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Vibram “Barefoot” Mary Janes!

June 8th, 2011 2 comments

Be still my heart!   I can now walk in “barefoot” comfort with shoes on.

I love my Five Fingers, but, let’s face it, if you wear those babies around town you’re going to be discussing your feet with everyone you encounter.  Merrell (whose shoes, along with Clarks, fit me better than any others) got together with Vibram and decided to solve this serious social problem.

Five Fingers have a separate little pocket for each toe, and they are amazingly comfortable shoes; Mr. Noile and I wear ours kayaking.  The general idea is that they allow you to walk just as you do when barefoot; a whole bunch of runners swear by them, and feel they’re much better for feet and legs than standard running shoes.

These Mary Janes are the covert version of the barefoot locomotion.  There are a bunch of other styles in this line (these are called “Pure Glove”), but this is the one I’ll wear every day.  Someone described wearing these as being like wearing socks with soles; it’s true!  Sooo good to the feet!

Oh, and they’re machine washable.  They may just possibly be the perfect shoe in which to travel; they’re light AND sturdy — as well as being readily removable if you have the misfortune of encountering TSA.

These might be barefoot shoes even Lsa could love .  .  .

Categories: Accessories, Adventure/Travel Tags:

Oh Say, Did We See . . .

April 15th, 2011 6 comments

If a bunch of sewing bloggers get together, you’d expect them to discuss sewing, right?  And fabric, and style, and color, and patterns and a hundred other relevant things, right? And when a few of us met up recently, that’s exactly what we did.  but that wasn’t all we did.  Shams generously brought a huge assortment of  See’s Candies with her from California, and we consumed them enthusiastically, but not without a little trauma.

See’s, for those of you who aren’t fortunate enough to know it, is a regional candy company, started long ago by the iconic Mary See in her kitchen.  Many of those of us who no longer grace San Francisco’s hills mourn the loss of easy access to See’s almost more than no longer living in that glorious city .   .   .  See’s candies are just wonderful. So there were four of us slavering over the box when Shams opened it, and three of us gasping in horror (I think this is no exaggeration) when Shams took a large knife and rent each candy asunder with a mighty blow!

Yes, Shams committed See-icide.  That woman has lived in San Francisco so long that she takes See’s for granted!  Shams seemed to think this was a practical means of checking the interiors, but, I ask you, where is the reverence???

If you check her blog, you’ll see that she’s posted a picture of Peggy holding the weapon.  This was obviously an attempt to cover her  tracks, and (dare I say it?) frame the innocent Peggy.  You’ll also note that I am still in shock, moments later, as Peg is attempting to graciously move past the scandalous moment.  I can’t prove that Carolyn was as stunned as I was, but it’s my recollection that she was, as any right-minded person would have been.

I should have traveled with my laminated See’s guide.  I keep it by my desk at all times, and yet, in this, our time of need, I left it at home.

We did shop, but that was later, after we were very, very well fed.  And yes, we ate every bit of the See’s, every single delicious bite.

Categories: Adventure/Travel Tags:

Packing Cube ID

February 3rd, 2011 2 comments

I’ve been using packing cubes forever; I love the way they organize my traveling life, even though I often forget what I’ve packed in each cube.  Since I generally wear black while I travel, everything looks the same inside a packing cube.  This is a bit inefficient.

I’ve now solved this vexing problem by sewing Demeritwear badges onto my packing cubes.  Here’s the badge I’ve sewed to the shoe cube (there’s a high-heel patch for those  who are less utilitarian than I):

This one’s for the “tops and bottoms” cube:

This for the outerwear cube (hoodie, jacket — stuff for in the environment, hence the “earthy” patch):

This sporty one is for specialty gear (workout clothes; bathing suit; silk  longies for winter):

And this badge is for  the “dainties” cube (Demeritwear calls this a “tanning” patch, I think, but it gets the point across):


(Got a shadow across the bottom of the “tanning” patch.  I’ll try to post a better image when I get a chance.)

It doesn’t hurt a bit that these patches make me grin every time I see them.  Sometimes a weary traveler just needs a bit of whimsy along the way.

Note:  I think all Demeritwear badges can be ironed-on now, but I always prefer to sew.

Disclosure:  Please read it a the bottom of the Case Mod post. It doesn’t amount to much, but I want to keep the FTC happy.  That’s our job as citizens, don’t you think?  Keeping the government happy?

Categories: Adventure/Travel, Fun Tags:

SewStylish Tunic

January 5th, 2011 8 comments

There’s  nothing like the phrase “month-long trip with one suitcase” for getting my attention, so I took one look at the “Comfy Cowl Top” article in the Winter 2010 SewStylish/Quick Stuff to Sew or Whatever — see note below and ran with it.

The idea is that the top in question (really a tunic), made in an interesting fabric, would work as a top layer, and equally well all by itself, covering a multitude of temperature/social situations.  Perfect!  I”d show you a picture of theirs, but I can’t find one online, and I’m not going to go through the hassle of scanning it.   Too bad — theirs is cute in a gold mesh.

I knew that I had just the right fabric for my version — A couple of years ago, I bought this light silk bouclé from Kashi at Metro Textile:

It was an unusual purchase for me (so bright!), but the colors were wonderful, so I couldn’t resist.  My mother-in-law also bought a length, which was quite adventuresome for her, as she leads an utterly monochromatic life, clotheswise.  The wonderful thing about this fabric was that it looked terrific on me (rosy skin tones) and just as wonderful on my  mother-in-law (for whom orange shades are most flattering).

