"" sewing tutorial | KIDS | crafts | handmade gifts | bread bags | fort kits | diy hang tags | saltwater-kids



Boys, boys, boys. The silly things they say and do keep me laughing all the time. In fact, as I was working on this post my three year-old came blasting by, one arm outstretched, clutching his toothbrush, shouting (in a deep manly voice) "Oh, Mr. Plaque I am coming to get you!"  Dental Superheros make my day!

My favorite part of making this tutorial, by far, was the photo shoot.  Not just because the pictures crack me up, but that my boys actually agreed to do it,  AND enjoyed it!  Normally (98.7% of the time) they want nothing to do with "crazy mom and her camera," but for some reason, this time was different.  They totally hammed it up, AND they happily agreed to wear the short-shorts I made. Wow! Shocking. I am still in a state of disbelief - but also still smiling just thinking of their silly poses in front of the camera.  Oh, how I love those two!

I am so excited to share this project with you because it is as fun as my two silly boys.

The design of the RETRO DUFFEL is based on the original Duffel Bag - the manliest of all the bags in the luggage family. The simple, functional design, and durable fabric make this an ideal boy bag.

This is a miniature version of the typical duffel bag, perfect for an overnight stay at Grandma's, hauling gear to the big game, or for storing my all-time favorite gift - the FORT KIT!

OK, lets get started!

  • 1/2 yard Fashion Denim (or similar fabric) 
  • 16” SEPARATING zipper* (the key to this project is the separating zipper)
  • Jean/denim sewing machine needle  
  • 76” of 1½” wide webbing OR make your own (77” X 6” white fashion denim, or similar fabric)
*if you have trouble finding a 16" zipper, a larger size will work fine.

You will find the how-to for the handles HERE


  •   26” X 16 ½” - body
  •   (2) 8 ½” circle - end
  •  (2) 16 ½” X 5” - zipper lining

Part 1: Attaching the Zipper

Hem one long side on each of the 16 ½” X 5” zipper lining pieces.  If you don't have a serger, no biggie.  Simply fold (and iron) the edge over ½” and stitch. 

  Next, make a zipper sandwich:
  1.  You will need the body piece (26” X 16 ½”), and one of the hemmed zipper lining pieces (16 ½” X 5”).   
  2. Lay the body piece down first - RIGHT side facing UP.   
  3. Next, lay the zipper on top of that, with the WRONG side facing UP.
  4. Then, lay the zipper lining  piece on top with the WRONG side facing UP.

Carefully pin in place. 

Using your zipper foot, sew the sandwich together...

moving the zipper out of the way as you go (you may need to raise the presser foot to wiggle the zipper through).

Then, fold the two sides down, exposing the zipper, and iron.  

Top-stitch along the edge.

REPEAT the sandwich on the other side:
  1. First, lay the second zipper lining piece down - RIGHT side UP.
  2. Next, the zipper - RIGHT side UP 
  3. Then, grab the other end of the body and fold it over - RIGHT side DOWN (facing the right side of the zipper)
Pin and sew.

Then, Unzip and fold the 2 sides down, exposing the zipper, and iron.  Top-stitch.

Part 2: Attaching the Handles
 Lay the body piece flat, right side facing up. Find the center, by folding and finger creasing the length and width.  Mark the centers (both sides and the middle) with a pin.
Measure 1.5” from the marked center points in both directions and, again, mark with a pin (blue dots). The distance between the marks (the blue dots) should be 3".

Using the marked points in the center of the bag, start pinning down the handle.

 At the edge, measure out 11½"  - this will be your handle.

Continue pinning the rest of the way around, checking the spacing as you go (3" apart).  Then overlap the two ends, and pin.

Measure and mark 1 ½” from all four edges.  This is your stitching guide.  

 It should end up looking something like this.

Once the handles are just right, start at the overlap and sew along the outside edge.
As you come to the end of the bag, turn at the 1 ½” mark.     

