Tuesday, August 22

Attempts at making my ideal (vaguely messenger style) bag - with failures and successes!

Back in the 1990s, Husband and I were invited to a birthday party, and I bought a new dress. It wasn't a dressy affair, more a "down the local football club" sort of affair, so the dress wasn't dressy, just a denim pinafore (honestly, it was fashionable at the time!). The dress lacked pockets. Until the advent of the internet I thought I was the only one that didn't like not having a pocket, but now I know I'm not alone! Where else DOES one put one's hankie? (I never go anywhere without one - I'm reminded of my mum saying "Have you got your hankie?" as I went out the door as a child.) Unless one has a sleeve to stuff it up, which results in a lump. So I decided to make a very small lightweight across the body bag, which would go nicely with the dress, and which would contain my hankie. 

Following that I made quite a lot of bags over the years, selling quite a few in the process. They were all my own design - nothing terribly complicated, but I did learn a lot about construction techniques. I can remember following someone and looking at her shoulder bag and thinking "Mmmm, how is that corner made?" and going home and working out how it was done (the boxed corner). There are lots of clever people out there designing bag patterns, and I have the utmost admiration for some of them, because I know just how long it takes to work out how to do something and how to design what you want. This post is all about that process, with my successes and failures. 

One designer in particular I like - Dog Under My Desk  (hereafter referred to as DUMD). I have made her Two Zip Hipster bag -

Two Zip Hipster


and also recently purchased her Saddle Bag pattern, though I have yet to make it. 

Sometimes it is useful to cough up money on a pattern because you do learn how to do things that you might not otherwise and you can use this information in your own bags. I find that bag making books don't contain everything you want to know. Like the zipped front pocket (see comment below on my linen bag!).

Recently I was looking at my favourite bag - this one, made out of an old wax jacket, very suitable for winter -

Wax jacket bag

and noticed that it was wearing a bit where the handles are joined to the body. I'd made this one up as I went along and probably hadn't used the best of techniques. So I decided to make myself a replacement, and set about thinking what I wanted. The Two Zip Hipster comes close, but I've always found it too deep, and while I could have gone through the pattern and altered it to make it less so, it might have meant more work than just designing my own, or rather, adapting various patterns to get what I wanted. As I said, the DUMD patterns are very good, but although they are not difficult to make, and the instructions are extremely well written and photographed, they are quite complicated, and while the PDFs are not expensive (though "expensive" is always relative.....) some have 30 pages or so to print out!  I thought I could come up with something simpler.

Bear with me while I explain what went on my head......

The thing is, that nobody carries exactly the same stuff in their bags, so everyone's requirements are different. I wanted a bag designed around what I carry, and although I might want a little surplus space I didn't want loads. This was what I did want -

1 One main zipped main compartment, for purse, notebook, pen, small shopping bag
2 One zipped compartment on the front of the main compartment, for phone, Garmin, bike padlock keys
3 A patch pocket inside 
4 A flap, with one patch pocket, for my shopping list!

"A place for everything and everything in its place!" I think that probably came originally from my Great Grandmother. It's very relevant to one's bag!

5 As I am usually on my bike and it has to be stuffed into my panniers, I wanted the bag to be flexible but strong. I didn't want to have to interface it. 
6  I also didn't want to spend any money, at least not until I had perfected my design. Until then I just wanted to use whatever I'd already got.

So, firstly I wanted to work out how to put a zip in the top of the bag in the way I was envisaging (I still don't know if this type of zip top has a name) -

so I made this small bag to attempt to do it. While it looks OK on the outside, I couldn't work out how to line it properly. One attempt and I almost gave up. I thought "I'm fed up with this. I'll just find a pattern on the internet!" Pathetic!!! But then I read a post on DUMD, about how long it took her to design a pattern, and how many samples she made in the process, and I thought "Well, if it's it like that for her too I'm not giving up!"

So I attempted another zip top, which isn't bad but it still wasn't lined and still wasn't quite what I wanted. I'll probably actually pad this one out somehow to use it as an Ipad bag. The fabric I used here was from an old curtain.

Possible Ipad bag.

Then I made this one, and began to feel I was getting closer to what I wanted.

