Philadelphia. Bagmaker-in-training. Obsessed with backpacks and messenger bags.


Leif Labs guides to bagmaking

I have made a terrible mistake. In talking about getting started in bagmaking, I completely omitted Leif Labs from my advice. That’s awful of me, because Cory is not only an awesome dude, but his tutorials have been huuuge in getting me going. Cory, I apologize, and everyone else? Read up.

This is version 2 of my messenger bag.

A couple of things:

This took me forever, and I was using the old machine for the majority of it. For this reason the construction is TERRIBLE. I have since improved my construction on projects, so things will look better soon.

But the goal of this is not to show you guys how awesome I am and how perfect my construction is. I’m learning, so I’m sorry to say you’re gonna see how the sausage is made. Crap construction is a part of that.

Cordura, vinyl-coated polyester, seatbelt and 1” webbing.

The front has two flip-down panels containing reflective material for transition between stealth and non-stealth mode. There are also vinyl pockets for dropping lights in.

These are way too big and I’ve already got a redesign for rev. 3 in the works.

One side of the bag has an adjustable ulock holster - size it once, forget about it. Also rips open for quick deploy.

The other side of the bag has a quick access pocket - this pocket rides super high on your shoulder - so if you tighten and adjust the bag, you can reach in without removing the bag. I use it for my glasses case, when I switch between sunglasses and regular glasses. This is my greatest achievement - being able to switch between these without having to rummage in my bag. My life is complete.

Under the flap there’s a knickknack pocket. Inside, a divider for laptop section, a pocket with a removable piece of foam for a pad, and a poor-man’s velcro wall for attaching stuff. Next time I will ABSOLUTELY just buy this

I didn’t have my hot knife and I for some reason I didn’t seal off the ends of my strap, so this is a bag with an expiration date. I love my hot knife, it makes things so much easier.

Annnnd there are a few other goodies in the design I’m not ready to talk about just yet. Soon, though - soon!

Amy Hoy's thoughts on mastering a craft

There’s a great show called Mastercrafts, a mini-series documentary from the BBC. I recommend you go out and find a way to watch it, right now.

Mastercrafts is all about — surprise! — master crafts:

  • blacksmithing
  • stonemasonry
  • thatching
  • hand weaving
  • stained glass
  • green wood furniture-making

Trades we barely even think about today; obsolete, cottage industries.

Nevertheless, there are still people who dream of learning these trades, and that’s where Mastercrafts comes in. Each episode follows the trials & triumphs of 3 would-be students during an intense 6-week course…

The article is specifically about startups, but this is perfectly applicable to learning a craft (since that’s what it’s about) like bagmaking.

Getting Started in Bagmaking

donorofboners asked:

Any hints, tips or advice for anyone starting out in bag making? Starting with a few little pouches myself.

I could write a book and I’ve only just started to learn.


Draw stuff out. Make miniature paper models. A friend of mine said that bag making is a visual puzzle - and that’s definitely true. Don’t just sketch your awesome finished product. Sketch the pattern you’ll use to make it.

Get some muslin. Paper also works (keeps its structure better) but if you want to make stuff you need to make prototypes. If you dive in with your fabric and just try it, you could waste time and fabric when a muslin would validate your design and cheap. I bought something like this when it was on sale and have been using it since to validate product designs.

Keep your edge cases in mind! So many bags I’ve seen and used don’t do this. Their bag looks awesome, but then you stuff it full and suddenly it won’t close because your straps aren’t long enough.


Craigslist. Craigslist craigslist craigslist. You can find some amazing sewing machine deals for cheap (or even free!) on Craigslist. Look for industrial sewing machines, especially Jukis. You will likely need to get it serviced by a technician, but a giant machine with a table is a great way to get started. I ended up using a free Craigslist machine for a year before upgrading to my current setup, which I bought new from a local vendor.

Don’t bother with cheap plastic machines. They simply can’t do what you need them to do. I naively assumed I could get a cheap plastic Brother and just start sewing. Ended up wasting thread, time, and money.

