Sewing: DIY Bike Panniers
When I bought my new bike the shop threw in a set of panniers as part of the deal. They were fine for a year or so, useful for work when cycling to the station, but I began to get a bit fed up with them. There were some design tweaks I wanted to make, like a longer handle so I could use the panniers as a bag when I was off the bike, inner pockets for keys and purse and frankly something that was a bit cooler than the practical-but-dull design I had. I couldn’t find a pattern anywhere so I decided to make my own, like this:
You will need; about a 1.5 to 2 metres of oil cloth (I used this so it would be shower-proof), the same amount of cotton fabric for lining (I used a nice graphic IKEA print), some sticky backed velcro (about half a metre, mine was sticky backed on the grippy side, if yours isn’t you’ll need some glue), a long strip of nylon webbing for the handle (mine was ripped off an old messenger bag), sewing thread, chalk, two short lengths of dress elastic (optional, see below) and an iron. It will be easier if you have a sewing machine, and do use a needle made for heavy duty work – it is THICK! I also used some strips of reflective material I liberated from something else.
Cut one each of part A (right) and B in both the outer fabric (oil cloth or similar) and the lining.
Then cut 2 each of part C in each fabric, 4 of parts D & F, and 2 of part G, again in both outer and lining fabrics.
Cut 2 of part E in just the outer fabric. ‘E’ is the place holder for two little velcroed strips which will secure the bag to the pannier rack at the side, so cut the elongated ‘O’ shape in them to the width of the velcro you are using. I have to say that I never bother to fasten these as the bag is secure enough as it is, so I’ve marked this as optional, see what your fabric combination feels like it needs.
Another optional extra: If you want pockets inside your panniers, cut out two rectangles, about 3 cm larger than you’d like your pockets to be, out of the lining fabric. Turn over a hem all the way around and thread some elastic through the hem that will be at the top of the pocket. Secure the elastic with a few stitches so that it gathers slightly, like the waist of a dress. This will make the pockets more secure and not gape. No one likes a gaping pocket.
N.B. I decided to make this with an external seam, which meant that the panniers were more sturdy and sculptural in the making than if I’d have done it like a garment and kept the seams inside. Plus I wasn’t sure I could do inside seams with oil cloth, it just seemed too unwieldy. This did make the layers of fabric to sew through very thick, which is why I specify using a heavy duty sewing machine needle for this.
Lay the inner lining of A over the oil cloth, right sides both facing out. Use an iron to turn over a small hem on each, slightly larger on the lining so it is just inside the oil cloth. Both hems should be pressed against each other, so the ‘neat’ side is on show. Pin the 2 hems together, so you have one big, neat, lovely mat thing. Do the same for part B. Using your chalk trace the lines (shown as a dotted line in the diagram) onto part B.
The central part will be over the bike pannier rack, so now (if you’re using them) you can pin on your pockets and see what they look like. As with all sewing, it’s good to try them on, so drape the fabric over your pannier rack and decide what a good height is for the pockets. Once decided, sew on the pockets, onto just the lining, so it doesn’t show through (see left).
Take your part Fs (there should be 4 pairs of lining/oil cloth) and iron and pin the hems. Place the fuzzy part (as opposed to the grippy part) of the velcro onto them and pin in place at one end. Sew them together, joining hems and velcro (see right for the finished placement of them).
Hem and pin all the other pairs of lining/oil cloth together, rights sides out. This will take ages and you may lose the will to live during the process. I advise taking your time, doing it over an evening when you can have something brainless on TV to half watch, and taking deep breaths. Sewing is the path to Zen.
Next start assembling the panniers. Take part A and chalk a 16 cm wide rectangle in the centre, as you did for part B. Tuck the sewn velcro tabs on either side of the centre (to line up with the top of your pannier rack) and pin the end of the strap in the middle (see pics). The fuzzy velcro should be facing up. Flip it round 360 and pin the other end of the strap and the fuzzy velcro tabs onto the other side. Sew all around the edge, securing the velcro tabs and the strap. Place, pin and sew in some strips of (fuzzy side) velcro to the liningside of the flap vertically on each far edge.
Take part B and assemble the sides (parts D), bases (part G) and fronts (parts C) using pins, with the seams on the outside (see right). When you’re happy with the configuration, sew them together. Add the optional part E here if you’re using it, line it up with your pannier rackand sew it on.
Pin part A together along the chalked centre lines and sew along the lines to secure the top flap to the panniers.
Finally place and stick the grippy velcro to the top and sides of the panniers, to close the tabs and secure the flap. My velcro was sticky backed on the grippy side but if yours isn’t then glue would be fine. You can also glue or sew the reflective strips onto the panniers, I added them to the corners for added strength.
And that’s it. Phew. Enjoy your new panniers!