Saturday, August 29, 2009

Move Over, Betsy Ross

...Leif Labs is in town.
No, not really.
Anyway, I just made this for the CoMo Polo kids. It's about 3'x5' and made out of like a 70 denier ripstop nylon I bought at JoAnn fabrics.
It's an effing nightmare to do applique work with. So light and slippery. Sheesh.
I used a fairly wide zigzag to keep it from unravelling...'cause it's this fabric's wont to fray. But since it's so light it curls up in the zigzag. So I had to go back and stitch through the zigzag stitching to flatten it out. Pain. In. The. Ass. Ha. Whatever. It turned out pretty well.

By the bye, CoMo Polo is hosting the 7th Midwest Polo Champeenships round November 7th. Check out their Website for more info.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Goodbye Scissors

Just got this hot momma in the mail. It's an electric fabric cutter...also known as a round cutter, rotary shears, electric minishear, hand-held electric fabric cutter, laser know.
Anyway, it cuts through Cordura like nobody's business.
I'm about to start a big project with a lot of cutting, so I thought I'd save my wrist and some time and get one of these for rough cutting.
This was the cheapest one I could find, as I'm not going to be doing that much production. This one was about 70 bucks. They go way up after that.
You can get 'em most any place that sells industrial sewing machines. I got this one from Westchester Sewing on the Web. They had the cheapest price, and the most helpful info.
This model seems to be rebranded by different shops. And it definitely comes from somewhere in the Orient, as evinced by the sweet instruction manual:
"1. The cutting brade should be iubicated with the machine oil of grade 30, once a day."
So cute!
Anyway, this seems to be a knock off of Consew's 503K: Look under Cutting Machines.

And the dopest-looking machines are from Eastman:

Of course, they're like 400+ bucks. Damn.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Trouble +

While I'm waiting for my sewing machine pedal to cool down, let me tell you about something weird that just happened when I was sewing.
So there I was just stitchin' along, minding my own business, when my machine stopped feeding. (This is my li'l 70s Kenmore machine.) I was like, Holy shit, what's going on! So I looked at it closer and saw that the presser foot wasn't going down with the feed dogs. [There should be constant pressure on the fabric from the foot, otherwise it won't advance when you sew.] So I took the cover off and looked around but I couldn't really see anything--everything's so smashed together in there, it's hard to see. But I knew something was probably catching 'cause the presser foot lever didn't have any tension on it and it was kinda wobbly. So finally, after looking in there with a flashlight, I saw that part of the presser foot shaft was catching on a loose screw. The screw for the foot lever had worked itself loose after lifting the foot a million times. So I tightened it...after having to remove the light housing. And that was that.
Sewing machines can be finicky creatures sometimes.
There's the loose screw there, right above my screwdriver blade. What was catching was that box right above it, with the two screws.
Bam! Make that tight.

Something similar has happened with my needle-feed 111 machine. Though that was my own doing. I raised the outside presser feet (the ones that just go up and down) a li'l bit so I would have more clearance when stitching from a lot of layers to a few, and all was good till I sewed over something really thick. Then the machine locked up. And I'll tell you, when an industrial machine just locks up, it's fucking scary.
So I figured out that my raising the feet just a little bit, like an eight of an inch or less, caused the rotating bit on the thread take-up arm to knock against a piece on the presser foot shaft...but only when sewing over really thick material.
A pretty lame design in my opinion, but there's so few space in that part of the machine and so many moving parts in a needle-feed walking-foot machine, I suppose it's hard to avoid.

Anyway, on to cooler things:
Just got this in the mail today. Isn't it beautiful?
It's a bunch of 1" nylon webbing that I use for binding. Mil-W-4088, Type 2, Class 1a.
I'm trying out a new source. But since it's a mil-spec it should be pretty much the same as the webbing I'm using now, me thinks.
I ordered this from Bally Ribbon Mills, in Bally, Pennsylvania...not too far away from Reading, PA.
Peep at their site here: Check out their section on 3D weaving. Awesome.

