Tutorial: Oilcloth Bicycle Pannier

I’ve been dreaming of this for months. Simply months.

Oilcloth bicycle pannier

Why on earth would one decide to make her own panniers? A crazy endeavor, particularly when one has little to no bag-making experience, has never sewn with oilcloth before, and, actually, has never used a pannier before.

But when I started commuting to work, I quickly became obsessed with the idea of not carrying a backpack. I envisioned the usual black or neon yellow bags that I saw other commuters rocking, and I set out to find some for myself.

I came across Kitch Kitchen bags at Cycle Chic. I came across Po Campo bags. I came across Basil. Then I came across Oilcloth Addict, and the DIY gal inside me screamed “It would be so much fun to do that!”

I followed my normal DIY process, wherein I fell in love with something, decided I could do it myself, bought all the supplies, filed them together in a storage bin, and…. Waited. For six months. While I continue to lug around my backpack (which, by the way, I love. It’s an Osprey Flap Jill in gray, and it’s really quite perfect for my current needs.)

So I’m finally diving into that pile of oilcloth, which I bought in the fall, in some delectable wintry shades. I’ve now finished my first wintry pannier just in time for spring! Ah, well.

I’ve spent hours researching techniques, and I promise I’ll do a separate post with a list of resources I came across. I read about how to make panniers out of kitty litter buckets, army surplus bags and leather satchels. I learned how to make burly waterproof touring panniers and hardcore canvas monstrosities. The one thing I did not learn, however, was how to make girly oilcloth panniers.

And so I present, without further ado, as a resource to the future DIY cycling seamsters of the internets:

How To Make an Oilcloth Pannier Handbag Thing

In designing this pannier, I had two things in mind. I wanted it to be functional and big enough to carry all the things I take to work (namely my clothes, shoes, notebook, deodorant, etc.), and I also wanted it to be cute enough that I could carry it with me without screaming “Cyclist!”

Oilcloth pannier - back side

I modeled it off the square design of the Kitsch Kitchen and Basil bags, gave it a lining, some zippered pocket action, and a shoulder strap. I chose to go with Po Campo’s hook system rather than buying metal hooks, because it seemed so simple and elegant. (Velouria goes into Po Campo bags in more detail over at Lovely Bicycle.

And without further ado:

Materials needed:

  • 1/2 yd oilcloth (I bought 1 yard of two kinds in order to make two bags with contrasting panels, but I have plenty left over)
  • 2 yd nylon webbing
  • 1/2 yd lining
  • 2 sturdy zippers (18″ & 22″; coiled rather than toothed)
  • 8 yds-ish 3/4” polyester twill tape
  • Polyester or nylon thread
  • Reflective tape, if you want it
  • 4 D rings
  • Stabilizer piece: 13.5 x 11.5, rounded corners (I used an old political slogan sign)
  • 1/2 yd Heavy interfacing
  • 15” piece of 1/4” elastic
  • 5” piece of 1/2” Velcro® for handle

Useful Tools

Teflon presser foot. This made things SO EASY! I got mine at a Quality Sewing & Vacuum’s outlet store, which is a short walk from my work, for under $5. Astute observers will notice in my photos that the foot doesn’t actually fit my machine, but I just beefed up the bar with a little tape and it stayed on just fine. When I mentioned I was planning to sew oilcloth, the cashier also sold me on some:

Titanium-coated needles. I sewed this entire bag with one of these needles, and never did I feel as though it was losing its edge. Also under $5, and a worthy investment.

Binder clips. Essential, since pinning oilcloth puts unnecessary holes in it, and doesn’t work well anyway.

Cut list:

All fabric cut with 1/2” seam allowance. I made my pannier with two colors of oilcloth—if you don’t want to copy me you obviously don’t have to. I won’t mind.

Oilcloth color 1:

  • Front and back panels: 2 @ 13” x 15”
  • Handle: 2 @ 6” x 4”
  • Stabilizer pouches: 4 right triangles with legs of 3” each side

Oilcloth color 2:

  • Top zipper panel: 2 @ 3.5” x 19”
  • Side and bottom panel: 1 @ 7” x 35”

Lining:
(Mark the dimensions on the back of each piece after you cut it, so you don’t get them mixed up.)

