Zero to Hero

Successful adventures start with a map and the right tools

How can I learn to make my first backpack?!

With so many videos, patterns, and projects to choose from... knowing how and where to start making is nearly impossible. In this guide follow along with my patterns to develop core sewing skills while making your own outdoor gear. Before you know it, you'll be confident in tackling your first backpack or technical garment.

Show me the way!

Day 1, Hour 0

Unboxings done. You've looked at the pictures in the machine's user manual. You've sewn a few crooked stitches and removed a few rats nests of thread. Congrats, it's now time to make something useful.

cinch sack If today is your first day sewing since middle school, I recommend getting started with a Cinch Sack. If you have a small buckle and webbing, a Roll Top Sack follows very similar construction steps. Hop over to the pattern generator and input dimensions to get a pattern that fits your fabric.

In these first couple projects focus on these core skills:
  • Sewing consistent clean stitches without knots or snags
  • Accurately sewing to stated seam allowances
  • Guiding technical fabrics through the machine for straight seams
  • Squaring up edges for a symmetric and nice finish
For a small, no brainer materials kit with everything you need for your first couple stuff sacks, check out the $10 DIY Kit from RBTR. Their instructions and steps are a little different from mine, but I wish this materials kit was around when I got started!

Hint: if using the $10 DIY Kit, a cinch sack measuring 8" x 6.5" x 8" tall will fit the 18" x 30" fabric without cutting.

Which machine... which needles... ugh just tell me what to buy!

Ready to rock! Here's the essentials with recommended sewing machines, needle & thread combinations, and all the tools to build out your maker kit.

MYOG Essentials

Gear Maker

Moving up from stuff sacks to your first pack is pretty daunting. Gear making is technical and unique skills need to be learned! Backpacks, for example, involve more materials and piece parts, there's hardware and webbing, and your pack can't fail or you're going home early. Additional pockets, closure methods, and load carrying systems all require consideration and planning.

To build confidence and learn various gear making skills, consider the progression below. I'd recommend picking a few projects from each complexity rating to work your way up to tackling your first backpack.

Project Complexity Skills Learned
Zip Pouch ✂️✂️✂️ Basic zipper assembly, topstitching, and forming 3D box
Rounded Stuff Sack ✂️✂️✂️ Sewing circles in ultralight fabrics, cord channel hem
Running Belt ✂️✂️✂️ Basic zipper, webbing and buckle, and precision sewing
Every Day Fanny Pack ✂️✂️✂️ Multiple zippers, sewing tight curves, and symmetric sewing
Every Day Totepack ✂️✂️✂️ Multiple panels, flat felled seams, recessed zipper panel
Bikepacking Feed Bag ✂️✂️✂️ Circular bottom, floating lining, panel assembling, webbing
Bikepacking Frame Bags ✂️✂️✂️ Tight corners and curves, zippers, and foam linings
Fastpack ✂️✂️✂️ Torso sizing, shoulder straps, stretch pockets, seam binding, multiple panels and mixed materials, hardware and webbing
Trail Running Backpack ✂️✂️✂️ Vest sizing, stretch fabrics, curved darts, seam binding, multiple panels of mixed materials, hardware and webbing

Technical Apparel

What started out as being extremely intimidating, I've begun to wrap my head around apparel and I've learned it's a VERY broad subject. Based on my research, I break garment making down into the following elements. In industry, each of these topic areas are often performed by different people, each with their own core specialties and expertise.

Elements of making apparel

  • Apparel design - turning vision and goals into an actionable sketch
  • Pattern drafting and draping - methods for converting 3d shapes into flat patterns
  • Pattern grading - proportionally expanding a base pattern into multiple sizes
  • Fabric layout and cutting - mindful marking, handling, and cutting fabric and materials
  • Construction and finish - piecing, seaming, and edge finishing aka "the sewing"
  • Tailoring and adjustments - adjusting pattern or garment for custom fit

My goal is to see you make your first wearable garments! With that in mind, my designs emphasize function over form. Our outdoor apparel must perform in all conditions or an adventure can easy turn into emergency. Most of my designs are inspired by ready-to-wear items from Patagonia and Outdoor Research, with my own spin on beginner-friendly construction methods and ideas for improvements.

Much effort goes into establishing and testing accurately-sized patterns to minimize the need for tailoring and major changes for fit. Construction methods for apparel are very similar to gear making so many of the skills are transferable. As my patterns are quite basic in form, they are also great starting blocks for creative designs you may have in mind. For those getting started, my recommendated progression follows.

