Sew A Convertible Backpack Tote – free sewing pattern!

convertible backpack tote free sewing pattern

Here’s a free bag pattern you can sew that doubles as both a tote and a backpack! It’s perfect for kids and adults and teens too. Take it to the library, the beach, and the grocery store. This easy sewing pattern includes templates and easy to follow instructions with photos.

This blog post has been converted to an optional PDF that’s optimized for printing. Find it here. The blog post below is totally free to read, print, and sew! Just hit CTRL +P on your computer to print. The Optimized for Printing PDF download for $3 is totally optional.


This lightweight bag is easy to wear as a backpack because of a casing that you’ll sew on one side.

When I used regular quilting cotton (my pink butterfly bag), I fused a single layer of Pellon SF101 fusible interfacing to my bag exterior pieces. On the pineapple bag above, the exterior fabric is a sturdier cotton linen blend so I did not use interfacing.


Under the casing there’s a nice wide zipper (12’’ wide!) that’s perfect for a wallet, writing tools, and even your face mask. I put the zipper on the back so it would be hidden from view when I’m wearing the bag as a backpack, but you could easily sew it on the front instead – or in the inside of the tote.

There’s a magnetic snap closure at the inside top too to prevent items from falling out when you put the bag down.

Just pull the straps up and it turns into an easy tote. I left the front of the bag untouched to show off my pretty Rifle Paper Company fabric.

Are you ready to sew a convertible backpack tote?

SewCanShe’s Convertible Backpack Tote – free sewing pattern

Approximate size: 16’’ tall x 19’’ wide (not including the straps).

template map.png

The free pdf file will print up in 12 pages. Cut the margins off the pages along the gray lines and then tape the pages together as seen above. Note that page 3 does not contain any part of the templates. You can choose not to print that page if you wish.

Fabric and Notions

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 yards of fabric for the bag exterior (quilting cotton or home decor weight fabric suggested)
  • 1 yard of fabric for the bag lining (quilting cotton suggested)
  • 2 yards of medium weight fusible interfacing for the bag exterior (optional but suggested if you are using thin cotton fabric – I used Pellon SF101)
  • 1 zipper, 13’’ or longer (I used some of my favorite Zipper by the Yard)
  • 1 magnetic snap closure
  • fabric marking pen (such as a Frixion pen)
  • chopstick or other turning tool


From your exterior fabric, cut:

  • 1 on the fold using Template A
  • 1 on the fold using Template B
  • 2 using the Strap Extension Template
  • 1 rectangle 18’’ x 14’’ for the welt zipper pocket (not shown above)
  • 1 strip 3’’ x 20’’ for the sew-on casing

From your bag lining fabric, cut:

  • 1 on the fold using Template A
  • 1 on the fold using Template B
  • 2 using the Strap Extension Template

From the fusible interfacing (if using), cut:

  • 1 on the fold using Template A
  • 1 on the fold using Template B
  • 1 strip 3’’ x 20’’ for the sew-on casing
  • Enough 2 7/8’’ wide strips to fuse to the back of 2 fabric strap extension pieces (they are each 27’’ long). Note: If your interfacing is wide enough, you may be able to use the Strap Extension Template to simply cut 2 pieces.


If you are using interfacing in your bag, fuse the interfacing pieces to the exterior bag pieces cut from Template A, Template B, and the Strap Extension Template.


Mark and Sew the Darts

This is how I mark darts. If you prefer a different method, that’s fine too.

1. After applying interfacing (if using), re-fold your fabric pieces (with wrong sides together) and place the matching paper template on top. Pin to hold the paper template in place if necessary.

Make small scissor clips about 3/16’’ into the fabric at the ends of the dart marked on the pattern template.

2. Place a pin through all layers at the point of the dart.

While holding the pin in place, open the fabric layers and on the wrong side of the fabric, mark both sides right where you can see the pin piercing through the fabric.

Repeat Steps 1-2 with the exterior front and back pieces as well as the lining front and back pieces.


3. To sew each dart, fold the corner of the piece in half right sides together, lining up the small scissor clips. Start sewing at the edge and sew in a straight line to the fabric pen mark that should be along the fold. Backstitch neatly or pull out enough thread to tie the ends.

