I've always subscribed to the motto, "Be prepared." As such, I have a number of "EDC" (EveryDay Carry) items I don't like to be without. These include a Leatherman tool, flashlight, pens and pencils, my E-cigarette, and of course my phone. I used to use two belt pouches that would hold all that comfortably, but recently my needs changed and I needed a larger EDC kit. Now, many women solve this problem with a purse. I've never had much luck with purses because I'm a bit absent-minded, and I tend to leave them places. My preferred "purse" is a fanny pack; that way, it's actually attached to me.
Unfortunately, The best fanny pack I could find, while the right size to hold my stuff, was not very user-friendly - At least, for me. Some of the problems with this one:
- Cheesy plastic buckle
- Too many zippers; when I try to open a compartment without looking, I get the wrong zipper
- Phone pocket is horizontal; easy for the phone to fall out unless pocket is closed
- Zipper takes longer than simple snap or Velcro
- No D-rings for an optional shoulder strap, or for hanging keys
- No place to put pens & pencils for quick access
- Actually, the only thing even remotely "Quick access" is the phone pocket.
Obviously, something has to change. This happens to me all the time - I can't find a product I can be happy with, so I have to make my own! Now, I can sew, and pretty well, but that doesn't mean I want to put a huge amount of work into a project like this. Suddenly I realized that since all I need that I didn't need before was one large compartment, why not just make the large compartment and graft the pouches I've always liked onto the front? Wow, that would save a lot of time! I call this "simple but complex" because the finished product is complex, but by using commercial pouches instead of sewing them yourself, the project becomes reasonably simple (in theory...).
Most of these can be had at a good fabric store. You'll probably need only about 1/4 yard of the fabrics and foam padding.
- Nylon Cordura fabric (sometimes called Parapack or ballistic nylon; the Cordura has a rough finish and the Parapack is smoother). I bought mine on eBay.
- Lightweight smooth lining material
- Thin foam padding material, 1/4" to 1/2"
- Bias tape for finishing seams
- A sturdy web belt with quick-release buckle (I got mine on eBay; it has a metal buckle)
- Large sturdy zipper with two pulls that open from the center. You can buy a yard of zipper material with 2 pulls for about $10. (eBay)
- 2 or more belt pouches for whatever you want quick access to - must have belt loops
Strong polyester or nylon thread
- A piece of Kydex or leather to mount the pouches on the front
- "Chicago Screws" or small machine screws with nuts and washers
- Sewing machine
- Layout tools - rulers, square or 30-60-90 triangle for generating the pattern
- Chalk pencil
- Hot knife tool (optional)
- Old soldering iron (optional)
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Step 1: Plan and Layout
The first photo shows all my gathered materials, including the two pouches I plan to put on the front. At this point I haven't decided how I'm going to do that yet; we'll figure it out later.
The second photo is my blueprint. For something that's all rectangles like this, it's not worth the effort to make a paper pattern and pin it to the fabric; instead I just use a white chalk pencil, ruler, and square to lay the shape out directly on the fabric.
Take the front pouches you intend to use - here I'm using an all-purpose divided pouch and a standard phone pouch - and line them up the way you'd like them in the finished product. Measure the total width of all the pouches. This gives you a minimum width. You can make the pack wider than this, but if you want it narrower, you'll have to change or delete pouches. After deciding on a width, decide how tall and thick you want the main compartment. I decided on a main compartment as wide as the two pouches, as tall as the tallest pouch, and 1" thick.
Once you've established the size you want for your compartment, be sure to add 1/2" all the way around for seam allowance. My pack is to be 8 1/2" X 7 3/4", so the fabric will be cut to 9 1/2" X 8 3/4". I rounded the corners slightly, using a handy jar lid as a template. Lay out two identical rectangles on the Cordura.
When laying out the design on the fabric, the only edge you can count on as being straight on fabric is the selvage. This is the long edge just as it came off the loom, and I use it as my first reference. The first line is drawn parallel to the selvage, then the second line is 90 degrees from that. This way, you also make sure the grain of the fabric will be straight on the finished product.
I quickly discarded the idea in the sketch of joining the two rectangles as one piece of fabric; The reason will become clear during the sewing phase.
Note that my design has a "wraparound" zipper that allows the pack to be opened almost flat when fully unzipped. If you'd rather have just a top zipper, just cut a longer strip than the hinge described below.
Lay out two small rectangles of the Cordura that are about 1/2 the width of the pack long (i.e. my pack is 8.5", so I made the rectangles 4"), and as wide as you want the pack thick, plus 1/2" seam allowance all the way around. These will form the "hinge" that joins the two sides of the pack. My pack will be 1" thick, and the zipper, when installed, will be about 1" wide, so the zipper will actually form the sides, except for the hinge.