My mother-in-law’s monochrome tendencies reasserted themselves once she got home, so I ended up buying her yardage, which meant that I had so much that I didn’t have to feel at all badly about experimenting with any of it!    So I took a yard, and washed it in the machine.  It’s the law in the Noile household:  silks must be washable.  Ditto for anything with which I travel.  This was the result:

A denser weave, deepened colors, and oooh-la-la!  I loved it, and quickly tossed another couple of yards into the machine.  (Delicate, of course, and cold water wash always.)

I was lucky that the fabric was wide to begin with, and that I had lots, because, of course, there was a bunch of shrinkage.  I have notes somewhere, but the loss was probably a good 15%, maybe even a little more.  If Kashi’s prices hadn’t been so reasonable, this tunic would never have seen life!

The SewStylish pattern is very simple, and there are only three pieces:  the front, the back, and the cowl.  You either scale it up by hand using graph paper, or you take it to a copy shop and get it enlarged by 800 per cent.   I didn’t bother to scale the cowl, as all you really need for a rectangle are the dimensions.  There’s a center back seam, which I’d just eliminate whenever possible; there’s no good reason for it if your fabric is wide enough to accommodate the piece.

Construction couldn’t be simpler:  Make the cowl; sew the center back seam; sew the shoulder seams (I added twill tape to limit stretching);

sew the side seams; finish the armholes; hem.  The instructions call for finishing the armholes with “Seams Great”, but I couldn’t figure out why I’d ever want to do that, so I settled for serging and turning the edge under, then hand-stitching so that nothing showed on the right side.  (I used four threads to serge; this is a very ravelly fabric, and that fourth thread was extra security.)

The result was kind of cool:


(Forgive my poor duct tape dummy — she’s lopsided, too big, and needs replacing.  Not to mention that I’ve not perfectly arranged the tunic, which isn’t helping.)

The tunic fit nicely, and it was a lot of fun to wear (lighter than a sweater, a really nifty shell on its own, goes with everything, etc.), but there was a problem.  Here’s a side view of the original version, which hints at what’s at issue.  (Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of the original back):

You can’t tell for sure in this picture, or in the one published in the magazine, but the back is voluminous — really, really full.  Too full by waaay too much to ignore.  It traveled the distance from “interesting” to “baffling”, so I made a radical change.  After the fact.  Which, of course, destroyed the structural integrity of the garment, but, hey, it’s not as if I had a choice.

Rather than pick stitches out of the tiny, tiny bouclé loops, I simply cut up the back, and took in a pie-shaped wedge, beginning at nothing where the center back met the cowl, and ending by removing a full five-and-a-half inches from each side of the center back.

The center back, of course, is supposed to be cut on grain.  Sigh.  I’m going to wear this around a bit in the privacy of my own home, and if I love it, I’ll make it all over again (I can probably salvage the cowl).  There’s a huge incentive for making it right:

It just happens to coordinate with every one of my Burda polos!  Next time, though, I’ll eliminate the center back seam completely (now that the pattern piece is narrower, that should work fine).  Others should beware the armholes — they look impossibly small on the pattern, but aren’t quite as small as they seem because the tunic falls off the shoulders, and arms exit lower than with a conventional armhole.  These fit perfectly on me (I wouldn’t want them bigger when wearing the tunic without a shirt underneath), but this would be worth checking, as I’m on the small side.

Other notes:

SewStylish seems to be having an identity crisis.  I almost missed this issue on the stands because “SewStylish” is nowhere in the header on the cover.  (It is in small print — “SewStylish.com” — on the lower edge of the cover, and on the spine, neither of which are visible when scanning hundreds of magazines in a rack.)

I went to the SewStylish website, but it’s an awful mess, and finding information about the current issue was an exercise in futility.  Except that I learned that this is Vol. 4, even though there’s nothing in the magazine that identifies it that way.  Which is too bad, because this issue is great, and it would be nice if it were more findable, on-line or in-store.  I’d call this a branding failure.

Categories: Adventure/Travel, Tops Tags:

Case Mod

January 1st, 2011 1 comment

Apparently my mania for adorning my suitcase is unstoppable.  I’ve added little, personal, “de-merit” badges to the cover to complement my “destination” souvenirs:

The three small circular badges running across the center of the picture represent (left to right):  storms at sea; rum in cocoa afterward (incredible!); and snow, glorious snow — three totems of my favorite travel experiences.

These quirky badges are from Demeritwear.  I love the clarity of their designs, and the quality is also really impressive, which isn’t something you can say about a lot of this type of thing (see Budapest badge, above, for example!).

Demeritwear shows only a few uses for their clever embroidered patches on their website.  They suggest adding them across tee-shirts, or to baseball caps, and they’ll even sell you the shirts or caps in question, if you like.  I probably wouldn’t use them this way myself, but I’ve managed to find a few things to do with them.   If, like me, you don’t own an embroidery machine, but sometimes want a little something along those lines to spruce up a project, you might like these.

Disclosure:  As a result of a communication unrelated to this or any other blog, Demeritwear added several unsolicited patches to an order I made with them, along with a great note.  It’s easy to love a company that responds to suggestions with appreciation and a positive response, but no one at Demeritwear knows that I have a blog (at least not yet!), and, as I’ve been crazy about these quirky little badges for years, I can affirm that I haven’t been successfully bribed to say good things about them. Thanks to the FTC, though, you can draw your own conclusions about that!

