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Trendy Drawcord Backpack

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When working on our projects, we're always keeping an eye out in stores, magazines, and online for design elements that are the trendiest, cutest, and most functional. We want to make sure we're bringing you the kind of high-end features that take handmade to the next level – so your finished item looks as cool as what you'd find to buy. More cool in fact, because you've chosen the fabric, colors, and notions to best fit your personal style. This backpack borrows elements we've seen on boutique bags as well as the street style spotted on our own local school and college campuses. 

The drawcord top not only looks great, it's a fast and easy way to secure the pack's contents. We use metal grommets and cotton cording, which is more stylish than the traditional hidden drawcord channel. Chunky wooden beads at the ends of the cording are a funky boho touch. 

There are two different interfacing solutions that give the pack its structure. Flexible foam holds the shape of the body of the bag (we used Pellon FlexFoam). A mid-weight fusible interfacing stiffens the front pocket, the flap, and the drawcord panel (we used Pellon Décor Bond). For more information about our favorite interfacing picks for bags and totes, download the handy chart we did with our friends at Fabric Depot. 

Because of the smart interfacing, the exterior and lining fabrics can be standard quilting weight cotton, which opens up a huge variety of choices. We used two cuts from the Harmony collection by Blend Fabrics from Fabric Depot

To add texture and flair, we selected a heavy 100% wool for the pack's bottom accent band and base. Faux or real leather or suede would also be lovely. We offer a pattern download for the base to get our perfect softly rounded corners. 

The front zippered pocket is full lined and gives you a secure place to stash keys, cash, and cards.

The top opens wide to drop in everything else. At 16½" tall, you can hold books and devices of all shapes and sizes. Plus, you'll love how we finished the top inner seam allowance with a clever binding strip to match the lining.

Cinch the top closed and bring the flap up and over to create a smooth exterior. We've made the flap extra long so it stays put nicely, but you could also add a small curtain or fishing weight between the layers at the point of the flap to help gravity do its job. 

The straps are fully adjustable so the pack works well for both adults and kids. Everyone loves a backpack!

Our thanks to Fabric Depot for providing the fabric and trim for our sample.

The pack finishes at approximately 16½" high x 10" wide x 4" deep with rounded corners at the base.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

  • 1¼ yards of 45"+ wide quilting weight cotton for the bag exterior; we used Arctic Sunset in Pink from the Harmony collection for Blend Fabrics from Fabric Depot
  • ½ yard of 45"+ wide quilting weight cotton for the bag lining; we used Krystell in Pink from the Harmony collection for Blend Fabrics from Fabric Depot
  • ½ yard of 45"+ wide heavyweight wool or similar for the bag base; we used 100% Wool in Antique Gold from the Season of Wool collection by Marcus Fabrics
  • ⅔ yard of 20"+ wide flexible foam interfacing; we used Pellon Flex Foam
  • ½ yard of 45" wide medium-weight fusible interfacing; we used Pellon Décor Bond
  • TWO 1¼" - 1½" rectangular rings; we used and recommend metal
  • TWO 1¼ " - 1½" rectangular sliders; we used and recommend metal
    NOTE: One of our favorite online sources for hardware, and where we sourced this backpack's hardware, is The Rainshed.
  • 3 yards of 1¼" - 1½" cotton webbing; we used 1¼" navy cotton webbing, purchased locally
    NOTE: 1½" cotton webbing is a bit harder to find than the 1¼" width. 
  • ¼ yard of ¼" round cording in a color to match the webbing for the hanging loop; we used navy
  • ONE 7" zipper; we used and recommend metal 
  • 1½ yards of ¼" soft cording for the drawcord; we used a twisted cotton cording in natural - remember, it needs to be able to fit through the grommets 
  • TWELVE large metal grommets; we used a Dritz Large Eyelet Kit (grommets and eyelets are used somewhat interchangeably)
  • TWO large beads for the ends of the drawcord (optional); we used wooden beads from our stash - the hole in the bead must be large enough to allow the cording to pass through
  • All purpose thread to match fabrics
  • Heavy thread in a coordinating color for topstitching; we used navy
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Scissors 
  • Rotary cutter and mat
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Straight pins
  • Hand sewing needle

