Repurpose A Men’s Dress Shirt Into Drawstring Backpack – Fun Sewing Project

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This easy sewing tutorial will teach you how to repurpose a men’s dress shirt into a DIY drawstring backpack that’s fun to carry around.

This project won’t take more than 30 minutes to complete, and there are no complicated steps–even a beginner can sew it!

Sew A Drawstring Backpack

Upcycling Dress Shirts is So Eco-Friendly

My husband goes through men’s dress shirts so fast.

The work shirt that inspired this project, well, he spilled cheese on at lunch. This is not a new happening, unfortunately.

old men's shirt

Since the shirt was no longer presentable for work, I decided to repurpose his dress shirt into a drawstring backpack. 

Upcycling old clothes is a perfect way to get free fabric to play around with while perfecting patterns.

I have recently been working on a pattern to make a drawstring backpack for my daughter to bring to ballet class. 

I wasn’t really planning on posting this men’s shirt upcycle tutorial since it was really an experiment for my other backpack tutorial, but this one turned out pretty cute.  

Supplies to Make a Repurposed Drawstring Bag

  • Old men’s dress shirt, washed and pressed
  • Sewing machine and thread
  • Scissors
  • Measuring tools
  • Rope for straps (I used yarn), a total of 2 lengths, mine were 65″ each, but this may vary depending on your size.
  • Grommets and necessary supplies to insert them
  • Pins or Wonder Clips

How To Repurpose a Men’s Dress Shirt to a DIY Drawstring Backpack

I’ve included many pictures, but if you have problems understanding this tutorial, please ask questions.

1. Preparing the Dress Shirt Fabric

First, lay the shirt out flat and cut two pieces of fabric 16 in wide x 18 in tall. (You can cut the top layer and the bottom layer of the shirt at the same time if you can get them lined up without wrinkles.)  

old men's shirt cut out

Since you want the pieces to be rectangular, make sure to cut off the bottom curve of the shirt. The above picture is with the bottom hem of the shirt still there to give you an idea of where I cut the rectangle from.

old men's shirt fabric square

Now, this second picture shows the final two fabric squares.

NOTE FOR CUTTING: Note the location of the buttons and adjust accordingly if they’re going to be in inopportune positions when it comes time to sew the pieces together.

Also, since this project was a trial project, I didn’t finish my fabric edges with anything but a simple zigzag stitch. 

However, you can use a serger, use your overcasting stitch, fold and fold again, use pinking shears on seams, or just let things unravel a little inside the backpack as other options.  

2. Sewing the Dress Shirt Pieces Together

The first thing I did after neatening the fabric edges was to sew along the button line of the shirt. 

sewing up the buttons on the men's shirt

You don’t want the backpack to gape at the holes, allowing the contents to fall out!  I used a white thread on my white shirt, and you can barely notice it above, right?

3. Sewing the Drawstring Casing

Next, you’ll want to turn your two pieces right sides facing down. 

folding the drawstring casing

Then, fold a 1″ section of the top of each fabric down to the wrong side. I LOVE using Wonder Clips to hold my fabric–much easier than pins and much safer with kids around. 

folding the casing with clover clips

Next, sew right along the finished edge for both fabric rectangles to create a casing. 

Just eye your casing and make sure the rope you plan to use for straps will fit through.

It would have been ideal to press the fabric first, but as I mentioned, I was just playing around with this project!

Once you’ve sewn the casings, remove the clips.

4. Sewing the Two Sides of the Drawstring Backpack Together

Next, put the right sides of the fabrics facing each other, lining up the two casings on the top. 

Then, stitch the two sides of the backpack as well as the bottom of the backpack using a 1/4″ seam allowance. 

When sewing the sides, DO NOT stitch past the bottom of the casing.  If you do, you will close that hole, and you won’t be able to insert the rope later on.

casing sewn down

Above shows the right sides facing each other with the bottom and two side seams sewn.

sewing along the side seams

Here is a picture reminding you not to sew over the entire casing.  You want this space to be left open.

5. Attaching the Drawstring to the Backpack

Now, you’ll have to make a way to attach the ropes to the bottom of the backpack.

A. Inserting the Grommet Into the Shirt Bottom

I tossed around a couple of ideas but in the end, preferred simplicity. 

Thus, I decided to use grommets/eyelets to make holes at each corner of the bottom of the bag.  I put the grommets in after the backpack was sewn. 

Each of the eyelets connected the two layers of fabric and was about 1/4-1/2″ in from both sides of the corner.

Putting a grommet in the backpack

If you aren’t sure how to insert a grommet into your fabric, there are lots of Youtube tutorials. Make sure to insert them with the bag turned right sides facing out.

Since I didn’t have any larger grommets on hand, I used smaller ones. 

Thus, I had to use yarn for the drawstring, since all my rope was too long to pass through the grommet! 

So, when picking your eyelet size, I recommend one large enough where the beginning and end of your drawstring material will comfortably fit through!

B. Winding the Drawstring Through

The hardest part to understand of this tutorial is how to put the rope through the casing and attach it to the base of the backpack.

First, you’ll want to pass the drawstring material from front to back through one of the grommets.

In this case, your loose string end will be hanging on the side of the backpack with the buttons. This will be the side you ultimately tie the knot on.

Next, pull the drawstring all the way through the top casing. 

I did this by attaching a safety pin to the top of my yarn and pulling it through that way. (My bodkin wasn’t cutting it.)

Once you get to the opposite side of the casing, feed the yarn through the other casing going back towards the side you started on. 

Then, take the drawstring back through the bottom grommet.

men's dress shirt repurpose knotted strings

Tie a knot in the ends of the two sides of the drawstring.  Make it big enough that it doesn’t go back through the grommet.

diy drawstring backpack - repurpose men's dress shirt

You now need to follow the exact same instructions above to place the drawstring on the other side of the backpack. 

At this point, if you need to adjust the length of the drawstring, you can do so. My husband liked his yarn a little longer, but when I put the backpack on me, it did some definite sagging!

back of men's repurposed dress shirt

Men’s Dress Shirt Repurpose Project–Complete!

Now you’ve repurposed a men’s dress shirt into a cute and fun DIY drawstring backpack. Think of all the fun places you can carry it!

Now, I’m considering going back and making some backpacks from nicer shirts and spending more time picking the right materials before I dive in! (Mostly, not using yarn and tiny eyelets!)

If you like repurposing and refashioning old clothes, here’s another old shirt repurpose project to a DIY envelope pillow cover.

And if you have any other ideas for repurposing men’s dress shirts, let me know. Seriously, my husband blows through his work clothes!

3 Comments

  1. Very cute! Insted of grommets, you could take a piece of the shirt and make a loop sewn into the side seam, saving a trip to the store! About 3″ wide by 4″ long, folded like a piece of bias tape should do the trick! Thanks for the idea

    1. Thanks! I ended up using pieces of ribbon when I sewed my daughter her ballet backpack, but for some reason, it didn’t even cross my mind the day I was playing around with this project!

  2. Wonderful. Thank you 🙏🏽, its all about repurpose, reuse @ recycle. Glad to see so many people having such great ideas for repurposing items. Items from cloth & clothing to milk jugs and 2 litter bottles, cardboard etc.

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