Heart on My Sleeve

Sleeveless Nights

For a year or so, I had been carrying my Freitag backpack on a daily basis, occasionally bringing my laptop out to work or cafes. However, the thing about Freitag bags, or at least the model I had (F49 Fringe), they did not offer any padding for what looks like a laptop compartment. But after scrolling through the official site, I realised it wasn’t made to be a laptop bag despite the compartment offering a strangely snug fit for an average laptop.

I did not feel at ease putting my laptop in that compartment with only a layer or two of tarpaulin separating the laptop from the outside world. I remembered a time when I put my backpack down a little quickly onto the chair in front of me and I could noticeably hear the sound of my laptop hitting the surface of the chair.

That was the last straw for me.

I love the backpack and I also stand behind Freitag’s legacy of repurposing tarp from trucks into utilitarian gear but I have issues with the design of the Fringe model. Nonetheless, I decided to take it into my own hands and make a laptop sleeve for protection should I still want to put the laptop in the backpack. I also wanted a case in the event that I brought my laptop out in any other bag that does not offer cushioning or protection (which turned out to be the main reason as I hardly carry backpacks nowadays).

My Freitag F49 Fringe Backpack

Pocket compartment of backpack does not have any sort of padding 

Upping the Ante

This time round, I decided to break from the norm of doing some research and finding out what other people have sewn and made to keep their laptops safe.

I wanted to listen to my own intuition and also come up with my own sequence of steps and patterns by reverse engineering the product I visualised in my head.

I knew I had to have some padding in the sleeve or else it might as well be a cloth envelope.

Back then, I did not know about fusible interfacing (a padded layer that offers a little thickness and cushioning and also sticks to the garment after ironing – usually pasted on the wrong side of the fabric) or any other interfacing.

So instead, I went looking around the fabric store and ended up buying a roll of felt. Felt is a lot thicker than any interfacing and presents its own set of problems which I’ll share later.

Sketching and drafting the laptop sleeve before the production starts

The Prep

By this time, I had switched to a new laptop, a 14-inch MacBook Pro, and I referenced Apple’s official dimensions for measurements. But just for precaution, I also measured my actual laptop just to make sure the measurements were the same.

Measurements of the 14-inch MacBook Pro (2022) on Apple’s website

The laptop sleeve that I had pictured in my head was similar to a manilla envelope, with a slit at the short end to access the laptop inside.

The one thing I kept struggling with was the method of keeping the flap down and the laptop protected. I cycled through different ways to keep it closed – velcro, hook and bar, snaps, buttons. Perhaps I was overthinking this part but I realised that ever since I started working on ODDBALL KIND, I wanted the products I made to have grace and finesse. The metallic feel of snaps or hooks and bars took away from the softness of the fabric and velcro did not seem like a permanent solution.

During this ideation stage, I suddenly recalled the large envelopes that had a string that wrapped around the washer to close the envelope, and that gave me the inspiration to use piping cord as a way to keep the laptop sleeve closed.

The Making

I first laid out the patches on the floor to colour block to my taste. I started with the longer panel (the panel with the flap). Joining the different patches together and reinforcing the sewing with the sashiko stitching, I formed the outer layer and joined it to the layer of felt (right side facing right side).

Laying out patches for colour blocking on both front and back panels

While doing so, I made sure to keep the loops, which would be holding the cords, facing inwards before finishing up the sewing on that panel. I then flipped the panel inside out and did the same with the shorter panel before joining the two panels with a blanket stitch that ran most of the perimeter. After which, I tied two long pieces of cord to each loop and experimented with various knots to keep the sleeve closed.

Takeaways

One of the main challenges for me was the tying of knots. I have a long way to go to understanding knots and utilising them to problem solve whilst not creating more problems. I ended up having two different knots for both sides. One was adjustable while the other used a variant of a mandarin knot.

Also, I learnt that because felt was so thick, I ended up having to do a blanket stitch to bind the panels together because the sewing machine could not feed in that many layers. I broke a few sewing machine needles trying to force my way in and ended up resorting to hand stitching to close up any seams. Looking back now, I realised that I had to plan my pattern differently and not simply cut two pieces of equal sizes (one for the outer layer and one from felt) as flipping it inside out ended up creating an extra ‘layer’ around the perimeter, meaning that I now had to go through four layers of fabric (two layers of outer fabric and two layers of felt) to close up the seam and even more layers to stitch the two panels together.

Moving forward, any work utilising felt as a backing of sorts has to have an outer layer that is larger than the backing layer. The outer layer should have the same dimensions as the felt backing, but with added compensation for seam allowance and also taking into account the thickness of the felt when flipping inside out.

Moreover, the cords also proved to be impractical as they don’t maintain the tension when they are removed from their position – they just dangle and getting them back into the positions they need to be turned out to be even more troublesome.

For instance, the left cord knot might come loose from the loop holding it when I am focusing on securing the right cord knot. I found this out after bringing the sleeve and my laptop to Kazakhstan and fumbling to take the laptop out from the sleeve and struggling to put it back after security checks.

Nonetheless, this episode has shown me how far I’ve come in sewing and also made me appreciate how invaluable intuition is. Although I ended up with new problems, these are expected when experimenting with new materials and patterns. Sewing has taught me a lot, from all the seams that I had to unpick, to every technique and tip that I’ve tried to incorporate. It has been a long journey but boy, is it fun.

– The Kind Oddball, 優しく個性的な人

Laptop Sleeve

Closeup of reinforced sashiko stitching

Single-stitch sashiko in white

Blanket stitch that binds top and bottom panels

Closeup of zig-zag stitches to mend hole in light denim patch

Zig-zag stitches to mend holes in light denim patch

Sketch based on finished laptop sleeve

Layer of felt inside both panels (1)

Layer of felt inside both panels (2)

No more sleeveless nights (until the next iteration)

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