RelatedHow To Find Your Bag Anywhere

Categories: Adventure/Travel, Fun Tags:

Presser Feet From Budapest

December 30th, 2010 No comments

Ah, Budapest, I love you!  Along with a slew of old Burdas, look at what else I found:

Three new feet for my Pfaff 1229!

This one is a “Knit Edge/Piping/Beading Foot”.  According to my Pfaff accessory catalog, “[t]he Knit edge Foot has sides of different heights, making it simple to sew thick seams on knits and fur”.  The groove in the bottom also makes it possible to attach bead strands and piping.

This one is a 3 mm rolled hem foot.  “[Y]ou can hem light to medium weight fabrics for clothing and home decorating items without having to pre-iron the fabric edges”.

And this one is a 4,5 mm felling foot.  “Flat-felled seams are extremely durable and popular as the typical jeans seams.”  This one is for lightweight fabrics; I’ll need the 6,5 size if I want to sew denim or heavier fabrics.

My Pfaff 1229 takes accessories marked “D”; I was lucky to find a mechanic at the shop in Budapest who knew what I wanted, especially since I don’t speak Hungarian and he didn’t speak English!  I found a machine on the back wall with my shank, and gestured to explain the rest.  It worked out beautifully — there’s a lot to be said for good will and the kindness of strangers!

My Pfaff Accessory Catalogue, gift of another kind (stateside) mechanic, is a treasure-trove not only because it lists the various feet, but because it also includes instructions for using them.  Snap it up if you find one!

Categories: Adventure/Travel, Presser Feet, Tools Tags:

How To Find Your Bag Anywhere

December 20th, 2010 No comments

When we travel, Mr. Noile and I are not big fans of shopping, unless we’re buying books or food, both of which we like to bring home from elsewhere.  So it goes without saying that we aren’t in the habit of picking up souvenirs as we flit around the planet.  We do, however, find ourselves regularly acquiring the colorful embroidered patches that abound wherever tourists or travelers of any kind congregate.

I’ve always wondered what to do with them, and now I know.  I have a suitcase that came with a protective sleeve, and I’ve begun to sew said patches onto the cover:

I’d never desecrate my car like this, but somehow it seems OK to do this with my suitcase.  And, let’s face it, I’ll always be able to find my black bag in a sea of them, won’t I?  Not to mention the memories, the lovely memories .  .  .

This one is my personal emblem, which evokes, for me, the lovely ruined baths of Budapest, to which I hope to return as often as possible:

It’s decorating the identification flap.  Without it, I’d never remember where my ID is on the cover.

This badge, and a slew of others I have handy, is from a company called Demeritwear, which sells a whole line of somewhat wacky embroidered badges of impeccable quality.  If you want that little bit of je ne sais quois added to just about anything to which you can put a stitch, Demeritwear is your “go-to” place.  At the least, a visit to the site will make you grin.

We first did this on little Noilette’s toddler backpack, which was a great hit with her; kind of a portable scrapbook.  There wasn’t much chance of leaving it behind anywhere when it was such an important part of her well-traveled life, and so easily identified as hers.

Disclaimer: The usual.  It’s my blog, no one pays me for content or supplies it to me.

RelatedCase Mod

Categories: Adventure/Travel, Tips Tags:

Burda in Budapest

October 26th, 2010 No comments

After discovering that it’s possible to buy the current issue of Burda’s pattern magazine virtually anywhere in Budapest, Hungary (gas stations! magazine kiosks! hole-in-the-wall newsstands!), I took special notice of an ad in the back of one of the Burdas I’d gotten.  I can’t read Hungarian, but it was really obvious that this ad was for back issues

.  .  .  and it included two addresses for Burda stores in Budapest.  Budapest, my new favorite city, is very easy to navigate.  I knew I could find at least one of these stores, and so I did.  Here’s the store in Budapest IX (that’s the district) at Vámház krt. 13 (that’s the street name and number):

Inside was Burda-back-issue-heaven.  The Burda I wanted most wasn’t out on the rack, but the proprietor was kind enough to search through a huge stack behind the register, and turned this up:

It’s the 04/2008 issue I’ve been desperate to find — the one with Cidell’s trench jacket!  I bought it immediately, and also a slew more, some of which are below:

The price?  About $2.50 USD for each.  I was practically hyperventilating from delight!

However, I didn’t come home with a truckload.  I had a list of issues I wanted, some of which went back to 2000 or so, but I soon learned that I couldn’t get those issues here; the Hungarian version of Burda has only existed since October, 2005.   Not to mention one other detail:  I’m not nuts about Burda’s summer issues, and the end-of-year holiday issues don’t do much for me either.

Still, this was quite a coup, and I loved the store, which is, by the way, also sells yarn, along with yardage.  All communication, except smiling and nodding, was conducted by writing dates down (in Hungarian format, of course), but that was no problem at all.

Later I went back and asked about a double tracing wheel, suspecting that I could find one more easily in Budapest than at JoAnn’s.  This Burda store didn’t have it, but the proprietor made a call to their store on József krt., wrote down which streetcar to take, and I went over there and picked up my new dual wheel.  So much fun, and I got to see a whole different part of Budapest into the bargain.

Why is is so easy to find old issues of Burda?  Well, it’s probably partly because Hungary may still be a nation of sewers.  But it’s also at least partly because Hungary, or at least, specifically, Budapest, is still a nation of readers.  There are lavishly stocked magazine stands all over the place, and people are still reading like crazy on public transit, with only a few electronic devices (cell-phones; MP3 players; hand-helds) turning up, and those rarely.

