A great messenger bag is truly an extension of your personality. It can be hard to find a good bag that fits all your electronics perfectly, has that one random pocket in a weird size for your TI-83 calculator from 1995, and isn't a drab shade of khaki. In this tutorial I'll provide you with some standard sizes and pocket options, but don't be afraid to do your own thing. All the tools and materials can be obtained at your local craft store or online, and the great thing is once you know how to make these bags you'll be set to make loads more!
Tip: Make sure the outer bag fabric is durable enough for your everyday jaunts. Standard quilting weight cotton is almost always a bad plan, but wool suiting like I'm using here, screen-printed cotton duck, and canvas have all served me well. The lining fabric can be almost anything. Just remember, the thicker your fabric the harder it will be for your machine to sew through it all, especially near the end of assembly.
Step 1: Cut the Fabric and Interfacing
I am providing measurements for a 33cm (13") finished bag size here, but feel free to adjust as needed for your desired size, or I've provided a PDF with some standard bag sizes in the supplies list above. It can help to cut out a template from cardboard or cardstock for the main body pieces to help you cut your pieces more accurately. I prefer to use a rotary cutter to get perfect cuts, but scissors will work if you are very careful. Cut your outer fabric and lining fabrics first, using the following measurements.
Cut from your outer bag fabric:
Cut from your lining fabric:
When you are ready to cut your interfacing, you should simply lay each fabric piece on top of your interfacing and cut around it so that the interfacing matches the fabric. You should do this for every piece of fabric you have cut thus far. Make sure you cut the interfacing for your straps first to make sure you have enough interfacing.
If you have cut multiple strips to make a longer strap, you should sew the strips together first, right sides together, then open up the strap, iron the sewn seams open, and then cut the interfacing for the strap. If you need to use multiple pieces of interfacing for your strap that's okay. You will also need to cut one strip of fusible fleece the length of your strap, and 5cm (2") wide. Again, you can use multiple pieces in place of one continuous strip.
Tip: All seam allowances are 1cm (3/8", but 1/4" is ok too) unless otherwise stated. Make sure you backstitch every time you start and stop sewing!
Step 2: Fuse the Interfacing to the Fabric
Tip: If you are using wool suiting on your bag, as I am, turn your iron down to the wool setting for the following steps, and make sure not to leave the iron in one place for too long.
You should follow the manufacturer's instructions if you're using interfacing other than Pellon 931TD. If you are using Pellon 931TD, turn your iron to the cotton (or wool) setting and make sure it has plenty of water for steam. Lay the interfacing down on your ironing board, bumpy side up, then lay your fabric on top, right side up. Double-check that the bumpy side of the interfacing is facing the fabric's wrong side or you'll ruin your ironing board cover!
Now simply iron the two pieces together, using lots of steam. Pay particular attention to the edges and corners, and don't let the iron sit for too long in one place. Every once in a while check to make sure the fabric and interfacing are sticking together. Once you're sure they're completely stuck together, move the newly-fused fabric to the side to cool. Proceed in this way for all your fabric pieces.
For the strap, first fuse the Pellon 931TD as you did for the other fabric pieces. On the lining strap piece, you need to fuse the fusible fleece after you've fused the Pellon 931TD. It can take some time for the heat and steam to pass through the fabric and interfacing, so if you find yourself not making progress, try flipping everything over so the fusible fleece is facing up, place a piece of scrap cotton fabric on top, and try fusing it from the top, with lots of steam and patience.
Next you need to fuse the Peltex to the interfaced side of the bottom piece of the outer bag. Lay the Peltex down first, bumpy side up, then lay the outer bag bottom piece interfaced side down, centered. Use the same process you used to fuse the fusible fleece to the strap.
Step 3: Sew the Bag Flap
Place the bag flap pieces right sides together. Pin and sew around three sides. When you come to a corner stop sewing, place the needle in the down position so that it's down in your fabric, lift the presser foot, then rotate the fabric, lower the presser foot, and continue sewing the next side. Snip the corners of the bag, being careful not to cut your stitches. Turn the flap right side out, using your chopstick or pointy tool to push out the corners. Don't push too hard!
If you push through a corner just flip the pieces inside out and resew the corner. Once you've flipped the flap inside out and pointed the corners you should iron it and use your pointy tool or your fingers (don't burn yourself!) to make sure all the seams are pushed out completely. After you've ironed the flap flat, top stitch 1 cm (3/8 inch) all around the sewn edge.
