Monday, August 17, 2020

How to replace a buckle with an awl

We're gonna replace a buckle on a bag with a sewing awl! On my bags, most flap buckles are sewn through the shell and the liner so they're pretty easy to replace.

If you don't have a sewing awl ... get one! You can buy a new one for like 25 bucks on eBay right now (plague year 2020), or from your local hardware shop (prolly for around 30 USD). You'll be able to fix pretty much anything you need to put a lockstitch in. Before I had an industrial sewing machine, I used an awl to sew thick bits of webbing, seams and foam. Even after I got a Sailrite Ultrafeed (semi-industrial, or artisan-grade) I still used an awl to sew 1/2" foam. And I still use one to sew inside of things I can't get a machine into, like shoes.
If you don't want one, that's fine. You can use a heavy needle plus a thimble and pliers and do a saddle stitch, or a running stitch that you go over twice.

Oooor, if you don't want to sew at all, there are a few no-sew replacement buckles out there. Just wiggle the slotted bar into the webbing loop and you're good to go.


I'm a big fan of the Awl for All. It's simple and you can control the bobbin tension/slack with your finger. The other big-name awl out there is the Speedy Stitcher. The spool is in the handle and it threads through the body of the awl. It looks clean, but I think you just have to hold on to the thread to keep it under control...
A word on awl setup, if you've lost your instructions (does it even come with instructions? I can't remember). I like to have the needle groove positioned up and the thread coming off the spool as in the photo above -- so it's spooling off from the same side as the needle groove. This way it's a straight shot from the spool, through the groove and into the needle eye (hole), and the thread's not rubbing on the awl frame. You'll be stitching in the direction that the needle groove is facing.

Thread. I'm using a super-heavy nylon thread here for illustrative purposes (T210). Most messenger bags are sewn with between a T70 and T135 (#69–138) thread. I mostly use a T90 (#92) bonded polyester thread on all parts of my bags, unless it's something really lightweight. You'll probably use the thread that came with your awl. If you found your awl in, like, a random drawer at your grandparents' house and the thread's rotting off, you might be limited to "upholstery," "jean," or top-stitching thread at the local sewing shop. Get something heavy in nylon or polyester and it'll be fine.

This is the stitch shape that we're gonna make. I call it the x-box stitch ... because it's an X in a box. :) It's the shape you see most on factory-built bags. In a factory setting (or if someone has ALL the machines), it's sewn with a shape-stitching sewing machine. On artisan/cottage-built bags, you'll often see some variation of this -- usually with a line or two missing ... Z, open-box, two parallel stitches, hourglass, &c. On a big pack, these alternative shapes are easier to sew with a normal flat-bed machine ... since you don't have to jam the whole pack under the machine arm a couple times to sew the box. Since we're not limited by a machine, we're doing the classic x-box.

There are many ways to get to the x-box, but above is the path I usually travel.

Let's get stitching!
Oh, wait ... let's remove the broken buckle first...

Use whatever sharp tool you have at your disposal ... seam ripper, razor blade, nail clippers, whatever. If possible, DO NOT remove all of the buckle webbing -- just enough to get the buckle off. It'll be a lot easier to sew the new buckle in the same place if there's a bit hanging on.
Here's what the webbing might look like. Notice where the top of the webbing terminates under the fold. Cut the thread up to there:

You can kind of see the end of the webbing there -- right to the left of strikethrough in the zed.

I'm gonna use my trusty seam ripper.

That's a good place to stop on my buckles. Assess your situation before cutting. On some bags, like Timbuk2, you might have to remove all the webbing to get the buckle off. I recommend marking around the webbing with something that will wash off so you can line it back up later. If the webbing is sewn into a seam, you might have to cut the webbing if you don't have access to the back of the seam and either splice the webbing back together if there's enough slack, or add a new piece of webbing on top of the edge (if it's an edge situation).

There we go. Old buckle's off, new buckle's ready to rock.

And jam the new buckle in. If you really want the webbing to stay put, you can put some glue under the webbing. Okay, now it's time to sew. [I recommend practicing on some cardboard first if this is your first sewing project with the awl.]

First blood. I like to start on the stitching line closest to the buckle and near the middle of the run. This kind of locks the webbing in place and minimizes webbing creep as you sew. Stick your needle straight down and pull back about an 1/8" or so until a loop forms bellow the needle's eye. This will be on the opposite side from the needle groove. [On most machine needles, this would be where the scarf is, but there's no hook in play here, so no need for a scarf.]

Grab hold of that loop and pull the loose end of the thread through. If you're familiar with machine sewing, this is going to be your "bobbin," or bottom, thread, and I'll refer to it as such.

Pull out enough thread to get the job done. Rule of thumb is twice the path length. I pulled out about 22" and that worked well.

If you find that your thread wants to untwist easily, see if you have any wax lying around and hit that thread with some wax. Wax of the bees, if possible. It should make your life easier.

 Here we are after pulling through the starting length of thread and about to make our first stitch. I like to tie a knot at the end to make threading the stitch loop easier and keep the thread from untwisting. If you wanna go nuts, you can even use a needle on this end. [I'll do this if I'm doing a really long run.] Since this thread is so big and unravelly, I gave it a blast of fire to seal the end, too.

Stitches per inch. If you're just replacing one buckle, see if you can match the SPI of the other buckle. On a one-inch strap, this could be 6 to 8, depending on thread size.

Penetration. For dense material, I use a slight twisting motion and hold the material in my hand. I feel for the tip of the needle and then shoot it between my fingers. This is probably NOT the method you want to start with. Try laying the material on a piece of wood or cork and pressing into that. That way you can get a nice vertical stitch and you won't stab yourself.

Consider drawing a line to follow. I did not and you can tell. :) On black webbing, a light colored pencil makes a good fabric marker.

Okay, above is the first stitch. From this angle, I'm sewing right to left. Needle groove is facing left. When I pull the needle back to form the loop, the loop is on the right side.
I'm about to thread the loop. After I do this, I'll pull the "bobbin" thread tight and pull the loop into the material with a bend of bobbin thread. In lockstitch terms, is is called burying the knot. Ideally, the stitch should look the same on both sides. More on this later. Let's go through all the steps to make our second stitch:

Second stitch. Sewing right to left. About to push the needle through. I probably have too much tension on my top thread. This could pull the previous stitch out of place.

Second stitch. Post-penetration. Note how the thread is tensioned on both sides of the needle.

 Second stitch. Making the loop. You can go through either side of the loop with your bobbin thread. Just try to keep it consistent for a cleaner line.

Second stitch. Loop threaded. I'm holding the bobbin thread tight while pulling the needle out.  

Note: If you get turned around and thread the loop on the wrong side of the needle (you can get loops on both sides if you're using a lighter thread), you'll know pretty quick when you pull the needle through. If you're lucky, you can stick the needle back through the hole, pull the bobbin thread out of the loop and go through the correct side. Though, sometimes you don't go through the hole cleanly, catch another thread, and make a mess. Then you need to pull your bobbin thread back through the hole and loop and start that one over.

Second stitch. Sometimes I'll pull the bobbin thread all the way through with the top thread (you can see it looped there, coming out of the hole) and then pull on the bobbin thread to seat the knot. It's a feel thing that you'll develop.

Second stitch. Burying the knot (pulling on the bobbin thread here). You can see I had a little too much tension on the top thread and it pulled the first knot out of place a bit. Not terrible, but something to think about. Also, using a dark thread will hide your mistakes better. And not using a fat-ass thread like this will make it easier to bury the knot, too. :)

Second stitch complete, underside. Note that you can't see the top thread knot in the stitch holes. That's what you're looking for, a buried knot, on both sides.

Okay, now that we've broken down a stitch, let's get movin'.