But - it still wasn't lined in the way I wanted. I had actually sewn the lining to the outer, wrong sides together, and then zig zagged the raw edges of the layers after stitching the pieces together. You might say that this is in my quest to avoid a baggy lining, which I don't like. I could have bound the edges, which would have been neater, but binding edges is difficult to get neat when those edges are quite short and have corners (albeit rounded). But this bag at least is usable. The fabric is the old curtain again, plus some oddments from my stash.

I had to shorten the flap after making, hence the untidy seam.

Raw edges zig zagged.

Then for some reason, probably that it was more wintery looking, I decided to try another in some woollen fabric I had. This time I used a different method! Rather than stitching a piece round the outside to form the depth of the bag, I used this boxy zipped bag method. You'll need to click on that link to understand what I did next. I used the method described there, of drawing round the four corner pieces -

Draw round that template and then cut out the shape

Interfaced outer after cutting out the shapes

and cutting them out to leave the final piece, but somehow I managed to get the two pieces different sizes! With some thoughts of "Oh do I really want to do this.....?????" and "Don't expect to achieve what you want without some hard work!", I went back to the drawing board and made the template below instead, to eliminate making that mistake again.

I had altered the measurements to get the size I wanted, and I made it up in newspaper to make sure I'd got it right and that it would work! There's a lot of maths in sewing! You can alter this template to get other sizes. (Although this wasn't the method I used in the final bag, I'm glad I discovered how to make one in this way, as I'll probably use it for some other bag in the future. So it wasn't wasted time!) This was the size template I came up with -

To line the bag, I sewed the outer and lining right sides together, turned them right sides out, and then sewed the whole thing together. I attached the strap and the patch pocket. It looks nice but it's a bit bodged to be honest, and it's not sturdy enough, even though I had used some interfacing. I also decided against using that lining method again.

Inside, no raw edges but a bit of a bodge job.

Then I had big rethink, and decided that I didn't want the top zip after all, and that what I basically wanted was my own adaptation of a classic messenger bag (which actually is what my waxed bag is!). I didn't really need a pattern or tutorial but used one anyway - Messenger bag tutorial. It's excellent and it's free. I made it smaller with my own adaptations for pockets. This time I used a lovely piece of thick old linen, which I bought earlier this year at a sale at the convent in Wantage, when I spent £10 on a variety of old and new pieces of fabric. I would guess this piece had been a curtain. It was perfect for a bag - flexible and floppy (but not so much that it needed stabilizing) but strong. I wish I had lots more of it. The colour of course is hardly suitable for winter! 

But at least I was getting even closer to what I wanted.

On this one I have attached two dog clips and two D rings to fasten the flap if I want. I sewed them on by hand after completing the bag. In future I'll sew fastenings on earlier in the process. The pen pocket on the outside was unintentional - it just happened as a result of the way I put the pocket on, which was another bodge job, but it worked and next time I'll do it properly.

I did not make the strap adjustable, mainly because I didn't have enough fabric.

Another mistake here! Because the bag is mostly lined in the same fabric this was an easy one to make - attaching the patch pocket to the outside (which is done before joining any of the pieces) when it was meant to be on the inside!

Pocket should have been on inside

I attached the front pockets by basically using the method from the Two Zip Hipster, which I won't explain here (you'll have to buy DUMD's pattern!) but which is very good. I've got the zipped pocket I wanted and one behind it as well.

I removed the dog clips!  I found an old bit of leather with press stud attached, probably from an old possibly "Animal" (is that make still around?) key ring belonging to Eldest Son in his teenage years (I never throw such things away) which I sewed on - with difficulty! - and sewed on a tab with a D ring at the bottom for it to go through.

Leather tab, and D ring underneath

Here's me with the bag (still with dog clips) just to give an idea of the size.

A faceless me with the bag (Husband's paragliding wing on floor!)

I'm planning another slightly bigger one (I need a tad more space) in denim perhaps, and, very importantly, with the addition of something to convert it into a rucksack, because sometimes when I go shopping on the bike I find I have run out of space in the panniers and can't fit the bag in, so need to put it on my back.

That's quite a lot of bags (some pretty useless!) and many hours of work! But I'm glad I kept going. I have already taken apart a couple of the first bags  in order to be able to re-use the zips. I have also removed the "ball and chain" antique bronze zip on the front of the waxed one as it is such a good zip. I bought two of these years ago at a show. I think I've got a fetish about nice zips.....!