Economically, Budapest seems to be still suffering from the “long sleep” that was communism/dictatorship; having a world full of text on every corner is one symptom.  It made me realize how much we’ve lost, at least in the reading arena.  Once electronic devices are in the hands of every Hungarian, most of those books and virtually all of the magazines are doomed, along with the tempting kiosks.  And easy access to Burda.  It’s a trade-off, but is it good?

Categories: Adventure/Travel, Books/Magazines Tags:

My New Bag: ZÜCA Sport Pro Review

October 25th, 2010 14 comments

Dear sewers, hot on the trail of my last post (which was mostly written BEFORE my last two trips!), I am trying your patience with yet another luggage/travel post.  Bear with me; shortly we will return to our regularly scheduled programming.

I knew the day was coming, but hadn’t expected it quite this soon.  As I lifted my long-time carry-on out of the overhead bin for the last time as we returned from Hungary, I noticed that the supporting plate under the bag had broken loose.  I shoved the support back into place, but knew that this meant that it was vehicles-only for this bag from now on.

Since I’d done my research, though, I knew what the replacement would be, and I ordered a ZÜCA bag immediately. Here’s a shot of the type of bag I got, taken from ZÜCA’s glitzy, but not-very-enlightening, video:

ZÜCA makes quirky cases for travelers, for make-up artists and for ice-and roller-skaters.  Each type is different; most have fitted interior pockets of one sort or another. (And good luck finding what you want on ZÜCA’s website:  See “Note Regarding Ordering” below.)  My ZÜCA is a Sport Pro; more on what that means, or doesn’t, further into the post.

I chose this ZÜCA for these reasons:

  1. It fits standard carry-on dimensions, and will fit in the overhead bin of virtually any plane that has them (the dimensions are actually slightly smaller than those of the overhead carry-on bag I’ve used for nearly 20 years, and never had to check.)
  2. Every review I read said that the ZÜCA rolls like a dream, and the large skateboard wheels are replaceable.
  3. The design and construction look excellent.  It’s held together by screws, which I can tighten if necessary.  The actual bag, which fits inside a metal frame, can be replaced if damaged or torn, without requiring a frame replacement.  A cover comes with it, so that the bag is protected when tossing it around, or if you must check it for some reason.
  4. The frame is designed to support up to 300 lbs.  It’s a place to sit in those interminable lines which are an inevitable part of travel these days.  Find an outlet, and you’ve got somewhere to use your netbook, even if there are no other seats in sight.  And get this:  the seat front is curved; there are no sharp edges to cut into thighs.  Someone did serious end-user testing here!  (Uh, it’s a pun.  Accidental, I assure you.)

The ZÜCA is oriented a little differently than most suitcases, which is, well, a bit disorienting, at least at first.  It opens like a locker, with a door in the front — a “front” which would be a “side” on most suitcases.  Here it is next to my well-loved old carry-on:

The suitcase on the left opens conventionally (for a roller) with a zip all around the front.  The ZÜCA is sideways in the photo; the opening is facing my old carry-on.  Both bags have pull-out handles for pulling or pushing, and both have handles on top for lifting; the ZÜCA’s is inside the circle indentation on top.

The cubic dimensions are almost the same, though differently arranged, and the ZÜCA, at 8.75 pounds empty, is just slightly heavier than my former carry-on.  Wheels cost weight, but, for me, the trade-off is well worth it.  (For the record, the ZÜCA measures 19″ x 13″ x 10″; my former bag 22″ by 14″ by 8″.)

The ZÜCA is very slightly smaller than my old bag, but holds just about as much.  There’s an exhaustive list of what I travel with on this post if you’re wondering what I manage to get into such small bags.  (No need to click through right now; it’s the post following this one.)

If you’ve read that previous post, you know that I’m a fan of packing cubes.  If you’ve never done roll-and-cube packing before, I recommend it highly; a read though that post will tell you why.  The ZÜCA Sport Pro comes with its own set, which stack in the main compartment.  The effect is a lot more like dresser drawers than like randomly stuffed cubes:

To use the ZÜCA for more than a weekend’s worth of clothes, you’ll need to roll everything to fit into the cubes.  And you’ll have to get used to squishing the well-stuffed cubes into the ZÜCA; the opening of the suitcase is a bit narrower than the cubes themselves.

I thought that was weird at first, and it was a little difficult to get used to, but I  soon appreciated the logic — you can pull one “drawer” out and all the others stay in place — neat trick!  I love the convenience of being able to grab only the cube I need, instead of unearthing all of them just to get at one item.

ZÜCA’s cubes are intelligently made, with handles at the front so that they can be grabbed easily.  They’re lined — a really nice touch which should ensure durability — and piped with a vinyl edge that tends to hold the empty cubes open, making them easier to pack than unsupported ones.

They’re also color-coded, so that you can theoretically tell the sizes apart at a glance.  This is the one thing I’d criticize, though:  The tags are so small and indistinct that I couldn’t easily distinguish any color but red when the cubes are in the suitcase.


You can check this out in the photo immediately above, and in the one just previous to it — see the red tags?  You can probably pick them out pretty easily, but not so much the green, blue, and the “orange” which is actually tan.  (The small instruction booklet that comes with the ZÜCA explains the that green-tagged cube goes on the bottom, and the “orange” one goes on top, except that in my case, the allegedly orange cube came with tan tags.)  The green and blue, particularly, practically disappear, even in the enlarged photo.

