Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What's in a purse? (Construction version)

In my last post, I explained that when I made myself a new bag/purse/thing, I decided the main goal was that it would be a helpful transition tool, allowing me to zip effortlessly (hah) from home to office to class to airport. 

It's easiest to describe what I was going for if I explain what I wanted to fix about my old bag that I'd made in 2013.  In many ways, it was a fabulous bag, with lots of dedicated pockets for things I need, and therefore easy to find things in.  I also liked that I could just do a quick pat down -- literally just patting my bag in a few places to make sure I had wallet, phone, keys, planner, and water bottle -- so I didn't have to root around to make sure I was ready to go, once I had my bag in hand.  Here's a quick tour:

 So, what was wrong with this bag?
  • The carrying handles.  I tried to make a "bike" bag, with the shoulder strap coming out of the top and then down around one side, but I very seldom used this on the bike, and so the handle was just sort of . . . awkward.
  • Too-small phone pocket.  I made a dedicated pocket for a flip phone that I owned, but that baby broke and I got a smart phone, which unfortunately didn't fit in the phone pocket anymore.  Dang.
  • Speaking of size, the glasses pocket was large enough to hold my reading glasses, but not large enough to hold my sun glasses.  And my reading glasses would occasionally just fall out.  Which leads to . . 
  • Non-zippered pockets let things fall out.  The pencil holder seemed like a good idea at the time, as did the glasses pocket, but when these are made of upholstery fabric instead of mystery modern materials (like in my older store-bought bag), then ordinary things just slide out.  I lost a lot of pencils and pens, and I also lost a few pairs of reading glasses, before I just gave up and stopped using those pockets.
  • Too-many similar-looking pockets.  Once I started storing my glasses and cell phone in with the things in the existing pockets, it was harder to remember where thing were.  I knew where I kept my often-used things (like keys and cell phone and wallet), but I wasn't sure about my pencil sharpener, bandaids, and other seldom-used items.
  • I grew holes in the bottom of the bag. Okay, I didn't design those in on purpose, but my college gave me a Mac Airbook that is so thin that it doubles as a pizza cutter.  And the corners of this nifty little computer dug little holes into the bottom of my old bag, which I patched and re-patched.  The new bag has a reinforced base in hopes that I won't wound people by allowing my Airbook  to slice through the bottom of my bag and escape in a mad dash to freedom.
In designing a new bag, I cared naturally about price:  because I am, after all, Miser Mom.  I spent about a year scouting out yard sales in the hopes of finding a stash of upholstery (= sturdy) fabric in a color scheme I liked, at a Miser-Mom price.  I lucked out in August and found a yard or two of scraps at my neighbors' house, across the street, for $1.  Meanwhile, I'd been saving zippers and nylon straps out of freebie conference bags and old backpacks.   So I finally had enough raw material for a new bag, and I only had to spend a dollar.

Beyond the cost-to-me frugality aspects of this, I have to say that I also like that this bag is made of scrap material and scavenged accessories, so that making a bag this way is kinder to our landfills and the earth's natural resources, too.  

But really, the main reason I make my own bag is so that it can do exactly what I want. I can't find a bag like this in the store, so the only way to get a bag like this is to make it myself or hire someone else to make it.  And here's what I designed into this bag:

From the outside:  
  • Handles, small and large.  This photo shows a small "grab" handle, useful for hanging the bag or picking it up quickly.  You can't quite see -- but it's uber important to me -- that there's a shoulder strap on this, too.  I see a lot of women walking through airports with their hands clutching/carrying their purse, because their purse doesn't have a shoulder strap.  I want to be able to have my hands free when I'm carrying this bag!   [And, as a side note, the strap is long enough that I can actually throw it over my head and one arm, and use it on the bike.  So I really didn't need to do funky straps on the old bag.]
  • Zipper pocket for papers.  The zipper on the front is in a flat flap that covers the rest of the bag.  I pretty much only use this pocket in the airport, when I've got to keep my ID and boarding passes easily accessible.  I also use it to collect receipts while I'm on a trip.  Having this pocket front-and-center is useful when I've got a suitcase and this bag and important papers to juggle.
  • Pocket for my insulated bottle, same as in the last bag.  I love this.

When you pull the flap up and over, you can see a couple of my "pat-down" pockets and hooks.  These are different shapes (so it's easy to remember what goes where), and they're generally larger than in the old-bag-version. 

Here's my own personal set of pat-down items, as shown in the pictures above:
  • On the left is a tall zippered pocket for glasses and/or pencils.  
  • On the right, there's a pocket with an elastic top for my cell phone (the black circle is actually black mesh, so I can see a bit of the screen if the phone is lit up).  
  • Beneath the phone pocket is my money pocket.  
  • And hanging from a nylon strap is a key hook.  
All I have to do is pat-pat-pat and I know I have these important things with me.  As for those seldom-used, but still important things, I've moved them to mesh pockets inside the bag. When I zip down my "special supplies" front panel, there are two large zippered, but see-through (!) pockets.   Unfortunately, I couldn't find a cheap/used source of black mesh, so I had to make do with scrounged white mesh.  Not as aesthetic, but at least the white makes things easier to see.

One pocket contains work/electronic stuff: phone charger cord, the dongle that connects my computer to a projector for when I give talks, a thumb drive.

The other pocket contains "first aid" stuff:  chapstick, swiss-army card (with scissors and tweezers but sans knife because of airport security), a cloth napkin and metal spoon because I try to avoid creating trash when I eat on the road.  

Behind the front pocket, there's a larger pocket that holds the stuff I'm working on/with:  my computer-pizza-slicer of course, and also papers and my planner. That's the pocket that I'm constantly packing and emptying as I leave one place and arrive at the next, so it's nice to keep this stuff separate from the pat-down and seldom-used items that have more permanent residency in my bag.  I like that these go in my bag vertically ("portrait" mode instead of "landscape" mode, if you will).

So far, the bag seems to be working really well for me, where "working well" means getting me out the door quickly and confidently when I need to go from one place to the next.  It's nice having all my seldom-used stuff tucked away securely in the middle of the bag, not interfering with the things I put in and pull out constantly.   The bag is young, so the zippers all work smoothly still, and there are no pizza-cutter holes in the bottom of the bag.  We'll see if we can get this bag to last me six more years until my next sabbatical!

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