If you're looking for this webbing by the yard, you can get it from ParaGear.
Okay, back to sewing...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Let's go skiing!
This is probably the stiffest bag that I've ever made. #10 Waxear waxed cotton lined with acrylic-coated polyester. 15x12", 13x4" bottom.

I used my zigzag walking foot machine to sew the two pieces together before I put the binding on and it made this mark in the wax. It should wear out eventually.

Put That on Your Shoulder

Here's a shoulder pad I just made. This sucker's goin' on a Timbuk2.
15x2.5x~0.5" Fleece lined, mother approved.

The piece of bike tube is to keep it from slipping too much. Aw yeah.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Simple Pannier

Man, I'm making all kinds of simple bags these days...that's what I call a bag that doesn't have a floating liner...or much of anything else. Ha.
Anyway, I made this for my dad, for gettin' groceries.
~15x13", 6x9" bottom. Cordura outer, acrylic/poly inner.

I'm trying the double fold flap design here with the all-around binding design. I think there might be too much material there at the corners, though. I like the double-fold for the panniers 'cause it makes the top pretty stiff when closed...but maybe I could just put some seatbelt webbing across there to to the same thing. Dunno. It works better with a floating liner, that's fo' sure.

Hardware from Jandd...and Ace Hardware (the bottom hook).
Using the simple sleeve design again for the board frame pocket. I should've used Cordura for the lip piece 'cause the packcloth is a little wimpy...but it shouldn't be a problem. See my previous pannier post for more on this.

More Simple Bags

Prototyping some more small bags. All these are around 15x11x3".

Learn how to make this bag here!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Simple Messenger Bag

Prototyping a simple nineteen-inch messenger bag. 19x11", 14x5" bottom. 1000d Cordura & cotton duck.
This is like a bag I made last month, but a bit bigger.
Trying out a simple zipper pocket.

This is a pattern that I came up with (well, altered is more like it...this is pretty much the eternal messenger bag pattern) for this DIY messenger bag post here:
I know you want to make your own. C'mon.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hawai'i Pack, Part 1

I'm planning a trip to Hawai'i come October, where I'll be doing some light backpacking & camping & stuff. And I need a big pack. So I'm making one.
It's going to be an internal-frame pack (the easiest frame to make--I can't bend aluminum tubing--that's too hard) and I just bent the stays, my pack's spine:
I've never made a pack like this (well...more on that later), with the double curvy stays, so I'm sure I'll have to tweak these a bit, but I think it's a good start.
I got these from, a pretty sweet metal shop. These are 1"x 0.1875" 6061-T6 flat bar aluminum. I guess the aluminum alloy that's the absolute business is 7075-T6, but they didn't have that in flat bar this thin, so this is what I got. Though, the 7075 is probably five times the cost of the 6061, and this is my first bent-stay pack, so 6061's fine for me. It's what most commercial packs use anyway.

My main source of inspiration is Dan McHale's packs. (See 'em here:
I've never seen one in the flesh, but from what I've read, if you want a badass custom alpine pack, go no further than McHale. Seriously, I can spend all day looking at his Website.

I've made a couple handfulls of backpacks in my day, but I've only made one framed backpack. That was for a trip to Spain I took back in 2006.
Here I am:

My friend and I walked a bit of the Camino in the north. I used a scandium alloy lacrosse shaft with two aluminum cross bars as a frame. It worked okay...but when I designed it, I was erroneously working under the belief that most of the pack's weight is carried on the hips. It's not. Most of it is carried on your ass shelf, on those meaty hunks on your rear (or at least that's what I believe now...we'll see in a year or so). So my pack's lumbar pad was added as an afterthought. And there was no curve in the stays to help distribute the weight back there. But it worked okay, like I said. But this time, things are different.
Oh, and this is the waist strap from my first pack. I'm not going to reuse it, but I thought I'd put it up here for reference.
1680d ballistic nylon + 1000 weight fleece. Those are 1.5" buckles. The staps in the back & sides attach it to the pack.

