Make a Cinch Backpack Bag with a T-Shirt!

November 3, 2014 in Projects

Christmas is coming and these drawstring backpack bags (or cinch bags) make really great, personalized gifts! Did you know that Americans spend about $450 billion on Christmas gifts every year (resource here). I learned about an idea 2 years ago called Advent Conspiracy and it proposes the idea of celebrating Christmas differently by giving special, relational gifts and not spending as much money on meaningless gifts. And then, you would give the money that you would have spent on meaningless gifts to people in need or to an organization that helps people in need, like Living Water International, who places clean water wells all over the world that desperately need it.

Another really great organization I just learned about this past summer is Enchanted Makeovers; check them out too! Consider donating or sewing for them this Christmas! I love the idea of giving relational gifts…for me and probably for a lot of you, sewing can be that outlet to give meaningful gifts! These great little drawstring backpack bags could be the answer for some great, inexpensive, yet, meaningful gifts!

Cinch Bag copy


Why? Because you can make them for so many different people and they’re so easy to personalize…scroll down for some inspiration! But, first, watch my video tutorial on how to make these (it’s not even 6 minutes long, so, it’s a quick watch!). Or, here’s the step by step PDF! They’re so easy to sew for all your friends and family! And, they come in so handy for all sorts of occasions like camping, biking, hiking, shopping trips, things-to-do bag for each kid on a vacation trip, my husband likes to take his on bike rides, I like to throw a diaper and wipes in one and keep it in the car…and the list goes on!

You can make them from a 1/2 yard of fabric or a t-shirt! You’ll also need 3 (for kids) to 4 yards of strapping. If you need to add some fabric at the top of your bag (as shown in the video), get about 6-10″ of fabric. What’s great about the t-shirt is the fun, bold graphics really stand out! You can make them from a store-bought clearance shirt, some regular priced tees are pretty reasonable as well, OR something even more special, perhaps you can sneak an old shirt from the person you’re gifting it to that was special to them and (most importantly) no longer worn. 🙂 Please note that the cut dimensions given in the video are recommendations, you can adjust accordingly. Also, side note: thank you to Dojo Animation for creating this video for me!!

Now that you’ve watched the video, check out all of the inspiration and some tips on piecing the bag if you need to add fabric on the top (as shown in the video)! Then, gather your materials, get to your sewing machine, and start making some of these! 🙂

Inspiration Time!

First and foremost, I thought of a really fun idea for a relational gift. If you know a child that wants to sew…maybe it’s your own child, a niece or nephew, or it’s your grandchild…and you feel as though you have the patience and qualifications to teach them that skill to said child, this would be a great first project! Your Christmas gift to them could be the kit to make this Drawstring Backpack bag. What I’d do…if  I were you…get the fabric or t-shirt and cut the correct dimensions, add the strapping, and thread and accompany it with a handmade gift card on top specifying a lesson on how to sew this bag with you! Then, before you leave, schedule that lesson within the next month (or it may never happen…the whole point of a relational gift is that the relationship spending time together part happens)! 🙂 You could even print off the picture at the top or any of them in this article (right click, print) to show what it will look like when done!

Another idea would be to make the bag and fill it with something usable, purposeful (ex. a journal, make up, or hairbrush…or some handmade tickets to spend time with you at a restaurant or sports game, somewhere the recipient would enjoy). Again, if you give the gift of time spent together, schedule it before you leave so that it happens! 🙂

Now for some inspiration on the bag itself. As I said before, what’s fun about the bold graphic of a t-shirt is that it stands out so much. You can find a t-shirt under $10 (or $7 when I went shopping) at the local big box store. You can find shirts to fit your gift recipient’s favorite TV show or movie character!



For the below bag that I made for my 4-year-old daughter (which, as you can imagine, she LOVES!) was made from a t-shirt I found at the big box store for under $7 and some lovely coordinating Riley Blake fabric on the top (because the t-shirt graphic was too close to the neckline and would have gathered up at the top had I left as-is)…I really love how it turned out!


For the bag below, I was able to sacrifice a little of the graphic and didn’t have to add any fabric at the top. This one is so fun!

IMG_4110 copy

What’s nice about the 2 shirts below is that both graphics could be turned upside down (but, they still look right side up) so that there is more fabric to work with at the top and the graphic is preserved and is positioned in the right place for the bag. These are fun for the little (or big) sports star (or fan) in your life.


I thought the ninja graphic/message below was humorous and the one on the right had a cute message for a dancer.

IMG_4351Had to add a little fabric to the top of this bag…scroll down for tips on adding fabric.



This one was just made with a 1/2 yard of fabric with the first initial appliqued. I used an embroidery machine to do the applique, but, you could also sewing machine applique with this tutorial!IMG_4352Adding fabric to your bag

If your graphic is too close to the neckline, you may need to add some coordinating fabric to the top. Why? Because we need about 2.5″ for a casing up top that gathers as it cinches in…deeming your graphic illegible or unrecognizable!  And, well, who wants that? No one! We want these to be special gifts! So, you’ll need to get about 6″ to 10″ of coordinating fabric to add to the top. Figure out the dimensions you want to cut the bag. In the video, I recommend 13″ by 16″ for a child and 16″ by 19″ for a teenager/adult, but, you can adjust accordingly. First, determine how big you can get a cut from the shirt/graphic. Then, figure how much fabric it will take to complete the desired bag measurement. Remember to add a half inch seam allowance where the seam will be at the top of the graphic and lower edge of the coordinating fabric.


Then, cut both the same for the front and back.IMG_4235

Fold down the fabric (pretty sides together) to the top edge of the graphic piece and pin. Sew a 1/2″ seam allowance.


Then, serge or finish that seam so you don’t get any frays.


Next, without ironing on your graphic, iron the fabric up, seam allowance down and then, while it’s not completely necessary, I like the look of it…add a topstitch about a 1/4″ below your seam (stitching through the seam allowance). If you sewing machine foot goes over the graphic be aware that the graphic may cause drag and you may have to help it throughgently.

IMG_4240As, always, happy sewing! And, may you truly enjoy making and giving special gifts for and to the ones you love! Merry Christmas!

IMG_4174 copy



1 response to Make a Cinch Backpack Bag with a T-Shirt!

  1. Love this idea! Thanks for sharing!

Skip to toolbar