Thursday, 8 October 2015

How to Turn a Drawstring Bag into a Backpack

Crocheted drawstring bag laid flat. This useful drawstring bag is just the right size for a take-along crochet project.  

It becomes more useful when carried on your back, keeping hands free for riding a bike, wheeling a chair or holding on for dear life on crowded public transport!

Hold little ones' hands as you stroll to the park where they can play and so can you (with your crochet)!

This is how Janet Brani's "WIP Project Bag" pattern changes a simple drawstring bag into a convenient backpack.

Crocheted drawstring bag laid flat with drawstrings positioned to illustrate possible shoulder straps.
Find more information about the drawstring bag in my previous post, "WIP Project Bag: Progress Photos At Last". You are always welcome to comment or ask questions on Lupey Loops, either in the 'comment box' at the end of each post or by email at

Ingrid K. of Funkycrochet (blog) remarked on the style of this bag; that it was quite different to other bags she has seen online.

Promotional drawstring backpack laid flat. It is a simple rectangle with a casing at the top. Each bottom corner has an eyelet through which is threaded a nylon cord which then becomes the drawstring of the bag.
Promotional drawstring
backpack is very flat.

I have seen drawstring backpacks of similar construction used for promotional purposes. They are light and easy to fold and pack in a suitcase, handbag or pocket.  They are are great for sports uniforms, shoes and impromptu bike rides to the shop. 

Promotional drawstring backpack on someone's back, showing how the nylon cord of the drawstring loops over the shoulders, down the side and through the eyelets at the bottom of the bag.
Wearing the backpack.

Unfortunately, these examples are not the most attractive in materials or looks.  The cords get dirty quickly and fray.  Once the fabric starts to fray, there is no stopping it from ripping. 

That's why I am so delighted
to have a mini crocheted version!

Rectangular crocheted bag with drawstring across the top.

Like the promotional bag, all this crocheted bag needs (to become a backpack) is to loop the cords over the shoulders. This is easily achieved by stitching the ends of the drawstrings to the bottom or sides of the bag to create a loop on each side.  

This basic solution gives rise to problems with the lengths of the loops: 
  • When the drawstrings are pulled tightly to close the bag, the shoulder loops become too long to secure the bag on one's back.  
  • If the drawn cords are stitched to the bag to secure shorter shoulder straps, they become too short to fully open the bag.

With Janet Brani's pattern, I have been able to create a bag with adjustable straps to fit any sized shoulders.


Materials & Tools 

  • Wooden beads with large bore
    (I used wooden barrel beads sized 17 x 18 mm)
  • Matching thread to attach beads to bag
  • Remnant or scrap sewing thread or thin yarn
    (I used a 4 ply cotton)
  • Small wool needle


Construction Method 

To successfully convert the drawstring closure into backpack straps, check that the drawstrings are threaded correctly through their casing. When both sides are pulled at the same time, the bag should close.
Close up of the top of the WIP Project Bag showing the french knitted drawstrings threaded through a crocheted casing.
Each drawstring is threaded into the casing at the side of the bag,
worked all the way around and then out again at the same place it went in. 
Insert one cord into the right hand side and the other cord into the left.

The promotional bag has eyelets in the bottom of the bag through which the nylon cord is threaded.
Packet of wooden beads in solid colours: red (2), green (3), yellow (4) and blue (4). The brand is "Arbee".
Wooden beads instead of eyelets.
Which colour should I use?


In the case of the crocheted bag, wooden beads serve the same purpose as eyelets.

Choose beads with a wide bore to accommodate the cords.

I chose red beads because the red matched perfectly and there were only two of them in the packet.  This project only needs two.  I saved the other coloured beads in case a future project needs more than two beads the same colour.

Mark the bottom corners of the bag where the beads will attach:
Crocheted bag laid flat with a section of red yarn marking each borrom corner.
Position the beads and mark the spot with matching thread.
I used the same variegated yarn as the bag
but selectively cut out the red sections.

Use a wool needle to stitch the beads to the bottom corners of the bag:
Close up of the bottom of the bag showing a red wooden bead stitched onto each bottom corner.

Beads stitched into place.