Sew across and down the inside edge, continuing until you reach the starting point. Zig-zag stitch over the seam to secure.

REPEAT on the other side. 

Sew a square 1 ½” from the edge of the bag, and then sew an “X” in the center to add strength to the handles.  Repeat on the other 3 edges.
The last step is to finish the handles.

If you are using store-bought webbing this step should be fairly easy. 
If you made handles, like I did, you may need to wrestle the fabric to get it aligned just right in your machine.  I didn't have any problem sewing through all of the layers, but if that proves to be too much of a pain, then hand stitching may be a better alternative.
  1. Find the center of the handle, measure and mark 3" on both sides of that point.
  2. Fold the handle in half between the marks, and pin.   
  3. Carefully sew along the outside edge.

Part 3: Attaching the Ends

Zip the two sides of the bag together.

Starting with the end of the bag closest to the zipper pull, pin one of the circles in place.

Slowly and carefully, sew ½” seam around the circle. When you come to the zipper, you may need to adjust it a little to get the needle through.

Open the zipper ½ way, to allow for turning.
REPEAT the pinning and sewing on the other end.

Cut off the end of the zipper, (I had to use my kitchen scissors to cut through the tough sport zipper) and finish off the edges with a serger or zigzag stitch.   For a more finished look, add bias tape around the raw edges.
Turn right side out.

Part 4:  Admire Your Work!

Need a different size? 
 Adjusting the size of the RETRO DUFFEL is simple, with a little math. Here's how:
( d = diameter, c = circumference, pi = 3.14)
d = c/pi 
Using the body measurements of this bag (26"x16"), I was able to figure out the size of circles needed for the ends.  The circumference measurement of the bag is the width (from zipper to zipper), or 26" 

I plugged my circumference (26") into the equation.

   d = 26"/3.14
 d = 8.3"
To make life easier, I added a little to that number, making the diameter of the circles 8 1/2.".

Want to adjust the length? Simply increase or reduce the length measurement (16" for this bag) to match the zipper length.

Thanks for stopping by! 

If you make a RETRO DUFFEL, I would LOVE to see it.


  1. Wonderful bag and absolutly GREAT pictures! Fabulous!!! Thanks for sharing.


  2. I don't have any kids... yet. But I'm loving the photos of your boys! They are way too cute. Your blog is lovely, and the tutorial looks great! Thanks for sharing.

  3. this is such a great tutorial! I can't wait to make one of these for my little boy - like you said perfect for our trips to grandma's. Do you mind sharing where you got all of your colorful denim? I really love those bright colors!

  4. These are so awesome. I want to make one in every color. Duck cloth would work as well right?

  5. Thanks for stopping to check out the Retro Duffel bag tutorial. Lisa, the fabric I used was actually from several different sources (mostly from my stash), but I did find bright fashion denim at Joanne fabric.

    Jessica, duck cloth would probably work great. My only suggestion would be to use store-bought webbing to reduce bulk.

  6. Thanks for such a great tute. My boys love to have their own bags for weekends at grandma's, toys, camping gear or special treasures. These are awesome and a great way for me to recycle some denim! :)

  7. Your pictures are awesome! I tried to convince my husband to let me make him a duffel bag last year. Everybody needs a handful of these. Love the fun colors. :)

  8. Wonderful tutorial! You've gone into great detail and explained it so well. I can't wait to make one for my son.

    The pictures are AWESOME! It looks like it was a fun photo shoot! :)

  9. This is FANTASTIC! And your photos are hilarious :) I will for sure be making a couple of these for my cute boys!


  10. How awesome! I know what my boy will be getting for his birthday this year!

    Also - how did you make the shorts?? I would love a tutorial on that!!

  11. This is super adorable. I love how simple and useful it is. Thank you!

  12. i like your made by tag - did you make it?

    radiyas at gmail dot com

  13. Hoping to snatch a moment and get out to the fabric store tomorrow...we a have a little boys birthday party to go to on Saturday and I HAVE to make one of these for him...love it! Oh, and I have already been told that ALL of my 3 boys NEED one too :) Thanks so much for sharing with us!

