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Dowager on a Converted Tote Bag

September 27th, 2020 2 comments

I spied an odd canvas tote at the Freer Gallery several years ago. It was just black canvas, but the (rather nicely done) print on the front was Philip Evergood’s Dowager in a Wheelchair. (Yes, the name’s not his original one.)  The painting is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where I’m afraid I still haven’t seen it.

Although Evergood called his inspiration “tragic“, I loved the indomitably of his subject; the (intended) evocation of vulnerability in a privileged person, and the vibrancy of New York life (Evergood says it’s Madison Avenue, and it clearly is the Upper East Side, right?) crashing all around the dowager and her ghostly, younger, attendant.

I didn’t need a tote bag, so I converted it to a backpack so that I could easily transport my Cricket rigid heddle loom.

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Categories: Bags, Weaving Tags:

Scooter Handlebar Bag

September 21st, 2020 No comments

Sometimes — that is, some non-Covid time — when I’m in a city — looking at you, Washington, New York, and various other smaller, sidewalk-enhanced locations — I like to have a small (non-electric) scooter with me. This is especially nice in summer in Washington, where it’s often possible to work around pedestrian routes, and where the humidity and heat are only enhanced by zipping through summer on wheels.

But my little scooter needed a bag. Topo Designs makes a great bike bag, and I really, really wanted to buy theirs, but it’s way too big for my scooter, so I took inspiration from their slightly kooky triangle shape and made my own.

That strap is actually a bright bold red. Sadly, I’m someone who sews,
not someone who actually knows how to use a camera phone.

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Categories: 2020, Bags, Covid Tags:

Maywood Totepack

July 26th, 2020 No comments

It’s literally been years since I posted here, but now, in the middle of Pandemic 2020, there’s been time to clean things up and re-start. And what better post to begin anew with than Klum House‘s Maywood Totepack? It might be coffee time — this is a loooong post!

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Categories: 2020, Bags, Covid Tags:

Whimsical Purse Mod

April 13th, 2012 2 comments

I love Baggallini purses; there’s one for (almost) every occasion, and I own way too many as a result.  Usually I want a purse that can be used as a shopping bag as well as a handbag, and Baggallini has plenty of those, but sometimes I want the most minimal thing possible.  That would be Baggallini’s surprisingly well-thought-out Teenee Baggallini.

What I don’t like on this small bag, though, is that metal plate on the front.  It snags inside my purses when I use the Teenee as a wallet, and it adds an unwanted few ounces when I’m wearing it cross-body.  So I remove them.  This is tricky, but possible if you’re careful.

First I take a small, thin, screwdriver and carefully lift the plate from the front of the bag.  Then I cut a very, very small slit in the lining behind the nameplate and gently pull the logo support from the back, on the inside.

This leaves two holes in the front of the bag, and a small slit in the back.  I use a bit of clear repair tape over the slit in the back ( you can buy it at camping/recreational supply stores).  Because these bags are kicky and fun, I cover the two holes left in the front with an embroidered patch from Demeritwear.

Here is the cookies and milk  badge for my orange bag:

I choose this one for the color, of course, but I also for the whimsy of the motif.  The embroidery is bright and clear; the patches are meant to be ironed-on, but I hate ironing stuff, so I just stitch them in place.

If you don’t know Demeritwear, you should!  They make cheerful, kooky, silly and yes, even dippy, little “merit badge” patches for all occasions.  (Theoretically they are “demerit badges” — maybe because scouting has the originals all wrapped up? — and there’s a story, but it’s not necessary to go into that here.  Check out the website if you’re curious.)

These nicely made embroidered badges would be fun as faux buttons on tee shirt shoulders (or amusing faux epaulet-like decorations) , as identifiers on kids’ back packs or lunch bags, as logos on jackets, hoodies, or sweatshirts, or as a decorative touch on rear jeans pockets.  I use them on and in my packing system, too, so that I can tell what’s in my packing cubes.

Other ways I’ve used these badges:

Case Mod

Packing Cube ID

Disclosure:  Please read it a the bottom of the Case Mod post.