4. Sew 8 darts in all, 2 on each bag front piece (exterior and lining) and 2 on each bag back piece (exterior and lining).

Press the darts on the bag front pieces toward the center. Press the darts on the bag pack pieces toward the sides.


Attach the Magnetic Clasp

1. On the bag front lining piece, make a mark at the center of the bag, 1 1/4’’ below the top edge.

Following the manufacturer’s instructions, install one side of the magnetic clasp over this mark. If your snap didn’t come with instructions, I shared how I do it in my Sling Bag pattern.

2. Make a similar mark centered and 1 1/4’’ below the top edge of the back lining piece. Attach the other side of the magnetic snap over that mark.

Set the lining pieces aside for now.

I know it looks like I drew on the right side of the fabric, but this fabric is very thin so both sides looked pretty similar. I drew my rectangle on the WRONG side of the fabric.
I know it looks like I drew on the right side of the fabric, but this fabric is very thin so both sides looked pretty similar. I drew my rectangle on the WRONG side of the fabric.

Sew a Welt Zipper Pocket on the Back Exterior Piece

See this post for more about welt zipper pockets.

1. On the wrong side of the 18’’ x 14’’ pocket piece, use the fabric marking pen to draw a 12’’ x 1/2’’ rectangle at one shorter end. The easiest way to do this is to:

  • Draw a long line 1’’ away from one shorter (14’’) edge.
  • Draw a second parallel line 1 1/2’’ away from the shorter edge.
  • Draw two short lines to connect the two long lines, each one 1’’ away from a side (18’’) edge.

It’s okay if your lines intersect and extend a bit. The important part is to have a 12’’ x 1/2’’ rectangle that is 1’’ away from each of the three edges.


2. Place the pocket piece on top of the bag exterior back piece, right sides together. The top (shorter end with the rectangle on it) of the pocket piece should be 2’’ below the top edge of the bag exterior back piece and centered.

Pin the pieces together.


3. Sew neatly around the 12’’ x 1/2’’ rectangle – right on the lines.

4. Carefully cut down the center of the rectangle, to within 1/4’’ of each end. Then use scissors to clip to each corner – without cutting the stitches.


5. Push the pocket piece through the opening and gently turn the edges to the inside. Press carefully until you have a nice neat welt opening.


6. Place the zipper underneath the pieces so that it shows through the opening. Make sure that the zipper slider is showing through the opening and that the zipper extends at least 1/2’’ past either end.

Pin all around the zipper.


7. Neatly topstitch all the way around the zipper, about 1/8’’ away from the opening.

Switch to a zipper foot on your sewing machine if needed. Since I was using a straight stitch foot, it was narrow enough to work just fine.


8. Turn the bag back over and fold the bottom edge of the pocket piece up to match the top edge. Pin around the three sides with raw edges.


9. Without sewing the exterior of the bag, sew around the three sides of the pocket with raw edges. Use a 1/4’’ seam allowance.

Make the Attached Casing

1. Fold the casing piece in half lengthwise and press. Then open it and fold the long edges to the center, press. Fold it in half again to make a 3/4’’ x 20’’ strip – press.

2. Topstitch along both long edges, 1/8’’ from the edge.


3. At both ends of the strip, use the fabric marking pen to draw one line 1 1/2’’ away from the end and another line 4’’ away from the end.

4. Pin the casing strip to the bag back, about 1’’ above the zipper. Make sure the lines that you drew are facing up.

diagram 2.png

5. The next step is to sew the casing strip securely to the bag in the areas shown with black dashed lines in the photo above.

First sew along the previous topstitching and along the 2 lines that are 4’’ from the ends to make a rectangle in the center of the strip that is approximately 1/2’’ x 12’’.

Then sew each end in place, starting at the raw edge, pivoting to sew across the line marked 1 1/2’’ from the end, and then pivoting and sewing back to the raw edge.

The only openings on the casing should be two spots that are about 2 1/2’’ wide.


6. Pin the bag back to the matching lining piece right sides together along the top edge only. Stitch across the top with a 1/4’’ seam allowance.