Step 4: Add the Magnetic Snap
On the inside of your flap measure 1.5cm (1") up from the bottom of the flap edge and find the centre from left to right. Place the washer from the magnetic snap on your centered point. Use a pen to mark where the longer holes lay. Ignore the center hole. Set the washer aside for now and use your seam ripper to very carefully rip two holes only in your lining fabric where you made the marks. I like to put a drop of FrayCheck or fray prevention liquid on each hole but that's optional.
Slip the prongs of your male snap through the holes and through the other side. Fold a piece of scrap interfacing a few times, rip matching slits in the interfacing, and place that over the prongs. Place the washer on the prongs next, then use your pliers or other blunt object to fold the prongs inward. Some instructions will direct you to fold the prongs outward but I find that it causes more wear. Set the flap aside for now.
Step 5: Sew the Large Slip Pockets
Place one each of the lining and outer fabrics that you cut to 35.5cm x 23cm (14" x 9") right sides together, pin, and sew across just one long side. Flip the pieces right sides out and iron. Top stitch along the sewn edge. Repeat again with the two remaining lining fabrics of the same size.
For the outer slip pocket and bag piece, you'll need to add the female side of your magnet snap. On the slip pocket, measure up from the bottom 31.5mm (1 1/4") and find the center from left to right. Follow the instructions from Step 4. After you've added your magnet snap you need to attach the outer slip pocket to the outer bag body piece. Place the bag body piece right side up, then place the slip pocket right side up on top.
Pin and sew all around the left, bottom, and right sides of the pocket to attach the pocket to the bag. Use a .5cm seam allowance (1/8"), being careful to make sure you sew through all the fabric layers all the time. Attach the device slip pocket to the large lining piece in the same way, except for the magnet.
Set all the pieces aside.
Step 6: Assemble the Outer Bag
For this step there are a few places where you'll need to leave 1cm (3/8") unsewn at the end of a line of stitches. This step is really important, so if you forget to leave that space, just rip out your stitches for that portion and resew the backstitching.
Let's assemble the outer bag. First lay your outer piece with the slip pocket from Step 5 flat on the table. Sew each 7.5cm x 28cm (3" x 11") bag side piece to the large rectangle, right sides together, but leave 1cm (3/8") at the bottom corner unsewn. Open the side flaps like a book and lay the bottom piece down on top of the bag body piece, right sides together again, with the bottom edges aligned. Make sure that the bag bottom piece is perfectly centered. The Peltex should bump right up against the seams on the left and right sides of the bag. Sew along the edge of the Peltex, again leaving 1cm (3/8") at each corner. Now you should have all three sides attached to the front of your bag.
Next, sew the two short seams where the side pieces meet each other at a 90 degree angle. Make sure your stitching meets the previously sewn lines at the corners. Leave 1cm (3/8") unsewn at the end. This step will take a little creative manhandling. Just be patient and go slowly. It will work.
Last, sew the other large outer piece to the side pieces, right sides together. Just start on one top corner and work your way around, pinning as you go. Make sure your stitches at the corners meet so you don't have any holes. Again, lots of patience and creative manhandling will be needed.
Step 7: Make the Small Slip Pockets
Pin the two small slip pocket rectangles right sides together, and sew almost all the way around, but leave an 8cm (2") gap. Trim the corners, turn inside out, push out the corners with your chopstick, and iron flat. When you iron, take care to line up the fabric at the opening so that when you sew it closed it aligns properly.
Top stitch along the side opposite the hole. Pin the slip pocket to one of the large lining rectangles. Make sure it's centered left to right and about 7cm (3") from the bottom edge. Sew all around the left, bottom, and right sides of the pocket using a .5cm seam allowance (1/8").
Draw vertical lines where you'd like to make dividers, and sew over the drawn lines. Make the pocket sizes work for you, just remember you'll need more space than you think depending on the thickness of your devices, so it's good to try out your pockets using pins before you sew them permanently.
Step 8: Assemble the Lining
Assemble the lining the same way you assembled the outer bag in Step 6, but leave a 13cm (5") gap in the bottom seam for turning right side out later.
Step 9: Make the Strap
Pin the lining and outer strap pieces right sides together and sew around all but one short side. Cut the corners on the sewn short side. Hold the short sewn edge and push your thumb against the short cut edge of the fabric so that it inserts into itself. Switch to your chopstick and start pushing so that the strap starts to turn right side out. Keep sliding the fabric down until eventually the entire strap is right side out. Iron it flat. Roll the edges between your fingers to help push out the seams.
Cut 13cm (5") off the unsewn end. On the remaining long strap piece, fold the cut end inward so that it appears finished and sew across the end. Topstitch using a 1cm (3/8") seam along the long edges of both the short and long strap pieces. Set the strap aside.
