I recently made a new itabag, and I’ve been asked a lot how I craft mine, specifically the insert. Seemed like a good opportunity to pull together a tutorial on how I make them!
Itabagging, for those who are out of the loop, can be simply described as a walking shrine to an anime character, ship, or series. Of course, as they’ve grown in popularity they’ve extended to any fandom you can think of – anime or not – but the ones I’ve made have always been related to anime (even though I’ve been really tempted to make one for my favorite seiyuu, but his merchandise is hard to find!). In Japan, you see itabags somewhat frequently, primarily in Ikebukuro or Akihabara where there are many anime shops for people to fill their bags up with. It is also common to take them to different anime events, like collaborations or seiyuu events.
Building your first bag is a daunting challenge. There’s so much to consider: character, bag type, bag color, insert or no insert? I very rarely put together a bag without an insert. If you’ve never made one before, worry not dear friend, I’m here to help. Let’s jump into it!
What You’ll Need
A bag with a clear window
Merchandise of your character
Plastic mesh (cardboard works too)
Fabric of choice
Some type of fabric glue (I use a glue gun)
Step 1: Creating the Skeleton
I highly recommend using plastic mesh to build your insert. If you’re using a light colored bag, you may not even have to put fabric over the mesh if you don’t want to! I have a pastel purple itabag, and because the plastic mesh is slightly transparent, it completely blends right in. But if you’d like to add a contrasting background color, glueing fabric over the mesh is incredibly effective. The mesh is is flexible and sturdy, but if you’re not willing to purchase that you can also simply use cardboard. It works just fine, and only lacks the flexibility and poke-through grid that the mesh has. If you don’t care about that, just tear up the closest cardboard box you can find, and you’re golden.
I’m using a blue star backpack to make an itabag for my anime baseball husband, Miyuki Kazuya. I chose a white fabric to provide contrast and help make the merchandise pop in the bag, since blue is pretty dark, and it matches his baseball uniform. When choosing a fabric, I recommend sticking with solid colors, as patterns will distract from the merchandise you spent so much money on! You can really use any type of fabric, I generally go with a fleece type of material because it doesn’t show pinholes as much and doesn’t sag with weight.
First, cut down your plastic mesh/cardboard – I’ll be calling it the ‘skeleton’ from here onward – so that it fits in the window of your bag. You want it to be a little loose inside so that there’s room to glue fabric on and still fit. Keep fitting and cutting until it easily glides in and out.
Optional: You may find it helpful to draw the size of your window on your skeleton if you have a heart-shaped or star-shaped bag. I take this opportunity to replicate the scale of the window and start working with a layout to get excited about it.
Step 2: Adding Fabric
Lay down some type of paper to make cleanup easier. Trust me on this. Put your fabric face down on the paper, and the skeleton on top. Cut around the skeleton, about 1 inch away from the edge. You’ll use this 1 inch on every side to glue to the back of the skeleton.
Going side by side, use your glue and pull each corner taut, you don’t want any soft edges where you can’t feel the skeleton inside. Trim the corners of your fabric as they bunch up when being overlapped. Once the glue dries, try putting your insert in the bag and trim as necessary. I had to trim my corners quite a bit, and reduce some of the height. It makes a bit of a mess to cut up the fabric, so make sure you lay down paper! It makes cleanup a snap. Keep putting your insert in the bag, and make sure you close your bag up to ensure that it’s not warping in a weird way. If the front looks wavy, your insert is too big.
Step 3: Building the Shrine
You have your insert, and this is where the pain and suff– I mean, fun, begins. I like to have a composition already in mind before I dive in, and I usually start from the middle and go out. It’s helpful to lay your bag flat and set up the merchandise inside or over top of the bag, take a picture of it, and then use that as reference when you’re working from a blank slate.
For keychains and other dangly things, use safety pins to adhere. You can get crafty and use buttons to also adhere them and hide the chains. Every so often, I like to put my insert in my bag to make sure my composition is looking good, especially with shaped windows like this one.
If you’re anything like me, you won’t like your original composition at all and end up redoing it over and over until you get it right. That’s okay! This is a long process. Putting this one together took two hours, even though it’s a pretty small bag, but when the end result looks good, it’s so worth it! Take it to your next convention and bask in everyone fawning over your shrine. Better yet, hang your bag in your room proudly so you can always look at it!
Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions!