Upcycled Leather Jacket Backpack

I’m going to start this post off with an apology. Half of the pictures I took were taken with my phone’s camera and they’re not the best quality, so I’m sorry for that. Pretty much all of the “making of” shots were taken with my phone and then I went back afterwards with my nicer camera and got some better shots of the finished product. I’m planning on making another one of these for my little sister so I’ll take some better pictures of that one.

I’ve been seeing some really cute backpacks lately and I got bit with the bug to create. Most of the backpacks I saw that I liked were made of leather so I decided to take a page from my own book and use an old leather jacket from the thrift store. After searching far and wide for the perfect jacket, I finally snagged one from my local thrift store, along with two belts that I planned to use as the backpacks closures. I believe the cost for these three things was about $15 or $16.


I dug through my existing fabric and whatnot and was able to find fabric for the lining, some batting, some vinyl and a zipper for the inside pocket. Then I got to sketching what I wanted my bag to look like and after finalizing it I wrote myself a little shopping list, taped in some swatches of the leather jacket and liner fabric and went off to the store. I ended up just buying thread and grommets and just cannibalized some old unfinished purses for the swivel lobster clasps and D rings.



I don’t have any pictures of the deconstruction of the jacket, but basically I seam ripped the inner seam of the sleeves, down the side of the jacket and cut the sleeves free of the body of the jacket. Sleeves are deceiving, they always have way more fabric than you would think. I ended up using both sleeves to construct the body of the backpack. For the front pocket I decided to utilize the already existing snap buttons from the front of the jacket. I cut out a section that had both sides of the buttons and sewed them onto the front of the bag. It ended up working out perfectly. When working with leather you can’t just stick pins everywhere because the holes won’t go away so my trick to keep things in the right spot when sewing was to tape it down with masking tape.


More unpictured steps: I wanted a special pocket for my laptop that would be easily accessible if I had the backpack closed all the way so I made a padded pocket with the liner fabric and some batting and used the jacket zipper as the closure. I reinforced the piece of leather I cut for the bottom with two layers of thick vinyl fabric I found stashed away in my fabric box. I then sewed up the body of the back and then sewed on the bottom, making sure to sew in the bottom of the straps as well. I cut, lined and sewed together the flap but didn’t attach it to the bag just yet. I placed the flap over the bag to approximately where it would sit once sewed in and then started placing the cut belts onto the bag to see how the placement would go. I wanted to secure the belts onto the flap by sewing them on, however the leather of the belts was super thick and I didn’t even want to attempt that with my poor sewing machine, so I grabbed one of my sharpest knives and began to skive the belts in the spots where I wanted to sew it. I thought this process was going to be quite hard and tedious, but it actually was really easy and kind of addictive.


To hide the stitches and the areas I had to skive, I cut small strips of leather, placed them over those areas and tacked them down on each side with some stitches. As you can see in the picture, I totally skived the leather in the wrong spot on each belt so one was sewed onto the flap higher than the other. That kind of sucks, but hey, it’s handmade right? That proves it!


I didn’t get any shots of constructing the inside, but I essentially just used the measurements of the outside of the bag and threw together a liner with that. Of course, I had to stick a zippered pocket in there as well. And a little leather “tag” with my logo on it, which probably could have been executed better, but this is what happens when you’re impatient, you go with the first try and tell yourself. ‘Eh, that’s good enough.’ And then you look back on it and wish you had tried more.

On the top of my liner I also sewed a strip of leather around the top because I wanted the main bag closure to be a drawstring with grommets and I thought having it go through leather rather than fabric would look and function better. There will be better pictures of this later on in this post.


I stuffed the inner fabric into the backpack and sandwiched the top flap and the upper strap loop between the outside leather and the inner leather and sewed it up nice and clean around the edge. From there I poked 8 holes around the top of the bag and hammered the grommets in place. I sewed up a thin piece of leather, threaded it through and sewed on a piece of leather to act as the stopper part of the drawstring.

I made the straps adjustable like normal backpack straps are but at the end I attached the swivel lobster clasps. Those then could be connected to the upper strap loop. Thinking about it afterwards, it doesn’t really serve that much of a purpose, to be able to unclasp the straps from the backpack; I just thought it was a neat idea.

Anyway, from there I tried the thing on and realized the straps were kind of thin. They’re maybe about an inch wide and I thought that with a full backpack they would totally cut into my shoulders and be uncomfortable, so I made little strap pads and slid them in place. Worked like a charm and then my bag was complete!


So from now on these will be the better quality pictures.

And here’s the finished backpack! I love how the belt closure turned out. The little metal embellishment on the belt on the left is pretty cool too!


Here’s the back, and in this photo you can more clearly see how the back straps connect to the top and you can also see how the strap pads look on each side.


Another feature on the back is the padded laptop pocket.


And here’s an action shot with my laptop halfway in the bag. Ooo, exciting!


Here’s a shot looking into the bag. If you look closely on the left next to my finger there is a tiny loop with another tiny swivel lobster clasp which I put in for one purpose, and that is to simply hold my headphones if I’m taking them with me.


Like so.


Here’s another photo of the bag opened, but it’s laying flat and there’s no headphones in the shot so it’s different enough.


Here you can see the lining fabric for the flap. I ended up reinforcing it with one layer of vinyl because I thought if I didn’t then it would be weirdly floppy, so to keep that in place I quilted it together with the liner fabric. I used this opportunity to make a nice chevron type of pattern.


I used some of the leftover leather to make a big tassel because, why not? And I attached it to another swivel lobster clasp (man I just have those things everywhere) so that I could stick it wherever on the bag I want to. Unfortunately it’s a silver clasp, not gold like everything else on the bag, but oh well. I was working with what I had at that point.

Here are some cool angled shots of the front and back of the backpack.

And to end this I shall throw in this photo of my dog, Hobbes, enjoying the backpack as much as I do! (Lookie there behind the pup! Yup, I still own those letter pillows I made a few years ago!)


And that’s all folks! I hope you all like this backpack as much as I do. I plan on making another one of these backpacks and will be taking better pictures of the progress of it, so please stay tuned for that!

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  1. September 30, 2014 at 6:46 am — Reply

    Damn, I am still so impressed with this backpack, and I loved reading your process. I’m so amazed at how you figure this stuff out yourself. If I don’t have a pattern/instructions, it just seems way too daunting. Plus, I’m terrified of sewing leather and of installing all the hardware! Anyway, as you can tell, I am in love with this backpack. If you ever decide to sell these, let me know because I’d totally purchase one! (And at true, fair price for your hard work! I always get annoyed at people who want me to make them a dress or something for $25 and I’m like…are you kidding me? Do you not realize the hours involved in this?)

    • February 5, 2015 at 3:29 pm — Reply

      Sorry this is a super late reply! But thanks! I love this backpack too 🙂 but yeah, pricing is definitely hard when it comes to handmade stuff… you don’t want to sell yourself short! If I ever make some of these to sell I’ll surely give you a heads up!

  2. Melissa Sievers
    January 29, 2015 at 11:38 am — Reply

    What type of needle and thread did you use to sew through the layer of leather? I suppose having the belt/latch method for shoulder straps meant that you didn’t have to sew through too many layers there… Awesome bag! – Melissa

    • February 5, 2015 at 3:09 pm — Reply

      I used special needles made for leather. I just picked them up at my local craft store, they should be with all the other machine needles. And I used polyester thread for strength. Hope this helps you out, thanks for stopping by and checking out my blog 🙂 And thanks again – I love this bag!~

  3. Jana
    January 13, 2016 at 12:42 pm — Reply

    Wow this is AWESOME!!!! Thank u so much for describing the process, i have one or another thrifted leather jacket at home myself and also wanted to make a backpack from at least one of them… So this is really helpful to me.
    I love the look of ur bag, u really conserved the spirit of the jacket plus the belts give it a real vagabond touch, i can see u (ok myself, let’s be honest) wandering around with it and looking for a stable to rest my head on the hay for the night. … ok now I think I wandered from the subject a litte bit 😉
    Anyways, great work!
    Love from Germany,

  4. June 21, 2016 at 8:40 pm — Reply

    I have an old letterman jacket. Have you ever made a backpack from one?

  5. October 26, 2016 at 8:00 am — Reply

    Love, love, love your backpack! Thank you so much for sharing. Ute

  6. Suzanne
    April 28, 2017 at 10:23 pm — Reply

    Amazing re-use of leather. You’ve created something that will definitely outlast the lifecycle of that jacket. I specially love the special padded section for your laptop. Bravo.

  7. Jacqui
    May 20, 2017 at 7:18 pm — Reply

    I can’t believe how much I love this! Amazing!

  8. Haley
    July 3, 2017 at 4:08 pm — Reply

    This is amazing! I could never do anything like this. I think your super creative and I simply love the backpack. I was actually on pinterest looking at pillow ideas when I stumbled across this and I just had to complement your work. I can barely fix the holes in my shirts, and I know how difficult that is I can only imagine what an undertaking that this was. The detail on the backpack is amazing, you did a fantastic job. 🙂

  9. December 12, 2017 at 10:28 am — Reply

    Wow!! This has to be the most creative & the best thrift store transformation I’ve ever seen. I’m blown away …. this is gorgeous!!

  10. December 23, 2017 at 11:33 pm — Reply

    Wow. Wow. wow. Did I mentioned, “Wow”? Really inspiring ! Can’t wait to go thrift shopping to replicate !!!!

  11. Jenn
    December 26, 2017 at 4:27 pm — Reply

    Okay, so I’m 3 years late to this party… but your backpack still totally rocks! Found your post while looking for some inspo to make my own. Now that I see how fantastic yours is, I’m having difficulty just making the first cut into my jacket. Seems I’m frozen with fear of failure. Anyway, thanks for sharing your superb work! 🙂

  12. Anonymous
    February 10, 2018 at 7:26 am — Reply

    I love everything about the pack. Your cleverness and braveness to cut the coat. I have bought a coat just for this project and love your project the most. Thank you.

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