Heard it Through The Grapevine

Epiphany

A couple of months back, after catching up with a friend whom I have not seen in a long time, I learnt that he uses pouches to compartmentalise the belongings in his bag. And what surprised me more was that he does this for all the bags that he carries. In the midst of that conversation, I remembered looking down to my shoulder sling bag and the mess that it contains – things were going everywhere. The bag I carried had no pockets and everything was moving around in the bag whenever I used it.

This often left me in awkward situations where I had to stop in my tracks and rummage through my bag for smaller items such as my ear plugs and my AirPods. I had thought about compartmentalising a bag before but I never considered using pouches. Since they can be taken out and put into other bags, they would be more practical as a whole. Besides, I could steal a little of my friend’s organisational skills since he is a very tidy person. I was on to something…

Old Nemeses

The idea of a pouch sat in my head, brewing whilst I went about doing my daily rituals. It grew on me day after day and a few weeks later, I was more than eager to make a pouch to hold some of the smaller loose items in my bag. I was going to start small first – perhaps a small pouch to hold one or two items. I was after all a little intrigued by some of the products from the mini bag craze and the specialised bags which only carried one item.

Saint Laurent’s Niki Micro Embellished Crinkled-leather AirPods Case that carries only one item.

Jacquemus, likely the brand which brought about the mini bag trend, with its signature Le Chiquito (LE RAPHIA) bag.

The problem was, I still could not figure out how to enclose the pouch without using going back to zips, button snaps or velcro. I see the versatility in those tools and their many applications but I always thought they were rather unsophisticated and lacked grace. Call me old-fashioned but ever since I embarked on my sewing journey, I have gradually developed a love for traditional, non-intrusive ways of holding things together. There’s just something about old is gold.

Zips can sometimes be bulky. They are usually noisy too. Moreover, they can be difficult to use when they catch onto fabric or other items within. Not to mention the stiff and hard zipper teeth and zipper contrasts most of the softer fabrics which I get my hands on.

Button snaps, similar to zips, also make sounds upon closing. Moreover, they are akin to rivets, where their application requires puncturing a hole through the fabric and securing both sides in place. And the plasticky feel of button snaps does not sit as well when I’m using scrap fabrics.

Velcro, one of the most (if not the most) modern of all these solutions to hold things together, makes a sound that is comparable to flesh being pulled apart. Not that I’ve heard what that sounds like, but I can picture it. And not just that, opening a velcro compartment is a loud affair. I have been made the target of many gazes for opening velcro compartments at the movie theatre. Moreover, because of how the tiny hooks on the velcro, it is not uncommon to have dust and dirt catch on to the surfaces.

However, I do recognise that every fastener has its pros and cons, and since I am making these pouches, I want to go with what I like – create them in the size I want, with the tools that I want.

As much as I liked cord and fabric ties, using them on small pouches may not be practical. Untangling or unknotting them might already take too much time and the ties might be much longer than the pouches themselves.

My pouch idea came to a standstill.

An Unlikely Friend

One day, while I was taking photos for my canvas jeans (read about my previous post here), I came to notice that my camera bag had an interesting way of fastening, one which I have overlooked countless times. The top flap was not just longer than the bottom flap, but they both share the same stitch line. This means that I will have to reach under the top flap and then over the bottom flap in order to access the contents of the compartment. It is so simple yet ingenious.

I then set out to create a smaller pouch that used this concept.

The fastening system of my camera bag – unassuming but sophisticated.

Bottom flap has to be pulled down and top flap keeps item from falling out. 

Pouch 1 – SD Card Pouch

The first pouch I made was to store the memory cards I used for my photos and now videos. I decided to stick to my old Nikon D5100 to shoot content and ever since, I have already spent time on a few occasions trying to find misplaced memory cards.

After getting the measurements of the SD cards and the transparent case I had for one of them, I tried to reverse engineer the same flap system as the camera bag’s compartment. Using felt as a protective layer, I set out making the first pouch.

