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 will be sure to impress with its uniqueness.  This project shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes to complete, and there are no complicated steps, so even a beginner can sew it!

Sew A Drawstring Backpack

We have so many men’s dress shirts just waiting to be upcycled!

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.  Thus, I wanted to share!

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

Pictures speak better than words, I think, which is why I’ve included lots of them.  If you have any problems understanding this tutorial, please ask questions in the comments!


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.  Since you’ll want the pieces to be rectangular, you will need to cut off the bottom curve of the shirt.  The first picture is with the bottom of the shirt still on to give you an idea of where I cut.

old men's shirt cut out

This second picture is the final two fabric squares.

old men's shirt fabric square

When cutting, do 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.

Since this project was a trial project, I didn’t finish my fabric edges with anything but a simple zigzag stitch.  You may elect to finish edges with a serger, use your overcasting stitch, fold and fold again, or use pinking shears before sewing.

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.  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.

sewing up the buttons on the men's shirt

Sewing the Drawstring Casing

Next, you’ll want to turn your two pieces right sides facing down.  Then, fold a 1″ section of the top of each fabric down onto the wrong side of the fabric and sew right along the finished edge.  Do this for both fabric rectangles.  This will make the casing for the rope.  If you are wanting a wider rope, you may need to fold a little more down to make the right size casing.  Also, I LOVE using Wonder Clips to hold my fabric.  So much easier than pins, in my opinion!  And much safer with kids around.

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

folding the drawstring casing folding the casing with clover clips

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

Sewing the Two Sides of the Drawstring Backpack Together

Then, 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.

Here is a picture of the right sides facing each other with the bottom and two side seams sewn.

casing sewn down

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

sewing along the side seams

Attaching the Drawstring to the Backpack

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

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.

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!

Putting a grommet in the backpack

Winding the Drawstring Through

The hardest part to understand of this tutorial, I think, is how to put the rope through the casing and attach it to the base of the backpack.  So here goes:

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.

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.

You’ll now need to follow the exact same instructions above to place the drawstring on the other side of the backpack.  The picture below shows the knot on the grommet of the backpack.  Both drawstrings are now in and ready to be worn!  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!

men's dress shirt repurpose knotted strings

Conclusion – 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!

Here are the pictures of the front and the back of the backpack.  Cute, right?  I’m considering going back now 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!)

diy drawstring backpack - repurpose men's dress shirt

back of men's repurposed dress shirt

If you like repurposing and refashioning old clothes, I’d recommend checking out another old shirt repurpose project to a DIY envelope pillow cover.  Soon, you too will be tempted to start repurposing everything in your closet!  And if you have any other ideas for repurposing men’s dress shirts, let me know in the comments.  Seriously, my husband blows through his work clothes!


  1. Carolyn Melo says:

    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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