We are big fans of heavy-duty fabrics around here! We love using practical fabrics like denim and canvas for all kinds of sewing projects, and they especially shine when you're sewing bags (like our Butterscotch tote + backpack!) To make a bag that can handle a lot of wear and tear, make sure to follow these ten tips to ensure it will stand the test of time.
1. Needles for Heavy Fabrics
Choose a heavy-duty needle designed for sewing through thick fabrics. Look for needles labelled as "denim" or "canvas." Using the right needle will prevent breakage and skipped stitches. The larger gauge eye will also accommodate thicker threads for topstitching.
Opt for a strong, heavy-duty thread that matches the weight of the fabric. Polyester or nylon thread works well for sewing canvas backpacks as they are more durable than cotton threads. Use denim topstitching thread for areas of high stress like handles and straps. Always use regular thread in your bobbin though to prevent tension issues and thread snarls.
3. Prepare Fabric
Preparing your fabric is always crucial but especially so for thick fabrics. Wash and dry the fabric first to remove any chemicals that can cause stiffness and press yardage thoroughly before cutting your pattern out to ensure it is smooth and accurately sized. Thinner lining fabrics can be reinforced with heavy-duty interfacing especially around areas like pockets and zippers to make sure they stand up over time.
4. Machine Feet
Consider using a Teflon or roller foot. A Teflon or roller foot can make sewing heavy fabrics easier as they allow smoother movement of the fabric under the foot. This is especially helpful when dealing with sticky or textured fabrics. A walking foot will help feed heavier fabrics evenly and prevent uneven stitches over thick seams. Ensure your machine has a powerful enough motor to handle thick fabrics like denim and canvas.
5. Steady Sewing
Use clips or pins to hold the layers together and prevent shifting during sewing. Avoid using too many pins, as they can leave permanent holes in the fabric. Sew slowly and steadily. Sewing through heavy-duty fabrics can be time-consuming, but take your time and sew slowly to ensure accuracy and prevent holes and skipped stitches. In areas where high accuracy is required or the seams are very thick, use the handwheel on your machine for more precision and control.
6. Bar Tacks
Reinforce stress points. Backpacks endure a lot of stress at certain points, such as handles, straps, and corners. Reinforce these areas by sewing over them multiple times or using bar tacks for extra strength. We include topstitching guides and suggest areas for bar tacks on our patterns but feel free to use whatever decorative stitches or templates you like! We have a blog post here on more tips for bar tacks.
7. Reduce Bulk
Trim and grade seam allowances and clip corners neatly to reduce bulk. This will make your project look sharper and more professional. Press each seam thoroughly when instructions indicate as this will also help the fabric to lay flatter and crisper when turned inside out. Hammer any thick areas where many seams come together with a hammer or rubber mallet. If your machine is still having a hard time over these areas, a hump jumper (or thin piece of cardboard) is a good way to get your presser foot up and over those seams without skipped stitches.
8. Drop the Pressure
Many sewing machines allow you to adjust the presser foot pressure. Decrease the pressure slightly when sewing heavy fabrics to avoid unnecessary friction and improve stitch quality. Tension can also be adjusted on top and bottom threads. Look for nice even stitches on both sides with no loops or pulling.
9. Test, Test, Test.
Test on scraps first: Before sewing the actual backpack, it's a good idea to test your stitches on scrap pieces of canvas to adjust your machine settings and ensure the desired results. We like to make a little sampler of the threads and stitches we'll be using as well as any decorative bar tacks. It's a nice way to get a sense of what the finished product will look like and an opportunity to choose thread colours that highlight the features you like.
10. Clean Machine
Clean your machine regularly: Sewing through heavy fabrics can generate more lint and debris. Make sure to clean your sewing machine regularly to keep it in good working condition.
By following these tips, you can create sturdy and long-lasting backpacks made from heavy-duty fabrics like canvas. Happy sewing!
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