Wednesday Craft: Backpack makeover

Last week I wrote about decoupage and my Etsy shop; this week we’ll do something completely different. This summer I’ve been spending regular days out, sometimes staying out from 7 AM until almost 9 PM. After a few attempts at carrying my day’s supplies in a messenger bag, my shoulders revolted, and I took to toting around a lightweight backpack instead.

American backpack

The backpack

The backpack is great, a hundred times better than a single-strap shoulder bag. The trouble is, it’s got a giant American flag on it. We won the bag in an REI giveaway drawing last summer. It’s part of the Jansport Heritage collection and I love the retro styling, but I hate that my bag makes a political/patriotic statement. I don’t like to wear prominent logos or labels in any case, and moreover there are many things this country does that I don’t support (to put it diplomatically). So I wanted the flag gone.

Slightly altered backpack

The quick fix

When I first started using this bag I had to get ready in a hurry, and so my temporary flag cover-up was just a quick baste-and-pin job with a piece of pretty fabric. Not an attractive fix at all, and after the fabric got stained, even less so… but it seemed less offensive to me than the bold unaltered flag. But what I really wanted was to make the bag my own: to maintain its cool vintage lines while making it over to my own sense of style. On June 10, I laid the plans. Today, I began putting them into action.

Backpack plans

The plan I made on one of my days out

The original plan (at left) was to cover the flag pocket with an embroidered fabric panel, but it was hard to muster enthusiasm for such painstaking work. While out in Oakland yesterday I saw a shirt in a shop window that made me wonder if I could use fabric paints to provide color instead. I went out this morning and bought two paints and some sponge applicators, and got to work. I cut simple stencils out of a discarded box, and used these to paint chartreuse and magenta leaves onto a piece of cotton I cut from an old pair of khaki pants.

Leaf stencil

The first stencilled leaf

For some reason, I’ve always been hesitant to use craft paints. It seemed too damaging, somehow, to make these permanent marks on already “finished” objects. But when I sponged on my first leaf stencil, I was surprised to see how easy it was, and how clean it looked! No wonder the pages of Martha Stewart Living are always filled with painting projects! I quickly covered the surface of the fabric with painted leaves, then left it to dry.

Completed leaf stencilling

Completed stencilling

In the meantime, I made a new stencil, and sifted through my scrap bag for fabrics that would go with my newly leaf-printed panel. I ironed the scraps, cut them out using the stencil, and began playing with positioning them over the drying paint. What I want to do eventually is fuse these colorful pieces onto the leaf-printed panel, then decorate the whole thing with machine stitching and hand embroidery, maybe even some buttons and beads.

Mocked-up leaf panel

Mocked-up leaf panel, before embroidery & other embellishments

I don’t know where I got the idea (on my plan above) that this was going to be a single-day project, but I know now I’m definitely not going to get this done today. By the time the paint dries it will be 7 PM, and then there’s all the machine and hand sewing to do — and that’s only on this single panel.

But that’s all okay. This will be a fun, multi-day project, and will be a good experience in using textiles and colors in a new way! I will keep you posted!

Tomorrow: things I need to figure out before I can become a “serious writer”!