Overall, the pouch looks and feels sturdy. However, turning the pouch inside out after sewing proved to be a real hassle due to the thick felt layer. Moreover, the felt layer also adds substantial thickness at every step of the production process. I broke a sewing machine needle during the process and had to hand stitch some of the thicker parts.

Pouch 2 – Supposed AirPods Case

Learning from the lessons of the first iteration, I decided to not use felt as a backing. I made some rough measurements of the AirPods and dived straight in to sew the pouch to the lining within.

However, the AirPods case could not fit into the pouch. I reasoned that there were two reasons for it:

  1. I did not account for the depth of the AirPods case, which meant that the pattern measurements would have to compensate and accommodate for that
  2. The fastening system of the camera bag worked well only if there was a tough backing on the opposite side. The flimsier second iteration made it difficult to open the pouch as the fabric ran everywhere.

In the end, I used the pouch to store my earplugs, which were given by a friend during the Billie Eilish concert earlier this year.

Pouch 3 – AirPods Case Attempt 2

It was back to the drawing board for the next iteration as I had to think of an alternative to the previous fastening flap system.

As I was revisiting the different fastening methods, it dawned on me that I had earlier dismissed buttons too quickly. Perhaps so as the jeans and pants that I had taken apart largely used metallic buttons and rivets. And also, maybe the idea of setting up the button hole attachment on the sewing machine and making measurements proved too much trouble. Or perhaps I just wasn’t that good at sewing buttons and hence avoided it. Nevertheless, the idea of buttons stuck with me and after digging through my collection of scrap materials, I realised I still had some buttons of different sorts that were likely from shirts and possibly some pants.

I decided to give buttons a try.

Lucrin’s AirPods Pro Case  uses one single continuous leather piece that runs from the flap and curves to cover the white case.

Maison Margiela’s Leather AirPods case has a similar construction, including the notch at the bottom for charging.

I went with the felt backing again and a different pattern this time. The pattern was inspired after looking at how leather AirPods cases from brands such as Lucrin and Maison Margiela used a single continuous piece. However, fabric, unlike leather, does not hold its shape well. Nonetheless, I decided that the main body of the case was to be a continuous piece while the flap at the top could be separate. I also wanted a hole at the bottom of the case to allow easier charging, and also for the top flap to be wavy and uneven.

Much to my dismay, the case was way too small for the white AirPods case and stopped short of sewing on the buttons. It was probably because of the many layers of felt which I did not account for and also my miscalculations for not giving enough excess for this new pattern.

Pouch 4 – The Oddball ‘Cheshire’ AirPods Case Prototype

I revisited the measurements of the pattern and decided to ditch the felt material: for something this small, felt only ended up obstructing the sewing process. Perhaps a foam backing or some padding would be a good alternative but the only one I had was a fusible non-woven interfacing. Interfacing is used in many applications to provide stiffness and thickness – it’s found in the waistband of most jeans (hence it’s the stiffest part of most pairs of jeans) and also in the collars and cuffs of shirts.

Building off the previous few iterations, I finally landed on something which I liked. Though the case needs a bit more fine-tuning, I was contented with this version. A friend I showed the design to commented how it looked ‘Cheshire’, referencing the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland and I think that name stuck with me.

Closing Thoughts

The process of developing things is one that is not devoid of frustration. In fact, there are times when I get fed up when things don’t work. Being stuck on an idea for weeks or months on end doesn’t help the cause either. However, if you look with an objective eye, you’ll see that these ‘failed’ iterations only serve to teach you and to hone your sensitivities and intuition.

I will be improving on the Oddball Cheshire AirPods Case and might even sell a few in the coming months.

P.S. The making of Pouches 3 and 4 is also documented on video on Instagram – here. This being the first time working on my own video, I had a lot to learn about editing and colour-grading, areas which I can definitely improve on. I’d love to know more so please send resources my way if you know of any that has helped you with video production!

– The Kind Oddball, 優しく個性的な人

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