Project Complexity Skills Learned
DIAS (Shorts) 🩳🩳🩳 Inseam pockets, welt pocket, elastic waist and hemming, basic seam finishing, buttonholes
Alpha Raglan Hoodie 👕👕👕 Stretch knits, size selection, overlocking, sewing facings, stretch binding, buttonholes
Fleece Pullover 👕👕👕 Stretch knits, kangaroo pocket, snap placket, stretch binding
UL Windshell / Rainshell 👕👕👕 UL slippery fabrics, seperating zipper, zipper pockets, hemming

You may be asking, "do I need a serger?" Well no, but if you're starting to ask, then its probably a good time buy one! Check out my reasons and recommendations below. 👇

Gear up for MYOG

Essential tools for your maker kit

This section contains affiliate links, meaning I make a commission for qualified purchases, at no cost to you. See Disclosures for more information.

Sewing Machines

First and foremost, to make awesome gear you need a sewing machine.
What's the best sewing machine for getting started?
For your first few projects, I'd recommend borrowing a machine to learn on and become more informed about what works best for your projects. Machines are commonly available to borrow in maker spaces, tool loans through your local library, or through family and friends. When ready to purchase a new or used machine look for the following characteristics. This is a basic list of desired attributes for a low-cost introductory home machine for a beginner.
  • Mechanical drop feed machine with reverse lever
  • Atleast 1/4" presser foot height, often called two-stage lifter
  • 1-4mm+ minimum stitch length and 5-6mm stitch width
  • Utility stitches including zigzag, overlock/overcast, and stretch
  • Automatic button hole (with accessory foot) is a great addition
  • Walking foot attachment is helpful for sewing slippery layers
  • Needle compatibility size range should include #11/75-16/100+
  • Quality customer support and local service center
While I have limited to no experience with these specific machines, each model meets the desired attributes listed. At this price point, these machines are mostly similar and are well regarded by users. sewing machine The Singer HD series is often recommended due to "all metal" and "heavy duty" marketing, its low price point, and availability. Between the HD4411 and HD4423, the 4423 gets my recommendation with the addition of stretch stitches for knit fabrics, an automatic buttonhole capability, and an included needle threader. However, Janome is a long standing high quality manufacturer and I've heard many people prefer the Janome HD1000 over the Singer HD44xx series machines. If unfamiliar with Bernette, it's Bernina's sub-brand for affordable class machines!
Can you tell me if machine x, y, or z is right for me?
Sorry, no. There are too many variables to consider. Your local sewing shop would be happy to help!
Serger yay or nay?
I use my serger on almost every project. If you're making apparel or regularly sewing knits, a serger should be your second machine and is not a replacement for a lockstitch machine. I recommend a basic two needle, four thread serger with differential feed which allows you to sew strong construction and finishing overlock seams at the same time. A three thread overlock really should be used for raw edge finishing only. Differential feed allows you to adjust the speed of feed dogs to prevent wavy seams, a common headache when sewing knits with a sewing machine. The chainstitch produced by the serger retains stretch in the knit fabric and once you experience the ease of serging knits, you'll regret waiting so long to buy one. juki serger

Fabrics

Lucky for you, I have a whole page full of gear fabric recommendations. Specific apparel fabric recomendations are provided within each pattern.

Needles & Thread

threadsfabrics

Sewing Gear with Home Machines

Fabric type and weight is the main factor for selecting the right needle and thread. Polyster thread has high strength with a little stretch making it durable and abrasion resistent. For 95% of my projects Gutermann Mara100 and Mara70 are my preferred threads.

Fabric Weight (osy) Fabric Denier Needle Thread
1 oz/sqyd 30D #8-11
Universal or Microtex
Tex 30
Gutermann Sew-All
Gutermann Mara100
1-3 oz/sqyd 30D-100D #10-12
Universal or Microtex
Tex 30-40
Gutermann Mara100
Gutermann Mara70
Gutermann Tera80
3-6 oz/sqyd 200D-400D #12-14
Microtex or Jeans
Tex 40-50
Gutermann Mara70
A&E Perma Core 45
6+ oz/sqyd 500D+ #16
Universal or Jeans
Tex 40-60
Gutermann Tera60
Gutermann Mara50
Bonded Nylon #46

Sewing Apparel with Home Machines

For apparel, its important to select appropriate fabric for the pattern. Stretchy knits will be much faster to sew and have cleaner seams if constructed serger using ball needles and Maxi-Lock Tex 30 thread. For outdoor apparel calling for woven fabric, there are similarities in needles and thread types as used in gear making. For stretchy knits, a ball needle will help to prevent skipped stitches.

Project Type Fabric Type Needle Thread
UL Windshells, Sil rainshell
Synthetic shells
Ultralight Woven #8-11
Universal or Microtex
Tex 30
Gutermann Sew-All
Gutermann Mara100
Shorts and pants, twill, taslan
no or low-stretch (<10% spandex)
Light-Medium Weight
Woven or Stretch Woven
#11-14
Jeans or Universal
Tex 40-50
Gutermann Mara70
A&E Perma Core 45
Stretch tshirts, base layers,
stretch gaiters, underwear
Lightweight Knit #10-12
Ball or Stretch
Tex 30-40
Gutermann Mara100
Gutermann Mara70
Gutermann Tera80
Midlayers, hoodies, fleece Medium weight Knit #12-14
Ball or Stretch
Tex 30-40
Gutermann Mara100
Gutermann Mara70
Gutermann Tera80

For serging or coverstitching, I use Maxi-Lock (tex 30) thread with size 80-90 ball needles. Textured aka Wooly thread, typically nylon but also polyester, will feel softer against skin and is more elastic then a spun polyster thread. Maxi-Lock Stretch is a common example and is optimal for leggings, base layers, and other high-stretch activewear.

Webbing & Binding

Nearly all gear includes webbing for attachments and tensioners. Originating in the tactical gear world, daisy chains are popular for attaching hardware. Shoulder straps and compression straps use tensioner hardware to adjust length and volume. There are a multiple types of webbing commonly available. For long lasting high quality gear, a medium weight nylon flat webbing that is Berry compliant or similar to MIL-W-17337 is most popular.

  • Nylon flat webbing is strong thin and light, has a tight weave, and works well in plastic hardware
  • Nylon Seatbelt webbing has smooth feel and soft touch but often slips through plastic hardware
  • Tubular webbing is a tube of webbing pressed flat, used primarily for climbing gear
  • Polyprolene webbing very plasticy, loosely woven, and rough textured but has tons of colors
  • Grosgrain is ribbon most often used for seam binding, very thin and not for carrying weight
  • Bias Binding is for seam binding especially on curves, not for carrying weight
  • Fold Over Elastic is an excellent edge finish on stretch pockets, cuffs, and hood openings
For packs and gear, the most common style of webbbing used is flat nylon webbing like these MIL-Spec Nylon Webbing or Med Wt Nylon Webbing.

Measuring and Cutting

My most used tools for everyday projects as well as patterning tools for those wishing to create their own designs. I'm sharing un-affiliated links to Wawak.com as they are knowledgable, carry high quality products, and have exceptional service.

Everyday Sewing Tools

    Amazon affiliant links
  • Self Healing Cutting Mat - buy the largest you can afford and have space for! Amazon Wawak
  • Rotary Cutter - 45mm is preferred for most economical replacements blades. Amazon Wawak
  • Safety Ruler - rotary cutters are crazy sharp. Cut safely with this Japanese safety ruler. Amazon
  • Seam Ripper - Your new best friend 🤍 Amazon Wawak
  • Thread Snips - kept machine-side for precise and fast thread trimming. Amazon Wawak
  • Fabric Pencils - water soluble marking pencils in three colors. Amazon Wawak
  • Wonder Clips - binder clips work but these have a flat back and much less fiddly to use. Amazon Wawak
  • Basting Tape - double side, water soluble tape for perfect seams and hems, 1/4" ftw. Amazon Wawak
  • Bias Binding Maker - Folders for ironing self-made bias tape from fabric strips. Amazon Wawak
  • KAM Snap Kit - tool and set of colored plastic snaps for gear and apparel. Amazon
  • Seam Gauge - Easy way to measure consistent fold down hems. Amazon Wawak
  • Measuring Tape - especially useful for body measurements when making apparel. Amazon Wawak
  • Pattern Weights - surely you can be more creative than spending $10 on these. Amazon Wawak
  • Glue Stick - Useful in joining paper patterns or temporarily basting seams

Paper Patterning Tools

  • Patterning Paper - dotted purpose-made patterning paper, 36" wide and 15# weight. Somewhat translucent. Wawak
  • See-Through Tailors Ruler - see-through flexible ruler with 1/8" precision graduations Amazon Wawak
  • L-square Ruler - fast and accurate squaring of guide lines. Amazon Wawak
  • Vary Form 24" Curve - 24" curved ruler for sweeping smooth curves and shaped lines. Amazon Wawak
  • Vary Form French Curve - 12" french curve for tighter curves and shapes. Amazon
  • Pattern Notcher - like a hole punch but specially made notcher for paper patterns. Wawak Wawak
  • Rotary Cutter - 28mm paper cutter dedicated to not dull your fabric cutter. 28mm is great for tight curves. Amazon Wawak
  • Patternmaking for Menswear - my favorite flat patterning textbook found thus far. Amazon
  • Pencil & Soft Erasers - precise mechanical pencil that easily erases and won't tear paper

Zippers

Zip over to our zipper guide for info and video tutorials.

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