Monday, May 5, 2008

How to Make a Messenger Bag

or...How Cory Makes His Sweet, Sweet Bags

Anyway...Leif Labs turned one last month! Woo woo! In honour of this momentous occasion, you get to see how these suckers are made. Get excited!

And if you want to learn more about designing bags and such, check out this post here.

Bag! Wes says yeah!

First Things First: Design

Each bag design starts with a little love, a little luck, a prayer (to Ol' Nick), a pen, and a sketch in the ol' notebook. Aw. The second drawing is what the paper pattern looks like at first. Then I tape it together and cut along the desired seams. And I get the following:Yay! a pattern. This is a new size for me (22x14x7) so I'm using a paper pattern here. I've transferred my established designs to mat board. Makes things a snap.

Get Out the Knives

Okay...the pattern's been traced onto the poly liner and a three-quarter-inch seam allowance has been added. Now I'm tracing it onto the Cordura nylon shell.Liner, shell, and pockets. I have three shades of brown in this bag. Ha. By the bye, black is the worst color of liner you can have in a bag. You usually want a lighter-colored liner so you can see what you have at the bottom of your bag. I don't plan on putting anything small in the bottom of my bag, so I don't care. Ha ha... Oh, I read the other day that a lot of Japanese bags have black liners for whatever reason...probably 'cause it looks dangerous. Thought you should know that...

Time to Sew!

Makin' sure the we're all lubed up and ready to go... Sailrite's a rockin'.I start with the front zippered pocket. Yep. A lot of peeps don't put zippers into their bags. They tell you it's 'cause they break 'n' shit. I've never had a molded-tooth zipper break--ever. I have a thirty-year-old sleeping bag with this kind of zipper. Still works. They don't have 'em on their bags 'cause they're a pain in the ass to install. Ha ha... No, they're actually not that bad once you do enough of 'em. (I use YKK Vislon #5)All right, so I've attached the tabs to the ends of the zipper, and sewn it to the shell & liner of the front part of the pocket. Now, above, I'm adding a top stitch to keep it neat. If you use a lighter fabric you don't really need to do this, but the heavier fabric won't lie flat, so *bam* stitch it down. Plus it gives it a finished look, for whatever psychological reason...And flip it over and stitch down the liner.Here: Sewing the back part of the pocket to the zipper and finishing the seam with grosgrain ribbon. If you care at all about your bag, you'll finish your seams. If you don't, it'll look decent for a year or so and then turn into a rat's nest of shite. After I finish this line, I'll add the top it ends up like what you see below:Sewing the pocket to the shell. You can see the two d-rings for reflector tails and the light loop up there. D-ring and flap strap. Four rows of stitching is probably excessive...but I like how it looks.And a finished front. Sewin' on the cross-strap tri-glide attachment to the back of the bag. I would prefer to stick this in a seam...but I've moved the side seams up to the front of the bag, so this isn't really it goes. Design is the art of compromising. Makin' some arts. Draw 'n' stitch. Thanks, Sears. I'm using a home-machine to lay on these stitches. My Sailrite's tension is set too high for this (I could set it, but it's not worth the trouble)--otherwise it'd be super puckered.And the outside of the bag's done!*Poof* And here's the completed liner. I don't like a whole lotta pockets. Three to four is good enough for me...otherwise I forget where I put things...ha.I'm using cotton duck for the small inside pocket: soft against your skin: oooh. And there's the pen holster there. You can probably fit like three pens in there. Yeah. Now the fun begins... I've pinned the liner- and shell flap together here. The shell kinda shrank from all the embroidery...I guess I should've cut it a bit time.And sewing the flaps together. I use a zigzag stitch here. Since the zigzag kinda stretches, you don't get as much puckering as with a straight stitch. Though, if you're shooting for a convex flap, you know what to do. (See Love Life Bags...with the flap darts.)Brand that shit!Oh man, time for the edging tape. This used to be my least favorite part of bagmaking...but since I got a new, more flexible edging tape I don't mind it as much. (Generic Type 2 Mil-W-4088.) I have a edging tool, but I can never get it to work as good as I would I just do it by hand. Let's cut some shoulder straps!You can see there I've sewn some grosgrain onto the lip there. Now I'm starting to sew on the shoulder strap. I think where the straps attach are the most important parts of the bag, so I put a lot of time and stitches into 'em. I think strap attachment is also the major distinction between bags...side, back, seam, suspended...but that's just me. Ha.Bar-tack that!This bag has a floating liner. That means I sew the shell- and liner body together separately. It takes a little more time, but it's worth it. So, here, I've sewn both the sides and bottoms of each part. And the shell's ready to be turned rightside out. Floating in a sea of Cordura. Now it's time to suture the lip.

Here we go...Adding the webbing for the compression cord. Kind of an awkward position. Luckily, I use a pretty lightweight liner so I can smash the bag under my tiny sewing machine. Ha. Threading the paracord through the barrel lock. If you have trouble doing this, you can use something pointy to pull it through.Let's put a cross-strap-keeper buckle on there too. I've had a lot of people ask me what they should do with their cross strap when it's not engaged (like when they're walking around). I just always have it clipped in, so I was like, I don't know--deal with it. But I came up with this here. Seems to work all right.
Okay, time to add some more thread to the corners.
And we're finished attaching the strap. That shouldn't wear out for a long time...I hope. That's number 92 thread.

Makes a nice clean corner. No water's getting in there.Slap on the flap buckles. Make sure they're on straight.Cut out the back pad from the sleeping pad roll. And put it in. It's pretty easy to take out...if you need something to sit on.
There it is...with some wallet pieces in the foreground.

"He's a ghost, he's a god, he's a man, he's a guru/You're one microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan/designed and directed by his red right hand. "

Red Right Hand - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds


Strap It On
This is the place to cut corners if you have corners to cut. We here at Leif Labs love the integrated shoulder pad...because luxury is dear to us. But if you wanna ride bareback, our caps are off to ya.
Some pieces of the shoulder pad: nylon packcloth, 100wt fleece, 3/8 inch foam.If you ever have trouble sewing fleece or any other lightweight material--like it keeps jamming down in the needle plate like a li'l bitch--try sewing with paper under it. Works like magic. Just tear the paper off afterwards.And the pad is all sewn up. You missed the part where I stuffed the foam into the pad sleeve--one of my favorites. Ha. It's not so bad now that I line the pad with fleece (stretchy)...but I've spent long spans of time cramming foam into tubes of fabric before. Not fun. And I've made foam applicators as well. Think: tampons. Ooh... Another fun part: stitching the pad with a sewing awl. I do this because I don't have a whole lot of presser-foot clearance on my Sailrite. I can probably jam it under there...but I get better results sewing it by hand. I could buy a JUKI...but I don't feel like spending another thousand bucks on a machine. Plus, I like my little Sailrite.

Pad and strap united as one powerful force...ready to destroy evil & whatnot.

I like to put a bit of bike tube onto the tri-glide. This keeps the webbing from slipping...or at least slows it down. That's one bad thing about using seatbelt webbing--it's super slick. Especially the kind I buy. Shucks. You can also pour some stitches into the webbing to rough it up if you're having slippage problems.

Making a webbing keeper (that's elastic, by the way). This allows you to roll up loose webbing. Saw this on a military pack--genius.
And it rolls up like so. And the final touch: let's add a d-ring to hold on to. And a webbing clip so you can easily loop it onto the strap so it's not hanging down on your bike. Yeah! get on there. This piece is made by Duraflex. Hope it doesn't break like their stinking buckles. Ha.

And that's that. Feel free to sling me an email if you got any questions about makin' bags.
Happy trails.


sarah said...

I've been spending a lot of time on your blog recently-- you have a lot of rad stuff! Thanks for sharing with the rest of us-- you're probably saving people a lot of time and materials by avoiding a lot of mistakes (and therefore saving the environment....)

Have you ever done straps with padding that starts right from the bag? (like zugster--

I was looking into doing it but haven't worn anything other than a chrome bag, so i don't know if it's necessary or if your method is adequate/superior... thoughts?

cory said...

Hey sarah, glad you like my stuff. When I first started scouting the Web for industrial sewing tips I couldn't find nothin. Hope this fixes that.
I've made bags with padding that comes down a bit to cover the corner (like on some RELoad bags). On most of my more recent larger bags you can adjust the strap to do that a little. On really early bags I did it a lot (see my Early Stuff post, I think it's called, in the first month of this blog). I should probably start doing that more. I'm moving back to a fixed shoulder strap on my larger bags (as opposed to having an adjustable tri-glide buckle on 'em). These are a little more comfortable if you wear your bag really high on your shoulder...which you usually do with a big, big bag.
As far as what Zugster does (and BagJack, and some BaileyWorks, and the now-defunct Rickshaw Technical bag, and a handful of smaller bags)...well, it has its pros and cons. It's easier to sew on there. Just make and x-box stitch and you're done. And you can make a bigger bag that fits like a smaller one (rides tighter). This creates popped-up corners though, which can obstruct your vision while riding (I've heard of people complain about BagJack for this reason).
Obviously I like my method best. It's not like I couldn't make any other messenger bag. Ha.
My design creates a real clean corner that doesn't get in the way. It keeps water out without requiring those little flap fins (like on Chrome and others), which makes it easy to carry tubes or swords or whatever long skinny thing you want to stick outta your bag, and...what was I talking about? Oh, and it doesn't block your vision. And it lies flat on your shoulder. My bags are pretty close to Zo Bags in how they're attached. Except for mine it's pretty easy to make the bag with a floating liner.
Woo! That was long.
Let me know if you have any other questions.