Some REALLY old machines are apparently not bad for sewing though. Something like a Singer 66 I’ve been told can be purchased/found for a steal and can plow through stuff. Haven’t verified this.

If you’re making full-sized bags, and not just pouches, go with a machine that has reverse. That Singer I used above had no reverse and it was a gigantic pain. I had to rotate the ENTIRE bag 180 degrees to do a poor man’s reverse. It sucked and I can’t recommend it unless you have no choice.

If you’re dropping real money, get a servo motor over a clutch motor. They’re quiet, WAY more energy efficient (to the tune of 90%), and you can manually control the speed for precision and details. My machine goes so slow and smooth it’s amazing.


Practice. Practice practice practice practice. You will need to learn how to handle your machine, how to thread it, how to listen for bad clunks and broken needles and what could be problems with it.

Go slow. As slow as you can. Slower. I had 0 sewing experience before I got into making bags, and going slow was a substitute for confidence and skill. I have logged a lot of time behind my machines at this point because I wanted to make sure things were right. Even my cutting was terrible at first (and is still pretty bad because I don’t have a good work area for cutting).

If you don’t know how to sew already, your stuff might be terrible when  you start (mine was). PUSH THROUGH THIS. It’s not the end of the world. No one cares except you and the people you are trying to impress. You are developing a craft and you need to push through the pain of failure. FAILURE IS A GOOD THING. You learn, you get better, and eventually your stuff looks amazing. But if you let failure dissuade you you will NEVER get better. I re-learn this every single damn day of my life - I cannot stress this enough, and you probably still will struggle with it. DO NOT FEAR FAILURE. KEEP GOING, MAKE CRAP, GET BETTER.

RIP STUFF OUT IF IT NEEDS FIXED. Trust me on this one. You’re going to feel some hesitation when you’re 90% of the way done with something because you’ll be angry if you mess up the last 10%. DO IT ANYWAY. You will mess things up. Stitches will drop, things will look bad, you’ll forget to go in reverse or go in reverse when you didn’t mean to or accidentally lead foot on the pedal. That’s fine. Just fix it and your stuff will look amazing. I have gotten into a mindset where I LIKE the handmade quality my stuff has. It shouldn’t look like a small child in Vietnam suffered to make your bag - it should look like a passionate person made it with care.

Feedback is very difficult to obtain because no one wants to hurt your feelings. Try and get feedback anyway and try to coax criticism out of your friends, family, anyone who will give it to you. Post your stuff online. Talk about it and ask for advice and get better.

Your machine needs regular love and maintenance. Make friends with your friendly local sewing machine tech. has an amazing community of REALLY skilled and experienced people. So does DIY Tactical. Read a lot of the stuff there to learn about techniques. Ask well-researched questions.

I’ve only scratched the surface, of course. But I hope this helps.

kpenz22 asked
hi man im looking for an all black bag with a slim silhouette, i usually carry stuff like bottles so i only care about its aesthetic. I dont really know what to say, though it would be cool if it was made of different materials, i think leather would be the safest choice. If you want an idea of what im looking for at first i wanted to cop a visvim messenger and then i wanted to cop the saturday surf nyc backpack, but i feel like it may be too bulky. Anyway great blog man have a nice day :)

oof, tough one. Slim, all black, based on the saturday surf nyc backpack it seems like you’re going for classic aesthetic. Well, I’m recommending a bunch with a future aesthetic because I think it’s much cooler. But I’ll give you some classic stuff too. Also I am sorry, I don’t like leather so I don’t have any good recommendations there.

I don’t know your price range, for one thing. What about the Nomin by Arcteryx? It’s $550. Or the Blade 15, which is a much cheaper $158.

Cote et Ciel offers some pretty sweet backpack designs that are more sculptural.

I’m also a big fan of Incase’s stuff. Highly futuristic looking:





Peters Mountain Works makes packs that might be up your alley. Or Topo Designs - the Daypack seems small enough. I also just heard about GUD bags out of the Ukraine. Seem cool.

Hope this helps!