Getting Started

  1. Download and print out our TWO pattern sheets: Backpack Base and Backpack Flap End.
    IMPORTANT: Each pattern is ONE 8½" x 11" sheet. You must print the PDF files at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page. There is a guide rule on each page so you can confirm your final printout is to scale.
  2. Cut out each pattern piece along the solid line. 
  3. Butt together (do not overlap) the two pieces of the base, aligning the arrows printed on the pattern. Tape together to create the full Base pattern piece. 
  4. From the fabric for the exterior (Arctic Sunset in our sample), fussy cut the following:
    TWO 13" high x 15" wide rectangles for the main body panels
    ONE 7" high x 29" wide rectangle for the drawcord panel
    ONE 18" high x 9" wide rectangle for the pocket
    TWO 14½" high x 10" wide rectangles for the flap
    Using the flap pattern, cut one end of each panel into the triangle point - if your pattern is directional, make sure you are cutting the bottom end of each panel.
  5. From the fabric for the lining (Krystell in our sample), fussy cut the following:
    TWO 16½" high x 15" wide rectangles for the main lining panels
    ONE 29" x 2" strip for the inner binding
  6. From the fabric for the base (Wool in our sample), cut the following:
    TWO 2½" high x 15" strips for the accent bands
    From the assembled pattern, cut ONE base
  7. From the foam interfacing, cut TWO 14" x 12" rectangles.
  8. From the fusible interfacing, cut the following:
    ONE 3½" x 29" strip for the drawcord panel
    ONE 9½" x 14" rectangle for the flap - as above, use the point pattern to trim one end of the rectangle into a triangle
    ONE 9" x 8" rectangle for the pocket
  9. Cut the webbing into TWO 45" lengths for the straps
  10. Cut the round cording into ONE 7" length for the hanging loop
  11. Leave the drawcord cording as a continuous length; it will be cut to size at the very end.

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Prepare the exterior panels

  1. Find the two main exterior panels and the two foam panels. 
  2. Place the foam against the wrong side of each exterior panel. There should be ½" of fabric showing beyond the foam on all four sides. You want to keep the thick foam out of the seam allowances. Pin the foam panels in place. 
  3. On the panel that will be the back of the pack, measure or fold to find the exact center along the top of the panel. Place a marking pin at this center point. Lightly pin the layers together.
    NOTE: The front and back panels should be the same, but if there is one side on which you feel your motif looks best, use that one for the front and the other for the back. 
  4. Find the two 45" lengths of strap webbing. Cut 7" from each length. Set the 38" lengths aside. 
  5. Find the two rectangular rings. 
  6. Slip a 7" length of webbing through each ring, right sides facing out and with the raw ends of webbing aligned. Pin the raw ends together to create the strap tabs.
  7. Place the back panel (with the foamed pinned in place) right side up on your work surface. 
  8. Place the tabs along the top of the back panel. The raw ends of the tabs should be flush with the top raw edge of the exterior panel and the rings should be hanging down. The inside edge of each tab should each be 2" from the center pin point, which means there is 4" between the inner edges of the two tabs. Pin the tabs in place. 
  9. Find the 7" length of round cording. Form it into a loop. We taped the ends of the loop to prevent raveling. Place the loop around the center pin point on the back exterior panel, between the tabs. The raw ends of the loop should be flush with the top raw edge of the exterior panel and the loop itself should be hanging down. Make sure the loop is even; the inside edges should each be 1¼" from the center pin point. The outer edges are ½" from each tab. Pin the loop in place.
  10. Machine baste across the top edge of the exterior panel through all the layers to secure the hanging loop and tabs. We ran our basting seam at a ¾" seam allowance, which allowed us to also catch and secure the top edge of the foam in this seam. 

