Tutorial: Boy’s Messener Bag

February 11, 2010

A couple of months ago, a really cool Swedish military-style backpack had been making its rounds on the design blogs. In love with the looks, but not with the price tag, I sought a way to replicate the style and military-aesthetic. Recalling a certain army bag I toted around in high-school, my ideas fell into place.

So you know how there’s Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade? I like to think of this project as semi-handmade. No shame in that, especially when it’s done affordably.

Military ammo bag (different colors available)
Cotton canvas
Fabric paint
Paint brush
Craft knife
Cutting mat
Freezer paper
Ink jet printer

Project time estimate: 1-1.5 hours

The idea is simply this: purchase ammo bags (perfect size for little boys!) from a military surplus store, then sew on a customized patch.

To get started, either design your own stencil, or download and print my Clone Trooper illustration (PDF) or sword and arrow (PDF) onto a piece of freezer paper cut down to 8.5″x11.” Make sure the paper side gets printed and not the shiny, waxy side.

Note: I’ve successfully ran freezer paper through two different types of inkjet printers, and never, ever had a melting issue. Jamming yes, but melting, no. Just wanted to forewarn you as I have heard this is a risk, though I’m guessing this is an issue with laser printers since there is no heat involved in inkjets. So please don’t try to run waxy paper through a hot laser printer!

Trim out your paper stencil, then cut out a piece of canvas. This will be your patch. For a frayed patch (like the Clone Trooper one above), trim out your circle 1/4″ larger than the stencil (example two pictures down). For a smooth-edged patch (like Dax’s sword + arrow one), cut exactly to the size of the stencil.

Set the canvas aside to prepare the stencil. Using a sharp craft knife, carefully trim out the white parts of the design. This will be the negative area, the parts that will not be painted. Set these tiny pieces aside (a tweezer is very useful here) until everything is cut out. Then reassemble everything onto the canvas patch. Heat up your iron to low, and iron down each itty bit, pressing just one piece at a time. The heat from the iron melts the wax side of the paper, adhering it to the fabric. When the entire stencil is assembled, run over the whole design with the iron to make sure the paper adheres to the canvas.

Using a brush, paint the exposed areas, dabbing fabric paint a bit at a time. Allow to dry. If using the sword + arrow design (no frayed edge) make sure to paint along the edges of the patch to ‘seal’ in the loose fibers. Carefully peel away the paper, using a tweezer for the smaller pieces, to reveal your design:

To fray the patch, rub edge with your fingers and pull off loose fibers. Then take your patch and bag to the sewing machine, stitch patch directly onto the bag flap, and call it done and cheap. Or “rocket pack” as Kai likes to call his new bag.

For a a more in-depth tutorial on stenciling, read my post here.

And Dana’s intro of me left me all sorts of blushy and giddy. Sweetest words ever, thank you!


  1. Comment by dana on February 12, 2010 12:05 am

    Great stuff. With the perfect Graphic Designers touch. Thank you Jenn!

  2. Comment by raya on February 12, 2010 12:39 am

    Loving this! I agree boys need more love in the DIY/Crafting department. This Celebrate the Boy thing is genius, and so are you. xoxo

  3. Comment by Jenny on February 12, 2010 6:52 am

    Oh, Jen. I am SO grateful to you for offering this uber-cute tutorial. I have been sketching out an army-inspired messenger bag like this for my boy for some time now. This fab tutorial now eliminates the pain that would be trying to make a workable sewing pattern from the drawings!

    I had not idea that ammo bags would be the perfect size! You have saved me from endless hours of ripping out stitches. ;)

  4. Comment by Rae on February 12, 2010 7:28 am

    No shame in that, I totally agree. What an awesome bag!!! I love how it can be personalized and has almost no construction time. Sweeeet!

    Thanks so much for sharing Jenn!!!

  5. Comment by miyo on February 12, 2010 9:57 am

    omg jenn – love it! gotta go out and make one for my little man!

  6. Comment by Rachel on February 12, 2010 9:59 am

    This is fabulous! I love the stencils. This series is SO much fun! I’ll be linking.

  7. Comment by Margie K on February 12, 2010 2:49 pm

    Very Cute Jenn!

  8. Comment by Stacie on February 12, 2010 5:19 pm

    They’re even cuter than I imagined! As always, Great job!

  9. Comment by Amy on February 12, 2010 6:24 pm

    I am absolutely doing this for my son’s bday this summer. Marrying his love of army and clone troopers in one gift? I may get the Mom of the year award…as I hope you did too!

  10. Comment by cheryl on February 12, 2010 10:29 pm

    so glad i found your blog through dana’s! great tutorial. thanks!

  11. Comment by jozen on February 13, 2010 10:34 am

    TOO adorable.

  12. Comment by Tina @ Squirrel Acorns on February 13, 2010 1:32 pm

    These would be really fun favors for a birthday party (if you were only inviting a few kids and didn’t have to make too many, of course!).

  13. Comment by naomi on February 14, 2010 5:44 am

    great bags, and the stencils are awesome!!
    Thanks for sharing.

  14. Comment by feather on March 26, 2010 2:25 pm

    i just came across your blog, don’t remember how i got here, but i love this tutorial. i have two girls and a boy, and spend waaaay more time sewing for my girls than my boy. this is a great idea. i’ve never stenciled, but i will have to try.

  15. Comment by Leah on August 17, 2010 6:48 pm

    Will you make one that I can buy? I could paypal you?

    I do not sew… barely buttons – wish I could (sad to admit) would love this bag for my 4 year old son for preschool!



  16. Comment by Leah on August 17, 2010 6:57 pm

    okay sorry, so I just read the whole post. I was thinking you had sewn the bag :) Do you know where I can get the exact bag show? It looks smaller than the ones in the link…. love this idea btw!


  17. Comment by Nichole on December 12, 2010 1:50 pm

    I used this as a Christmas gift tutorial…thank you for the wonderful idea! I’m can’t wait for my nephews to open them!

    I linked to you from

  18. Comment by Keeley Zanardi on February 5, 2011 9:10 pm


  19. Pingback by 101 Simple Handmade Gifts for Kids on August 8, 2012 12:11 pm

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  20. Comment by Kunal on March 9, 2013 6:12 am

    hey i like this bag please send me price of this bag i can purchased

  21. Comment by Kunal on March 9, 2013 6:14 am

    hey i like it i can i puchase this bag so sen me mail & bag prize am from india, new delhi

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