Thread Cords Through Beads 

Close up of bead stitched onto bottom left of the bag. The left hand drawstring ends are on the left hand side of the picture.
Close-up of bead stitched onto
corner of bag.

The crocheted cords look too thick to fit through the bead.  How is this going to work?

A useful property of stretchy crocheted cords is that they will get thinner as they stretch!  

Here is my method for tricky threading.

Close-up of bead on the bottom right corner of bag. A wool needle has been threaded and pushed through the bead from the bottom towards the top, leaving the tail of the yarn remaining inside the bead.
Thread a needle with scrap yarn and bring it through the bead from bottom to top, leaving the tail end inside the bead.

A threaded needle has been worked from bottom to top through a wooden bead an ten continued on through the ends of the drawstring cords,  leaving yarn tail trailing through bead.
Continue on with the needle through the ends of the right drawstring
(crocheted cord), allowing the end of the thread to trail through the bead.
Do not pull the thread all the way through the bead.

Rectangular crocheted drawstring bag laid flat with a bead stitched to each bottom corner.
The needle has been worked right through the bead,
through the ends of the drawstring and out the other side.
The yarn tail is trailing through the bead as shown.

Close up of bottom right of bag showing the needle drawing a thread from bottom to top through the bead, the ends of the drawstring and then back down again through the bead, allowing the yarn tail to remain inside the bead.
Bring the needle and thread back down through the bead from top to bottom, leaving the yarn tail inside the bead.

Two hands are used to thread the crocheted cord ends through the bead.  The right hand is holding the yarn tail while the left hand worked the needle and yarn through the bead, the drawstring ends and back into the beads.
Once the needle has gone through the bead, through the ends of the drawstring and back through the bead: hold the yarn tail with the right hand while pulling the needle with the left hand to bring the yarn and cord through the bead. 

The left hand is pulling on both ends of the thread to pull the drawstring cords through the bead. The right hand is holding the bead still as the cords come through.
Steady the bead with one hand while the other holds both ends of the thread
to pull the drawstring cord through the bead.

Close up of bottom of bag showing the right hand drawstring ends threaded through the bead on the bottom right hand corner.  The scrap thread is still threaded through the ends of the cords but can be removed now.
Now that the drawstring ends are threaded through the bead,
the scrap thread can be removed.

Use the same process to thread the left hand drawstring ends through the bead on the bottom left of the bag.

Now both drawstrings are attached to the bottom sides of the bag to make shoulder straps:

Close-up of the bottom of the bag showing the drawstrings threaded through the beads at the bottom of the bag.  Underneath the bead, the drawstrings are secured with a knot.
The drawstrings from both sides of the bag have been threaded through the beads
at the bottom of the bag and secured with knots.

One can adjust the shoulder straps by sliding the drawstrings through the beads until they are the desired length.  I used knots to secure the shoulder straps at the correct length.

WIP Project Bag laid flat.  The bag is open at the top, the drawstrings have become shoulder straps by attaching their ends to the bottom corners of the bag.  The strings are threaded through beads on the bag corners and secured with a knot underneath each bead.  The loose tails have been tied together underneath the bag with a reef knot.
The drawstring bag is now configured as a backpack.
A knot underneath each bead secures each strap at the right length. 
The tail ends are tied together in a loose reef knot to keep them  tidy.


Finishing the Bag 

Janet Brani's WIP Project Bag has floral appliquéd embellishments but the recipient of my bag did not want to have any other details stitched onto it.  That was fine with me.

This bag looks great as it is but it needs a lining to be a most useful WIP Project Bag:
  • If I leave the bag as it is, there is a good chance that it will stretch out of shape if I try to stuff too much yarn into it or place something heavy inside. 
  • My very fine steel crochet hooks could also poke their way to the outside and either damage the stitches or fall out and get lost. 
I have three different fabric remnants suitable for a lining.  Which one shall I choose?

Crocheted drawstring bag laid flat against a green crocheted background with three swatches of cotton fabric laid out above it in yellow, brown, green, red and gold colours.

Any of these patterned cottons will do.

I will write about the last finishing step–adding a lining to a crocheted bag–in another blog post very soon.

I can't wait to have this bag done and ready to use!

What is your experience with crocheted
(or knitted) bags?  
Do you have any tips to share?