Create and place the flap

  1. Find the two trimmed flap panels and the trimmed interfacing panel. 
  2. Place the interfacing against the wrong side of one flap panel. There should be ¼" of fabric showing beyond the interfacing on all sides. Following manufacturer's instructions, fuse the interfacing in place.
  3. Place the interfaced panel and the plain panel right sides together. Align the raw edges of the fabric on all sides. Pin in place along the sides and around the triangle end. The top straight edge remains open. 
  4. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch along the sides and around the triangle end. Remember, the top straight edge remains open.
  5. Press open the seam allowances and trim the corners.
  6. Turn the flap right side out through the top opening. Push out the corner points with a long, blunt-end tool, such as a long knitting needle or chopstick. Press flat.
  7. Re-thread the machine with the contrasting thread in the top and bobbin. Lengthen the stitch. Edgestitch along both sides and around the triangle end, pivoting at the corners. We used our Janome Edge Guide foot
  8. Find the exterior back panel again, which should have the tabs and loops basted in place.
  9. Bend the flap in half vertically to find the center top. Place a pin at this point. 
  10. Place the finished flap right sides together with the exterior back panel, sandwiching the tabs and loop between the layers. The top raw edge of the flap should be flush with the top raw edges of the exterior panel, and it should be centered side to side. Align the center point on the exterior back panel with the center pin point on the flap. This should mean the flap is sitting approximately 3" in from each side edge of the exterior panel. Pin the flap in place. 
  11. Machine baste the flap in place, staying within a standard ½" seam allowance. 

Create and place the zippered pocket

  1. Find the 18" x 9" pocket panel, the 9" high x 8" wide interfacing rectangle, and the 7" zipper.
  2. Press the pocket in half, wrong sides together, so it is now 9" x 9". Press to set a center crease. 
  3. Place the pocket on your cutting surface with the folded edge at the top. 
  4. Using the clear ruler and a fabric pen or pencil, measure 1½" down from the top folded edge and draw a 7" horizontal line. This line should be centered side to side (1½" from each side edge) and parallel with the top folded edge. 

    NOTE:
    Remember, you are working on the right side of your fabric. Make sure you are using a fabric pen/pencil that can be easily wiped away or will vanish with exposure to the air. 
  5. Draw two additional parallel horizontal lines: one ¼" above the first line and one ¼" below the first line. 
  6. Connect the end points of the three lines to create a drawn rectangle with a line down its center. Draw in a small triangle at each end to guide the diagonal cuts into each corner. 
  7. Using a rotary cutter if possible (for better precision), slice along the center drawn line (through both layers), starting and stopping ½" from each end. 
  8. Use your scissors to clip from each end of the cut line diagonally up to each corner, following your drawn guidelines.
  9. Unfold the pocket panel wrong side up on your ironing board, and press back each "zipper window" along the remaining upper and lower drawn lines, which is ¼" all around.
  10. Find the 9" high x 8" wide rectangle of interfacing. With the pocket panel still flat and wrong side up, place the interfacing over one half of the pocket panel. The top of the interfacing should be aligned with the center crease line of the fabric. There should be ½" of fabric showing beyond both sides, and the bottom of the interfacing should be flush with the fabric. Lightly press to hold the interfacing in place, avoiding the zipper window area. 
  11. Cut away the interfacing around the zipper window. Follow manufacturer's instructions to fully fuse the interfacing in place.
  12. Re-fold the pocket panel right sides together, carefully re-aligning the zipper windows, and pin along both sides. 
  13. Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the fabric in the top and bobbin and re-set the stitch length to normal.
  14. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch along both sides only. The bottom remains open. 
  15. Clip the corners and press open the seam allowances.
  16. Turn the pocket right side out. As above with the flap, use a long, blunt-end tool to gently push out the top corners so they are nice and square. Also make sure those zipper windows are still perfectly aligned. Press the pocket flat. 
  17. Flip the pocket so the interfaced side is facing up. This is considered the "front" of the pocket. Find the zipper. Using the open bottom of the sewn pocket, slip the zipper between the two layers and up into position in the window. The zipper should be centered within the window. Pin in place, and double check the centered position from both the front and back of the pocket. Don't be afraid to use lots of pins. 
  18. Re-thread the machine with the contrasting thread in the top and bobbin. Lengthen your stitch. 
  19. Attach a Zipper foot
  20. Edgestitch around all four sides of the zipper window through all the layers, running your seam as close to the folded edges of the fabric as possible, but still making sure you are catching both sides. If you have a large, decorative pull like we did, you can stop with the needle in the down position, and open and close the zipper as needed as you stitch to allow the presser foot to move in a straight line around all sides.
  21. Find the front exterior panel. 
  22. Place pocket right side up on the exterior panel. The pocket should be centered side to side and the bottom raw edges of the pocket should be flush with the bottom raw edge of the exterior panel. Pin the pocket in place along along both sides and across the top edge.
  23. With the machine still threaded with the contrasting thread in the top and bobbin and the stitch still lengthened, edgestitch along both sides and across the top edge, pivoting at the corners. We again used our Janome Edge Guide foot.

