is a member of affiliate programs. I may make a small commission if you make a qualifying purchase after clicking a link on my site – at no additional cost to you. Visit my affiliate policy page for full details.

My daughter loves collecting “treasures”. Her first choice for tucking them away is in her own pockets if her outfit has them. If she doesn’t have any, her next choice is one of my pockets. However, she has lately become enamored of having her own bags, especially backpacks. Unfortunately, most backpacks are far too large to fit her and too spacious for what she needs. After about the tenth time of her trying to heft around her heavy diaper backpack, I decided to turn an old shirt into an upcycled drawstring backpack just for her.

I dug into my boxes of clothes designated for upcycling and/or crafting and found an old cotton logo work shirt. Perfect! I looked at it and knew I could sew an easy DIY upcycled drawstring backpack from it. It took me less than half an hour to make, and she uses it almost every day. Her backpack is currently home to nail polishes she fell in love with when I was getting out colors for her DIY counting and sorting toy.

It is an easily adaptable pattern that it can be customized to any size you need. I have also modified it as a drawstring bag only, for which I have found numerous uses.

Step 1 – Gather Your Upcycled Drawstring Backpack Supplies

Shirt used to make upcycled drawstring backpacks
Shirt used to make upcycled drawstring backpacks

You’ll need an old shirt. The hem becomes the drawstring channel at the top of your bag so your shirt should have a wide, open hem. The shirt can be practically any size and style – it will just affect the finished size. You’ll need cord of some kind. My bags feature ribbon cord, but you could also choose parachute cord, cotton rope, jute twine, or any other rope-like material you may have. Next, you’ll need a few basic crafting supplies; scissors, safety pins, pins, thread, and a sewing machine or needle if you are sewing by hand.

Step 2 of Upcycled Drawstring Backpack

Cut out your shirt

Determine your desired upcycled drawstring backpack finished size. After you have done so, cut two sections (front and back) out of the shirt. Each should be 3/8″ longer and 3/4″ wider than your finished measurements. To help decide on size, I measured my daughter’s back for the approximate area I thought the backpack should cover.

Step 3* of Upcycled Drawstring Backpack

Pin and sew the bottom hem

*Please note that if you are doing any sort of applique like my “A” backpack, you will want to add those elements before Step 3. I included instructions at the end of this post.

With your right sides together, pin and sew a seam at the bottom of your backpack. Use a 3/8″ seam allowance. If you will be using your upcycled drawstring backpack to carry heavy items, it would be worthwhile to sew a double and/or reinforced seam.

Step 4 of Upcycled Drawstring Backpack

Install the cord

Cut two sections of your cord to an appropriate length. To determine that length, it helps to know the drawstring construction. Each of the two cords will begin at the bottom corner of your bag, loop through both the front and back, then end back at the same bottom corner. So your cord length should be enough to reach from the right hip, in front of the right arm and up over the shoulder, to your spine, then back along the same route. From that measurement, add about 2″ to account for tails and give.

Using your yarn needle (if your cord is small enough) or a safety pin to thread the cord through one side of the bag. Then loop it through and install in the channel on the other side.

With the second cord, start on the same side as the first cord loop is on – so opposite where you started with the first cord. Thread the second cord through one side, then loop and thread through the channel on the other side. When you are finished, you will have two ends on each side of the bag. The two ends on one side will be from the same cord. I have shown the paths of the two cords in red and green above.

Step 5 of Upcycled Drawstring Backpack

Anchor the cords and sew the sides

With the right sides still together, thread the two cord ends from one side down into the inside of the backpack. Pull them out through the open side seam. Tuck them down tight against the bottom seam. Repeat with the two cord ends on the opposite side. Pin the side seams and sew with a 3/8″ seam allowance. Sew the seam from below the drawstring hem channel to the bottom. I like to sew, backstitch, and sew over the cord ends several times to really secure them in place.

Step 6 of Upcycled Drawstring Backpack

Add optional embellishments* and enjoy!!

*If you are adding an applique or other integrated embellishments, do so before Step 3. But other embellishments, such as buttons, flowers, etc. can be added after your upcycled drawstring backpack is completed.

Happy Crafting!!

^Optional Applique^

On one of the backpacks, I need to cover up part of a t-shirt logo, so I decided to add an initial. I did not intend for it to end up looking Captain America-ish, but I think it kind of does 🙂 If you want to add something similar, cut out your desired applique pieces. Starting with the bottom piece, pin each layer into place. Then sew around your applique pieces. Make sure to start from the center of the applique area and work your way out to help avoid bunching and rippling.

On my letter ‘A’, I used a zig-zag stitch set to a very short distance. I sewed right along the edge of the fabric piece so the edge was buried under the stitching. To anchor down the red, I used one of the decorative stitches on my sewing machine. I inset the stitch line just inside the edge to add some texture and dimension to the finished product.

Once you have attached your appliques, you can proceed back to ‘Step 3 of Upcycled Drawstring Backpack.’

Print-Friendly, Downloadable PDF Available to Members!

Or scroll on for the web-based version.

Download the PDF by becoming a SeeMelissaCraft member. It’s easy and FREE! Just fill out the form below to enjoy the benefits of membership 🙂 Your welcome email will contain your password to access the member download area.