  14. I was just thinking the other day that I need to go buy some duffle bags for my kids for trips....now I HAVE to make these, like tomorrow... AH! Thank you!

  15. seriously!!! these are so cool, the duffle bags, the pics (just stunning and so fun). And your kit was just ooozing with creativity. I used to have a cute little duffle, but it got so worn out, time to make one for my girls now. :)

  16. Love your duffle bag. My grandsons also love to put all kinds of stuff in bags, so I'll be making some of these bags, for sure! Thanks for the tutorial.

  17. Just finished mine! It's very cute and I can't wait to make some for my girls too!

  18. Thank you for this super cute tutorial. My little boy will definitely be getting one of these and I'll have to make a few more for birthday gifts.

  19. Wow, that is amazing and so cute! I have got to make one of these soon...
    And you are a math whiz too!

  20. I just finished my first one. We have good friends who are moving this summer and wanted to make the kids something special for their travels. I'm so excited to finish the next 2! I'm sure my kids are going to want their own, too. Thank you so much for the clear instructions and wonderful tutorial!

  21. Thank you so much for the wonderful tutorial. I managed to sew 6 of them and they all turned out. Despite it being the first time ever sewing zippers.

  22. I don't understand where I should position the handles.
    "Measure 3” from the center in both directions". That means that they are 6" apart.
    But then you write: "Continue pinning the rest of the way around, checking the spacing as you go (3" apart)."
    That means 3" apart for each other? So not 6"?
    Or do I have to pin to the inside of the marking points? That would make 3"...

  23. Hi Miss Stik,

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. You are right, the wording is confusing. I edited the tutorial to (hopefully) make the instructions more clear. The total distance between the straps (marked points/blue dots in the picture) should be 3" (centered).

    I hope that makes sense. If not, let me know and I will do my best to make it more clear.

  24. I am SO excited to see this tutorial. When I saw the picture it made me smile for two reasons, 1. your boys are adorable and 2. I had that duffle bag growing up. Can't wait to make one for my boys.

  25. Can't wait to try tomorrow. Am going to make this as drop bags for my ultra runner husband. Is the zipper foot necessary? I don't have one, and wonder if I need to go purchase one. thanks!

  26. I liked you're duffel bag very much. Especially the colors! I had a piece of orange denim lying in my closet to be used. When I bought it, it didn't fit the purpose I had in mind afterall. When I saw your work, I immediately knew that I had to make ik with that piece.

    I'm new at the blogging thing, but I understood that you like the pictures of people who used your pattern. I put them on my just started with blog.

    Again thank you for the very clear tutorial and the wonderful idea

  27. LOL I love your boys.

    We made duffle bags in my 6th grade home ec class for one of our first projects. Everyone in the school had a duffle bag to carry their PE clothes in! :)

  28. Hi Nynke,

    Your duffel bag is super cute - I love the extra details you added. Thanks for sharing!

  29. @ Anonymous

    Hi! I would highly recommend getting a zipper foot - you will thank yourself later! The top-stitching on the zipper can really really go a long way in giving the bag a more professional look (when it is nice and straight).

  30. I love this tutorial! Thank you for spending the time putting it in a post for everyone to share.
    I have featured it in a list of great Christmas tutorials on my blog....
    .... if you would like to take a look.
    Thanks again. Ally on harrysdesk

  31. I had been eyeing out this tutorial of yours for ages, but it wasn't until the other week my little guy was interested in a bigger bag. I've shared it here on my blog:

    Thank you for sharing - Mariane

  32. Thanks for this tutorial, it was easy to follow and I loved the results!


  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

  34. I just made it, but larger for myself! Can't wait to use it to go to the gym tomorrow. Here's the post! http://theefirewife.blogspot.com/2012/01/birthday-means-you-do-what-you-want.html

  35. Thanks so much for the tutorial. I've been trying to figure out how to do a duffle bag and this is just what I needed to know. I'm going to make it rectangular instead of round because my daughter's always hauling books around with her. (I also hate sewing circles!) I'm going to try it 12" wide and 9" high so my body piece will be 18" by 43" and the end pieces will be 13" by 10". Hopefully, it will all work out!

