How to make a penguin backpack from old curtains

This project shows both my love for penguins, and my unbridled optimism. I had a vague ideahow I wanted the backpack to be, and an even vaguer idea how to make one. Luckily I was convinced it would be possible, when I tried very hard, so I just started somewhere and ended up with a bag!

finished penguin rucksack
Finished bag

I started with the two penguin quilt blocks you see below. The moment I laid eyes on the pattern I wanted to make it. They look so cool and men in black like! Penguins really cheer me up. I got the pattern from this website. With these pieces you can also see my tendency to combine different kind of fabrics. There is jeans, some kind of shining black fabric, part is quilting fabric and part is I don’t know, something I had lying around. When I quilted the pieces, by sewing through the layers, I decided to make small stitches on the edge of the pieces in the block in a similar colour so it would not stand out. I always think that gives a quilt block a neat finish.

Finished men in black penguins
These pieces are used as front pockets.

When I was finished with the blocks I thought they would look great as two front pockets on a backpack. I confided that plan to my mother and, luckily, she had a book with patterns for bags. I don’y think I would have been able to make it without the book, because altough I improvised, the pattern gave me a good idea of the necessary steps. The book was by Susan Briscoe. The rest of this post will take you through the steps necessary to make a bag:

       1. Fabric

Here my scavenger nature materialized. I got left-over curtain fabric from a friend, because he knows I like to sew. It turned out to be brilliant fabric to work with, because it was very sturdy, which made the bag very firm and robust.

The fabric I got
All the fabric I got displayed

       2. Design:

Well, as I told you. I used an actual pattern! I did not follow it to the letter ofcourse, but it was nice to have some back-up instructions.

3: putting one and two together

Here are some pictures of the bag in various stages of completion.

In the picture below I am quilting the side pieces. There are three layers in total to make the bag strong and durable. That is important for this bag because I planned to carry heavy items in it.

Machine quilting the sides of the back
I used a piece of paper to make the lines relatively even.

Bellow you can see the bottom pieces of the backpack. These pieces are quilted randomly, with me moving the fabric under my sewing machine and following the direction the fabric wanted to go. It turned out that is a very fun way to work!


When I attached the front pockets to the basic shape of the bag, some nifty needle pinning was needed. I sewed most of it by hand, because the way I made the front pockets did not make it easy to attach them with a machine. Even now, they look a bit awkward on the finished bag. Ah well, that is something to think about for my next bag.

Attaching the front pockets to the bag
Attaching the front pockets to the bag

Here is a picture that shows why you need to read the whole pattern, before you construct the bag. This is one of the straps with which you carry the bag. Normally you would sew those inside the seams of the sides pieces of the bag, to make the bag stronger, but not this time. I read that part of the pattern after I put all the sides together.

Why you need to read the pattern
Attaching the strap by hand on the outside

       4: Collecting missing supplies

For this I went to a brilliant store called ‘Jan de grote kleinvakman’, a large sewing supply store in the Netherlands. They had everything sewing-supply related: buttons, different kind of rope, elastics, patterns, needles in more varieties than you can imagine and buckles. I bought more than I needed,  but less than I wanted. The other materials will return in later projects.

5: Continue assembling.

When I made the closing flap I decided to use the green of the front pockets again. This gives the bag a more thought-through look. I decided on a star because it had to be something, and I like stars. As you can see in the pictures  I used the technique of binding quilts to finish the flap, by hand stichting the border secure at the back.


The next step was a lot of fun, because you hat to hammer the little round things in with a hammer, which is very therapeutic for people with more frustration than they care to admit to. I like that the rings make the bag looks very profesional (plese can someone tell me the English term for the rings, in Dutch they are called ‘Nestels’).

This is where the rope to close the bakc goes through

As you can see, after this step the bag was more or less finished. The only thing that still needed doing was pulling the robe through and to attach the front flap.



Overall I think the bag turned out great. There are a lot of things I should have thought about better, or should have done differently, but that is always the case with a finished project because you learn so much making it. I never imagined the end result would look this good, because it is a bag I will definetly use and love a lot.


  1. Not to sew the closing flap for the front pouches on the pouches themselves, becasue now it was impossible to use the buckles I bought to close them. I used velcro instead.
  2. I am not really sure about the combination of colours in this bag. The contrast between the green and bluish does make the bag looks interesting, but it does not really match well. The bluish and grey mach perfectly in my opinion.
  3. Read the whole pattern, so I do not forget to sew all the necessary things at the same time. In the case of this bag, it would made the straps more robust. Now they probably need to be re-attached in a few months.

See my DeviantArt or Instagram (username: for more artwork and WIPs. You can also follow my blog by clicking on the button on the left or by filling in your email address. There will be a monthly update at the end of every month and a new blogpost every Sunday or Monday.


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