My New Backpack

Speaking of stuff, my kids were in complete shock this past spring when I bought a small purse from the local thrift store.  You see, I already had a purse, so why would I need another one?

I’m sure most women reading this would not need an explanation, but in case there is any confusion, my purse is a very colorful pattern, and it just didn’t go with several outfits.  Practical Me, for years, has always stuck with plain materials for my pocketbooks, but in recent years I have thrown caution to the wind and added some pizzazz.

Of course, I tend to wear solid shirts and pants, so a loud purse wasn’t a big deal.  Then, Impractical Me started adding pattern dresses and shirts into my repertoire.  I know, crazy.  Symptomatic of a mid-life crisis.

Plus, my regular purse was large, and sometimes I only wanted to carry a few things.  It seems silly to carry a big purse when inside is a wallet, some lip balm, keys and a cell phone.

Then my sister and I went down to St. Augustine and I lugged my camera everywhere.  My camera is not light.  It does fit in my purse, but when traveling I tend to carry around more than a wallet and lip balm, so it was pretty full.  I decided that what I really needed was a backpack.  We shopped.  I looked.  I concluded that backpacks for women come in two types: inexpensive but ugly or attractive but way more than I was willing to spend.

Keep in mind that the last purse I bought myself was found at a thrift store.

Then I found this backpack pattern online.  For free.  All it cost me was time.  Well, not exactly true.  I had to buy super-stiff interfacing and batting.  But I bought no fabric or thread for this project, and I had a coupon for the other supplies.  Sewing did take up the better part of the weekend, but I love the results.  It was my first real quilting project.  And it uses a recycled uniform.

The flag hides where I stitched velcro to hold the flap closed.  I may change that to a magnetic clasp at some point.  No rush.  The velcro came off a uniform pant pocket.

The straps are made from the collars of two uniform blouses.  They were the perfect length.

I was especially excited to use velcro closure pockets from the legs of the pants for the lining.  The big ones on the front and back are designed to hold knee pads (in the uniform – not my backpack).  One side pocket is the perfect size to hold sunglasses (in my backpack – and on the uniform).

I used the back panel of the pants to make the flap.  I included the back pocket which has a button closure.  It’s a typical back pants pocket so it’s a good size.  I think the top of the backpack is the perfect place to store keys and a cell phone.  This flap was probably the second most tedious job to do.  I had to pull the pocket aside to do the quilting, then make a slit in the backing to tuck the pocket under the quilting so the pocket wasn’t quilted shut.  Then I added some faux-quilting to the top part of the pocket.  The stitches aren’t perfectly aligned, but it wasn’t an easy job to do!  I’m satisfied, and I know that 85% of the world will never notice.  And the other 15% who do will know that it’s not perfect because I made it myself.

The last detail is this extra fabric, unaligned-to-anything stitch running in an arc on the side.  What is it doing there?  Well, that’s the way the pants are made.  That fabric is where the seat of the pants begins to curve around (this would have been the right back pocket).  My husband asked me if I was going to remove the fabric.  I could have, but then it wouldn’t have this quirky extra-fabric-unaligned-stitching-unique-to-my-bag-because-it’s-made-from-a- real-uniform look.

It’s art, I told him.  I also told him if I hadn’t wanted that stitch there I could have just used the ACU fabric I bought in a bolt that’s still lying around my house.

As I sewed this weekend, I vaguely paid attention to the hours it took me and I decided that if I were to make this for someone else I wouldn’t do it for less than $80.  It just took that much time.  I’d do it for me; I’d do simpler patterns for my kids (the most tedious job was the inch wide stripes that I had to sew and iron flat…if I did wider stripes, it would be easier and less work).  But I won’t be cranking these out for general sale.

But I like the results so well that I really think I’ll search the online patterns before I ever buy another purse again.

What do you think?

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Clever Idea of the Day

I cleaned my closet!  It’s not 100% organized, but at least you can open and close the door.  I have more craft projects this weekend, so I’ll be in there later today getting the bins straightened out.

Fritz is camping with the Boy Scouts this weekend.