7. Press the seam open and then fold the pieces wrong sides together. Press the top edge neatly.

Set the back piece aside for now.


Make the Bag Front and Straps

1. Pin and sew the exterior strap extender pieces to the short strap ends on the front exterior piece with a 1/4’’ seam allowance (right sides together).

Press the seams open.

Repeat with the lining front piece and lining strap extender pieces.


2. Place the exterior front and lining front right sides together and pin all around the top curved edges of the bag and the straps.

3. Starting at one side edge, sew along the top edges and around the straps, pivoting to sew around each strap end. Use a 1/4’’ seam allowance.

Stop sewing at the opposite side edge. Do not sew along the sides or bottom of the bag.


4. Trim the extra fabric away from the corners at the top of the straps (without cutting the stitching).

Cut small scissor clips into the curved edges without cutting the stitching.

5. Use the chopstick or other turning tool to turn the straps and top edge of the bag front right side out. Press carefully around all sewn edges.


6. Topstitch around the top edges and straps, starting and stopping 1 1/2’’ – 2’’ from each side edge.

Use the edge of your presser foot as a topstitching guide.

Tip: If you start and stop in a spot where your thread closely matches the fabric, the breaks in your topstitching will be less noticeable.

Pivot neatly around each strap end, and remember to stop sewing 1 1/2’’ – 2’’ before the side of the bag.


7. Place the ends of the straps side by side with the exterior side facing up, and mark an angled line as follows:

  • At the inner edge of each strap, make a mark 5’’ away from the end.
  • Starting at the outer edge of each strap, draw a line 6’’ away from the end that extends to the center of the strap.
  • Connect the marks 5’’ from the ends of the strap with the 6’’ marks at the center of the strap.

Tip: if you’d rather, you can simply draw a line across each strap, 6’’ from the end.

Assemble the Bag

1. Open out the exterior and lining layers of the bag back and place it right side up on your workspace.

Keeping the exterior and lining layers of the bag front together, place it on top of the bag back.

The lining pieces should be facing each other and the straps should extend over the bag back as seen above.

2. Pass each strap end through the opening in the casing on that side of the bag.

Don’t accidentally skip this step or your bag won’t convert to a backpack!


3. On one side of the bag, bring the end of the strap to line up with the dart at the bottom corner of the bag back.

Place one corner of the strap against the corner at the tip of the dart.


4. Pin the end of the strap in place lined up with the dart.

Align the side of the strap about 5/8’’ away from the raw side edge of the bag and pin up the strap for about 8’’.

5. Starting at the bottom of the strap, sew right on top of the topstitching.

Pivot and sew up one edge of the strap (keeping on top of the topstitching).

When you reach the angled (or straight) line that you drew, sew across it to the other side of the strap.

Pivot and begin sewing down the opposite side of the strap.

To make the strap more secure, choose a spot about 1’’ below the line and sew straight across the strap to where you were. Turn and sew around and over the line one more time.

This will reinforce the stitching where it will be tugged a lot.


Follow the topstitching back to the place where you began sewing and backstitch neatly.

Sew the other strap end to the opposite side of the bag in the same way.

If you pressed the darts on your bag back piece towards the sides, then the end of the strap should be sewn through the dart too – making it a little bit stronger there.


5. Place the bag on your workspace as before. Now separate the exterior and lining layers of the front piece.

Align the bag with the exterior front and back facing each other, as well as the lining front and back facing each other. Match up the side seams and the darts.

Push the straps toward the center so they don’t get caught in the seams.

Pin around all of the edges. Leave an opening about 6’’ long at the bottom of the lining.


6. Sew all the way around with a 1/4’’ seam allowance. Remember to leave a 6’’ opening at the bottom of the lining for turning.

7. Turn the bag right side out through the opening in the lining.

Press the raw edges at the opening to the inside.


8. Sew the opening closed.

Push the lining down inside the bag.


9. Press the top edges of the bag again, if needed. Finish topstitching around the top of the bag. You won’t need to topstitch on most of the bag front because it’s already done.


Enjoy your beautiful convertible backpack tote!

Happy sewing,


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