Review - RoamReady Summit ultralight pack

When evaluating a technical problem, it’s important to move outside yourself. To look at things from a different angle. There are endless carry scenarios, each its own design problem. So when a bag looks to fulfill a specific use case, applying your typical approach may not be fruitful.

This is the conclusion I came to with respect to the Summit pack that RoamReady sent me to review. It’s designed for hikers, campers, and climbers - all operating in an situation very different from the urban environment of Philadelphia. As I came to the understanding that this pack is not *for* cycling, I realized that while I could not recommended it for cyclists looking for a daily pack, that’s not really the point. It’s like buying a Fiat and giving it a poor review because it performed badly in an offroad park.

So instead, I will be giving a breakdown of this pack on its technical merits. Fabric, design, construction - measures by which I will be able to adequately judge the pack. I didn’t do any hiking or climbing with it, but I can certainly talk about the design behind it.

The pack carries 49 liters, fully extended. This is almost entirely vertical, a tried and true design decision for hiking packs. For longer distances, this makes sense, as weight on the sides increases pressure on the shoulders (due to the rotational pressure as the load moves away from your center of gravity). Carrying high and center is more stable and just feels better - it’s why I wear my messenger bags high.

The main textile used in the pack is Cuben fiber. This stuff is $39 a square yard. Here comes the science: RoamReady’s site says this:

Cuben fabric utilizes Spectra threads that are laminated to a rip-stop polyester membrane. Spectra is 3 times the tensile strength of Steel while weighing 1/3rd the weight of Cordura.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear, another manufacturer of Cuben packs, says this:

Technically speaking, Cuben fiber is a laminated fabric made using patented technologies with unidirectional prepregnated tapes of in-line plasma treated fibers that are spread into mono-filament level films. In more simple terms, Cuben fiber is made by sandwiching Spectra or Dyneema polyethylene fiber filaments a thousandth of an inch thick, in various arrangements between thin outer layers of polyester film. The “sandwich” is then melded together in a high-pressure autoclave. Cuben fiber is lightweight, highly durable, and is 50-70% lighter than Kevlar, four times stronger than Kevlar, and allows flex without losing strength. It is also less than half the weight of silnylon, has low specific gravity (floats on water), high chemical resistance, excellent UV resistance and is 100% waterproof.

Let me tell you, I can certainly vouch for both the lightweight and waterproof aspects. Owing not only to the fabric itself, but also RoamReady’s construction, the pack was completely waterproof during my trials, including multiple bike trips in heavy downpour. And as for the weight? It was barely there. Cuben fabric does not add significant weight to your carry setup - an important factor in ultralight backpacking.

The material didn’t seem to appreciate odd shapes that pushed against it - there were no tears from that (the stuff is strong) but it also isn’t very accomodating. Items bulged and the fabric didn’t give much, so keep in mind that if you’re carrying bigger or oddly-shaped stuff, you will probably want to give the placement of your items consideration when packing (lest your item press against the pack material and give it a weird shape).

The front of the pack has two lines of loops from base to top for attaching climbing gear (or whatever else you want). I used these mainly for my U-lock and a carabiner or two. At the base of the pack are two ice-axe loops - great if you need them, but I didn’t have an opportunity to carry an ice axe around town. Probably for the best.

The mouth of the pack has a small bar of velcro for closing it, and a buckle on either end for closing it drybag style. This was the main way that I closed the bag when I wore it, and it was nice that I could still buckle it when the back was overflowing with groceries or other such nonsense. I’ve complained before about rolltops that I couldn’t close when overfull, so I think the drybag style is a good way to make sure it can close regardless of capacity.

Zack and his crew also included side buckles for closing the bag in a way that’s popular with ultralighters these days - I personally didn’t see the reason behind this kind of closure over a drybag style, but the added benefit is that if you don’t use them to close the bag, the straps come around the front of the pack for securing bigger loads (like, say, a sleeping bag). I didn’t have any oversized loads that fit the mark here, but I do appreciate extra straps for external loads. Combined with the ladder loop system on the front of the bag and some easy to make custom harness systems, you could definitely rig up a carry system for whatever you’re hauling.