Don't forget the seam allowance, or your pack will be 1" too small!
Step 2: Cutting the Parts
Once the layout is completed, if you have access to a hot-knife tool, this is absolutely the best way to cut nylon. It eliminates fraying because the edges are fused, so you end up with a neat, precise cut. My hot-knife is a butane model, but before I had it, I used a regular soldering gun with the tip filed to an edge. The edge doesn't need to be knife-sharp, because you're melting your way through the fabric. Be sure to put an expendable surface under the fabric when hot-knifing. I used cardboard this time, but a scrap of MDF or plywood would be better.
You can cut freehand, or if you want a straight edge, use a wooden ruler with a metal edge. Why not just use a metal ruler, you ask? Because the metal will absorb a lot of heat from the knife; not only will your ruler get uncomfortably hot, it will cool the tip down so it won't work as well, if at all. You could just use a wooden ruler without the metal edge, but the straight edge would quickly become not-straight, because you'd burn up the ruler. I cut the rounded corners freehand. Put the hot knife away, you're done with that.
Once the Cordura is cut, pin the Cordura pieces (the large ones) to your lining material and cut (with scissors this time!) 2 pieces of lining the same size as the Cordura.
Now cut the foam padding material (with scissors) about 1/4" smaller than the finished size of your pack. In other words, if your pack is 7 X 8" (I'm rounding here for brevity), your Cordura and lining will be 8" X 9" and your foam padding will be about 6 3/4" X 7 3/4". You can have the foam only on the "body" side of the pack (The side that will be against your waist), both sides, or not use it at all. It's up to you, but it'll probably be more comfortable if it's at least padded on the body side.
Whew! okay, we've got the major pieces cut.
Step 3: Sewing Part 1
Take the two small "hinge" pieces, and pin them together, matching edges, right sides together. The right side (i.e. the "good" side; the side that shows) of Cordura is the rougher side that's not shiny. On Parapack, it's the least shiny side as well.
Stitch the short sides only together, turn right side out, press. and top-stitch close to the seam.
Take one piece of the Cordura and one piece of lining and pin them together, with the lining piece against the wrong side. The lining probably doesn't have a right or wrong side; if both sides look the same, it won't matter.
Center the finished hinge on the bottom edge of your Cordura-lining sandwiches, and mark with chalk or pins. This is where you will start and end your seam.
Here I'm using "Wonder Clips," which are a great addition to any sewing chest. Since this fabric is dense and stiff, the clips might be better than pins..
Stitch all the way from the first chalk mark to the second, 1/2" from the edge. You should wind up with a gap the same width as the hinge. Stuff one piece of the foam padding inside the assembly through this gap and massage it into place. I wanted to use 1/4" padding, but all I could find was 1/2", so I also "quilted" the piece with some stitching across and down to cut down on the bulk a bit.
With the hinge against the right side (the outside) of the Cordura, centered on the bottom gap, and edges even, sew the hinge onto the first side, 1/2" from the edge.
Repeat all this with the second side.
Step 4: Whoa! a Last Minute Addition
I decided I wanted a "hidden," Velcro-closed pocket on the body side of this; a thin one for important papers, a thin wallet or that emergency $20 bill. (It used to be a $5 bill, but, you know, inflation!)
I cut another piece of Cordura the same width as the pack, but about 2" shorter. This leaves room to sew on the belt later. Fold over the top edge to form a hem about as wide as the Velcro. I didn't install Velcro all the way across; a piece about 3" long should suffice.
Match the lower edges of the pocket and pack, and trace the upper edge of the pocket to locate the Velcro. Stitch the hook side onto the pack and the loop side onto the inside of the pocket hem.
Stitch the pocket onto the body side of the pack, matching lower and side edges.
Of course, this pocket is optional.
Step 5: D-Rings
A couple of D-rings are a nice addition, though optional. I decided to add them now. I've learned something important sewing this heavy nylon: The reason we didn't sew the lining to the pack with the "right" sides together in the last step is because I discovered this fabric is way too stiff to hold a good crease, no matter how much I iron it. I might as well just put my iron away for all the good it's doing me. We'll have to finish the seams with bias tape instead.
This means the traditional way of making a strap doesn't work either: sewing a tube with right sides together and turning it right side out afterward. Instead, I folded my strap piece in thirds, stitched down the edge, then top-stitched the sides to make a strap for holding the D-rings. I then cut the strap into 4" sections and sewed them together around the D-rings. I installed one D-ring on each side of the pack.
Step 6: Sewing Part 2: Installing the Zipper
Here's where the Arrrggghhh! factor comes in. I've always hated sewing zippers, even though with enough pins, tape, or clips it's not too hard, but still, with a zipper this big (I'm using a #10), getting around the curves can be tricky.