Separately, Bill and Billy are camping with the Cub Scouts as well.  They will take our 6 person tent.  A few years ago, the tent poles were left behind after a camping trip.  We went back, but they were gone.  We hoped that someone from the group (it was another Scout camp) had picked them up and would put out an email asking who had lost their poles, but it didn’t happen.  Apparently, this isn’t such an uncommon experience, because LL Bean sells replacement poles.  Replacement poles are much cheaper than a new tent. 

Unfortunately, the new poles did not come with a carrying bag like the original poles had.  Perhaps bags are also sold, but we didn’t go back and check.  We’ve just grumbled about it for years.  Of course, we don’t think about it except when we go camping.  Like this weekend.

Have I ever mentioned that I have a lot of old Army uniforms?  Or that I like to recycle them?  Or that I like to recycle any fabric whenever possible?  The blouses (the tops) have a big portion of fabric that is useful, but the pants are not as easy to use because there are so many seams.  I have made some bags for boys (“man-purses”) which have been very popular (in fact, the kids need some bags to hold piano music and I think I’ll use the pants if they are wide enough…one more project on my to-do list).

Well, not only was one leg of an Army uniform the perfect size for a bag for tent poles, the ankle has a ribbon already in to cinch it tight.  I actually already had one leg detached from a pant, so this project merely involved a 3 minute session with the sewing machine to put in an extra-strong seam along the cut edge.  The finished product:

It even has room at the bottom to store the rubber mallet my husband uses to put the plastic tent pegs in.

I have at least a dozen pairs of pants in my closet.  If you need a bag for your tent poles, let me know.  I didn’t put on a carrying strap, because I didn’t think it was really necessary (car to tent site being generally less than 10 yards), but I could add one later if I change my mind.

The BEST Toiletry Kit EVER

Fritz left today for a week at Boy Scout camp. I’m sure he will have tons of fun, especially when he works on his Rifle Shooting Merit Badge.

Previously, whenever he went camping, he used a super deluxe toiletry kit: a zip lock bag. We spare no expense in outfitting our children for their adventures.

This year, I decided to make him a real toiletry kit. I found this well-done tutorial, but of course, that’s a bit too girly for anyone with a Y chromosome. My boy needed something manly, and there’s nothing much manlier than a military uniform. And we have plenty of those.

I hate to get rid of my husband’s old uniforms. There is so much useful fabric there. And cool pockets, too. You can try to sell old uniforms at an Army/Navy store, but they don’t net you much. You can donate them to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, and I suppose a homeless man, somewhere, will be very grateful. Or you can keep them until you come up with a project that would look cool in camouflage.

Like a toiletry kit.

Here is Fritz’s kit. Not only is that a genuine BDU top, that name tape was stitched on by a real imported Korean seamstress at some Clothing and Sales store at some Army post somewhere (probably PA or NJ). Can you believe that both my husband and Fritz asked if I was going to cut off the buttons? They have no sense of artistry.

Here I have unfolded the kit so you can see both the front and back. If you are familiar with BDU tops, you will recognize the top pocket on the front and the bottom pocket on the back. Those pockets button closed and can hold a number of items securely.

This is the inside. It is made from a different camo pattern – the desert shade. The green uniform was worn by my husband in Kosovo (and various places in the US). The tan uniform was worn by one of his friends in Iraq and Afghanistan. The toiletry kit has been around the world. The friend was getting rid of his uniforms, so my husband took them, because he knows I can’t stand to throw Army uniforms away (seeing as how there is so much useful fabric there). I followed the tutorial for the tool pocket on the top side shown here, but decided to just use another uniform pocket for the other side.

To hold the kit closed, I used two buttons from the tan uniform and their button holes which I just stitched to the tan fabric before stitching the two sides together.

I’m pleased with the results, and the best reward was having my son say, “Cool!” I plan to make two more like these (one for Billy and one for my girlfriend’s son) and then 3 half camo/half girly fabric for Katie, Jenny, and my girlfriend’s daughter. I’ll be sure to post photos when I do those.

The BEST PART is that I made the whole thing without a single trip to the store. Except for the thread, which I had on hand, all components came from the uniforms (small note: I did not use any cotton batting or interfacing in this kit as the tutorial suggests, nor did I put in the zippered pocket).

I love recycling Army uniforms.