On the back of the pack, the straps are about two inches wide with some very thin foam inside. They were comfortable, especially combined with the sternum strap and waist belt, both which I used whenever possible.

Both straps have an elastic loop designed specifically for a camelback tube - I clipped my Boombotix Rex to one and it seemed to do fine, but elastic is not ideal for load bearing capabilities, so I suggest asking RoamReady to replace it with a stronger material if that’s one of your use cases.

The straps are attached to angled Dyneema flaps sewn into the bottom of the bag, and cinch pretty tight, which added to the feeling of security with the sternum strap and the belt.

Below these loops are two vertical straps with a adjustable sternum strap. You can move it up or down to suit your preference, and although it sometimes moved in between rides, the sternum strap stayed in place when it needed to. There’s a lot of extra material on the straps, though, something I’d like to see made more efficient. It flapped around while riding, which was uncomfortable. On a good note, both strap sides were adjustable, which meant that I could make it as tight as I wanted.

There were some issues with the attachment points of the straps on which the sternum strap was mounted - Zack told me in a phone call that he was experimenting with needle sizes on this pack, and discovered that larger needles damage the fabric. This resulted in a perforation at the attachment points, and they did rip somewhat. He told me that RoamReady has since moved to microtex needles, eliminating this issue.

On the seam attaching the back portion to the front, there are four one-inch sliders attached with webbing. These are meant to add modularity to the pack, so that you can add a camelback system or whatever else you might need. I didn’t attach anything to these, but they add functionality, customization, and extensibility to the pack, which is good design. Here you’ll also see the straps for the alternate closure method. These straps have a sewn-in strap management system that is nice. Simply roll up the excess and close the velcro, and it won’t dangle.

The hip belt is more Cuben fabric wrapped around foam, about 4 inches wide. It’s removable and attaches inside a loop with velcro. I used the pack with the hip belt removed for some of the time, then attached it and tried it with the belt attached, and I ended up enjoying having the belt. Distributing load to my hips was great for grocery shopping or heavier loads.

Inside the bag, there’s… well, not much, and that’s exactly how RoamReady likes it. The bag is a bucket, designed for people who either 1. want to attach stuff to the outside or 2. carry their stuff in pouches (like I do). Simplicity is a virtue, especially in the ultralight world. The inside seams are sewn with kevlar thread for the initial stitches, followed by checmical adhesive for sealing the Cuben fabric, and finished with grosgrain because Zack wanted a nicer look.

There is back padding - a frame sheet that they designed to add rigidity and padding to the pack. It’s removable, and has two aluminum rods in a V shape. This increases the stiffness, which means more comfort. And they’re arranged in a V for better flexibility when moving with the pack. The foam is dense and comfortable.

Construction-wise, I think you can definitely see where RoamReady was experimenting with their techniques here. There are the aforementioned rips in the shoulder straps, and a few places where some extra time would do them a world of good, like the bartacking on the bottom of the shoulder straps and around the mouth of the bag where the drybag-style closures are attached. But there were no major issues or indicators of catastrophic failure, and with the switch to Microtex needles, the quality is likely to be better.

So there you have it. I can’t say that I have the skills or experience to truly evaluate this pack as an ultralight option, since I’m more of a carry-maximalist. And the lack of quick access and the size definitely aren’t going to suit most people who are looking for a daily pack. But this pack has a lot going for it, especially with climbers (tons of outside attachment loops) and hikers (seriously, it weighs like, sixteen ounces). And the best part of this, and the reason I can recommend RoamReady, is the customization. Zack says that he designs for his needs and keeps it simple as possible, and then wants customers to go over the pack and talk about specifics to make sure the pack will do what they need. This is what’s needed in pack design - the adaptability and the design of the “perfect” pack, made to do exactly what you need.

Pick one up here if this is your style or you think that ultralight is what you’re looking for.

(Editor’s note: Zack asked me to return the pack, and I am doing so.)