Categories: Accessories, Bags, DIY, Fun Tags:

LBD Jewelry Organizer

January 24th, 2012 13 comments

On a trip to New York this past fall, a sudden, violent, downpour hit, and I ducked into The Container Store to wait it out, knowing that I’d find lots to look at.  The Container Store seems like a strange idea to me, but in Manhattan it makes perfect sense:  It’s kind of a hardware store for urbanites who want something a little more interesting than cardboard boxes for storing goods.  I saw this, and was instantly inspired to make something like it as a gift for Noilette:

It’s so clever, isn’t it?  I’m not wild about keeping any kind of jewelery in plastic sleeves, though, and those open pockets strike me as a bad idea for a Manhattanite like Noilette, who moves house constantly.  I decided to make her version with net pockets and zipper closures . . . and to make the “dress” a little more like a real Little Black Dress.

That required finding black brocade fabric, which, needless to say, was not available at my local fabric store.  I bought polyester “brocade” curtains instead, and black sheers for the pockets.  I also picked up eight zippers and a faux-velvet clad hanger.

Then I sketched the outline of a sheath dress on shelf paper, cut it out, and used it as a pattern to make, first, the “material” for the lower front of the LBD:

I cut strips of the drapery sheers much longer than the width of the pattern I’d made, and attached the zippers by centering them in the middle of the strips.  Then I pinned the “fabric” I’d made to the pattern, and trimmed all around.

The very top of the front is a small bodice, sewn to the uppermost zipper.  Once that was attached, I laid the sheer front piece over a full-length front cut from the brocade, and stitched the strips to it appropriately to form long pockets with the zip openings.  I also interfaced the all-brocade front backing, to support the pockets well.  Here’s the two-layer front, pinned together with the interfacing beneath:

I stitched the pockets randomly, making them various sizes, with just two, extra-large ones, along the bottom edge.  My only requirement was that it should be possible to get two fingers into each easily, to make retrieval of small things, like earrings, possible without frustration.

Let me just say that I’d rather sew the flimsiest China silk than ever deal with this poly again. This stuff didn’t ravel; it shredded.  Is there such a thing as short-staple polyester?  If so, this is it. Also, I think my scissors got duller just by being in proximity to this stuff.

I assembled the whole thing by putting the back right side to the mesh front, sewing the shoulders and the sides, and turning.  The neck and armholes are finished with bias binding, turned inside and topstitched, and the LBD was finished by turning the “hem” in and edge-stitching it closed.  I inserted the hanger, and voilà:

Yes, it needs a final pressing. That’s a lopsided fold line just above the “hem”.  I’m terrified of my iron, and I took the photo before risking melting all that lovely poly.

The pockets look dark, don’t they?  I tested the sheer before using it, though, and it’s quite easy to see what’s behind it.  To wit:

See the brooch?  Here’s a close-up of it in the pocket:

I added a loop at the bottom, in the back, with a silver button:

The button is to keep the loop from showing on the front, thus retaining the illusion of an LBD, but the loop is so that the “dress” can be folded up, held in place with the hanger hook, for transportation, or to save space:

Naturally, I loved the idea of an organizer disguised like this, but it’s also a practical solution for keeping jewelry visible and accessible in a tiny apartment where one might not want to leave such things just lying around.  The zippers ensure that small pieces won’t get lost, and the sheer should be kind to whatever Noilettte puts into the organizer.

The “inspiration piece” has velcro loops for necklaces and the like on the back, but I decided against this feature, as I wanted to make something that would completely enclose the stored pieces.

Categories: Accessories, Bags Tags:

Tilton “Original”? Vogue 8761

July 17th, 2011 8 comments

Have you seen this new Marcy Tilton pattern, Vogue 8761?

Have you ever noticed the logo in the upper right corner?  It’s Marcy Tilton’s logo:

If you can’t read the small print under, it says “Vogue Patterns Designer Original”.  Vogue, and Marcy Tilton, want you to know that you’ve just paid for something special:  an original design by a “designer”.  This is (allegedly) something you can’t get anywhere else.