  • Front panel: 1 @ 12.5″ x 15″
  • Back panel: 1 @ 14.5″ x 17″
  • Side panels: 2 @ 6″ x 12.5”
  • Bottom panel: 1 @ 6” x 15”
  • Outer pocket: 1 @ 15” x 17”
  • Inner pocket: 1 @ 7.5” x 19”
  • Divider panel: 2 @ 12″ x 15″

Interfacing:

  • Cut 1 @ 12″ x 15″

1. Construct top zipper panel.

Bind one long end of each top zipper panel piece with polyester twill tape. It’s oilcloth, so it won’t unravel, but I wanted the bag to have a neat appearance, and folding the oilcloth under would add too much bulk. Use the binder clips to secure the binding before you stitch it.

Stitch the 22” zipper to the bound edge, taking care that the edges of the two zipper panel pieces match. Your zipper should be longer than these pieces. Note: I didn’t bother to use a zipper foot, since I was stitching a good distance away from the teeth of the zipper.

Your top zipper panel will now be slightly larger than 7″ wide, with the addition of the zipper. Measure it to the correct width, and trim off the excess (splitting the difference between both sides). Set aside.


2. Construct front panel.

Cut one oilcloth 13×15 panel lengthways to make 2 pieces, one at 15×8.5 and one at 15×4.5. The smaller piece will be the top of the front panel. Bind two long edges with polyester twill tape, just like we did above. Set those pieces aside for a minute.

Take the LINING outer pocket piece and stitch the upper and lower edges to the wrong side of your 18” zipper so that it makes a pouch.

Stitch zipper to the bound edge of the front panel pieces just like you did for the top zipper panel, taking care to keep the pocket bag out of the way. Check final measurements and trim just like you did for the top zipper panel.

Attach handles. Cut webbing to 16” and singe both ends to seal. Mark placement for handles in 4″ from the side and 1 1/2″ from the top. Sew on with a barn door stitching pattern (you know, a around all the edges and then an X in the middle?). Set front panel aside.


3. Construct back handle.

Lay the two handle pieces together with wrong sides facing. Baste, then bind edges with twill tape.

Cut a piece of webbing to 16”, singe ends. Center the handle pieces over the webbing with one edge even, center Velcro just inside twill binding. Stitch around edges of Velcro.

Position other half of the Velcro strip on the OPPOSITE SIDE of the handle. Stitch around edges.

Ta-da!


4. Mounting hardware

Cut 2 lengths of webbing to 12.5″; singe ends. To attach D ring, mark up 2” and 3.5” from bottom. Fold the marks to meet, place the D ring in the resulting loop, and stitch overlap to secure. Attach the clasp by folding over 1.25” and stitching down the overlap with a barn door pattern.

Make 2.


5. Construct back panel.

Take those 4 little triangular pieces, and baste them to the wrong side of the back panel with a 1/4” seam allowance. Before we stitch the lining in we’ll insert our stabilizer into those little pockets, but for now we’ll leave it alone.

Attach your nifty Velcroed handle piece, just like you did for the front panel.

To attach the mounting hardware, position it carefully to overlap the handle pieces. Measure in 4” from each side to make sure it’s even. Obviously, your binder clips will do you no good here. I traced the outline of the handle in chalk so that I could manually keep it in position, since there’s no way to pin it. Stitch it securely, ending where the handle stitching ends.

When you attach your clasp to your D ring, there should be a bit of slack to allow you to maneuver it onto the rack.


6. Side panels

Yes, there are bikes living in my sewing room.

Now we’re going to attach the top zipper panel to the side and bottom panel to make a continuous loop. Bind the short edges of the side and bottom panel with twill tape. Cut a 2.5″ piece of 1” webbing, fold it over a D ring, then secure it to wrong side of side and bottom panel.

Please, please make sure your zipper pull is in the middle! Layer the top zipper panel under the binding/D ring contraption, overlapping by 1/2”. (Zipper should disappear under the seam. Topstitch, then trim excess zipper.


7. Attach front and back panels to side panel.

With WRONG SIDES together, stitch the front panel to the side panel with a 1/2″ seam. This doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds, if you take your time and think things through. Oh, and start with the back panel, because if things get a little wonky on your first go-around, then at least it’ll be in the back and you can make the front look nice. Ask me how I know.

Use your binder clips to secure everything into place, making sure that everything is centered and even. Mark the corners on the Side Panel, then clip them in 1/2”. Now you can treat each edge as a flat, 2-D seam, rather than trying to stitch a 3-D monstrosity. Stitch each seam separately, folding the bag flat and stitching into seam allowance rather than turning at corners. Trim seam to 1/8″ and apply twill tape. Stitch it from the front to make sure it looks good. Again, ask me how I know.

