-push air threading looper.
Remove the Freearm Cover from the machine. This will make our stitching in the round even easier to maneuver!
Place the pressed fold underneath the presser foot, so that you will begin stitching about an inch away from either of the side seams. We will sew our Coverstitch so that the center needle lands approximately 1” from the folded edge. Use the markings on the bed of the machine to keep your edge aligned straight as you stitch all the way around your bag.
When you approach the beginning of your Coverstitch, slow down. Stitch up to the first stitch and then overlap your Coverstitch by about 1/2″. When you stop, raise your needles to the highest position and raise the presser foot.
Use the CS Lock Tool to reach between the presser foot and the top side of your fabric to hook your needle threads. Pull the threads toward you and cut, leaving a few inches of thread tails. Then, pull your fabric toward the back left of the machine (away from you). The looper thread (still connected) will pull the needle threads to the back side of the fabric. Then cut your looper thread.
Your stitch should now be locked in place. You can hand-tie and trim the thread tails for added security.
Snip into your newly sewn casing, cutting between the innermost line of stitching and the folded edge on both the left and right sides.
Feed one end of the cord through the casing (in, all the way around, and out from the same spot). Feed the loose ends through the loop of cotton webbing at the bottom and knot.
Repeat with the second cord, going in and out from the other side.
Fill the bag with your treasures, pull the drawstring to close, and you are on your way!