On the back of the pattern, you can see this:

It says:  “SOLD FOR INDIVIDUAL HOME USE ONLY AND NOT FOR COMMERCIAL OR MANUFACTURING PURPOSES ONLY.”  There’s a copyright notice above this line; that means that Marcy Tilton and Vogue own this design, and no one else can profit from it.

Well, that seems fair, doesn’t it?  Marcy Tilton (and Vogue) are selling you the right to make items from this pattern just for your own personal use.

They are reserving the right to make money off this design, because it’s their own, original design.  Marcy Tilton has put sweat, effort, and presumably, development expense, into designing this pattern so that she can sell it, first to Vogue, and then to you.

EXCEPT  .  .  .   EXCEPT that when I bought this pattern, I was wearing this bag, which a fantastic company named Baggallini has sold for years:

This is the Baggallini Uptown bag.  That shiny plate on the front says “Baggallini”.

And, at that moment, at home in my closet, was this bag:

(Yeah, all rumpled.  It didn’t know it was going to get its picture taken today.)

This one’s my favorite Baggallini bag of all time, the Milano, which Baggallini was selling a long time before this Tilton pattern became available this month.

Baggallini is an interesting company.  It was started by stewardesses who wanted better purses for travel.  You know, just people who had a good idea and thought they might grow a business from it.  Kind of like what a designer might do, too, when starting out — imagine things, create them, and grow a business.

At first, Baggallini  offered very utilitarian bags, but in recent years, they’ve gotten more adventuresome, and now offer new, more fashionable, lines.  The Milano, above, is from their trendiest, the “International Collection”.  Apparently, it’s catching quite a few eyes.

Here’s the line drawing for the Tilton pattern:

The differences between the Tilton “designs” and the Baggallini bags are inconsequential.  Vogue/Tilton have even used exactly the same, somewhat unusual, closure for the view B bag as the one that is sold on the Baggallini Milano.

These two bags in the Vogue pattern are not “original” in any sense of the word.  The “designs” were Baggalini before they were “Tilton”.

Although both Tilton and Vogue license this pattern under terms that do not allow you to profit from their work, they apparently, have no problem profiting from someone else’s labor and development, themselves.  They just don’t want to be the ones ripped-off.

Nothing in the pattern, on the Tilton site, or on Vogue’s site, indicates that this pattern is authorized, or licensed, by Baggallini.

This is a particularly interesting situation since it calls into question the value of the Marcy Tilton brand.  What kind of “designer” offers previously marketed work and repackages it as his or her own?

Any one of us might buy a Baggallini bag and copy it.  Home stitchers do this, or some variation of it, all the time.  BUT IF THEY ARE ETHICAL PEOPLE, THEY DO NOT SELL PRODUCTS MADE FROM OTHER’S DESIGNS. And this isn’t a case of someone making one of something for personal use; it’s a case of a “designer” selling something that looks virtually identical to something already on the market, made by another company entirely. And backed by a major publishing house.

This example is particularly interesting, too, because not one, but TWO, unoriginal designs are sold in this pattern envelope — both, seemingly, from the same source.

Marcy Tilton is not a home sewer; she is a person who has made her name, and her livelihood, on theoretically original designs that she creates.  When you buy a Tilton pattern, you are buying Marcy Tilton’s “vision”, her aesthetic:  Something, theoretically, you can’t find elsewhere.  Except, it seems, when you can.

It makes me wonder if somebody saw all those Etsy sellers getting ripped off, and decided that, really, it was OK to lift whatever would sell, because who, really, would notice?

I did.  I have a closet full of Baggalini bags, and I love them.  I buy them because they are clever, stylish, and easy to wear and use. Apart from ethical and legal considerations, Baggalini deserves more respect than this.

And there’s that other nagging question:  Why design at all if you can just take what others have already done and claim it as your own?

If there’s a good explanation for this I’d just love to hear it.

Update 7/18/2011:  A reader has written to let me know that there is a link to Baggallini on Tilton’s website.  Tilton recommends the Baggallini Rolling Tote on her “Life Tools” page.

This confirms that Tilton is familiar with Baggallini products.