Naturally, I fixed this by adding grosgrain to the front of the cubes, at either side of the handles.  At the same time I turned my tan cube back into an orange one:

Notable improvement, isn’t it?  ZÜCA could similarly color-code the cubes more clearly, too, and should consider doing so.  In low light even the red  ZÜCA tags are difficult to distinguish.

Tip: The bottom cube in the ZÜCA Sport Pro is smaller than most of the other cubes (it’s the green one), and fits just forward of the recessed wheels.  This means that there is a space behind the cube, and between the wheels.  An Eagle Creek quarter cube, if not over-stuffed, fits perfectly here.

The quarter-cube is the small, multi-colored striped packet in the back.  It’s my miscellaneous (clothesline, rubber stopper, needle and thread, safety pins, band-aids, etc.) kit.  I love the way it fits into this otherwise useless space.  (Accidentally, there’s a striped top in the cube in front.  Ignore it.)

The Sport Pro has a number of other features unique to ZÜCA which make it particularly useful.  There’s a mesh bag attached to the top inside of the case with a pull-out TSA compliant quart-sized plastic pouch:

The idea is that you just reach inside to toss your fluids into the TSA bin. Here’s how the TSA pocket looks with the ZÜCA open, and just the “green” pouch (and my quarter-cube) in the bottom:

It’s a great feature, with one caveat:  If you fill the TSA pouch so that there’s absolutely no room to spare, grabbing the top handle of the suitcase will be difficult, as the overstuffed bag will press up against the underside of the handle, making it difficult or uncomfortable to grip.  (But, let’s face it, nobody’s TSA fluids bag needs to be that full, though.  Honest.)

Inside the front flap is a waterproof pocket for the soaked bathing suit you wore up until the last minute of vacation (or for that sink-laundered shirt that didn’t quite dry):

It’s normally zipped flat against the inside of the ZÜCA opening; this photo shows it unzipped and fully “popped out”.  There are also two mesh pockets on the inside of the flap (essentially on top of the waterproof pocket), and several loops.  (What the heck are the loops for, ZÜCA?  I know they’re there for a reason, and I know you’ve thought this thing out perfectly — how about sharing with us??)

The outside of the ZÜCA is also beautifully planned, with pockets everywhere they could possibly be:

(Yeah, it’s lying on the floor. Don’t ask; it was just easier.)  You’re looking at three pockets here (and there are three more, identical, on the other side).  See the turquoise cell phone at the top?  It’s tucked into a little tiny zip pocket that’s perfect for cell phones, small note books, snacks or whatever.  See the olive green REI tote?  That’s tucked into a zippered pocket that goes down the whole length of the ZÜCA, and that’s where this expandable tote lives when I travel.  And the Burda?  It’s in a deep open pocket that’s perfect for, you guessed it, magazines, newspapers or other flattish things to which you may want ready access.

But wait!  That’s not all!  Here’s the back of the ZÜCA:

The transparent pocket is for your identifying tags (I turn mine around so that no personal information is visible; this is a photo shoot, so you all are seeing my “Noile” card.)  The digital photography handbook, which I should read, is in the middle pocket, and a Moleskine is in the third pocket.  The front of the ZÜCA Sport Pro has no external pockets.  Trust me, you don’t need any more.

See that oval below the Moleskine?  It’s a handle.  The ZÜCA has handles on top, back and bottom, which makes it a cream puff to lift and manipulate:

You’re looking at the back of the bag (above) and beneath it (below).  The oval openings are the handles.  See those cut-outs? (they look like tiddly-winks in the photo, but they’re holes in the frame).  They reduce the weight of the frame, but not the strength.  And they look très  cool, non?

You can stuff the external pockets with confidence (though, I should add, perhaps with non-valuables) and then slip this cover over the ZÜCA before popping it into the overhead bin or checking it.

This works perfectly for me, as I never access my carry-on while in flight; everything I need on a flight is in the bag in front of my feet, not in the overhead bin.

The ZÜCA’s cover has elastic bands at one end, and attaches firmly with nylon buckles at the other end; it’s not going to slip off.  Although there’s an accessory seat cushion available for the ZÜCA, you don’t really need it; the cover is quilted and very nice to sit on, but I don’t find sitting on the unadorned top of the case to be any issue, either.  Like the main bag, the cover’s got its own discreet flap for ID information; that’s another thoughtful, practical touch.

The front zippers have loops so that you can use a small padlock to keep them shut, if you like, and there’s a neat flap that covers the tip of the opening.  That gives the bag a sleek look, but it’s also a small security feature, since it hides the zipper pulls.  I keep a padlock in one of the small side pockets, by the way, in case of need.

So what’s the bad news?  Well, you might choke on the price — $285 directly from ZÜCA.  If you’re not set on a particular color, you can almost certainly find it for less elsewhere, perhaps on overstock.com or ebaggs or similar sites.  Or take a look around ZÜCA’s site; they’ve got a sliver-framed, pink edition on sale right now for $219, and a “factory outlet” page, which might offer fruitful hunting.

Keep in mind that you are looking for the model with two wheels, not four.  The four-wheeled models are the smaller skate cases, and they’re a lot cheaper, but probably not maximally useful for serious travel involving day-to-day clothing.

In my situation, I buy the best possible luggage I can because luggage is the last thing I want on my mind when I travel.  And I only buy luggage every 20 years or so; if my ZÜCA is as good as I expect it to be, I’ll never buy another suitcase.  I’ll be able to maintain it by tightening screws, and the wheels and interior bag are both replaceable, should the need ever arise.

