As a female photographer it's always hard to find camera bags that protect my equipment well and look great at the same time. Men have it easy in that department as there are hundred's of bags out there that they look great with no problem. I've always wanted one of those readymade camera purses but they are upwards of $200-$300 and I'm still a student on a very tight budget so that will stay on my Christmas list until someone breaks down and buys me one. But in the mean time I've figured out how to turn an ordinary bag into a stylish camera bag by making the insert and the best part is it can all be done for under $50!
Here's what you'll need...
A purse or bag (Depending on the size of the bag your dimensions and sizes will be different)
1 in. Foam
½ in. Foam
A Sewing Machine (If you don't have one you can hand sew it but I highly recommend one for this)
Liquid Stitch (Optional)
I got my bag at Marshall's for $39. It's an Apana bag made for Yoga gear but it's sturdy and had everything I was looking for in a camera bag. It even has a slot for a laptop which holds my 15 in. Macbook Pro perfectly.
The first step is to measure the length and width of the bottom of your bag. The bottom of my bag is 15 x 7 ½ in. But of course your measurements will be different than mine.
Next you want to measure out and mark where you want to cut out the 1 in. foam for the bottom of your bag.
After cutting the foam I checked to make sure it fit at the bottom of the bag. For added sturdiness and support I cut out a piece of cardboard from an old box the same size.
When you measure and mark the fabric for the bottom of the bag you will need to add 2 in. for the 1 in. foam plus 1 in. for the seams when sewing. So for my 15 x 7 ½ in. piece of foam, I cut out 18 x 10 ½ in. fabric.
Then you'll need to sew all but 1 side closed as if you were making a pillowcase. Remember to sew the fabric inside out. (Disclaimer: Please excuse my messy stitches. I'm not much of a crafter but I get the job done.)
After you turn the fabric outside in this is what you should get. It will look like a small pillowcase with an opening at one end.
Insert the piece of cardboard first and then the foam ontop of that. Getting the foam in was a little tricky but just keep wriggling it in and it will eventually make it.
Then just sew the opening closed. This would typically be hand sewn closed but to save time I just used the sewing machine.
Next you can go ahead and put that bottom padding in the bag because you will measure where the side pieces will come up. This is personal preference but I decided I wanted mine to come up right above the zipper and the same length as the bottom piece.
Next you will measure and mark out where to cut on the ½ in. foam for the sides. Remember the 1 in. was just for the bottom. The rest of the bag will be using ½ in. foam.
Then just like before, you will measure out the fabric but instead of an extra 2 in. it will be 1 in. since we're working with ½ in. foam plus an extra inch for the seams. So for my 7 x 15 piece of ½ in. foam, I cut out fabric that was 9 x 17 in. Sew all but one side closed with the ½ in. seam like before. You should have two sets of ½ in. foam and fabric.
Since there is no cardboard, getting the foam in is much easier this time if you fold it in half and put it in the fabric that way. Then just sew it closed.
I decided to add two side pieces so I measured the width of the side of my bag and made them the same way as the others. The only difference is I sewed all the pieces together as shown above. Also, I ran out of thread so I used a red one that I found in the house but this is a good lesson to share that you should make sure you have enough of the same color thread. But no one will see the stitching so I'm not too worried about it.
Now it's time to add the velcro. This can be added before you sew all of the pieces together or after. Also if you want to sew the velcro on then you should do that before you sew the fabric into a pillowcase. I'm using Liquid Stitch to attach the velcro on. It is very important that you put the soft velcro side on the inside of your insert. I cut one long piece of soft velcro in half. Then put a thin layer of Liquid Stitch on the back of the soft velcro. This stuff is runny so you only need to squeeze a little bit and spread it evenly on the back.
Position the velcro where you want it and smooth it down for a few seconds. I added a second one for added support. After both velcro strips are in place I placed heavy books and objects on it for about 5 minutes. I repeated this on the other side and had a total of four soft velcro strips on the inside.
Next it's time for the padded insert dividers. I measured the length and width of where I wanted my dividers to be and used the same process to cut the foam, fabric, and sew the fabric. The only difference is that you will add 2 in. of fabric for both sides of the foam for the flaps where the scratchy part of the velcro will go. So that is 1 in. per flap.
Then sew right next to the foam and the edge of the fabric. You should have something that looks like this.
Then add the scratchy part of the velcro on both flaps and let it set and dry. After it's dry you can put it all together.
Here is the finished bag with the padded insert.
And here is a picture of my bag configured the way I like. I ended up only using two dividers and that gave me 3 sections. The bag holds my 5D Mark III with attached 24-70mm lens, an extra 50mm lens, my wallet, laptop, kindle, extra CF cards, and many more little items I would normally carry around in my purse. This bag is so roomy and I feel confident that my camera and lenses are safe and well cushioned. The best part is it's not a bag that has a big Canon label on the front so strangers on the street don't immediately think there is expensive camera gear in here. The whole project cost me around $50. I paid $39 for the bag and $10 for the fabric and foam. That is much better than $300. Even if you're not the craftiest person in the world like me I would still give this a try. I would love to hear from you and see pictures of your DIY camera bags! Good Luck!