Crafting a canvas pack suitable for canoeing is going to take some skills at sewing and leather working. Both are fairly easy to do but having the proper tools is a requirement. For the perpose of this pattern we will asume it is quite a large pack.
You will need;
- A few yards of canvas suitable to your project
- A piece of 6 to 8 oz leather for cutting straps about 36 inches long and 10 inches wide
- 9 - 3/4 or 5/8 brass roller buckles (brass doesn’t rust and is easier on leather)
- A bag of 3/4 inch quick rivets
- A large roll of artificial sinew or waxed linen thread
- Several rolls of heavy (button type) thread
- Straight pins and safety pins
- Good solid sewing machine
- Scissors and thread nippers
- Pattern cutting wheel
- Measuring stick (yard or meter – metal is better)
- Chalk or fabric pen
- Several packs of denim and canvas needles (I broke several)
- Leather hole punch
- Over stitch wheel (looks like the rowel on a set of spurs set on a handle, it is for marking stitch holes on leather)
- Leather spring punch (optional – for stitching holes, awl, or stitching chisel works too)
- Sharp leather cutting knife
- Strap cutter (optional – strap cutting can be done with a sharp knife and straight edge)
- Pack of leather needles
- Needle nose pliers (for pulling needles through tight holes)
- Hammer and anvil type surface for setting rivets (I used the back on my axe stuck into a piece of wood)
I am no sewing expert but I get by. You may want to consult a seamstress or tailor for a better idea of how to do this section.
- Decide on the size of your pack based on what you want to put into it and tape together a pattern from newspaper. Cut out all the pieces of the pattern from the canvas and lay them on the floor. Try to visualize how the canvas will fold together to form the pack. With all of the canvas pieces cut out, hem the edges of the two side panels (fold the edges in a half an inch and sew them down).
- With the two side panels created, establish where the bottom of the pack is going to be on the large piece of canvas that will form most of the pack. Mark the fold lines with a fabric pen and pin the side panels onto the bottom panel of the pack and sew them on, one at a time. For the best results use a double interlocking seam at 6 -8 stitches per inch. This seam will help make the pack tough and water resistant. When folding the fabric in this way you will be running the needle through 5 layers of fabric so go very slow to avoid needle breakage. Going around the corners will require complicated folding like wrapping a Christmas present so take your time here too. At the top of the pack when you are done sewing on the side panels be sure to reverse your stitching a couple of times to strengthen the pack. Double stitching the whole side panel will also make things stronger.
- When both side panels are on it will look like a box with three flaps. Two narrow side flaps and a large back flap. You can add ties on the side panels if you wish to help keep them closed. This back flap will be the main closure on the pack. It should come down almost to the bottom of the pack. Hem the two sides of this back flap with about half inch hems, the bottom of the flap should have a larger hem, an inch or two; this way you can run multiple stitch lines across it and make it tougher.
- When all of this sewing is finished the body of your pack will be done. It can be treated with canvas tent waterproofing, Outback jacket waterproofing, or a mixture of mineral oil and bees wax. Even petrol and paraffin wax works but watch out at the campfire. You can also leave it untreated.
Leather I know a thing or two about. You do not use a machine for this; it is all done by hand. Double stitching achives the best results.
- Get your strap cutter out and set it for about 2 inches. Cut 3 sections of leather strap for your shoulder straps and tump line; they only need to be 12 – 14 inches long.
- Cut two identical pieces to make the harness rigging about 6 inches by 3 inches and cut it to shape.
- Cut several straps at 3/4 or 5/8 wide to match your buckles. You will need 2-3 for the front of the pack (depending on how large), 2 for the side closures, 2 for the shoulder straps, 2 for the tump strap, and several to cut smaller pieces from to fabricate buckle straps and reinforcement pieces.
- With all of the cutting done start on the 9 buckle straps. The first 7 are straight forward, Cut a piece of strap 6 - 7 inches long, in the center punch 2 large holes an inch apart and cut out the small amount of material between the two holes. There is an oblong punch to do this but I don’t own one. Slide the buckle onto a strap and put the tongue through the new hole, fold the strap and flatten the buckle down. Run the overstitch wheel over the leather to mark your stitching holes on both halves then punch the holes with an awl or spring punch. Repeat this process for all buckles. Make small pieces of reinforcing straps that match the pattern and number of stitch holes on the buckle strap to go on the inside of the pack. (For really heavy duty structural reinforcement the pack should have 2 inch leather circles sewn inside and out and the buckle strap should then be sewn to that.)
- The only buckle straps that are different are for the side closure straps. The strap should be slightly longer (about a thumbs width) for an additional rivet. Leave a half inch between the stitching and the back of the buckle for the rivet.
- Next punch holes in all of your strapping large enough for the buckles tongue to go through in one inch increments; also mark and punch the stitching holes in the straps too. Finally cut sections of strap for more reinforcement to sew on the inside of the pack under the strap.
- Fabricating a tumpline is easy it is just a wide piece of leather for a brow band stitched to two smaller straps for adjustment. For thinner leather, run one very long adjustment strap over the length of the brow band and stitch it. (Don’t use rivets in the center of the brow band)
- The shoulder straps are fairly simple, mark your stitches, punch the holes and sew the adjustment straps to the shoulder straps. Add two rivets for reinforcement if this is to carry heavy weights. Punch buckle holes at one inch increments and shape the top of the shoulder straps to fit into the harness rigging.
- Next take your earlier fabricated harness rigging, mark and punch the stitching holes around the edges and for the shoulder straps. Sew the shoulder straps onto it proper so that they come out at 45 degree angles. Take the leather piece that goes on the inside of the pack and mark the stitching holes in it as well (use the outside piece as a template if you wish) Punch rivet holes through the two rigging plates and the shoulder straps so they all fit together. Now take your canvas bag and determine where the center is and where the harness rigging should attach. Hand sew the two halves onto the pack, shoulder straps on the outside pointing to the top with the second rigging plate on the inside of the pack. Once the rigging is sewn onto the pack, add the rivets (3 to each shoulder strap). Then take a piece of leather for a keeper strap and rivet on reinforcement across the whole thing with smaller pieces of strap on the inside. Now the shoulder straps are rigged for strength.
- Now sew the shoulder strap buckles on at the bottom of the back of the pack, adding a small piece of strap inside for reinforcement and hook up the shoulder straps for the first time. Do the same for all of the closure buckles and straps on the front flap. Be sure the front closure buckles are close to the bottom of the pack. The closure straps will need their adjustment holes punched if it has not already been done.
- The side closure buckles should go on the front of the pack so the left over adjustment straps get tucked away under the front flap. Sew the buckle straps on with a reinforcement strap on the inside for strength and let that half inch of extra leather sit over the hem you sewed on the pack earlier. Using a small square piece of leather punch a hole and position a rivet right through the hem to strengthen the top of the pack and keep it from ripping when being over stuffed. The side closure strap will be sewn on the back of the pack with inside reinforcement and a hem rivet as well.
- Sew the tumpline buckles onto the back of the pack using the same methods as before. Be sure they are at the proper angle tilted slightly in from center. Larger reinforcement circles (explained above) are not a bad idea here. With this added your pack is done.
If you are not familiar with how to hand stitch leather there are a few websites that can help. Here is one.
Need Tools? found this by accident.
This is an intermediate skill leather project but sewing through 3 layers of thick leather and canvas is very trying. It is best to work at this a little bit at a time and seek advice before getting into something you are unsure of.
Measure twice cut once.
You can sew canvas over all of the leather on the inside when you are done if you wish.