Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cooper Backpack, from Colette Patterns: Finished!

Bella inspects my work, or does some birdwatching?
As you're reading this, you're going to find out some things about me you may or may not wish to know.  For example, I'm a birder.  And I can't make up my mind.  So there.  TMI?  Hopefully not.  Now way TMI about making this backpack/ messenger bag/pannier, from Colette Patterns, the Cooper, which is available in three styles.  I chose to make the backpack.  That was the easy choice.  

The more difficult choice was the fault of Birch Fabrics, which recently released a bunch of lovely Charley Harper fabrics in four types (flannel, canvas, stretch & quilting cotton).  The Roommate & I love modern art & birds, and Charley Harper is just the perfect meeting of those two concepts.  (I bought the fabric from Del Ray Fabrics, a local distributor.) So, knew I wanted canvas for the outside, and quilting fabric for the inside, but...what to choose?  And...won't it get dirty?!

As you'll see below I solved both those problems, one with prevarication, one with a lucky web search.  

First, I didn't decide on 2 fabrics, instead, I gave in and chose 4: 2 quilting cotton (for the lining) and 2 canvas prints (for the outside).  

But I quickly realized that all the white was going to get dirty quickly.  So what could I do to protect all that lovely white?  I did a quick search for iron-on vinyl, and discovered Heat 'n' Bond Vinyl!  And a nice tutorial about using the product, too.   

I ordered most of the fittings from www.HardwareElf.com, and got the cotton webbing from an Etsy shop, and then I dyed it to match.  Also, the bottom is not vinyl-ized, it's a double layer of heavy canvas, which I also dyed.  

I had fun adding some extras...like a key fob inside, a couple of extra pockets (one specifically to fit my phone, another for pens/pencils), and even a zipper pocket inside.  I love lots of pockets & cubbyholes!  

I finished the lining first, and wanted to tweet a photo of it...and Bella had to inspect that, too.  She certainly keeps me on my mettle.  

Here's a couple more of the inside so you get an idea...

Here's what the back looks like, with the flap open.  I'm quite pleased at how the straps came out.  

And the front, with the flap open, too, showing yet another little pocket.  I used magnetic snaps, but not the rivets I ordered.  The snaps were easy to put on--no big deal.  The rivets, though, would work better on thicker fabric. I did a test run on some scraps & realized that the rivets would have looked pretty bad, because even vinyl-ized, the fabric was quite thin. 

That is not to say that fabrics treated with Heat 'n' Bond are easy to use.  Read the above-mentioned tutorial carefully!  First, you can't really pin it, because the holes don't go away (not a big deal at the beginning, but towards then end when you're trying to hide your stitching for finishing, it's a problem).  Related to this is the fact that any mistakes you make will always be with you.  

And although the fabric doesn't end up as stiff as oilcloth, it is a hassle to work with because it fights back!  One of the last steps is to put the lining inside out to the outside, then sew around the top before tucking the lining back inside.  Well, at this point, I had lots of layers, the cotton webbing straps, plus the vinyl to deal with, and my regular old machine almost couldn't deal with it.  You'll probably notice there are no close-ups!  And I must admit, I have a bit more I need to top stitch, but was really quite tired of dealing with it all.  I went through many heavy duty needles on this project (5-6!).  I'm not sure I'd make another (even with heavy, non-vinyl-ized fabric) without having access to a heavy duty sewing machine.  

Mistakes really aren't easy to correct once you've vinyl-ized your fabric.  If you handle the fabric too much, the vinyl begins to peel away (be sure and don't leave any edges unsewn!) 

I wish I'd put a handle at the top, between the backpack straps; nice to have another way to carry it.  (I don't think it's called for in the pattern, but it would have been easy to add.)

This particular vinyl though (I chose matte) has a nice hand...not as plastic-feeling as oil cloth.  And it seems softer & I believe is supposed to not crack, which oilcloth does after too much folding.  

All in all, I'm looking forward to using it (I took it to run some quick errands today & it worked great).  I'll be curious to see how long it looks good...does the vinyl protect the fabric?  Does the vinyl keep the items inside dry in the DC spring rains?  


  1. super cute! adding the vinyl is a great idea. love it when things can be adorable and functional!

  2. Thanks! I'm very pleased w/ it, and will really give it a workout on our big summer trip in July.

  3. So cute! Great idea about the vinyl!

  4. Great backpack! It's showing all the best if being able to sew your own- personalised fabrics and designing in extras to suit too, brilliant!

  5. Thanks, Winnie...pockets are my rickrack! ;-)


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