References & Links

Brani, Janet, "WIP Project Bag", crochet pattern, Crochet One-Skein Wonders: 101 Projects from Crocheters Around the World, Durant & Eckman, Storey Publishing, USA, 2013.

Durant, Judith & Eckman, Edie [editors], Crochet One-Skein Wonders: 101 Projects from Crocheters Around the World, 1st printing, ISBN 978-1-61212-042-3,, Storey Publishing LLC, 210 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA 01247, USA, 2013. 

Lupey Loops, "How to Add a Lining to a Bag", blog entry 5 November 2015:

Lupey Loops,  "WIP Project Bag: Progress Photos At Last", blog entry 17 September 2015:
This post includes links to pattern and project details.

The book "Crocheted One-skein Wonders" is open to the page of the pattern which displays a photograph of the finished item. A skein of multicoloured sock yarn is resting on top, holding the book open.
Janet Brani's pattern in Crochet One-Skein Wonders.
The colourful striped WIP Project Bag being worn as a backpack over a black shirt and black jeans.
My finished product from Janet Brani's pattern.
The drawstring bag is now a backpack!


  1. Great way to turn your bag into a backpack! xx

    1. Have you seen this method before, Amy?

  2. great instructions! Well done! It looks great.

    1. Thanks Mary-Anne, I wasn't sure how much detail to go into or how many photos to include. When I started crocheting, I had minimal knowledge of sewing etc. and would get frustrated with instructions that assumed the reader knew all about sewing and other finishing techniques. That's why I went into extra detail with this bag project. I don't want other crocheters to feel 'lost' or 'stuck' with a project because of a lack of experience or information about an unfamiliar technique.

  3. I think that design is just brilliant, the beads are pretty and functional. Thank you for posting this because it is not only a beautiful bag but functional too.

    1. I totally agree with you, Meredith. It is great to be able to make the bag adjustable without having to source or fiddle with expensive bag accessories.

      Ready-made straps and buckles look excellent but can be expensive and hard to find. They usually require reinforcement at the anchor points (where the straps/buckles join the bag) with extra layers, lining or interfacing etc. There may also be the potential for a buckle pin to get caught in the stitches through normal use.

      Janet Brani's bead solution avoids that extra effort, keeping the project quick, simple and easy. The split stitch gives a relatively solid fabric so the lining is not absolutely necessary, making this a great project for anyone averse to sewing.

      The simple rectangular shape means that one can tighten up the stitch tension for a thicker fabric by using a smaller hook and working until the bag is the right size without the need for complex calculations.

      I must send my congratulations to Janet Brani for this pattern which caters for a range of crafting abilities.

  4. Wonderful details on how to work those straps!

    1. Thank you, Janet - there is nothing like praise from the pattern designer herself to make my day! ;-)

      Were your ears burning? Your comment came through just as I was trying to post my reply to Meredith (Mereknits) where your name was mentioned. ('Trying' because I was using a different computer and the replies did not publish properly which is why my replies to you both have been delayed.) So now I can tell you publicly and directly here:

      Congratulations on a great pattern. The more I look at it, the more great things I notice about your design. Have a happy day and happy crocheting!

  5. Thanks for the tutorial! I am sure this will come in handy once I have kids one day! I had a gym bag like this when I was in school and it was soo useful!

    Take care
    Crochet Between Worlds

    1. My crocheted bag is a little small for a gym kit but there is no reason for not making a bigger one! ;-)

      My WIP Project Bag holds my hooks etc. plus 1 large skein (100g) of sock yarn or a couple of 50g skeins of 4-ply cotton or a handful of thread reels.

      I look forward to working with thread this summer so it is great to have a smaller project bag that is easy to carry. What do you keep and carry your projects in?

      Do you think your teddies would enjoy riding around in a backpack? They are so cute!
      Cheers, :-)

  6. The bag is lovely and very useful. The only problem I have with knitted or crocheted bags is when it rains!

    1. That is a very good point indeed, Gillian! I am so glad you mentioned it - it must be obvious to you because of the higher rainfall where you live but it never really occurred to me because I live in a very dry part of Australia. Thank you for reminding me of this issue. Soggy fibres are not fun at all!

      What do you suggest to get around this problem? I could make sure my lining is waterproof to protect the contents of the bag but that doesn't stop the exterior of the bag from getting wet.

      Wool naturally has water resistant properties, wool that has retained some of its lanolin content even more so but it may not be enough to survive a deluge.

      Maybe we should try waterproof fibres like plarn (plastic yarn)? What is the water resistance of raffia or other ribbon yarns? I have never used those before.

      Some backpacks designed for computers come with an elasticised waterproof cover that sits in a little zip pouch ready to be extracted and pulled over the backpack when the wet weather sets in - like a hood for the bag!

      I am keen to know what other ideas and solutions are out there to avoid soggy crocheted bags!
      Thanks for your constructive criticism, Gillian. You have given me more to think about! :-)

  7. Thanks for a great tutorial :-) . I have nominated you for the Encouraging Thunder Award. Please don't feel you have to do it as I know time is precious but I wanted you to know how much I enjoy your blog. You can find my post here
    Sharon x

    1. Thank you Sharon for your feedback and also for your nomination. I had never heard of that award before. I hope your nomination means that the tutorial makes sense and inspires you to have a go! I will respond to your nomination when I have good time to concentrate and focus.

      Your award post listed above is amazing - lots of new blogs to visit and explore including a few 'lupey' blogs that I hadn't seen before so if you don't hear from me for a while, I will be busy blogreading!

      It makes me sad on one hand to know that there are other bloggers struggling with chronic illness like us, but on the other hand, it is fabulous to be able to find and support each other on the internet, share stories, compare notes, and to celebrate the benefits that we can enjoy from our craft(s).

      Congratulations yourself on your own blog nominations - you inspire many with all the different activities you share. Cheers!

  8. Hi :) Thank you for leaving a comment on my website about the Mandela Flower in memory of Wink. I struggle with depression myself amongst other things and hope putting the flowers around will help others. I have a family member with sjogren's so I understand its a very tiring disease. It also makes it hard to eat anything spicy, dry, or crunchy if your losing or have no saliva! Your bag is adorable! I admit I didn't think about them getting soggy in rain... Maybe waterproof fabric cut in strips... but have you seen the plastic buckets with crochet handles at the top? Maybe you could crochet a cover over something weatherproof and then people can remove the crochet if it starts raining. You know like a little vinyl drawstring bagmor makeup case if you wanted to make a wristlet. :)

    1. Hi Suzanne,
      Thank you for visiting and giving some great tips!

      I am sorry that you struggle with depression etc. Chronic illness can leave one vulnerable to depression and depression goes hand-in-hand with many illnesses. I hope that you are in a good place at the moment, Suzanne. How many flowers do you think you have made so far?

      Funny that we should be discussing waterproofing our crochet from the wet while at the same time discussing Sjögren's whose hallmark is abnormal dryness in the body!

      One of the consequences of Sjögren's Syndrome's dryness is extreme fatigue. I am not sure where my fatigue betins and ends between Sjögren's and my other issues. I have added some links with information about Sjögren's at the top of my blog page for those who want to know more about it. I can see that you know a fair bit about it Suzanne and I hope your relative does not suffer too much. I have become prone to choking lately (usually while eating and drinking) and I wonder if that is me just being clumsy or the underlying disorders making themselves known.

      Thanks again for your ideas about waterproofing. I have seen those plastic buckets with crocheted handles (there is a picture somewhere on my Pinterest page). A detachable waterproof lining would allow one to remove the crocheted outer layer easily. I am loathe to use anything with vinyl as it is not good for the immune system. Many soft vinyls contain phthalates which are endocrine disruptors and not good for the body.

      Your ideas have got me thinking of new possibilities though! Thanks again for the thought you have put in and for sharing it! :-)

  9. I just found something called jelly yarn developed by kathleen Greco...maybe you could try that. :)

    1. I hadn't seen jelly yarns before. I notice that they do not ship outside of continantal USA though. The description reminds me of a friend who crochets and knits with discarded computer cabling. If you cut open a printer cable, you will find multicoloured plastic insulation on the wires. I wonder if the jelly yarn is like that insulation but without the wire inside?

  10. Wow, awesome bags and I really like you idea. Wonderful blog....
    Wholesaler of Drawstring Bags