15 Ways to Upcycle a Drawstring Backpack

drawstring bag

It’s shiny!

It’s free!

It’s environmentally unfriendly!

What it is?

It’s that drawstring backpack that you were given as a freebie the last time that you signed up for a bank account, or registered your kid for an afterschool activity, or donated to a charity, or, frankly, did anything that put you in the eye of Those Who Give Out Free Drawstring Backpacks.

As you might have guessed, I HATE those free drawstring backpacks. Yes, I’m bitter and ungrateful, but free drawstring backpacks are usually an ugly color, usually have a giant graphic on them featuring the also ugly logo of whoever is giving them out, and if you ever try to actually wear one, which you probably won’t, you’ll discover that if they’re holding anything heavier than a few pamphlets and a free pen, their thin straps will cut into your skin and make wearing them an actual misery.

Drawstring backpacks are generally made of ripstop nylon, which is a non-sustainable fabric. You can buy ripstop nylon made from recycled plastic, but that’s probably not what that free backpack is made from, and in turn, you can’t recycle it.

Fortunately, there are several useful ways to upcycle the ripstop nylon from a drawstring backpack. Check out the following list of my favorite projects and tutorials for upcycling drawstring backpacks, and you can both keep that horrible drawstring backpack out of the waste stream AND off of your tender back!

Airplane Seat-Back Caddy

airplane bag caddy
Photo courtesy of ikat bag

A handy place to store your stuff that isn’t the suspicious-looking seat-back pocket? A handy place to dump all the stuff from your tray table when you need to get out of your seat and brave the bathroom?

This seat-back caddy is a BRILLIANT idea. Like many of the tutorials that follow, the ripstop nylon called for serves only as the lining material, so it can be as ugly as it needs to be. Just make the front-facing fabric cute, and nobody will even know that the lining is neon orange with a gas station logo on it.

Find the plans at ikat bag

Bike Frame Bags

bike bags
Photo courtesy of Amy Makes Things

This project write-up doesn’t include pattern pieces, which is understandable since every bicycle is a little different. The walk-through, however, should help you figure out how to make a bike frame bag that will fit YOUR bike and help you carry around all the fiddly little bits of things you need on a long bike ride! I especially love the idea of using it to hold a first-aid kit and bike repair supplies.

Find it at Amy Makes Stuff

Dog Bait Bag

As much as I don’t love ripstop nylon, I will say that it’s excellent for containing messy or dirty items, and its washability means that you don’t have to resort to disposables for carrying things like smelly dog treats. My rule of thumb when I’m making something to replace disposables: I make double or even triple what I’d need if I was using something disposable so that I have plenty of time for laundry.

Find the plans at Catobear

Car Caddy and Waste Bin

car caddy
Photo courtesy of Sew 4 Home

The car caddy’s dimensions make it a good fit for substituting a drawstring backpack instead of the nylon yardage called for. Engage your sewing machine’s free arm to add on all those outside storage pockets.

Find the plans at Sew 4 Home

How to Dye Ripstop Nylon

Like the idea of upcycling a drawstring backpack, but its color is just TOO ugly? Dye it black!

Find the plans at Brian’s Backpack

Stand-Up Pencil/Tool Pouch

This is a clever tutorial that’s especially awesome because the pouch it creates won’t actually function as intended without the ripstop nylon. It’s a great way to upcycle your fabric into something truly useful!

Find the plans at Sew Can She

Lip Balm Carrier

lip balm carrier
Photo courtesy of eSheep Designs

Not only does this little lip balm carrier keep your lip balm from getting lost in the bottom of your bag, but it’s also takes so little fabric that you can make it from the scraps leftover from any of these other projects!

Find the plans at eSheep Designs

Mask Carrying Pouch

This clever pouch has separate compartments for storing clean and used masks.

Find the plans at We All Sew

Reusable Fabric Envelopes

reusable sandwich holders
Photo courtesy of Merriment Design

These reusable envelopes are intended to hold snacks, but the ripstop nylon lining makes them suitable to hold anything that might get a little messy–loose crayons, seed bombs, makeup, etc.

Find the plans at Merriment Design

Reusable Grocery Bag

The tutorial calls for ripstop nylon yardage, but it’s not very hard to substitute a drawstring backpack or two, instead. For a small grocery bag, remove the nylon paracord and cut handles from the top of the bag, then serge them. For a larger bag, cut as many drawstring backpacks as you need apart at the seams, then serge them together to create the dimensions called for in the tutorial.

Find the plans at Mabey She Made It

Reusable Snack Bag

If you’re picky about the materials that touch your food, this isn’t the tutorial for you. But if you’re just looking for a more eco-friendly alternative to the plastic baggies that you’d otherwise be using, you’re going to LOVE this option!

Find the plans at Red & Honey

Roll-Up Brush Organizer

roll up organizer
Photo courtesy of Sew 4 Home

Remember how I said that ripstop nylon is a great fabric for containing things that might get messy? That includes makeup brushes!

Find the plans at Sew 4 Home

Sandwich Wrap

If the reusable snack bag works for you, then you’re also going to like this sandwich wrap, which is even more versatile. It’s a terrific way to pack a disposable-free lunch!

Find the plans at Gina DeMillo Wagner

Waterproof Picnic Blanket

If you’ve been hoarding drawstring backpacks for years while trying to think of a way to get rid of them, and maybe they’ve even been breeding back in the cupboard in which you’ve stuffed them, THIS is the project for you. Cut up all those backpacks and seam them together to create the yardage called for in the tutorial.

Find the plans at All Sewn Up

Zippered Pouch

zippered pouch
Photo courtesy of Flossie Teacakes

Here’s another great reusable pouch, this time with a zipper closure for extra security.

Find the plans at Flossie Teacakes

P.S. Hey, did you read this whole round-up and yet you’re still kind of thinking that drawstring backpacks are cool and handy and you wish they weren’t made of such awful materials? Make yourself this one, instead! It’s sewn from soft quilting cotton, and instead of some company’s ugly graphic, you can freezer paper stencil something cute onto it!

Written by Julie Finn

I'm a writer, crafter, Zombie Preparedness Planner, and homeschooling momma of two kids who will hopefully someday transition into using their genius for good, not the evil machinations and mess-making in which they currently indulge. I'm interested in recycling and nature crafts, food security, STEM education, and the DIY lifestyle, however it's manifested--making myself some underwear out of T-shirts? Done it. Teaching myself guitar? Doing it right now.

Visit my blog Craft Knife for a peek at our very weird handmade homeschool life; my etsy shop Pumpkin+Bear for a truly odd number of rainbow-themed beeswax pretties; and my for links to articles about poverty, educational politics, and this famous cat who lives in my neighborhood.

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