If you pay full bump and keep your ZÜCA for 20 years, it will amortize at  $14.25 a year.  I’d say that’s just fine.  The carry-on my new Sport Pro replaced cost far less — nearly 20 years ago — but I couldn’t find a bag like it at any price, this year, that looked as if it had half the lasting power of my vintage Lands’ End bag.

Naturally, then, I asked myself if I wanted to go through three inadequate $100 bags, or buy one $300 bag that met my needs perfectly.  It was a no-brainer.  Get yourself a nice coupon from overstock or pay much less through other means, and you bring down the cost-per-year proportionally.  Do be aware, though, that ZÜCA offers a lifetime warranty on bags purchased directly from  ZÜCA or authorized dealers; you might want to make sure that you’re buying from one of those before you click.  Or you might find a price that’s so good that you really don’t care one way or another .  .  .

Note Regarding Ordering:  I ordered the ZÜCA Sport Pro, which is exactly the model I wanted.  You’ll have trouble finding a “Sport Pro” on the ZÜCA website, though, if you go looking for it.  The ZÜCA website is surprisingly messy and confusing, and the Sport Pro isn’t even listed as a product; to find it on their site, you must know exactly what you’re looking for.  Though you’ll end up ordering something called the “ZÜCA Pro Black & Black Full Set”, you’ll get the Sport Pro, in spite of the fact that the website confusing lists only separate “Pro” models and  “Sport” models.  Wacky.

Here’s the box mine came in, with the “Sport Pro” labeling:

(Cats are attracted to ZÜCA.  What’s not to love?  Cozy, secret cubbies, all devoid of cat hair.  Duty calls!)

In general, ZÜCA’s website is an uninformative disaster, at least as far as providing any clues as to how to actually pack and use a Sport Pro or its derivatives.  If you want the make-up case, which you’ll see reviewed all over the Internet, you’ll have to figure out for yourself how to configure a ZÜCA case to make one.  If you want a skating case, you’ll have to figure out that it has nothing to do with the Pro cases.  And if you want to know exactly what a Pro consists of, and why you might want one, you’ll need to be reading reviews like this one.

For people who make a fantastic suitcase, the ZÜCA folks sure don’t have a clue as to how to present it.  Yes, there is a video, but it’s high on “slick” and low on information. Nothing on the website explains or compares the different models, or how to customize them, or why I might want to do so.  Or not.  If a customer doesn’t already know exactly what he/she wants, he or she is in for a bunch of confusion and frustration.

Hey,  ZÜCA! I don’t want to know how cool your web/video people are, I want to know how ZÜCA will work for me!  You’ve got all these great features, and you explain them .  .  .  nowhere.

I had to scrabble like crazy all over the Internet all by my lonesome to figure it out, and even then I didn’t have a clue about some features until I got mine home and went over it carefully.  All that work shouldn’t have been necessary.  Lucky for me (and you!) that this bag was just as terrific as I’d guessed it was.  How many customers are you losing because understanding your product is so tricky?

ZÜCA’s attractive, but less-than-helpful, site is here.  The one thing it does well:  the technical specs, which are spelled out nicely.

Disclaimer: Nothing I reviewed here was provided to me by the manufacturer, and I received no compensation for writing this post.  All I got out of this was the thrill of writing the overview I wish I’d seen when I was researching my replacement bag!

Related:

Carry-On Only Travel

How To Find Your Bag Anywhere

Case Mod

Also: ZÜCA Comment

Categories: Adventure/Travel, Bags Tags:

Carry-On Only Travel

October 24th, 2010 6 comments

Sewers, I am back from a travel-mad summer and fall, and determined to write about luggage and packing.  Ignore this post if you prefer — I’ve got a bunch of real sewing articles lined up, which will shortly begin appearing.   Everyone else, have at it, but be warned this is a long post!

This past year has been a wild one for travel, with three major (unexpected!) trips.  From my east coast home I’ve been to San Francisco and northern California; lapped Toronto/Newfoundland/New York during a single trip; and traveled to Budapest, Hungary on another, not to mention a lot of shorter trips to a bunch of other places. The least duration of the big trips was about two weeks; the longest nearly four. All with only one small suitcase.

When I fly, I travel with carry-on bags only, and until you’ve done that, you probably can’t imagine the sense of freedom not checking luggage offers!  Here’s how I do it.

I take one carry-on, and one “purse” or personal bag; that’s it.   My carry-on suitcase is small enough so that there’s no dispute about whether it is “legal” or not.  Mr. Noile now does this, too, so the trips we take together no longer involve any waiting at the luggage carousel.

Here’s our total combined luggage at the end of our nearly two-week-long trip to Budapest.  My carry-on bag is at the left rear, with my “personal” bag in the front (it’s overstuffed with ten BurdaStyle magazines I found in Budapest, some sewing notions and a few small gifts).  Mr. Noile’s bags are to the right.  This is all the luggage we used for two weeks of travel to Eastern Europe.
My suitcase is over 16 years old — maybe closer to 20.  I bought it at Lands’ End (a place I no longer shop now that Sears owns it), and it has seen me through hundreds of thousands of miles of travel — many, many trips annually for each year I’ve owned it, through Mexico, Europe, Canada and all over the United States.  I haven’t found anything on the market that I like as well, and I’m dreading the day when I finally have to replace it.

This particular bag is 22 by 14 by 8 (inches), and yes, it has wheels.  (I have problems with my arms, and wheels are not optional for me.)  The wheels are small but strong, have (clearly!) withstood the test of time, and the bag is designed so that they take up minimal room both inside and out.  Even in Europe, I wasn’t asked to put it to the bin test; it was obvious that it would fit easily overhead on all but the smallest planes.  And so it did.

