Alina Sewing and Design
Around three months ago, my new (photographer) sister, Nicole, pinned the below camera bag on Pinterest. With the addition of our new camera, I started considering camera bags. I already knew I didn’t want something generic…and that got my wheels turning.  I knew Nicole had a birthday coming up, so I started communicating behind the scenes with her husband (Jacob, Cowboy’s brother) about what kind of bag she had. Upon finding out it was something generic she had owned for awhile (and something he actually thought might be too small now), my random idea quickly became this exciting project! 
(A note to Nicole: I actually had NO idea the below bag was a camera bag until AFTER I had been talking to Jacob about making you one…finding out it was a camera bag you had pinned made this all the sweeter!)
After finding out some deets regarding Nicole’s camera equipment and doing some research on her Pinterest page, we (yes, I had Cowboy’s full cooperation for the entire process…what a guy) set off to find the “perfect” bag. 
This is the original bag that Nicole pinned:

 This is the bag Nicole ended up with! (Yeah, I know my photography pales in comparison…but my bag doesn’t!) 😉

The bag that Nicole pinned comes with a steep price tag of $309. It IS real leather, yes…but you could still buy a leather bag for much less than that and make your own inserts (can I get an amen?)!
So whether you’re using an inexpensive bag or a real leather (pricier…but nicer) bag, I’m here to show you how I made custom inserts that turn a regular bag/purse into a camera bag!
Because I was looking for a specific type, size and style of bag, it took a bit of searching. But finally, seven stores later and just minutes before calling it a day, Cowboy found a near-perfect knock-off. It even had the same pocket on the front of the bag! Only problem? It had a divider/pocket down the middle. But, upon further examination, I realized I could rip the seams open, remove the divider and sew it all back together.

Even better? The clearance price tag. (Actually, we did look first and foremost for a leather bag…but nothing existed within our price range…and I didn’t know how much she ACTUALLY loved the bag she pinned!) I was OK with buying a more inexpensive bag knowing that the inserts could be removed and placed in another bag should, a) she become tired of/not like the bag, or b) the bag gets worn out because she loves it so much. 😉

So, we brought it home, I ripped the seams open, pulled out the dividing pocket and used a blind stitch to close it back up. (Meanwhile, watching Beauty and the Beast…one of my Christmas presents from the Mr. since it’s out of the vault right now!)

And voila! A wide-open bag, ready for a custom insert.

OK, so here’s what you’ll need:

  • Bag, of your choosing. Just make sure it has a square/rectangular base. It needs to sit squarely and solidly–and it will be much easier to make a base for your insert if there is a flat bottom (and, how many people want their camera bag slumping or falling over?)
  • Velcro–I bought iron-on, but I actually ended up sewing it after I ironed it for some extra durability. I did like, however, that it stayed in place after I ironed it. That way, I didn’t have to worry about anything shifting while sewing it on! One package was enough for one bag.
  • Fabric–this depends entirely on the size of your bag and inserts! I almost always default to buying a yard if it’s a project like this…and I almost always end up with extra, but I’d rather have the “too much” problem than have to run to the store again mid-project! (Also, a yard was enough for me to make inserts for two completely separate bags.)
  • Headliner fabric. This is the fabric on the inside roof of your car. I figured if it was good enough for my noggin, it was good enough for our cameras! (Yep…I made an insert for one of my bags too.) However much fabric you buy, it might be a good idea to double that amount in headliner fabric because you’re going to double wrap each insert piece. However, it does come on a wider bolt, so take that into consideration when deciding on yardage. (I found mine at JoAnn’s.)
  • Plastic canvas. This will make up the framework of your insert. Once you have your bag, it should be easy to determine how much of this you will need. I bought several sheets for 59 cents apiece at JoAnn’s.

Now, to make the insert:

1. Cut out pieces of plastic canvas. You’ll need to make one for the bottom and one for each of the four sides. Make these pieces slightly smaller than you think you’ll need since you’ll be adding padding, fabric and velcro (oh, and camera equipment). You don’t want things to be too crowded in there! I found that a good rule of thumb was to have the pieces be a couple of rows short of touching. Close, but not too close.
2. Double-wrap the individual pieces in headliner fabric. Sew them closed…it doesn’t have to be pretty, you just want everything to stay nice and tight since you’ll be shoving these into tiny little fabric pockets. 🙂 I actually ran my stitch through the top row of the plastic canvas, too, so that nothing would turn or shift around.

This is what everything should look like once it’s all wrapped and sewn closed! (Imagine the four outside pieces standing up and it makes a rectangular box.)

3. Sew the fabric pockets for the inserts. This part is a little bit harder to explain and you could do this various ways. Turning my fabric together (good sides facing each other), I traced the bottom and two side pieces (those that run long-ways with the bottom) onto the back of the fabric with a piece of chalk.

Sew together three sides like you would a pillow, then turn everything right side out. Make sure that the three inserts have enough room inside, but still fit snugly, then trace the two sides of the bottom (middle) piece. You’re going to run a seam here, making three pockets–one for each insert.

After making a seam down each chalk line, place your velcro along the two sides. I chose to have one piece running down the entire inside so that inserts could be moved wherever. (Also, I sewed the “soft” portion of velcro here so she wouldn’t have to worry about the “sticky” part of the velcro scratching her equipment.) Now you’re ready to put the inserts into their pockets. This should fit like a snug pillow case–you don’t want loose fabric! Close up the open end with a blind stitch.

Finally, for each end piece and subsequent divider (I designed these inserts so that the end pieces were separate for a reason–first, it makes the insert a bit more versatile for other bags and, second, these end pieces can now be used as additional dividers), you’ll…

a. Sew the top, bottom and left side of your fabric together, leaving the right side open. Turn it right side out. Double-check that the insert fits snugly before proceeding!
b. Figure out where you want your velcro placed, iron it on.

c. Sew a seam just to the right of the velcro at the closed end…this will make a fabric “tab” and keep your insert from sliding over under the velcro (and if it doesn’t make sense now, it will by the end).
d. Slide the insert in, bumping it up right next to seam you just made and sew another seam on the right side of the insert, essentially closing it in.
e. Now blind stitch it closed!

f. I mentioned above that I sewed my velcro on, even after ironing it, for some added durability. This is the back side of the fabric “tab,” so you can see how I sewed it on.

g. Repeat until you have as many inserts as your heart desires and your camera equipment calls for! As you can see below, I made two small dividers and one long one for Nicole’s bag, to give her some variety and options (the long one can be looped in a circle (as pictured), snaked like an ‘S’, zig-zagged between lenses, etc…the short ones can be turned horizontally to make a second row, etc. etc. etc…)

And soon enough, you’ll have a custom insert that really only cost you time. In classic Alina style, I have to give you the breakdown…

Original bag: $309

 Nicole’s bag: under $40  (+ about a week’s worth of evenings spent designing and creating, haha!)

So, now you can spend some time making a custom camera bag insert (for any bag you want! The possibilities are endless!) so that you can spend your dollars on new camera equipment!

Much love, friends!


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