Fast Pack FridayPersonal Pt.3

I had another experiment with creating a micro pouch using minimal materials. This came out a little smaller that I’d hoped as, after sewing inside out, it lost a bit of width. 

The design of the opening has a slight overlap that stops items falling out, but allows enough access to retrieve the items inside. With this smaller size than I was expecting I wondered what to use it for. I realised it was the perfect size to store a few ranger eyes and so decided to call it the Micro Ranger Pouch. There are a few developments to make before I’m happy with it, so look out for updates on that.

Check out the other parts of today’s personal Fast Pack Friday here:
Part 1
Part 2
• Part 3

Love this ‘lil pouch!

I love it.


This pack was made for Jasper Clarke, a photographer based in London, England. I’m not a fan of bigger backpacks but I’m extremely happy with the way the silhouette came out. The bag looks massive when fully packed out, in fact it doesn’t look massive, it is massive. But when it’s empty or near empty with the usual laptop, jacket, waterbottle and maybe camera, it looks great. One of the challenges of a packmaker is making a pack that looks equally as good when empty. This is also the first pack where I’ve used real suede for the bottom and I’m super stoked with the punchy-ness of its colour. Yes!

Kickstarter Watch: Pappeal Bags

  • The Project: Tyvek bags!
  • The Timeline: 7 days to go (ends March 26, 2014)
  • The Funds: $21,294 to go ($8,706 of $30,000 goal raised)
  • The Goods: $25 for a backpack, messenger, or duffel
  • The Delivery: Projected delivery date of May 2014.

Pappeal is trying to deliver a set of classic bag designs with an interesting twist - using Tyvek for the material. Tyvek, for those of you who don’t know, is similar to paper. It’s spun from polyethylene fibers. It’s difficult to tear. It’s impermeable to liquid water, but breathable (Tyvek shoes, anyone?).


The backpack is a standard version of the classic backpack. Front pocket, inner zip pocket, grab handle (which you don’t see every day on this style), padded straps. At 11.8” × 15.7” × 4.7” (roughly 14 liters), it would make a great minimalist pack for people who want something interesting but simple.


The messenger is the piece that caught my eye. At 13.4” × 9.4” × 3.1”, it’s probably going to suit most peoples’ needs for the everyday trip to the office or classroom. I intend to use it as a go-to bag for when I’m hitting up a hackathon or code sprint. Pop a laptop, a notebook, and my power brick in there and go.


The duffel is interesting not only for the fabric but also because it folds in on itself, making it a stowaway bag especially suited to travel. You can pop this in your suitcase if you think you’ll need extra luggage. I like it.

The designs themselves are simple. There are riffs on the classic shoulder bag that you see so many people walking around with, the standard backpack, and even a duffel. But what makes me a backer of this project (I backed the messenger) is the price and the prospect of getting to try out a bag made of a unique material. If you think Tyvek is interesting, or you’re just looking for a unique bag to add to your collection, take a look.

(Editor’s note: I’m a backer of this project. The creator of the project gave me permission to use his images, but we’ve had no other contact. I don’t know him, he didn’t ask me to endorse his campaign. I just think it’s a cool project.)

varenyarao asked
I was interested in your post about the acronym bags, the only question is, are they water proof? And if not can you suggest some waterproof bags with a laptop compartment. I really like the ready for anything kind!

Hey, thanks for the question! Depending on the material, Acronym bags can be waterproof. A lot of them are made with Xpac, which is definitely waterproof. I know they’ve also made some bags out of Limonata fabric, which I don’t believe is waterproof.

As for some other bags? Well, check out Bagjack - they make the bags for Acronym and definitely have a similar aesthetic. You might also consider Triple Aught Design5.11 Tactical, or Javran if you’re into the tactical thing. Most will fit a laptop with a sleeve, which I think you should do rather than a built-in compartment.

Hope this helps!

UPDATE: As Bagman below pointed out, the TAD and 511 bags above probably can’t be considered truly “waterproof.” I think they’d be fine for light to medium exposure, but the liners are still water permeable. If you want something truly waterproof, I stand by my Bagjack recommendation.