Complete the exterior panels

  1. Place the two main exterior panels right side up on your work surface. Find the two bottom accent panels.
  2. Place an accent panel right sides together along the bottom edge of the front exterior panel. Pin in place across the bottom through all layers. 
  3. Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the fabric in the top and bobbin. Re-set to a standard stitch length.
  4. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch across the bottom through all layers. Press the accent panel down into position, also pressing the seam allowance towards the accent panel. 
  5. Re-thread the machine with the contrasting thread in the top and bobbin. Lengthen your stitch.
  6. Topstitch across the bottom of the panel, running this horizontal seam approximately ⅛" from the existing panel/base seam line within the base panel. 
  7. Repeat to add the accent panel to the exterior back panel.

Attach the main straps and complete the exterior bag

  1. Find the remaining two lengths of strap and the two sliders. 
  2. Slip one end of each length right side up through the center bar of a slider. 
  3. Flip over. Turn under the raw end of the webbing ½”.
  4. Pull back this folded end approximately 1¼" from the slider and pin in place.
  5. If necessary, re-thread the machine with thread to best match the webbing in the top and bobbin. Re-set the stitch length to normal. 
  6. Edgestitch the folded end to secure the slider in place. Use a narrow X-Box, running the stitching as close to the slider as possible.  
  7. Find the exterior back panel. Place it right side up on your work surface with the tabbed rings at the top. 
  8. With the strap wrong side up (so the folded back edge is visible), thread the raw end through the one of the top tabbed rings. 
  9. Pull the strap through and down so it is now facing right side up.
  10. Remember, the opposite end - the slider end - is facing wrong side up. 
  11. Feed the raw end back through the slider, going up and over the center. This creates your adjusting loop.
  12. Continue pulling through until you have enough strap to work with to easily secure the raw end in place. 
  13. Repeat with the remaining strap.
  14. With each strap threaded through its ring/slider, baste each end in place just above the base of the exterior back panel along each side. 
  15. Place the end of one strap 3" up from the bottom raw edge of the base panel, which equates to about 1" above the top seam of the accent panel. Angle the end of the strap as shown below in the photo so a triangle of the strap extends beyond the raw edge of the exterior panel. Before pinning, do a quick check to make sure there are no twists in your strap. Pin the strap end in place.
  16. Repeat to pin the opposite strap end in place.
  17. Machine baste each end in place. We used two lines of stitching for extra security at this stress point. 
  18. Place the front and back exterior panels right sides together, sandwiching the straps between the layers. You may want to lightly pin the straps toward the center to keep them out of the way of the seam. Pin along both sides. The bottom and top are open.
  19. Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the fabric in the top and bobbin. 
  20. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch both sides.
  21. Trim away the excess "strap triangle" so the edges are flush.

Insert the base panel

  1. The base panel in sew in place similarly to how you'd insert a round base into a tube. If you are new to this type of technique, check out our full step-by-step tutorial
  2. Find the base panel. Fold it in half horizontally to find the center of each short side edge. Place a pin at each center point. 
  3. Turn the exterior body wrong side out. Set the base into the exterior body so the two pieces are right sides together (it's a little like setting a lid upside down into a box). Align the side seams of the exterior body with the center side pins of the base. 
  4. Pin at the these side points first, then fill in around the base. Don't be afraid to use a lot of pins or clips in order to get the two pieces to lay flat against one another. It's best to pin in small sections, easing as you go.
  5. Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the base fabric in the top and bobbin.
  6. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch all the way around the base. Go slowly, holding the layers flat with your fingers if necessary to avoid any puckers, especially around the corners. 
  7. We stitched around a second time to reinforce this bottom section; as the base of the bag, it will get more stress as items are dropped in.
  8. Generously clip the curves. Then turn the exterior right side out and push the base down into position.

Create and insert lining

  1. Find the two main lining panels.
  2. Place the panels right sides together. Pin along both sides and across the bottom.
  3. Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the lining fabric in the top and bobbin.
  4. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch both sides and across the bottom, pivoting at the corners.
  5. Create 4" box corners, which means your "box" will be half that size or 2". Cut out the 2" square from the corner. 
  6. Pin and pull apart the fabric at each corner to align the side and bottom seams.
  7. Double stitch across the corner.

    NOTE:
    If you are new to this technique, check out our tutorial: How To Box Corners.
  8. Keep the lining wrong side out. 
  9. Find the finished exterior bag, which should be right side out. Slip the lining inside the exterior so the two are now wrong sides together. 
  10. Align the side seams and push the base of the lining all the way down against the base of the exterior. The top raw edge of the lining should be flush with the top raw edges of the exterior bag. Pin the layers together all around the top.
  11. Set the bag aside. 

Top drawcord panel

  1. Find the 7" x 29" drawcord panel and the 3½" x 29" interfacing strip.
  2. Fold the drawcord panel in half vertically and fuse the interfacing to one half of the panel on the wrong side. 
  3. Refold wrong sides together and press flat. 
  4. Mark for the twelve grommets. A placement guide is shown below. The two outer grommets are each 1½" in from the raw edge of the panel; the remaining grommets are 2⅜" apart on center. 
  5. Mark all twelve center points. 
  6. When done, unfold the panel again and place the 7" sides right sides together. Pin in place. 
  7. Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the fabric in the top and bobbin.
  8. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch the 7" seam, creating a loop. 
  9. Press open the seam allowance, then re-fold the panel wrong sides together. Press the loop all around. 
  10. Re-thread the machine with the contrasting thread in the top and bobbin. Lengthen your stitch.
  11. Edgestitch along the top folded edge of the entire drawcord loop. We are still using our Janome Edge Guide to keep a precise seam. 
  12. Insert a grommet at each marked point, following manufacturer's instructions or our own great tutorial (How To Insert Metal Grommets).
  13. Find the exterior bag with its lining pinned in place. Slip the drawcord panel over the top of bag. The right side of the drawcord panel should be against the right side of the exterior of the bag (there is a right and wrong side to the grommets).
  14. The folded edge should be facing down towards the base of the bag. The raw edges of the drawcord panel should align flush with the top raw edges of the exterior/lining. Carefully remove the pins that are holding the lining to the exterior and use them to re-pin through all the layers, securing the drawcord panel in place. 
  15. Align the drawcord's seam at the center of the back exterior panel. 
  16. Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the fabric in the top and bobbin.
  17. Using a ½" seam allowance, and starting at the drawcord seam, stitch all the way around the top through ALL the layers.
  18. Grade the inner seam allowances back to approximately ¼".

