Desmond Rolltop Backpack vs. Retro Rucksack


I took a break from the endless fitting and adjusting of Ginger jeans-making to work on a relatively quick and satisfying project for some instant gratification: behold the Retro Rucksack!

1.3_blogIn my last post I talked about how this is a pattern I would never have made without seeing this version of the bag first. I love the fabric choices Cut Cut Sew used- the colors are simple and sophisticated, the waxed canvas is super cool looking, and the Pendleton wool gives the bag a dose of sturdiness and a nice texture. I was inspired to make a near-exact replica of her lovely version, but thick wool isn’t a smart material to use in Los Angeles with the weather here generally being on the warmer side of mild. So instead, I copied her use of waxed canvas, a material I had not worked with before, and traded the Pendleton wool for a grid-designed medium weight canvas from Miss Matabi. I absolutely love the way the waxed canvas feels, looks and operates- it has the visual effect of well-worn leather without being finicky to sew with (although I do think this bag would look amazing in leather, too- maybe next time!)



The whole reason I was inspired to make this bag is because I made THREE of the Desmond Rolltop Backpacks for gifts this past Christmas, and I was all too pleased with how they came out. But although I love the design, the finished product is a bit bigger than the everyday-use/over-the-shoulder bag I was looking to add to my own wardrobe. The Retro Rucksack pattern seemed to blend a lot of the elements I liked about the Desmond with something a little…well, daintier, for lack of a better word. After having made both of these bags (numerous times, even), I have to say that I am more impressed overall with the Desmond Pack because of it’s excellent instructions (and accompanying sew-along posted on Taylor Tailor’s blog) and its’ super-smart design. Sewing together square edges for boxes while using thick fabric is  known to be a tricky maneuver, but the Desmond uses a design that is easy to sew and makes the seams on the bottom of the bag look crisp and clean. Not so much with the Retro Rucksack though- you basically have to sew a rectangle onto a curved edge once you get to constructing the exterior of the pack, and because there are so many thick layers, there isn’t a good way to ease the fabric into the seam. It took me about 30 minutes to get the seams for the bottom of the bag sewn relatively straight and wrinkle free, and they are still far from perfect. I am sure there are all kind of tricks to sewing sharp seams with curved edges, but I personally prefer patterns that take these matters into account with the design.



I also like how the Desmond pattern stresses the importance of sewing multiple lines of stitching over areas of heavy use. I ended up using a lot of the techniques I learned for the Desmond pack in making the Retro Rucksack, but despite some of the less-than-clear instructions, I am super happy with how the rucksack turned out and I think it’s a good pattern. I wanted my bag to be lightweight, small and portable, like the canvas grocery store tote I had been carrying around with me for months, and that has most definitely been achieved.


I decided to nix the zipper for better accessibility to the inside of the bag (and also to eliminate a bit of weight and bulk), but I wish I had added a looped strap in the top of the bag to hang it on a hook. The side pockets successfully accommodate an iPhone and there are good sized pockets on the inside of the bag, too (although I accidentally put my lining in backwards so the zipper pocket touches the front of the bag instead of the back of it- NBD, but I will be sure NOT do that next time).


I used some random (stained) linen in my stash for the lining that had been given to me years ago, and the tea-colored stains give the inside of the bag an aged, vintage look, although I hope that the old fabric holds up to consistent use. Thankfully, replacing the lining in the future wont be too much of a hassle because the lining and exterior are only connected at the top seam of the bag (and then I can re-insert the lining with the zipper pocket on the correct side!)


The Desmond Rolltop Backpack construction was a little more involved than the Retro Rucksack, but it is absolutely worth all the extra work that goes into it. I love the detail of the webbing sewn onto the straps, the use of the hooks and D-rings (I used some of the same ones I bought from Taylor Tailor’s shop on my Rucksack), and the extended outer zipper pocket on the front of the bag.


For Claire’s bag (shown in this post), I used a herringbone upholstery fabric for the exterior and a plain un-dyed canvas for the lining. The first time I made the Desmond bag I made a crucial mistake in the placement of the band on the top of the bag that holds all the straps in- somehow, some way (I swear I wasn’t drinking), I sewed that whole section like, four inches below its’ intended placement. So when I tried the bag on to admire my work, you can imagine my horror when I saw how short it was and realized I had messed up the placement and I needed to redo everything. And there is A LOT OF STITCHING there because that’s where most of the weight for the bag is held, so the straps need to be sewn down with many rows of stitching in several different places. It took me forever to rip all the stitches out. FOREVER, I tell you! But you better believe I never made that mistake again! Each of the three Desmond bags I have made have been well received- this will definitely be a staple in my pattern stash- I think the design is pretty flawless and there are so many cool ways you can personalize the design elements, with color blocking, using denim topstitching thread, and even incorporating leather.









Thanks to Claire for these awesome pictures! You make my work look so good 🙂

Below are a couple of snapshots of the Desmonds in the wild:

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Brittani with her Desmond pack made of duck canvas fabric for the exterior and steel grey webbing!

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This cute blue version was gifted to my friend Lawrence- I don’t have any pics of the bag except for this one close up. It was modeled after Taylor Tailor’s bag on his blog- made of extra denim I had in my stash and used with the reverse as the right side.

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Claire used this bag as a carry-on when we were traveling over the Christmas holidays and it was STUFFED TO THE BRIM. I was so nervous that the seams were gonna rip, but this bag is much sturdier than I even gave it credit for.

Happy bag making, friends!



10 responses to “Desmond Rolltop Backpack vs. Retro Rucksack”

  1. Martina Avatar

    Ooooh, your Retro Rucksack came out really really adorable. I love the combination with the waxed dark cotton and the striped fabric very much, wonderful choice. I myself sew a lot with waxed fabric for my little shop and just love the material.
    I hope you will solve your fitting problems with the Ginger Jeans. That one is still on my list too, but have not dared to sew it by now.
    Lots of greetings from Germany

    1. Jasika Nicole Avatar

      Thanks so much for your comment! I am so pleased with how both bags came out, too. I am not having problems with fitting the Gingers, per-se- I have made them before and they are the best pair of pants I have ever owned (you can see a previous post about them on this blog). But I am making them for my wife for the first time, so I have to do all the fitting and alterations for her now. Not problematic, just time-consuming 🙂

      1. Martina Avatar

        Thanks for your reply. I will search your blog for the Ginger Jeans.
        Yes alterations are very time consuming, but it should be easier if someone else is inside and not you by yourself have to pin around your Jeans. I had so much problems with fitting my Christmas dress with no one who can do the pinning. I think you encourage me to finally start with the Ginger. It seems the pattern is that good as I always read.
        Greetings Martina

  2. Renee Avatar

    I love both bags. I cannot get over how incredibly profesh your bags are, especially the Desmond. They look like they came from a store. But, with more interesting details. Gah. You’re a good gift giver.

  3. Helen Avatar

    Wow, they all look amazing! I love the style of the bag and your modification is really cool.

    1. Jasika Nicole Avatar

      Thanks so much, Helen!

  4. Beth Resse Avatar

    In my own opinion, i will give my cent percent vote for Rolltop Backpacks. I love them. But I would appreciate you, Nicole. You have pointed out the benefits of both bags in a very interactive way that all people love to read your posts. Keep sharing lot of information with us.

  5. Sarah Turnbull Avatar
    Sarah Turnbull

    Did you wax you own fabric? Love the colour!

  6. lizzy Avatar

    Nice post! Good read.

    I bought one rucksack backpack you recommened
    It is indeed great ,just exactly same as what you say in the bog
    I never saw a backpack with such quality fabric, is amazing, comfortable while light. Now have more options to put my stuff, the rear pocket antitheft is the best thing invented, can put my wallet and cell also things more valuable, outside have place booked with great quality material to take my notebook.
    Fabric seems to be top quality, superb design. So much pockets and practical parts within the bag. 18 inch is HUGE! It somehow manages to look elegant, especially if you use side handle, like a smart briefcase. If you expand it like an accordion, it becomes A SERIOUS TRAVEL BAG. I think it is possible to pack FOR A WEEK OF TRAVELLING if you use space rationally.
    thank you so much
    I save so much money

  7. Joyce Daniels Avatar

    Both bags are amazing. Both look cool and very stylish. Thanks for sharing the comparison between the Desmond Rolltop Backpack and the Retro Rucksack.

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