Anonymous said...

Autostrap India is Polypropylene Strapping Manufacturer, Polyester Straps in India.

DAn said...

Hey Cory,
Thanks for all the info. When attaching a floating liner to the shell do sew just the top seem and the flap and leave the bottom unattached? Does the liner stay fairly well? Thanks Again.

cory said...

Yes, with a floating liner, the liner and shell are only sewn together at the top edge and at the flap. (Depending on the pattern, this might even be one stitch.)
This leaves the side and bottom seams unconnected.
As long as the liner and shell are the same size the liner should stay in place, no problem.

Phil said...

I made a mini-mockup of the bag I'm making. The info on your site(s) is really helpful. Thanks.

But what is a good way to sew the corners of a one piece bag? I managed on the mock up, but it felt a bit clumsy. Any suggestions or pictures would be great.

cory said...

When you say clumsy, are you talking about the sewing process, or the design of the bag?
Let me know what pattern you're using. The one on this page is pretty weird...not one I'd start with. Have you read all the how-tos on ?

Phil said...

@cory: I'm talking more process than design. Actually, my girlfriend came home last night and showed me a decent way to do the corners. Then I got excited and sewed up the bag before I put my pockets on...oops. Guess I'll get some hand sewing practice.

I'm using this pattern as a reference:

I'm still curious to see how you go about your corners.

Pretty sure I've read most of the info on your site.

cory said...

Glad you've got it together. Yeah, I'm always forgetting steps...especially when I come back to a project the next day... The worst is forgetting to put webbing on. Ha. Anyway...
To make my corners, I fold the side pieces (the ones just under the flap that look like wings) over and tack them down. Then I sew on the binding (over the fold). After that I attach the shoulder strap pieces.. After I've sewn up the bag I go back and add reinforcement stitches to the corners.
I don't have a picture where I've folded and tacked, if that's the instant in this process you're looking for. But in the picture right below "Let's cut some shoulder straps!" you can see what it looks like after I've sewn on the binding and strap. Underneath the strap is that fold. And the next picture is a closeup of that fold.
Hope this helps.

Diego J. Garza said...

hi there- you're site is awesome and the quality of your bags look amazing. im working on my first one now and I too got too excited and forgot to sew on the pockets etc. So i basically have a bag without a strap right now.

Ive gone through your site but I still cant get my head around how to attach the straps accordingly. That is, besides sewing them to the bag, what buckle system do you recommend or do you have a tutorial on how to make the straps/pads in more detail? Any documentation on the straps would be greatly appreciated. :)

thanks a bunch and hope your bags are getting better and better.

Unknown said...

aaagghh! nic cave reference! awesome!

Anonymous said...

First of all, Totally Awesome!!

I love your blog as it is the best source of information that I've found on the net. I'm from the US, but I met a girl and moved to Malaysia. So I'm in Kuala Lumpur and so wishing I had my messenger bag again. It rains so much here! Well, I recently have a lot of time (no job, lol:D )and I thought why can't I make messenger bags here? After getting past the part of, "I'm an idiot.", I actually do have some sewing skill my mom left before she passed, and my girl and her mom are willing to help. So I went, looked for the materials and I was able to find everything, even Cordura! But it's a bit expensive so here's my idea:

I have some black water repellent, stain resistant material, and I found some other material that's the orange camouflage color. There are a lot of places that make the vinyl banners here so I can get lots of that for free! I'm thinking of sewing the material to the banner material, and then add a cloth lining to the inside just to make it nice, or maybe just leave the banner material plain. Sound good?

Anyways, I can't thank you enough for the stuff you've posted, but to be honest, my limited intelligence makes me more of a step-by-step guy, and I'm a little too analytic. Which brings me to my main point:)

Since I'm in Malaysia it's really hard to get a hold of people, ideas, patterns, and materials. I'm just hoping that there may be some people as great as you that could help me out with some more step-by-step instructions for bags, and hip pouches. Of course I will be doing some experimenting as well, but as to save on materials, and $$, I was hoping I could get some pointers from whoever is willing to give a helping hand in the way of information.

Also, I'm very confused on how to make the padded strap, exactly where to put it and how to attach it. Cheers

cory said...

Hi Kasey,
Here's a step-by-step guide to a simple messenger bag:
There are many different ways to make a shoulder pad. Find one that you like and I'll tell you how to make it. Ask me at coryleif at gmail.
Good luck, happy sewing!