Final seam finishing

  1. You now have a seam allowance with many layers right at the top of your bag. Your final step is to conceal this seam allowance by wrapping it with a binding strip. 
  2. Find the remaining 29" binding strip. Press it in half, wrong sides together, to set a center crease. Open the strip wrong side up so the crease line is visible, and press in each long raw edge to meet in the middle. Press well to set all the creases.
  3. Re-thread the machine with thread to best match the lining in the top and bobbin. 
  4. Open up all the folds and place the 2" ends right sides together. Pin in place. Stitch the ends together, using a ½" seam allowance, to create a loop. 
  5. Press the seam allowance open, then re-press all the original folds back into position. 
  6. Open up the binding once again. Place the right side of the binding against the exterior side of the seam allowance. The top raw edge of the binding should be flush with the top of the seam allowance. Align the seam of the binding with the seam of the drawcord panel (center back). Pin the binding loop in place against the seam allowance all around. 
  7. Following along in the original ½" seam line, stitch the binding to the seam allowance. Make sure the rest of the bag is pulled away from the seam allowance; you are only stitching against the seam allowance!
  8. Wrap the folded edge of the binding up and cover to the inside of the seam allowance, concealed all the raw edges/layers. Pin in place against the opposite side of the seam allowance. 
  9. Stitch the folded edge against the base of the seam allowance, going once again, all the way around the top. 
  10. Pull the drawcord panel up into its final position.
  11. Fold the binding down so its top folded edge is sitting flat against lining. This gives it the look of a seam or casing rather than a covered seam allowance. Press the binding down into place, then lightly pin all around. 
  12. Whipstitch the folded edge to the lining, keeping your stitches small and neat. 
  13. Find the drawcord cording. Starting at the front left grommet , weave the cording in and out through the twelve grommets. 
  14. The final length of the cording is up to you. We recommend cinching the top closed to determine the longest length. To secure the cords of the cinched top, you can tie a simple knot (as we did) or a small bow. Once the top is cinched and secured, trim the ends of the cording so they sit above the bottom accent panel. 
  15. We strung a bead on each end with a simple knot to secure it. We then un-raveled the ends of the cording for a fluffy tail below each bead. 
  16. It looks best if the two ends are slightly off-set when tied. 

Contributors

Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Debbie Guild

Section: 

Comments (8)

Renae Kerrigan said:
Renae Kerrigan's picture

I am really enjoying this tutoral, and am almost done with my bag. I want to let you know that I think there might be an error in the deminsions needed for the foam interfacing. It says to buy a half a yard, and shows what you used :½ yard of 20"+ wide flexible foam interfacing; we used Pellon Flex Foam
I did this but there is no way in the 18 by 20 inch square that you get that you can then cut TWO 14" x 12" rectangles. Was your Pellon Flex Foam longer than 20 inches maybe? Just in case this confuses someone else I wanted to let you know. The insturctions are very clear in all other places and I am excited to give the bag to my sister for Christmas when it is finished. Thank you!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Renae - Thank you so much for the heads-up. Yes! You need at least 2/3 of a yard. We have revised the list above. I'm so glad you are working through the rest of the project without trouble. Let us know how yours turns out and what your sister thinks. Thanks again 

Paula Hylinski said:
Paula Hylinski's picture

I have repeatedly tried to print out the base and flap to get the bar to measure 6"....each time I get 5 1/2" no matter what I do. Can yo utell me the dimensions of the base and flap and I'll just cut it out freehand?

Thanks

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Paula Hylinski - Sorry you are having issues with printing. We have tested the download and print out on several browsers and it is working correctly when pinting at actual size - make sure the printer window isn't selected to "fit to page". When printed and assembled, the base is 10" wide x 5" high. The flap is 10" wide x 6" high from the straight edge to the point - the curve from the side down to the point is at about 4" along each side.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Ghoncheh - it would depend on the size and weight of your laptop. The dimensons are shown above. The foam is pretty soft and protective, but it certainly wouldn't be as snug and protective as a traditional laptop sleeve.

Janet Parker said:
Janet Parker's picture

I wanted a small lightweight backpack to take on school fieldtrips with students. This is it!  

Some questions about the base. (I am not comfortable using wool with interfaced quilting fabric. It seems like a foreign marraiage of fabrics.) What is the purpose/reason for using "wool" for the base? What type of fabric would be "similar"? What other type fabric could be substituted? Since wool stretches easily why is it not interfaced?

Thank you for your reply.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Janet Parket - So glad you like the backpack! We love mixing textures, weights, substrates - you name it. On this backpack, it adds the perfect accent for both color and design. The wool we used was quite heavy and worked well on its own. In the introduction, we mentioned using faux leather, real leather or suede as alternatives. You might even try a canvas. If you feel the fabric you choose isn't quite hefty enough on its own, you could certainly add an interfacing to it prior to stitching it to the main front and back panels. Enjoy - let us know how yours turns out. 

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