The first thing I did was use my hot-knife to melt one end of the zipper shut. No, wait: The first thing is make sure both sliders are on the zipper and facing the right way! You can ignore this if you have a factory-made zipper, but I'm using raw zipper stock that can be cut to the exact length needed. This zipper will work like most luggage-style zippers and open from the center.
The zipper should be overlapped onto the hinge by about an inch on each end. The right side of the zipper goes against the outside. I did not cut the zipper to length until I had one side almost completely installed. Since the zipper has a 1/4" seam allowance (to get the target thickness of 1"), and the seam allowance on the rest is 1/2", we'll have to offset the edge of the zipper inward 1/4". After coming around the last curve on the first side, I cut the zipper to length, again allowing about an inch of overlap onto the hinge, and melting the end shut with my hot-knife. I then sewed the second side of the zipper.
After all stitching on the zipper is done – I recommend two passes about 1/8" apart – you can trim the seam right up to the zipper edge with your hot-knife. See, I said you could put the hot-knife away after Step 2. I lied.
Step 7: Sewing Part 3: Installing the Belt
I learned very quickly with a previous pack that the belt needs to be sewn onto the pack rather than going through belt loops, because the belt loops cause all kinds of slop when the pack has a heavy load.
The belt needs to be affixed to the top back panel of the pack, just below the zipper. The right side of the belt is the surface to face the pack (if there is a right and wrong side). The buckle should be close to the pack. I'm right - handed, so I placed the buckle so it will be on my front when the pack is on my right hip.
Here's where more Aaarrgghhh! came in. I really wish I had an industrial-strength sewing machine, but I don't. Between the Cordura, padding, lining, and the belt itself, my machine just couldn't cut it; I could barely even get the assembly under the presser foot. I wound up hand-sewing the belt on with upholstery thread, a thimble, and pliers, and taking way more time than I had planned. I may install a couple of rivets on the corners at a future date.
Step 8: Installing the Front Pouches
The pouches originally had very nice steel belt clips on the back, as well as belt loops. I removed the clips because they would only add bulk to the final product. To do this, I had to drill out the rivets holding the clips on – not fun, but I got it done (Gee, I'm a poet!). Of course, I saved the clips for a future project! The plan was to make the pouches interchangeable, in case one wore out before the pack did, or I got a larger phone (Shudder!), or something else changed.
The idea here is to install a removable strap of some sort across the front of the pack that will fit through the belt loops on the front pouches. I decided to try a strip of .060" Kydex, a strong and somewhat flexible plastic often used for holsters and knife sheaths.
I cut a strip of Kydex about as long as the width of the pack, and 2" wide – the maximum size that can go through the belt loops on the pouches, and rounded the corners. I drilled 2 holes in the center and 2 holes in each end. I placed the strip where I wanted it on the pack and marked the hole locations, then used an old soldering iron to melt holes through the pack for screws. Do not use your good soldering iron for this - you'll never be able to solder with it again! Try very hard not to breathe the fumes from the hot-knifing - The foam smells really toxic when it burns.
I cut 3 small pieces of Kydex to back up the installation on the inside and drilled matching holes in them. These holes will be used to mount the front strip using "Chicago screws" - screws that have a "male" and "female" half instead of traditional nits. This keeps the inside smoother and less likely to snag or damage the contents (Not to mention your fingers!).
Because the front pouches will carry some weight, I also opted to drill holes in the small backer plates and hand-sew them to the pack to spread out the strain. this way, the screw holes won't be carrying the whole load. Sewing the backers on has another advantage: It compresses the foam lining so that it's easier to install the screws. I temporarily screwed the plates on to keep them aligned while I sewed them on.
I installed the center screws first and tightened them, putting the posts on the outside and the screws on the inside, where they're easier to get to. then I threaded the pouches on and installed the other four screws. The hardware can't be seen from the outside. I glued small pieces of tape over the screw heads on the inside, to further smooth things out and possibly prevent the screws from backing out.
Step 9: Finishing Touches
It's important to finish the interior seam allowances in some fashion, because otherwise they will get stuck in the zipper, and we don't want that!
After breaking a total of 5 needles sewing through many layers of fabric (more AArrrggghhh!), I decided to bind the seams by hand. Lacking any black binding tape, but with plenty of 22mm grosgrain ribbon, I simply folded the ribbon in half and pressed it to make binding tape. See, I said put the iron away. I lied.
After binding the seams, I then folded the binding tape toward the interior of the pack and sewed it down.
I also made some paracord zipper pulls so I wouldn't be clanking my way through life! I used this from Thingiverse.
Conclusion: I don't think I would want to do this again for a long time; It turned into more of an ordeal than I expected, but the final product meets my needs much better than anything I could find off the shelf!
Participated in the
Sew Tough Challenge