Congratulations! You now have the shell of the bag! Onto the lining:


8. Make front lining panel.

To make front pocket, fold over top edge twice to leave a 1/2” elastic casing. Hem. Insert 15″ elastic, secure edges. Fold two pleats in both pockets, and baste. Baste pocket to front lining, securing the center seam with a double row of stitching.

Stitch lining side panels to lining front panel. Set aside.


9. Make divider panel

Interface the wrong side of one divider panel. I used a really heavy interfacing that seemed to work well, but applying it made my fabric a bit wonky/bubbly. The nylon didn’t react all that well to steam ironing, which is to be expected. Next time I might quilt it on, or something to that effect. Or just use a different lining fabric. Stitch divider panels together at top with right sides together, turn inside out. Topstitch if you like.


10. Construct lining

Notch the bottom corners of your back lining piece in 1″:

There’s a great tutorial on Crafster that explains the process of sewing a lining with a divider panel, so I’ll refer you over there, since that’s essentially what I did. It’s also got a great tip for making your divider panel into a zippered compartment, which I’m definitely going to try next time.

It’s cool. I’ll still be here when you get back.

11. Insert support

I went through a lot of ideas before settling upon old political signs as my support material. They’re super light, and surprisingly strong, see?:

Cut your sign down to 12″ x 14″, rounding the corners. Tuck it into the pockets you sewed earlier in the back panel, trimming it down a bit if you need to.


12. Insert lining

This one stumped me for a bit. Once the stiffener is in, it’s pretty hard to stitch the lining in. I tried a half-dozen things, then mulled over a dozen more in my mind for a few days.

And then I used hot glue.

So here’s what I did–feel free to come up with a better solution and let me know!

Measure up 10″ from the bottom of each SIDE PANEL. Mark, then cut diagonally from both side seams to make a V notch (this leaves room for the zipper). Test your lining by placing it inside the bag. Adjust it if you have problems.

Remove your lining from the bag, then sew a strip of polyester twill tape around the INSIDE of the lining, overlapping by 1/4″. Situate it back in the bag, then use hot glue to secure the twill tape to the top and side panel of the oilcloth.

Be careful! Oilcloth can melt if it gets too hot (see my last photo in this next set for an example).

And now you’re done. Congratulations!

Please do let me know if you try this–I’m really curious as to how it works. I’ll post some action shots once I get a rack installed on my Kona.

20 thoughts on “Tutorial: Oilcloth Bicycle Pannier

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  3. “…was how to make girly oilcloth panniers.” That’s MY problem!
    Thank you so much for this wonderful an very helpful tutorial! Great.
    Nice and girly things in connection with biking – still the exception…
    So, I’ ll try to make my own bag too.

    • I wish you luck, Mirja! Please do let me know if you try, I’d like to see photos and I’d love feedback on the tutorial.

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  5. Thank you for this, I have had an idea forming in my head for weeks, but no sewing experience whatsoever, just a DIY- I can tackle anything desire and this is not far from the kind of thing I have been looking to do. Thanks.

    • Hi Gwen, glad you found this helpful! Please let me know of you end up making a bag–I’d love to see how it turns out. And don’t hesitate to email if you have any questions. Cheers!

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  7. Hi again,
    I spent ages researching the design of my oilcloth pannier, sourcing and ordering bits, starting my first sewing project and then putting it aside to finish christmas presents etc. I am now about to start assembling my pannier and wanted to check whether the boards that you used to make the bag rigid are still holding up? I will of course send you a photos of the finished project. If all goes well, by the end of the month.

    I also read your other blog post, and I also do a commute from the bedroom to my desk. 30 days of cycling is a good idea.

    Gwen

  8. Okay, this is probably a silly question, but all the pattern pieces are squares/rectangles right? Love this tutorial, really want to give this a go! It’s going to look great on my purple bike on my college campus!

      • I need to send you the pictures. I just wanted to drop a note that I did in fact make my own version using just scrap canvas and such laying around. It didn’t come out near as pretty as yours… ^_^ I’m going to use this tutorial as a starting point to tweak it into my own version. My biggest issue I had was attaching the front and back panels to the side.

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  10. Thank you for creating this blog! It combines my two favorite things, biking and sewing! I’m so glad to see others sewing panniers, a tool roll, etc. too!!

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