I've finished the first side and worked up the second side of the box. Be careful when turning the corner that you keep the needle groove facing forward. It's easy to flip the awl around when changing directions. At this point, you can remove the rest of the original stitches. (I'm gonna leave 'em 'cause I'm doing this fast and dirty.)

Box is done. I did a pretty good job of burying the knots ... but the stitches are really crooked. Ha!

Overlapping the bottom edge. You can see I'm getting some needle deflection here, where the bottom hole is not in the same position as the top. If this happens, pull the needle almost all the way out and redirect. Or don't worry about it 'cause it's on the bottom. :)

Bottom-edge overlap completed and I'm about to stitch the first part of the X. I've drawn a line to see if that helps me sew somewhat straighter. 

First cross done. 'Bout to overlap the top edge and do the second cross. That middle knot looks real bad. Pulled the top thread too tight. :)

Those look a bit straighter.

And here we're at the end of our run -- so soon! I like to overlap the final line by one or two stitches. If you want a really clean look, finish on your first hole.

I like to pass my bobbin thread through the loop twice on my final knot so it's extra secure. Kinda ridiculous with a thread this heavy. Pull really tight on both ends.

Snip off the loose thread on both sides and you're done! Depending on how slick your thread is, you might want to melt the ends or hit it with some superglue. That buckle ain't going nowhere!

The bottom looks pretty close to the top ... just a little wonky. :)

If you just read this and you're like, "That's pretty cool ... but where do I buy, like, one buckle?" here are some options:

EBay. This could be your cheapest shipping option as most small items are mailed USPS First Class, though mark-up for one buckle could be severe.

Outdoor Wilderness Fabrics. If you need some webbing too ... or really anything to make a bag.

If you want to upgrade to those safety-rated metal buckles you see on fancy tech messenger bags, you can get Cobra buckles from the source: AustriAlpin.

Hudson also carries Cobra buckles and just about everything from ITW/Fastex.

If you're looking for one of those magical magnetic Fidlock buckles that you saw me use as my "broken" buckle, check eBay. I don't know if they have a US distributor yet. I had to order my samples from Germany. 

And for more hardware resources, visit my website.
Also, check out your local sewing shop, hardware store, or army surplus depot. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a high-quality buckle in town.

Have fun fixin' your stuff! :)

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Face mask how-to

Here's how to make the Leif Labs "snoot" face mask.

>Jump to the patterns and pictures if you don't want to read the theory.
>Jump to strap options if I gave you a mask and didn't give you instructions. :)

Note: This is not a filtration mask (respirator). It is designed to slow the velocity of your breath so that any viruses you may have (known or unknown) fall to the ground before they can reach their target (your friends, family & coworkers, that nice clerk at the g-store).


Fit -- I've been seeing a lot of the two-piece-ear-loop masks falling off people's faces or the non-adjustable ear-loops pulling awkwardly on ears. And the pleated masks look like they're right up against your lips on a lot of people or flattening their noses (or their noses are just plain hanging out). I want to be able to lick my lips and stick out my tongue a bit w/o kissing the mask, and breath normally through my nose.

Adjustability -- Because the straps attach to loops of webbing, adjusting the mask is easy. Also, since elastic eventually loses its rebound, it's safe to assume that the mask itself will outlast the elastic (like with most everything we own with elastic). Plus, if you're using white elastic and you get, like, mustard on it, it's easy to swap out.

Sizing -- I'm still working on how to translate real-world face measurements to mask size. I've been having people measure from the bridge of their nose to the tip of their chin. On me, a size large, that's about 6 inches. Jenny is about 4.5 inches, and is the model for the small. I can wear a small but it wants to pop off my face if I open my mouth wide. You should be able to scale the pattern to dial in the fit if neither of the patterns work for you. Try making a paper mask before you cut your fabric. Also, if you'd like to know my patterning process, from a cone to this, let me know and I'll write another post about my ragtag methods of masky pattern designing. :)

The large pattern is big enough to fit over a typical bulb-shaped N95 mask ... in case you need to protect your mask from grime, or if you have N95 guilt. :)

Breathability -- The bulb shape allows for more fabric surface area around the mouth, meaning more potential airflow. The pocket of air in front of the mouth hopefully means that less air is forced through the mask at speed, and may allow for the mask to stay drier longer. (Last time I checked, WHO recommended changing masks when damp.)

This mask won't win any style contests, but hopefully it will stay on your face all day w/o your having to fuss with it too much.


This pattern uses at least two layers of fabric. (You could use just one if you're making a respirator cover -- you'll have to roll or serge the edge. And, of course, you can add more layers to taste.)
For this sew-through, I'm using a 9oz hemp/lyocell (Tencel (rayon)) twill for the outer layer and a 4.6oz hemp summer cloth for the liner. These are from EnviroTextile, in Colorado. []
I also just got some 4.5oz cotton poplin that I'll be trying out for the shell (you can see it in the harness section below).
Since filtration isn't the game here, pick a fabric combo that's comfortable enough to breathe through but is dense enough that you can't, like, blow out a candle through. (I will say, I used a medium denim for one of my masks and it's a little too hard to breathe through while active.)

Flat elastic (1/4–3/8"), shock cord, shoe laces, strips of t-shirt, etc. We'll get to harness configuration at the end, but you'll probably want to get at least 24" of something to start.
The flat elastic I have is 1/4" braided polyester with latex rubber. 135% stretch. I got it from The Elastic Webbing Corp, outside of Chicago. Unfortunately you can only buy a ton of it. []
I also got some 1/4" cotton "break tape" (something to do with dropping parachute cargo). It's fairly coarse so it keeps a knot well and it's cheap (though, again, you have to buy it by the roll). I got mine from the Ribbon Factory, in PA, (they have a bunch of other nice cotton tapes and grosgrain). []

Tape/ribbon for the tie loops and nose-wire pocket. 1/2-3/4" is ideal, but if you have 1" lying around, I'm sure that will be fine, too. I'm using 5/8" mostly. You can try, like, paracord or shoe laces for the loops, too.

Wire. This is optional, but if you wear glasses, you're going to want it to keep your hot wet breath out of your eyes. And I think it makes the mask stick on your face better. I started off with 14ga half-hard copper wire, but that's a little too stiff, so I got some 16ga. You can also use stainless steel safety wire, or pull the wire closure off your coffee bag, or use whatever you have lying around the house. You want something that's stiff enough to keep its shape, but can flex a bit. The wire is removable, so it doesn't necessarily have to be rust proof (just remember to take it out before you wash the mask).

Nose padding (optional). This is a new addition to the design. Adding a bit of cushion to the nose area for improved seal and to avoid chaffing from the wire. I'm using a hemp fleece.

Let's start sewing!

Here's what the pattern looks like. Click the links below for the PDF.
PDF for the large mask.
PDF for the small mask.

Printing notes: The large pattern barely fits on an 8.5x11" page. Unless your printer prints to the very edge, there's gonna be some clipping. You shouldn't have any trouble extrapolating the missing lines. Make sure you're printing in full size -- you're PDF reader might default to "scale to fit." And if you don't have a printer, then, I guess, you could try tracing it off your screen if you can dial in the size ... note the ruler (sorry, I failed to do metric. 3" is about 76mm).

Pattern variations:

Jenny doesn't like to have the mask so close to her eyes, so I've scooped out the top line a bit for her pattern. [I don't have the seam allowance on this pattern, that's why it looks smaller. I want to be able to follow the wavy pencil line around the nose area while sewing.]

Got my pieces cut out. [Lately I've been leaving that trapezoidal piece in the liner to make cutting faster ... I'll trim that off after sewing.]

Tacking down the loops to the outside (right side).

Attach the nose padding to the right side of the liner. [I messed up here and sewed it to the wrong side. Also, been having trouble with the fleece stretching while sewing (you'll see later) ... need to work on this a bit.]

Ready to be turned into 3D shapes.

Sew the vertical (long) seam first, starting at the edge of the horizontal (short) seam.

Sew the horizontal seam. I like to start in the center, on top of the vertical seam, and sew to the sides and then come back to the center. This keeps the material from drifting askew and gives me a second chance to sew a nice curve if I donk up the first one. This is wrong-side out. 1/4" seam allowance.

Not too bad. Now trim along the pencil line.

Now for the shell. Again, wrong-side out, 1/4" seam.

Done. Now, turn the shell right-side out and nest it in the liner.

Like so. Or if you'd like to do the opposite, shell on the outside, that's fine, too. Just make sure you can't see the right side.

This fabric is heavy enough I just line up the seam and go for it. If you're using a lighter fabric or if you want it to line up perfect, pinning is advised.

I sew from the vertical seam around to the last loop. This'll give you enough of a gap to turn it inside out.

Now check and make sure you didn't mess up and have one wrong side and one right side facing out or anything funny. I can't tell you have often I do this when making bike cruisies. :)

Now turn it right-side out. I like to pin the gap and pin the nose webbing in place.

I like to start and finish on one of the lower loops.

Aw, hell! Ran out of thread -- almost made it!

Okay, there's your top-stitching/part-one-of-nose-webbing-pocket done.

When sewing the edge of the nose pocket I like to sew up the edge and then flip it around so the stitches go in the same holes. Looks tidy.

Then I'm like whatever and finish with some back 'n' forth stitching. Leave this end open -- that's where the wire goes in.

Ha! Yeah, that nose padding is not centered! Purely cosmetic. :)

Nose-wire time. I like to deburr the ends with a little file so nothing's sharp and can cut the fabric ... and I just got a cute li'l concave grinder ("mounted point") that I can run in my drill or Dremel. Of course, sandpaper if great, too. 

I make a loop and then cut where it meets the end of the webbing.

Loop your other end and do a little pre-bend to help the loops lie flat. Shove that thing in there and then smash it on your face. I haven't had a problem with the wire poking out after its shaped but if you want the wire to really stay put, push it in past the raw edge of the webbing and then wriggle it back so it rests inside the fold at the end of the webbing. (Kind of like a kite spar fits inside a pocket.)

Hemostats are nice for pulling the ties through.

If you sew your seam a little too wide, you'll have a smaller loop, and getting your ties through can be a real bugger. I like to put a piece a tape on the end and cut it to taper and feed it through that way.

Conversely, if you make your loops too big or you're using a thinner tie, you're going to need a bigger stopper knot. Here's a cute knot video from The Weavers of Eternity:

Which strap configuration is for me? (The tyranny of options)

Whoops, not great contrast in this pic. That's a single elastic piece. This is what I use most often. Only if I'm bending over a lot do I want more strap action.

Elastic up top, loose-ish lace on the bottom. This gives you a little more support and allows you to pop off your elastic strap to take a drink and let the mask hang around your neck so you don't have to put it down or fiddle with it when it's time to put it back on.

Doubling up the elastic on top. Keep that thing on!

Pop it off!

You can use one long piece of elastic, thread it through both loops and tie the loose ends. You might want a stopper knot on the upper loops to keep it from sliding around. This elastic is stretchy enough that you can leave the bottom one tied and still pull it off. This piece is 48" long.

Before I got more flat elastic, I was playing around with webbing harnesses and shock cord (round elastic). This setup is nice if you want the mask to hang loosely against your face (and you really want to look serious).

Ear loops (if that's your thing). My mannequin doesn't have much in the way of ears, but you get the idea.


And the large pattern covering the N95.

Mask-wearing tips -- Wearing a mask all day isn't fun, especially if you're new to mask-wearing. Make sure to drink plenty of water and take fresh-air breaks. Keep in mind that there is a conditioning period and it does get easier (I hope).

Other masks to check out:

Tom always has great sewing tips:
Fit testing masks made from Halyard 600 for respirator use:
Suay LA:

Good luck out there! Happy sewing!