I love hiking around in the woods to look for mushrooms, take interesting photos, collect owl pellets, and spy on animals of all sorts. But one thing I don't love? Shouldering a big bag of guide books and miscellaneous gear when I could have my hands completely free.
I tried stuffing my various lenses, collection jars, flashlight, etc. into my pants pockets, but, honestly, the "pockets" in women's clothing—if any are included at all—range in size from pitiful to rage-inducing. (If they were more amply apportioned, of course, the multi-billion dollar handbag industry would suffer, but I digress.)
I wanted something more substantial. Enter the Nature Lover's Utility Belt!
With 18 pockets, two foraging bags, and a metal clip, the Nature Lover's Utility Belt! is a veritable clown car for all of my stuff. Best of all, it is fully customizable for all kinds of hands-free activities. So, whether you like to paint outdoor scenes or monitor tree frogs, you can easily modify this design to accommodate your specific needs.
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Step 1: Gather Your Supplies.
You will need:
- Pants that fit or are slightly too large for you
- Pins, needle and thread for hand-sewing
- Scissors (or a seam ripper)
- Measuring tape
- Carabiner, miscellaneous hardware (OPTIONAL)
Mesh bags for foraging (OPTIONAL)
OTHER (OPTIONAL) SUPPLIES
- Paper and pencil for sketching your own custom pocket ideas
- Velcro, buttons, or other fasteners of your choice
- Sewing machine
Step 2: Take (and Measure) Your Inventory.
I based this project on the stuff I routinely take with me when I visit the woods. Your own items will vary, depending on what you like to do and what you want to be able to carry. To get started, lay out all the stuff you think you'll want to fit in your Customizable Utility Belt. Measure and record the dimensions of each item. You'll use these measurements when it's time to design your pockets.
Of course, if you like, you are welcome to make an owl-y pocket like I did. You'll see the pattern for that in Step #4.
You should also take stock of any pockets your pants may already include. How many are there? How deep are they? Which of your items, if any, will fit into these pockets as-is?
Step 3: De-Pant Your Pants and Begin Sewing.
- To "de-pant" your pants, first take scissors or your seam ripper and remove the stitches from the crotch area.
- Next, take out the stitches partially down the inside seam of each leg. Leave the outside seam of each leg intact.
- Smooth out the fabric around the fly area, so that it will lay flat. Pin this into place for sewing later.
- Pull each pant leg up through the waist area of your pants. (What were the thigh areas of your pants will become four extra-sneaky pockets inside your Customizable Utility Belt.)
- Smooth out any wrinkles and fold pant legs along what will be the bottom of the belt. Use a measuring tape to make sure both sides are even. (I made my belt about 10 inches high, but you might want yours to be something different. (The world is your oyster, my dear!)
- Once you are satisfied that your measurements are even and the legs are in a good position, pin them in place along the waistline of your pants. (I also pinned them across the bottom of my belt, so they would stay put for the next step.)
- Cut the pant legs off just above the waistline. (I chose to trim a little extra off of this area when it was time to sew.) Set aside the extra pant leg material—soon you will use this to make extra pockets.
~~~ The Sewing Part ~~~
- Fold over the cut edges of what were your pant legs. Sew over the folded area (as if to hem.) This will be the inside edge of your inside pockets, so you don't want them to fray.
- Make sure the inside pockets—what used to be the thigh areas of your pant legs—are lying flat and are positioned where you want them. Stitch them into place along the outside seam of the waist portion of your pants.
- Next, stitch them into place along the back seam of the (back) waist portion of your pants.
- Finally, stitch on either side of your pants zipper opening in the front.
- If your pants originally fit you pretty well, you may need to stitch around the zipper area and remove excess fabric. (This will enable you to open the fly and slip on your utility belt like you used to when it was still a pair of pants.)
Step 4: Create Your Custom-Sized Pockets.
What you do next depends on the number and size of the pockets you are going to need for your stuff. Sketch the front and back side of your utility belt, along with any existing pockets. Don't forget to include the four new interior pockets made up by what had been your pant legs.
My pants originally had two small pockets in front and two smallish pockets in back. I added:
- four large interior pockets (plus one small compartment for first aid items)
- two extra pockets over the original pair of small pockets in back
- two new front pockets (in the shape of an owl just because I love owls)
- five teensy pockets on top of my outer owl pocket
~~~ Adding an Owl Pocket ~~~
To add your own owl pocket, you can examine the template above and download the pattern I've provided. (I've also included some written instructions and a quick video.) You might need to increase or decrease the size of the pattern, depending on the size of your pants. You should see two main owl pockets—a tall skinny one that looks kind of like a heart and a shorter, fatter one that goes over the top. You'll also notice one small pocket.
- Size and print out the pattern
- Cut out individual pieces and pin to the excess pant leg fabric.
- Carefully cut around each shape. (You'll need to cut out five of the tiny pockets, if you want to arrange them on your owl like I did.)
- Stitch all the way around each piece to prevent fraying.
- Next, stitch the tall-and-skinny heart-shaped owl base piece over the front/fly area of your utility belt. Leave the top third of this one unstitched, so that it can function like a pocket. (I added buttonholes and corresponding button eyes, so that it could be fastened into position. I also added a little metal clip to hold extra stuff and to serve as my owl's beak.)
- Arrange and pin the small pockets onto the outside of the shorter, fatter (outer) owl pocket and sew into place. Leave the top edge of each of these loose, so that they can function as individual pockets.
- Stitch the shorter, fatter (outer) owl pocket over the top of the owl base pocket. Leave its top edge loose, so that you can also use this one as a pocket.
Step 5: Add Final Touches.
You can add velcro, zippers, buttons, or other fasteners to your large, interior pockets to help keep them closed. (I used velcro on mine.)
Also, I stuffed my two mesh foraging bags inside the larger of the two, front owl pockets—one on either side. I knotted the ends and pulled them out, so they'd pop out near the owl's eyes, giving him a great horned owl kind of look.
Hat-tip to Greg Hume for the lovely photo of the great horned owl pictured above. [CC BY-SA 3.0]
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