So here are my plans:
>Waist belt. I'm going to use the basic shape as the one above, but it'll be slimmer in the back. The lumbar pad will be integrated into the bag. In my first pack, I just had a piece of foam and plastic that I wedged in between the belt and pack. This was my lumbar pad, essentially. It was amazing how much it mattered though. That extra 3/4" of material transferred a lot of weight from my hips to my lower back area.
The trick here is how to connect the waist belt to the pack, though. It has to be flexible so it doesn't make the pack rock when you're walking, yet secure, in order to transfer the weight from the stays to the belt. Some packs do it with straps and Velcro. Some just with straps. Some bolt the stays to the belt. Some just sew the belt to the pack... I tried the straps-only method last time. It was flexible and it allowed me to remove the belt for air travel, but I don't think it distributed the weight to the best areas. And it tended to pull the belt away from my waist. Not so good.
I'm not yet sure what I'm going to do here. I'm thinking of a system with loops and an aluminum bar. The loops would alternate top to bottom and enmesh like teeth, and the bar would slide through them, holding them in place. Think about how the hinges on your door work. Like that.
I want to build the bag without the belt attached, otherwise it'll be way too hard to sew together. And having the option to remove the belt to use for something else, or just to remove, is nice too. Hopefully I'll knock this out fast enough to try it a bit first. When I went to Europe I finished my pack the day before...not so smart.

>Main compartment. This is going to be as simple as possible. Just a plain ol' sack. No sleeping bag compartment, no fanny pack lid. Just a tube with a roll top. I'm going to get some X-Pac fabric from Rockywoods ( for the main part, and I'm going to use 1000d Cordura for the bottom...probably double it up. The sides'll be fitted with compression straps, and there'll be removable side bags.

>Harness. I'm going to use the system I used for my last backpack (here), but with load-lifter straps, too. I don't know if I'm going to make them adjustable or fixed just yet. Probably fixed. I'll just have to make sure my measurements are spot on. Ha.

>Other stuff. There'll be a pocket for a water bladder on the inside. I'd like to put it on the outside for access, but I think it makes more sense on the inside, closer to my center of gravity.
And I'd like to put some small pockets on the hip belt, and maybe a chest pocket between the straps, for a camera...but we'll see.

Wish me luck.

To be continued...


I just finished this. Six panel. Refined the bill a little bit. Lookin' good.

Friday, August 7, 2009

New Pannier, Part II

Here's the twin of a pannier I made last month.
13" high with a 9x6" bottom. Cordura nylon & acrylic-coated polyester.

Put a simple shoulder strap on this one.

Hardware from Jandd.

Floating liner.
I changed up the frame pocket on this one. I made it a lot simpler. Now it's just an open pocket with a little lip at the top, sewn onto the bag. The lip is one inch deep, and the frame board is one inch shorter than the depth of the pocket. So you put the board all the way in the pocket and then push it up under the lip. Super simple. You see this design in skateboard wrist guards.
Of course, the frame isn't the full length of the back, but I don't think it's a big deal.

And Velcro to cover the bolts, so they don't scratch up your stuff.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Heather Toronto.
This is a right shoulder bag. 22x14", 15x7". Cordura & poly acrylic.

Note the side lash loops (above).
Added a divider pocket for larger envelopes & flat packages.

Kallisti. "For the most beautiful."

Leif Labs x Sleadd

This is a laptop bag I made for my friend Mike. 22x14", 16x6" bottom. Cordura nylon & acrylic-coated polyester.
The screen print is from a drawing of his. See more of his artwork here.
This is probably the sweetest looking bag I've ever made.

Black on black.
This is only the second laptop-specific bag that I've made (see the other one here) and I wanted to try something a bit different this making the laptop pocket without using Velcro, which is always a challenge of mine.

First I made a box pocket...
This is from one piece of fabric, no cuts. Some sweet origami action here. I'll have to try this sometime with thicker fabric...

And here's what it looks like sewn to the liner, with foam inside.

And this is what the foam looks like, covered in nylon packcloth. That thick strap there is to keep the computer from shifting from side to side, since there's no side padding. This way there's complete foam protection all the way around the 'puter. And this piece just slips into the box pocket, where there are lips to keep it in place.

I probably won't be making any more laptop bags like this...unless I can simplify the construction process a bit. Instead I'll stick with the sleeve-in-the-bag system.