So, "Almost There", as one of my favourite songs, sung by Andy Williams, says.  And yesterday the song "Don't give up!" (I nearly gave this post that title) came into my mind, sung by Kate Bush and its writer Peter Gabriel, even though it has never been a song I'd taken much notice of. I think it might become a favourite! 


Monday, July 24

The 50p cycling trousers

Back here in a previous post I wrote about the cotton trousers I'd bought for £1 and had dyed and converted to some excellent cycling trousers. I have now done the same with the 50p pair that I bought, again from a charity shop. I have to admit that when I checked the pockets and found a used tissue I did think "Ugh.......maybe I should just throw these out and wash my hands thoroughly......." but I didn't. Please don't feel sick..........carry on reading! They were too good to lose!

I soaked them first in very hot water and soda, then washed them at 60 degrees, then hung them out in the sun to dry. My way of destroying any lingering germs! 

The trousers were from BHS, which of course don't exist any more. I would never have considered looking in their shops for trousers anyway, as I thought their clothes were pretty awful....... It just goes to show that you have to think outside the box sometimes - you might find what you're looking for in unexpected places, especially if you can alter it in some way to make it just what you want.

These were the trousers before dyeing -

I dyed them a dark blue. As expected, the thread, being synthetic, didn't dye. I added a zip to one pocket, which was much trickier with this pair because having no zip fly to open up the trousers, the space was harder to get to. I actually re-did it as I wasn't happy with the first attempt. Where there is a gap in the stitching on the waistband above is where I opened it up to push the zip up underneath. I have re-stitched that bit, although it's not visible - I wasn't so fussy as to bother to find matching contrasting thread. The zip still looks a bit weird, but as I said, it was hard to get to the space. 

The only suitable zip I had was one which I had unpicked from something else, and was cream. When I had finished the job I went all over the zip with blue felt pen to make it stand out slightly less! I wish I could have attached a zip to the smaller pocket as well but I could only have done it by hand and I decided not to bother.

Here you can see that I've added tapes to the trousers so that I can roll them up.

I used some twill tape that I already had - again, like the last pair, I just happened to have dyed some previously in the right colour!

This time I used Kam Snaps to attach the tapes to the right side. If you haven't some across these they are brilliant. They come in a variety of sizes and colours and are easy to attach with the tool that goes with them. My 19 month old granddaughter Lily was quite fascinated by them when I visited one day, and I showed her how they worked. They are actually quite hard to undo though, so it might be a while before she can unroll Grandma's trousers......

As with the other pair, they are wonderfully comfortable and practical. You may notice that the colour is not even - this is because after the initial required 45 minute period of regular stirring (you don't have to stir for 45 minutes! Just stir "regularly" in between doing other things) I then went away and forgot to stir them again, which has resulted in the uneven colour. 

I did actually spot another similar pair recently in another charity shop, but I resisted, as I don't really need a third pair, but it just goes to show that there are plenty of similar pairs of trousers out there dirt cheap waiting to be converted!

Monday, July 17

My new bike, a Koga Traveller, mixte version.

Finally, after a long wait, I have a new bicycle! And here it is....

I'll give the details in a minute, but first a brief look back at last year, when  I bought a step through touring bike from Oxford Bike Works. After a month or so I returned it and had a refund as I thought it just did not fit. I felt it was too small, and wondered if I had in fact been given a smaller size than I had originally been measured up for. This was the bike -

To add an update to that story, just before going to buy the above bike, I thought to myself that the OBW bike really had been a nice bike - it was just such a shame that it didn't fit me. And then I happened to look again at the original quote for it, which believe me I had gone over and over when I got the bike and wasn't happy with it. And then, for the first time, I saw, literally writ large....... the letter "L". I had been pretty sure that I had originally been fitted up for a size Large (I got a Medium) but thought I hadn't got any proof, but here was the proof, which for some reason I hadn't seen before. When I read that I felt so cross with myself for not having seen it, and also rather sad because I had, essentially, liked the OBW bikes very much.

That was September, and I knew that it would be sensible to wait until the spring of this year to do anything definite about getting another bike, as we had another grandchild on the way, due in January, and I had promised to go down to Devon to help look after daughter and baby while Marines husband was away soon after the birth. I did however spend time looking at my options. To cut a long story short, there aren't that many options in the UK if you want a step through, or mixte, touring bike. So I had whittled it down to two choices - either a German VSF Fahrradmanufaktur or a Dutch Koga, both mixte frames.