Fold the short strap piece in half and feed it through the 5cm (2") non-sliding rectangular ring. Using a zipper foot on your sewing machine if you have one, sew across the strap piece as close as you can to the ring, taking care not to hit it with the needle. This will keep the ring from rotating and bunching up your strap. Set the loop piece aside.
Step 10: Assemble the Bag Body
First you need to attach the strap loop and the flap to the outer bag. Turn the outer bag right side out. This is a good opportunity to check the bag structure for holes and other problems. Pin the strap loop upside down to the short side of the bag, on an upper edge. Sew across the strap loop several times, close to the edge of the bag fabric.
I usually use two regular lines of stitching and then one more line of zigzag stitches. Pin the flap to the bag with the lining facing out. Sew across the top of the flap, close to the edge of the bag fabric, to attach it to the bag. Don't worry, these stitches don't have to be perfect as they won't be seen.
Turn the outer bag inside out again, and turn the lining right side out. Place the lining inside the outer bag, so that their "good" sides are facing inside the bag and you can only see interfacing. Maneuver the bag lining so that the corner seams line up as best you can. Place a pin vertically through each corner seam to hold the outer bag and lining together, then pin horizontally around the rest of the bag, about 3cm (2") from the edge of the bag.
Make sure you line up the edges of the outer bag and lining as you go. Sew all around the edge of the bag. You may have to do some tugging around the strap loop. Just go slowly and be patient. Using the handcrank on your machine can help you get through the thicker fabric layers. Check to make sure there aren't any holes in the top edge before you proceed.
Turn the bag right side out through the hole you left in the bottom of the lining. This is your last chance to check for errors so stuff the lining down into the bag. Make sure there are no holes in the corners and all your pockets are straight. Check that your flap magnets line up and that your strap loop is going to hold.
Now stuff the lining back into the bag. Roll the top edge between your fingers to get all the seams unfolded, then iron all around the edge. Pin horizontally again around the top edge, and topstitch around the edge to keep your seam from rolling. This last topstitch is the most important, because it will be seen the most, so make sure you go slowly and carefully. If you make a mistake don't be afraid to pick it out and do it over again. You'll need to do some tugging around the strap loop again.
Step 11: Attach the Strap
First we need to attach the strap to the slider loop. So choose which end of your strap looks uglier and loop that end around the slider bar, lining facing inside. Sew a box on the end of the strap to attach it. I usually use my zipper foot for this because it makes it easier to maneuver.
Next, lay the bag down on the table, front side up, with the opening facing you. Run the end of the strap that isn't attached to the slider through the strap loop you attached to the bag. Make sure the lining side of the strap is facing you. Then feed the strap through the slider, over the slider bar, and out the other side. It should look like you've made a circle.
Pin the end of the strap to the other short side of your bag. I usually place it around 7cm (3") down the side of the bag because it adds stability to the strap. Before you sew the strap onto the bag, just hold up your bag and make sure you've got the strap attached properly.
If you are ready to proceed, first sew a box along the side seams and across the top and bottom of the strap where it overlays the bag. Then remove your pins and sew an X in the center of the box.
Step 12: Close the lining
At this point you could optionally cut some craft foam (I like to use 1cm (1/4") foam) to insert into the bottom of your bag. If you decide to do that you'll need to cut a 31cm x 7.5cm (12" x 3") rectangle and stuff it through the hole in the lining before you close it. You could also cut foam inserts for the sides. The left and right sides should be cut to 6.5cm x 25.5cm (2.5" x 10") but you'll need to trim down the side where your strap is attached.
The large front and back panels should be cut to 33cm x 25.5cm (13" x 10). Just remember, you can always trim away, but you can't add more, so it's best to err on the side of too large rather than too small. You really don't need to adhere the foam to your bag, but you could use a very thin coat of fabric glue between the foam and the outer fabric if you're really worried about the foam shifting.
Once you're confident that you have no mistakes (and your foam is inserted if you are using it) pull the lining back out. Using as small a seam allowance as you can, sew across the hole in the lining. Make sure the hole is completely closed. It really helps to pin for this step. Stuff the lining back into the bag to finish.
That's it, you're done! If you make a messenger bag using this tutorial I'd love to see it! Just post a link to your bag in the comments. If you have any questions post them here and I'll try to answer them.
Make Your Own Stylish Messenger Bag
A great messenger bag is truly an extension of your personality. It can be hard to find a good bag that fits all your electronics perfectly, has that one...