The month-long trip involved the most extreme fluctuations in temperature, so the following list of items I packed  includes everything I took for that trip, with notes for what I switched out for the less-complicated travel.  This most challenging trip also involved several radically different environments:  temperatures ranging from 30-40  degrees, daytime, in the first, 85-90 degrees in the second, and a third one of temperatures around 70.  It was casual travel, but I needed to look nice some of the time. On the other hand, my clothes need to be optimally functional, too.

I packed almost exactly the same items for each trip of the three trips, with minor changes noted below.   Here’s what I took in my carry-on for this trip (and what I take for virtually all trips):

2 technical shirts, long-sleeved, quick-drying, breathable synthetic blends (my favorites have zip-open vents for hot weather wear) ( I eliminated these in Hungary; I use them to avoid sun on my arms, or to layer.  Hungary was neither hot enough, nor cold enough, to require them.)

1 sleeveless shirt, same as above, dries in a few hours (eliminated for Hungary and San Francisco)

6 tops, 3/4ths length sleeves (the ones I’m using currently are a blend of rayon and cotton with a touch of spandex) most serious travelers would take only 3, but that would require doing a “sink laundry” every night, and I’m just not up for that

1 pair “hiking” trousers in technical fabric; convertible to shorts (for cooler weather, I just wear black stretch jeans)

1 pair dressier trousers with “hidden” zip-off legs; convertible to long shorts, expensive and well-made enough that the hidden zips look like a design feature ( for more casual travel, these would be second pair of black stretch jeans)

6 bras (unless it’s winter, and I can get away with just wearing supportive camisoles.  I hate bras.)

6 stretch nylon camisoles (for first layer cold weather wear)

6 pair briefs

1 pair technical “longies” (colder temps only)

4 pair heavy Smart Wool hiking socks

4 pair thin Smart Wool socks

swimsuit/cap

1 cotton long-sleeve v-neck tunic for sleep and lounging (or short-sleeved, over-sized tee for hot climates)

1 pair all cotton men’s boxers as pj bottoms, combined with over-sized tee (on cooler trips, I replace these with thin leggings for sleep and lounging)

1 light weight, technical fabric, pullover knit  hoodie for layering
1   fleece hoodie (zip front style), with extra long sleeves, and a longer torso
1 windbreaker with hood, technical fabric OR a technical rainproof raincoat (to layer over the fleece in rain or cold weather)

1 Buff convertible scarf/hood/neckwarmer (worth every penny — shop around for design; my black-on-black is discreet enough that any adult could wear it, which is more than you can say for some) I keep one of these handy even at home; it can make a huge difference in comfort if the weather changes suddenly; if wind kicks up; or if a jacket alone turns out to be not quite enough.  Mr. Noile has commented that my buff makes my shirts look quite a bit dressier, too, when worn as an impromptu  collar.

1 pair technical gloves (very thin, with grippy fingers; mine must let me use my small camera while wearing them)

1 packable sun hat (only if climate indicates; otherwise, a beret or other hat for warmth or sun protection)

1 pair waterproof hiking shoes these go in my “personal” bag, and guarantee extra attention from TSA.  It’s probably a better idea to wear them than to pack them, but I much prefer slip-ons for TSA screenings (on urban trips, I eliminate these)

1 pair Keen-like fisherman-style sandals (can be worn with with or without socks) (Keens don’t fit me — sob! — so I have to find good fakes) (in cooler weather, I wear Clarks of England instead, lately this model “Maggilyn” which was incredibly comfortable for miles of walking on cobblestones and broken sidewalks all day long in Budapest, even though they’re amazingly lightweight)


1 pair flip-flops

1 extra-large technical towel (super water absorbent, dries very quickly, full body coverage — microfiber, not the old-style)

clear plastic pouch with TSA-compliant fluids


mesh toiletries pouch (it’s the striped one in the picture at the end of this post, striped for easy identification) with items I didn’t include in the fluids bag, or in the small kit in purse; these include a flat vinyl sink stopper; tiny alarm clock; tiny reading light; a travel clothes line; a small sewing kit with pins, extra buttons, etc.; any medications or vitamins; one of these small cups so that I can take meds or a quick sip of water in a bathroom, conveniently.  (The cups are called “travel shots” and hold 1.5 ounce — I doubt that they enhance an alcohol experience much, but they are great for travel.)

a Swisscard, which I carry every day in normal life, and is, at least at the moment,  TSA and CATSA compliant.  It fits in a credit card slot in my wallet.  I use this thing every day, even in real life.

1 heavy-duty, zippered, nylon tote bag which I always pack in the front zipper pocket of  my suitcase.  It can function as a shopping bag, marketing tote, a picnic bag or a spare suitcase if necessary (works on trains, would be a bit more problematic on a plane if I filled it on the trip, and still didn’t want to check my suitcase — in that case, I ship the excess.)