I should say here that it was another blogger, Brenda, at Cycling in the Sixth Decade who had first put me on to Kogas. She also put me on to  Cyclesense in Tadcaster who are one of the only three Koga dealers in the UK. I rang them and had a good chat to Dave there about aluminium, steel, sizing and other things. That's another thing about the Kogas - the bike I originally would have gone for was their steel Randonneur, but by the time of my phone call they had stopped making them, so if I bought a Koga it would be aluminium. I'd been convinced by everything I'd read that steel was not only real but better, but I was prepared to listen to other opinions....

On the question of size, Dave reckoned that going by my height of 5' 6 1/2" (I've since discovered that I've shrunk half an inch since I last measured myself, so am actually only 5' 6"!!) I would need the 50cm frame.

I couldn't make my mind up without actually seeing, and hopefully riding, these bikes. Given that the VSF bikes were much cheaper than the Kogas, the sensible side of me thought that it would be money well spent if I went to the only shop in the country that has a stock of these to try one out. That shop is in Cambridge, two or three hours by car from here or a bit of a trek by train. But I quite like treks, and I had been given a Senior Railcard for my birthday so off I went, having rung the shop first to see exactly which models and which sizes they had in stock. They didn't have any of the exact models I'd have bought in stock in my size  but I still thought it was worth going. Again they reckoned I'd need a 50cm.

Pause a minute to discuss size of bike - my inside leg measurement is 31", plus I know I've got long arms. Both shops had thought I'd need a 50 cm (that's the seat tube measurement by the way) but my instinct, plus what I'd read up about sizing, told me that I'd need a bigger size than this. This was partly based on one of the most useful things I've read about frame size, on the Wiggle website, where they say that if you are between two sizes, then measure your armspan. If it is greater than your height then go for the larger size, if it's smaller, then go for the smaller size. That seemed to explain my feeling that I needed a bigger size, as my arm span, though not greater than my height, is equal to it.

Well, my present bike seems to fit me pretty well. The seat tube, by my measurement, is 508mm (the frame is actually a 20") so a little more than the 50cm I was being recommended, and I knew I could probably quite easily handle a little more "reach", so all in all I had feeling I could do with bigger than 50cm. I know it is said that a small bike can be made bigger but a big one can't really be made smaller, but I somehow think I just tend to prefer a bigger bike.

Back to the Cambridge shop - I saw the 50cm but knew even before riding it that it would be too small, and it was. Another model in 52cm fitted much better, but they only do this size in a man's, which I didn't want. Actually they don't do women's frames any bigger than 50 cm which seems a bit daft to me. The mixte frame only comes in 55 cm, which could well have been too big, but the shop wasn't prepared to order one in for me to try unless I was going to definitely buy it.

The bikes themselves were fine, but somehow I wasn't as impressed as I had thought I might be. I was also slightly put off by the fact that the owner was thinking of shutting up shop for the winter!

So, back into Cambridge I walked, got on the train and later walked back across busy London, wondering why on earth people want to drink outside at the side of  busy Marylebone Road. Not far away there is one of those pollution monitoring things!

So, Koga it was. But by the time I rang Cyclesense to ask them to order me in a Traveller in the mixte ("Women's Sport Model") version, they had all sold out! However I decided that having waited all this time, I might as well sit back and wait a bit longer for the 2018 models to come in. However, I got some good news not long after, which was that Koga had built a few more Travellers. Cyclesense sent me the details and I jumped at the chance.

So a couple of weeks later Husband and I were on our way to Tadcaster for what turned out to be a very nice three day break. In the days beforehand my nerves had been quite wracked by thinking - have I made the right decision here? I didn't really want to go all that way and then find the bike wasn't what I wanted. I had asked them to order in a 53cm - was I right about that? What if it really was too big? And how was I going to get it home? On the train? That would have meant riding it to York, not far away but I haven't put a bike on the train for many a long year and I didn't really fancy doing so for the first time in decades with this new bike. However, Cyclesense are used to sending bikes and this was what we arranged would happen if I bought it. One problem ticked off the list. Things also worked out well as Husband had a few days off and we decided to go up together for three days.

On day two there we visited Cyclesense and I had a decent length ride on the bike round Tadcaster. Here I will point out that if you look at the Koga website and then at the Traveller (which they're not doing any more so why is it still there????!!) you'll see that my bike is not the same as the women's version, which is because, and this is where even I get confused and it's my bike - !! - what happened was that Koga took a Signature frame and built a Traveller......... I think...........so I've got a better frame than I would have got but it cost a bit more.

I knew I had been right about the frame size, and the bike was beautifully smooth to ride, but was it "the one"? Was it perfect? How can you tell without riding at least, say, 20 miles? My back felt slightly uncomfortable as I rode - a bad sign? I had read enough about the make to be convinced that they made very good bikes, and in the end I was convinced enough to buy this one. But I still wondered if I'd made the right decision! When it arrived the next week I took it for a very short ride. A few days later I took it for an 8 mile ride and thought - "Am I going to make it home?" as I was so uncomfortable! But I knew it was just the saddle...... I swapped the saddle for the Bontrager one on my Trek and that was tons better, partly because the rails were longer and so I could get it further back, which I needed to. We also altered the trekking/butterfly handlebar position until it felt about right. I wasn't at all convinced about these bars, and actually rigged up a wire coat hanger into roughly the same shape as the Thorn Comfort bars on my Trek and placed it in position on the Koga, to get an idea of what it would be like with those bars. But I decided to be sensible and patient and give them a decent trial before changing them, which would be more expense.

Regarding saddles, I would love to try a leather one again, either a different Brooks (i.e. not the B17 that the OBW bike had on it originally at my request) or the Selle AnAtomica Titanico reviewed on Lovely Bicycle and elsewhere, but for the moment funds won't allow, so I decided to be very sensible and patient (again!) and simply get another Bontrager. I have had mine for several years and am 95% happy with it.  The 5% bit is mainly "I wish it were leather!" It is the Bontrage Nebula Plus Womens in the 180mm size (I'd been measured up for the first one on the shop's ingenious tool for measuring sit bone size)  and I paid £40 for it in my local bike shop, Ridgeway Cycles. Once I had put that on I thought - "Right, that's all the tweaking that needs doing for now - time for a decent ride!"

So that weekend I took it out on a 43 mile ride, on a familiar and fairly flat route so that I could just concentrate on how the bike felt and not have to worry about the route. After about 9 miles I began to feel some discomfort in my rear end and also in my right thigh, but I thought I'd just take it easy, stop now and again, and see how things went. I stopped after about another 3 miles in Bampton and had a look in their art gallery, and after this break the discomfort seemed to have gone. I then cycled on another mile or so to Aston, where I had coffee at the Pottery there - they have a lovely indoor cafe with delicious food and also a big seating area outside, where there is room enough to take your bike if you want to have it within sight. An Americano (and it was a good one)  in one of their lovely mugs was £2 - that is cheap for Oxfordshire!

After that the bike was feeling good, so having set out thinking I'd probably do 30 miles or so, I felt confident to do 40. I got more used to the handlebars, and was glad I had given them a chance, although having said that I'm not 100% convinced about them. I find the main position at the front rather too narrow and straight, and it feels like I have less control (less stability) than with my wider riser Thorn Comfort Bars. The other positions are useful, but then it seems to me that you need them because of the inadequacies of the main position. Personally I'd rather have bars with fewer positions but where the main one is more comfortable. I know that Thorn says of its Comfort bars "There are two positions - cycling and not cycling!" I think that once funds allow I will probably change them.

One thing I do find incredibly good about them though is the leather and padding - it was very comfortable to hold,  and it was also a hot day but my hands didn't get sweaty at all. The synthetic grips on my Trek have done me well, and are still going strong after 20 odd years, but I did find on a recent trip in May in VERY hot weather that by the end of the day my hands were black and tacky, although that's the first time that's happened. So that's a preference now for leather grips.

Despite reassurances from Cyclesense that the good quality aluminium Koga uses would give me as comfortable a ride as steel, I had still been concerned that it wouldn't. Whether the bike sails over the bumps in the UK roads as comfortably as a high quality steel bike, I really can't say. But I can say that I am happy with it, and certainly think it is as comfortable in this respect as my steel Trek.

The forecast for the next few days is good. I've just been given a big sewing job but that can wait! The bike is calling.......


PS 19.7.17 Forgot to add that Husband did a video of the bike and put it on his YouTube channel. Click here to watch it.