  36. Wow, I'm no seamstress, but you make it look awfully easy. I might try my hand at this one. I only worry about the zipper part. Maybe I can just struggle through it a couple times for practice ;-)

  37. Your pictures are awesome! I really want ot make one of a few of these now.. Everybody needs a handful of these. Love the fun colors. :)

  38. Don't you have a video of this tutorial? I'm making the orange one! Kisses from Argentina!

  39. I finished one last night for my nephew's Christmas present - I love it! Zippers used to scare me, but you made it so straight forward! I'll try to attach a link.


  40. Hello Emily! Thanks so much for the awesome tutorial! Your explanations are wonderful and very detailed! As a beginning sew'er (Sewist? Sew-master?) I have what is probably a silly question: Could I use (almost) any type of fabric for these bags? I figure satin-y, silk-y fabric would be super difficult, but I was thinking cotton or flannel; my daughter is apparently *dying* for a My Little Pony duffle bag and I was hoping to kill birds with stones and do this for her. What do you think? Thanks honey!

  41. I can't WAIT to make one of these! Thanks for the tute !!!

  42. Really great tutorial. I, unfortunately, have no grandchildren, but I can't help but think what wonderful bags they would be for taking fabric, etc to sewing club. I think I'll even add some machine embroidery to it.

  43. You rock! Thanks so much...I love your style...

  44. You rock....awesome tutorial and I like your style!

  45. Thanks so much for this tutorial! It's such a good idea and your pictures and descriptions are great!!
    I've made my own bag with some 70s fabric which had to be reinforced with iron-on interfacing. thus i made the "zipper lining" a complete lining to cover the interfacing - also for the circles...just sew left side on left side...And finally I added piping for the outside of the circles and covered the inside seams with some bias tape.
    Here are some pictures: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.541349869228780.124470.384521518244950&type=1&l=0f181eab91
    I love the bag!!

  46. Is there any chance you'd be able to make these for me if I paid you?? I am having my daughter's first bday party in April and it's gymnastics themed- I'd love to have these for the favor bags, but won't be able to make them my self. Please let me know- thanks!

  47. OH--- MY---- GOODNESS!!!! I HAVE to make this! Mine will have to be some crazy girly print for my daughter. She's started martial arts and this would be so fun to keep her stuff in.

  48. Can you make a video tutorial of this? I am a single dad who just bought a sewing machine and I have ZERO sewing machine knowledge. It would be really helpful to see a video walkthrough of this.

  49. I think this is a great pattern - so have linked to it in my blog - http://alittlebirdmademe.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/list-of-30-free-bag-tutorials-and-patterns/
    Thanks for sharing it with us.

  50. Great tutorial! I've linked it up to our bag Brag Tuesday Linking Party at ChrisW Designs...i hope you will stop by and check it out! :)

  51. This is amazing. I got asked to make a bag at school and the designs they gave us were pretty girly so I saw your website and i was amazed to see how great this is. I dance and I stay overnight at my friends houses so it was great to look at and very handy in my everyday life. Because I live in Australia it took me a while to convert from inches to centimeters but overall this is great.

  52. Thank you so much for this very complete instructions and all the explaining pictures.
    I had to read it twice but after that I was able to saw a duffle bag for hunting - my camouflage nets found a new home now.
    A picture of my masterpiece is on my homepage http://www.villa-dioxina.de/html/tasche.php and I've linked this site.

  53. The zipper tutorial is the key to making this. I love it, have made three so far, some in prints some a bit bigger and am addicted to making these bags. I have also added outside pockets for phones, keys etc. A great tute! Thank you so much