Here’s how I dressed:

  • For the coldest outdoor weather on this trip (30 – 40 degrees) (10 days), I layered my torso clothing like this:  camisole/3/4ths sleeve shirt/LS shirt/knit hoodie/fleece hoodie/windbreaker.  I was plenty warm, even when wet.
  • My head was covered in 4 layers:  Buff/knit hoodie/fleece hoodie/windbreaker.
  • My lower body was covered in the usual panties-technical longies-khaki trousers.
  • In the colder climate, I stripped off the extra external layers once I came indoors, changed to my stretch technical trousers, and pulled my knit hoodie on over my 3/4ths sleeve shirt.  My black knit hoodie — a “better” brand with a slim cut and whose quality was obvious — and black technical pants had the virtue of looking a bit dressier than the khakis I wore outside.  I could go to dinner and not look woefully under-dressed.  Indoors, I switched to the Keene-like sandals with the thinner socks.  I could have upgraded by act by wearing the ballerina flats, since I had them along, but I didn’t bother.
  • In the hottest climate (85 degrees) and during a few days of milder weather elsewhere (70 degrees), I zipped off the legs of my trousers, and wore either my sleeveless top (with or without an open LS technical shirt over for sun protection), or just one of the 3/4ths sleeve shirts and standard undergarments.  I wore the Keen-like sandals without socks.
  • In all weather, I slept in the boxer shorts and the LS cotton tee (or the tee tunic and leggings).  If’ I’d been cold, I could easily have slipped on my fleece, especially since it wasn’t my outer layer (and so stayed quite clean).
  • I ALWAYS pack the flip-flops!  I wear them in any and every shower wherever I go.  If conditions in bathrooms or showers prove to be worse than I expect, it doesn’t matter — my feet never touch the ground.  Ditto for hotel carpets — with the flip-flops by my bed, my feet never touch the awfulness that lurks there.

I pull whatever I wear on the plane from this list.

Everything gets packed in organizer cubes, by type — outerwear in one; tops in another; undergarments in another, etc..  Chargers all go in one small, zippered mini-cube.  Here are the cubes, packed, stacked in front of the suitcase.

Yes, every one fits into my suitcase!  The miracle of packing cubes cannot be over-stated.

My “purse” or “laptop” bag is an Overland Equipment Cambridge — an older version than the one now available (and I  like it better, because I hate front flaps like the one on the new version).  (Not to mention that I totally  hate that —  unnecessarily heavy — leather patch on the edge of the flap on so many of Overland’s bags.)  The Cambridge is a great convertible bag with really well-designed internal pockets for a laptop and more.

It can be carried as a tote, slung over the shoulder, or worn as a backpack.  The handles are adjustable; the sides cinch or expand, and there are efficiently designed shoulder straps hidden in the back panel — into which maps can be tossed for easy retrieval.  It’s absolutely perfect for my purposes.  I can get to anything I want in it easily, and can get my electronics out of it fast for TSA.

Inside this personal carry-on I pack:

1 eeePC ASUS computer and components
1 e-reader (Sony; it’s slimmer and lighter than others and I’m not tied to a proprietary store for books)
1 pocket digital camera
1 mobile phone
1 mesh pouch with electrical components including a double-headed outlet extender, two-prong outlet adapter, and all chargers needed for equipment, including an extra camera battery

1 pair spare glasses

an alarm clock (mobile service is not infallible)

a watch (for the same reason)  (I will probably wear the watch, but pack it for TSA)

a small travel light for reading if electricity fails AND a mini-led-flashlight

all paperwork, itineraries, ticket pouch, contact information, etc., spare vision prescription, any other prescriptions

passport, ID, small note book and at least two pens, business cards

instead of a wallet, this Baggallini Everyday Bag, with the strap replaced by a knife-proof pacsafe CarrySafe 100 strap. Wworn with the strap cross-body, this combination offers all the advantages of a fanny pack without the horror factor:

cash (which I also wearing in my travel wallet/belt, under my clothes — my passport will live there while I’m traveling)

a small toiletry kit, packed so that I can wash up, or even launder my clothes, if I end up the protagonist in a travel agony story and stranded overnight where I hadn’t planned to be.

In it:  dry soap leaves; dry laundry detergent leaves; a tiny microfiber wash cloth (MSR personal — it’s about 12×9.5 inches); a toothbrush and small tube of toothpaste (retrieved from the TSA bag after security), tiny travel deodorant (ditto); lip balm;  EARPLUGS!; any anything else that seems like a good idea.

a relevant guide book, or, usually, the relevant Moleskine city book and any directions or pocket transit maps I’m likely to want

an extra, thin, larger size Moleskine notebook; also a couple of smaller mechanical pencils for museums where note-taking with pens isn’t allowed (no sharp points with these Pilot minis)

I also carry a thin pass case on a leash that I use for transit passes; I pin or clip it into a pocket and can easily grab it, use the pass, and replace it without ever going into my bag

a water bottle, empty if I’m going through TSA.  On the plane, I ask the attendant to put my beverages into this water bottle — less messy all around.

Here’s what it all looks like, packed up and ready to go, hat jauntily posed on top:

One day, I’ll be carrying only clothes I’ve made, but that’s going to require some serious planning — and it will never involve the most interesting pieces in my wardrobe, for obvious reasons.  For me, travel is all about comfort and practicality, not style or statement.  The focus is on the experience; I don’t want anything coming between me and the new world I’m entering, so my clothing and luggage are the last thing I want on my  mind.  That’s why I love this system — it’s totally liberating!

I’ve won Mr. Noile over to this kind of packing, but our daughter, Noilette, who is an inveterate traveler (Mexico, Haiti, US this year; Israel, Switzerland, Mexico, US last year)  won’t carry-on anything.  Go figure.

Disclaimer:  This is a hobby blog; I receive no compensation of any kind for any endorsement.  Opinions are my own.  Links are to Amazon (for the most part) because most manufacturer’s websites stink, and it’s not easy to make a link to a viewable product.

Related: My New Bag: ZÜCA Sport Pro Review

Categories: Adventure/Travel, Bags Tags: