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Backpack with new front in boro and sashiko style

Replace a zipper in your backpack

One of the zippers in this backpack had given up, literally giving its content away. And the front had known better times as well. Giving it a facelift took only 2 steps, though: sew in a new zipper, and dress up the front panel.

Backpack with boro and sashiko facelift

Sew a new zipper in your backpack

  1. Use a seam ripper to undo the old zipper. Do this carefully: backpack zippers are very much embedded, and before you know it you ripped your finger or part of the backpack itself together with the zipper seam. Does the original zipper edge have bias? Undo this as well, and put it aside to reuse it later.
    seam ripper removing zipper
  2. Take the zipper that you undid along with you when you go buy a new one. That makes it easier for you to choose the right side. Make sure to choose one that has 2 sliders. Don't hesitate to ask the shop assistants for help.
  3. Line 1 side of your new zipper up along the opening of your backpack. Use wonder clips (or laundry pins) to keep it in place. Using these will work better than using sewing pins: your zipper will stay in place while you are sewing it in, and you won't prick your fingers as much.
    Zipper attached with wonder clips
  4. Sew the zipper in using a backstitch. Do this by hand, unless you have a powerful sewing machine (spoiler alert: most household sewing machines won't do the trick). Make sure to keep enough distance from its teeth, otherwise you won't be able to open or close the zipper.
  5. Ready? Test whether you can still open and close your zipper, and attach the other side in the same way.
  6. Sew bias tape around the inner edge of the zipper on the inside of your bag. Use the bias tape you removed in step 1, or use a contrasting colour to make it stand out.
    Blue bias tape on the inside of the backpack
  7. Carefully put both ends of the zipper in place, and sew them in. This may hurt your fingers, since you'll need to push your needle to quite a number of layers, not to mention the hard part at the end of your zipper. Using a thimble may offer quite some relief at this point.

All done!

Dress up the front panel

The front panel of this backpack displayed quite a bit of tear and wear. Now that a new zipper was put in place, the front deserved some TLC as well. To do so, I combined 2 Japanese mending techniques: boro (where you sew different patches together) and sashiko (where you embroider different patterns using small stitches).
Damaged front of backpack

  1. Measure the surface you want to dress up, and add 1cm on each side (which you'll need to sew it all in place).
  2. Cut a piece of fabric in that size that will serve as lining and will add extra reinforcement. I used an old bed sheet to do so.
  3. Take out some leftover fabrics - if you have any - and start puzzling until your piece of fabric is completely covered. I used bits and pieces of old pairs of jeans to do so.
    Patches of dark fabric
  4. If you want, you can use a non-contrasting running stitch to sew your different patches in place. Alternatively, you can also use safety pins.
  5. Draw one or more grids on your patches - use a frixion pen or a piece of soap to make it easy for yourself - so you can easily transfer your sashiko pattern.
    choose a sashiko pattern
  6. Choose a couple of brightly coloured yarns and start stitching.

  7. Fold or iron the seams to the wrong side, and pin everything in place on the front panel.
    boro and sashiko patches pinned on front of the backpack
  8. Sew in place using a mattress stitch.
  9. Admire your work.

Backpack with new front in boro and sashiko style

Why you should repair your zippers

Replacing a zipper is an underestimated job, that takes up a lot of time. That's why the standard repair shops in town weren't keen at all to repair the zipper in this backpack. The costs outweigh the benefits. From a pure economic point of view, you're better off buying a new backpack, than having your old one repaired. That's a bit like demolishing your house because the front lock is no longer working: mental.

From an ecological point of view, you're throwing away 99% of a perfectly functioning backpack, because 1% is broken. If you decide to replace your zipper, you're only throwing away 1% of your backpack, and you're reusing the other 99%. Isn't that much more logical?

What did it cost to repair this particular backpack?

  • 1 new zipper
  • 1 day to remove the old and sew in the new zipper
  • 1/2 day to sew and attach the new front panel

All other materials that were used, were pre-loved:

  • sewing thread from mémé Georgette's sewing box
  • an old bed sheet from that same mémé Georgette to sew on the patches
  • bits and pieces of old pairs of jeans that once belonged to my husband and my brother
  • colourful embroidery floss and just as colourful bias tape from the sewing box of a deceased neighbour

The only thing that I need to throw out, is the broken zipper itself.

broken zipper next to backpack

And not even all of it, I removed the sliders, because I'm pretty sure they will come in handy one day. If you happen to know if and how this zipper can be recycled, please let me know. I haven't found the solution myself yet.

Do you have a backpack lying around that could do with some TLC? Feel free to drop me a line, and together we can find a solution.


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