Pack it on up! The Desmond Roll Top Backpack


More often than not, a backpack is my only accessory. I live a little under a mile from Butcher’s, have two small dogs with bladders to match and an irregular schedule (me, not the dogs), so my life is a constant schlepping on bike and foot from home to work, work to home, home to work. I have a faithful mustard-colored canvas backpack I bought on Etsy that comes everywhere with me, but the stress I’ve put it through is starting to show. Knowing that Old Mustard won’t live forever, I always keep my eyes open for backpack patterns, but had yet to be inspired by any that seemed capable of being a real, practical working woman’s every day bag. I need a pack to be roomy enough to fit all my crap I don’t need, sturdy enough to deal with my abuse, and easy-on-the-eyes enough that I don’t embarrass my friends on the rare occasion I’m invited to a respectable establishment.


When Tailor Taylor announced that he would be releasing a backpack pattern, I knew it would be The One. If you follow Taylor, you know that he’s been making bags worthy of envy and perfecting this particular pattern for a hot minute.  This is a bag he uses IRL (and wants you to, too), and it shows in the construction. For example, I love that, in the pattern, he’s careful to point out spots to reinforce so you don’t end up with a great looking bag that comes apart the first time you throw your kettle bell collection in. It’s also spacious (it fits my laptop, books, camera and water bottle, all with room to spare) and the roll-top feature allows you to adjust the bag according to what you’re carrying.


Fabric, notions:  When I saw this pattern, I immediately knew I would use waxed canvas.  The beauty of waxed canvas is that it looks better the more it wears, and this is a bag that’s going to get some wear.  I ordered my 10 oz. waxed canvas from A.L. Frances Textiles on Etsy and it arrived smelling beautifully like honey from the beeswax (I still sniff it sometimes).  However, it was so stiff I had a lump in my throat worrying that it would be unmanageable. The folks at A.L. Frances give helpful suggestions for waxed canvas newbies like myself, such as using a hairdryer to soften the fabric.  I tried the hairdryer and it helped a little, but mostly I found that it was working with it with your hands over time that softened it. While I’m really pleased with the way it turned out and I wouldn’t have chosen a different fabric, working with this stuff was a headache and a half.

IMG_9924 2The Singers we have at the studio could not deal with the canvas when it was in more than two layers and just ended up skipping stitches all over the place.  I abandoned the backpack for about a week and ultimately decided to bring out my beloved Pfaff, which got the job done.  If you don’t have a machine that you know can put up a fight against many layers of heavyweight honey-smelling fabric, I would caution against using this weight of waxed canvas.  If you know your machine is good for it, clamp on a denim needle, knock back some whiskey and have at it!IMG_9935

The lining is shirting and the straps are 1″ cotton webbing, both from our local pals at Fleishman’s. If you’d like to use silver hardware, I recommend buying Taylor’s kit. I wanted to use a gold finish, so got all my hardware at Fleishman’s as well.  I used a heavy weight thread on top while my bobbin was threaded with regular all purpose thread.

Pattern Alterations: I stayed true to the original pattern for the most part with only one change. The pattern has you making your straps with a rounded base.  You’ll see at the bottom of my straps that I had to create an angled base.  This was because my canvas was so heavy that I couldn’t get it to flip right side out after I had sewn right sides together and trimmed down the seam allowance.  So, I re-cut and folded all my seam allowances in, creating the angled base on the bottom and topstitched both straps together wrong sides facing.


When I make a new pattern, I like to keep the finished product hanging around the studio for a few days to see what kind of response it elicits from our students.  From the first day we had this pack on display we got the “Ohhhhh….when is THIS workshop???!” response, so we added it as a workshop in our winter series at Butcher’s. If you’re in the Philly area, come make a great backpack with us in February!

xo! Mali


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