The mystery regarding the release of two designs that so closely mirror Baggallini’s, under the Tilton name, without any mention of Baggallini, still baffles.  It’s odd that the designs are so obviously similar, yet no explanation is offered.  This seems a strange choice when the lack of an acknowledged link is virtually guaranteed to raise questions.

Categories: Bags, Misc Tags:

Felt Gift Bags

December 25th, 2010 14 comments

Just in time for Boxing Day — that is, if you’re doing nothing else today — are these felt bags, shamelessly copied from ones Starbucks sells every December.  (Or, at least, for the last few.)

The Starbucks bags are much smaller, made out of much denser felt, and have a slightly elasticized ribbon as the closure.  Apparently, it pays to have a factory at your disposal in China.  (The Starbucks bag, which I bought, sells for only $4.00, so I’m guessing they’re not made by union labor in Seattle.)  I had to make do with plastic bottle felt and OTC ribbons.

The overall design has a nice retro feeling, and the contrast is so much fun:

Fortunately, plastic bottle felt comes in a huge number of bright colors (that’s about all it has going for it!), and is very, very inexpensive (and 60 inches wide).  Each of these bags cost well under two dollars to make, and are a lot less offensive to the eye than the horrible (and pricey) paper holiday gift bags that are ubiquitous this time of year.

Here’s the pattern (yeah, I use the fancy “freezer paper” method):

Drafting this is incredibly easy:  Decide what size you want, draw the front, add quarter-inch seams, then draw the base to fit, and finally, the triangle for the sides.

Stitching is likewise fast and easy; I used the side panel color for thread, and made sure to stitch with the contrast color up so that the stitching line was as even as possible where it was going to be most obvious.

I made myself a little scheme so that I’d remember what buttons I’d planned to pair with what bags:

Do note that there are some more somber combinations here, including a rusty burgundy paired with black, and a dark green paired similarly.  Something for everyone!

These bags were a little too floppy, so next time I’ll double the fabric for the fronts and sides, and stitch around the tops and the handle openings for additional support.  Made more sturdily, these might get re-used, a thought that makes me happy!  Regardless, they’re a quick, simple, and very rewarding little project.

Categories: Bags, Fun Tags:

ZÜCA Comment

October 25th, 2010 2 comments

Well, this is interesting. A ZÜCA employee attempted to leave a comment on my post about the ZÜCA Sport Pro without identifying herself as an employee.

Comments on this blog are moderated, and, specifically because she did not identify herself as representing ZÜCA, I did not put her comment through.  (I knew she was a ZÜCA employee because her IP address came through as ZÜCA’s, leaving no doubt as to her identity.)

As I told her in an email, I’m not the only person in the world who believes it is unethical for people to promote business interests in situations where they are not making it clear that they have a business relationship with the product or concern.

When I called her on representing her company’s interests without identifying herself as being affiliated with the company, she claimed to be “commenting as a reader as well as a consumer”.

Well, no, she wasn’t. She’s not a regular reader of my blog, and she saw, and responded to my review of the ZÜCA, only because she is a ZÜCA employee.

Even if she’d just incidentally seen my review somehow — within hours of when it was posted —  it’s unlikely that she would have spontaneously responded in an attempt to promote the company’s interests if she were only  a “reader” and  “consumer”.

Casual “readers” and “consumers” have no reason to promote corporate interests for companies they have nothing to do with, and they sure aren’t trolling for opportunities to do so.

Ethical bloggers, and those who merely obey federal law, are obligated to report any remunerative interest they have in products they feature in blogs.

Ethical companies are careful to make the same disclosures, and don’t allow their employees to post comments on business-related blogs or blog posts without identifying themselves.  Not to mention that, on a strictly pragmatic note,  this is one truly horrible way to cultivate a relationship with a blogger (or even, yes, a real “consumer”) who might have turned out to have been an adoring — and enduring — ZÜCA loyalist.

I’d be interested in knowing if this is acceptable behavior at ZÜCA, or if it is just one employee’s bad judgment.

The Sport Pro is a great bag.  I sure hope the company doesn’t suck.

Related: My New Bag:  ZÜCA Sport Pro Review

Categories: Bags 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: