Sewn Book Bag and Bookmarks

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Sewn Book Bag and Bookmarks

August 9th is National Book Lovers Day. A handcrafted book bag and coordinating bookmarks would make a wonderful and inexpensive gift for a book lover in your life. If you happen to miss National Book Lovers Day, maybe you still have time to make one as a back-to-school gift. But really, a book lover is a book lover regardless of the time of year and this bag could also be used as an all-purpose tote so it's a project that is a good one any time you have the urge to create!

I think the trend of pennant banners is such a fun, happy one and it's one that works well for adults and children so I incorporated one into the design of this bag.

All seam allowances are 1/2 inch. I recommend back stitching at the start and stop of all seams.

Cut a 37 inch x 15 inch panel from denim and a 5 inch x 15 inch panel from a coordinating fabric to go behind the pennant banner.

bookbag adding front panel 1

Measure 6 inches from one short end of the panel and cut. So you will be cutting off a section that will measure 6 inches x 15 inches.

[bookbag adding front panel 2.jpg]

Cut a 5 inch by 13 inch panel from a contrasting fabric. I used a heavier-weight muslin. If your fabric is lighter in weight it would be wise to reinforce it with iron on interfacing. Insert this panel between the cut sections made in the denim panel. Iron the seams open and flat.

If desired, stitch a length of ric-rac or other decorative trim over the seams between the panels.

bookbag making pennant

To make the pennants

1. Cut 6 rectangles measuring 5 inches x 2.5 inches.

2. Fold the rectangles in half, right sides together and mark the center point of the edge where the raw edges come together. This will be 1 1/4 inches from the sides. The folded edge will be parallel (the top of your square) to this edge.

3. Stitch from the corners of the folded edge to the marked center point.

4. Cut 1/4 inch from the stitched lines in step 3.

bookbag making pennant 2

Using a seam ripper, stick it in the top edge of each triangle (the edge with the fold) and rip the fabric open along the fold. To give myself better control, I made a hole with my seam ripper just big enough to slip the tip of a small pair of scissors in and then cut along the fold instead of finishing it with the seam ripper.

bookbag making pennant 3

Turn the pennants right side out and use a tool such as the stuffing tool from the Fiskars Sew Taxi to push the tip out. I like to use the stuffing tool for pushing corners out because it has a blunt tip and doesn't poke through the fabric. Iron the pennants flat.

Stitch the pennants to a length of trim of your choice. This crocheted trim I used helped disguise the cut top of each pennant.

bookbag adding banner

Pin the pennant to the contrasting panel taking care to place it equal distance from the top of the panel on each side. It's a good idea to pin a couple of the pennants down as well.

Fold the denim panel in half with right sides together and pin. Stitch the sides of the panel closed to create the sides of the bag. Reinforce the seam by sewing it again. Stitch a 1/2 inch seam along the bottom edge (the folded edge) as well.

To create the box corners on the bag, begin by cutting a 2 1/2 inch square out of each bottom corner. I cannot find my photo for this step. The best way to describe this is starting at the bottom corner of the bag, measure up the side panel 2 1/2 inches and make a mark. Now, again from the corner, measure along the bottom of the bag 2 1/2 inches and make a mark. Using these 2 marks, draw a line horizontally from the mark on the side panel and a line vertically up from the bottom panel until the lines meet forming a square. Cut along these lines.

bookbag box corner

Create the corners by pinching the hole closed so the side seam and the bottom seam align. Pin them together and then stitch them together with a 1/2 inch seam allowance. Turn the bag right side out and push the corners out checking to make sure they are closed. When comparing your corner to mine in this photo they may look different. I did not sew a seam along the bottom edge of my bag. If you have sewn the seam, your box corner will go together faster and easier than mine did.

If your pennant banner looks good as far as placement you can stitch it down to the front of the bag. If you do not at least tack it down in a few places it may get caught on things when you put the bag to use.

Cut a 37 inch x 15 inch panel of coordinating fabric for the lining.

If you want to add a pocket to the lining of your bag, cut a panel of coordinating fabric that is 15 inches wide x 11 inches tall. Fold the panel in half, right sides together so you have a panel that is 15 inches wide by 5.5 inches tall. Stitch the edges together and leave the sides open. Turn the panel right side out. Iron the panel. On the right side of the fabric, place the pocket at the desired height from the top edge of the lining and pin it in place. Stitch close to the bottom edge of the pocket panel. Do not stitch the top edge. This will be a long pocket and will be more functional if it is made into a divided pocket. Decide how wide you want each section of the pocket to be and stitch from the top of the pocket to the bottom. I created a 2 inch wide pocket for pens, a 3 inch wide pocket for bookmarks, and left the rest as one pocket for larger items. When measuring your pocket spaces remember that 1/2 inch of fabric on each side of the panel will be enclosed in the seam when the lining is sewn together. So this will deduct 1/2 inch from each of those pockets.

bookbag lining side seams

Fold the panel in half right sides together. Stitch the side seams and seam along the bottom of the panel. Create the box corners as you did for the outside of the bag. Leave the lining inside out.

bookbag straps

To create the straps, cut two 25 inch strips of fabric to double the width plus 1/2 inch of your desired strap width. My straps are 1 1/4 inch wide so my cut size for the width of my straps was 3 inches. Fold the straps in half lengthwise, right sides together. Stitch 1/4 inch from the edges. It is important to remember to back stitch at the start and stop of your seam as the next step is to turn the straps right side out. This puts a lot of strain on the seam. My straps were difficult to turn but I wanted narrow straps. For easier turning, make your straps wider.

bookbag hemming top

Fold the top edge of the bag 1/2 inch toward the inside and iron it to crease the fabric. Slip the lining inside the bag making sure the pocket, if you included one, is facing the front of the bag. Fold the top edge of the bag over again 1 1/2 inch and iron to crease. When finished, pin the edge down. It may be necessary to work with the folded edge a bit to get it to align properly all the way around. Using a seam gauge will help you create more accurate hems. Do not stitch the hem down yet.

Measure 3 1/4 inch from each side seam and mark this spot for placement of the straps. Turn each end of the straps under 1/2 inch, tuck these folded ends of the straps under the top hem of the bag at the points you just marked, and pin the straps in place. This photo shows what the underside of the hem will look like with the straps in place.

Stitch close to the top and bottom edges of the hem. To reinforce the straps and help them with the strain of the weight of books that are carried in the bag, stitch a rectangle around the perimeter of the section that is enclosed in the hem at the top of the bag. You can reinforce it even further by stitching an "X" inside the rectangle.

bookmarks finshed

If you included a pocket for bookmarks inside your bag, how about making some coordinating bookmarks to put in it? Bookmarks are fun and quick to make so they are great projects for kids! I used a variety of fabrics left over from my book bag to create the first bookmark. The second bookmark is made entirely out of paper but I added some machine stitching to it. The last bookmark is a combination of paper and fabric scraps.


Since fabric is soft and without body, I used a layer of iron-on heavy interfacing between the layers of my fabric. You can also sew a layer of cardboard or cardstock (cut to fit within the stitched areas) between your fabric layers if you don't have any interfacing.

Thank you to Little Yellow Bicycle for suppling most of the patterned papers (from their Savor line) used on these bookmarks.

bookmarks 2

This is a photo of the Fiskars supplies I used to create these bookmarks, including my favorite Dot-to-Dot Corner Squeeze Punch that I used on the last bookmark and my favorite Butterfly Border Punch that I used on the second bookmark. While it's fun to layer bits and pieces when you're crafting, keep in mind that a bookmark should be as flat as possible to allow the book to close properly when it slipped between the pages.

Supply List

Book bag: 1 yard heavier-weight fabric such as canvas or denim, 1/2 yard fabric for lining, 15 inch x 11 inch piece of fabric for pocket (optional), 15 inch x 5 inch piece of fabric for front panel insert, 36 inches decorative trim for front panel insert (optional), coordinating fabric scraps for pennants, 18 inches of trim for pennant banner, coordinating threads, pins.

Bookmarks: Patterned paper and cardstock scraps, fabric scraps, coordinating threads, decorative trims, fusible interfacing (optional).