Possibilities [the skunk]

This project started out as an investigation of classic-ly styled/designed/formed/functioned messenger bags, and the possibility of mixing some of those elder functionalities with newer ones. We wanted to complete a bag which was no frills* – without it being simply a bucket made of nylon and VCP. It started as one bag, and now is already on the dawn of the second. With that in mind, the first bag is truly the skunk, totally blacked out and incognito, with a bit of striping. It’s completely versed in riding and carrying, it’s features are plentiful, yet not over-bearing (it most closely resembles the second image above). The extra time taken to fully examine the pattern certainly paid off. When the second is done, we can only hope that it will be as successful as the first, which maybe will prompt a third, and a fourth, and so on, and so on. Keep your eyes peeled as these bags germinate this post and find themselves out and about, lurking stealth-like under the radar.

The skunk‘s pattern was carefully executed to resolve more than a few issues – all of which are interconnected and rotating around the classic bag dilema – what it’s final dimensions will be. Actually, on second tought, the dimensions of the bag are really unimportant, what is important is knowing how to achieve them. The skunk was decided to be a mid to large capacity bag, in relation to baggage and baggage2.0 it would be a little smaller overall (shorter in height, a little less wide, and a little deeper at the base**). The skunk‘s final dimensions would be 17″wideX13″tallX9″deep – with the flap hanging 12″ over the front. With these dimensions in mind the pattern could be formed. This is where some time with sewing comes into play, creating the pattern is simple, but without tacit knowing around the topic of sewing you will undoubtedly end up with a bag that does not match your intended dimensions. To achieve the proper results – you must start at it’s center (at least for a raw pattern, starting from scratch). With that in mind the first geometry to draw is the base of the bag, in this case a 17″X9″ rectangle (bear in mind that the second generation of this Possibilities duo will have slightly different dimensions, which will be addressed later – how and why). This 17″X9″ rectangle is the base of the bag, or the footprint, which will determine many of the other measurements. We know that we want the height of the bag to be 13″ so on one side of the 17″X9″ rectangle, it’s center is located and then perpendicular to that, a line is drawn which is 13″, that measurment constitutes the top of the front panel of the bag(at it’s center). However we still do not know the width of the front panel, which is the first dimension to be based on the 17″X9″ rectangle. Before these notes are tapped/typed into place, it is important to address that this (these) bag(s) are asymmetrically built, the sides do not get stitched into place at the center of the base (as done on the backpacks). Instead the bags are built so that the front panel is a little wider than the rear (which is also the flap / becomes the flap) – this is a classic messenger bag rule, what you end up with is about 2/3 of the side of the bag being from the front panel and about a 1/3 of the side of the bag being from the back panel.

This asymmetry does a couple things: it keeps the flap from being unbearably wide, moves the placement of the shoulder strap ahead of the side seam, which keeps the pressure off of that stitching because the forces/pull and weight of the bag is mostly being supported by the front panel, and also – because the front panel constitutes more surface area – it provides adequate room for other materials/hardware on the bag such as Velcro and buckles, pockets, etc (these would not be as effecient or necessary on the back of the bag – as it rests on your back of course). So, asymmetry of the bag leads into the width of the front panel, which also leads into seam allowance for the entire bag. Starting with seam allowance: this is how much extra material you need to cut with your pattern to have the end result match your desired measurements – taking the time to think about it, consider that when you stitch a seam, you lose however much material is on the edge-side (exposed edge) of that material – thus, if you design a pocket to be 5″ wide, you should cut the material about 5.5″ – 6″ wide, so that when you stitch up the sides (the stitching is always inboard, it does not exist RIGHT on the edge of your materials) and your stitches end up about a quarter of an inch in on each side – the pocket will be 5″ wide (one of these days these hairy explanations will be followed by diagrams). Seam allowance on this bag will be 1/4 of an inch, which after careful examination is as close to how inboard the stitching is when using the right side of your presser foot as a guide to keep the stitches consistently spaced from the edge of the material***. Okay, alright, (keeping up with the notes here) the width of the bags front panel should then be 1/2 of an inch more than the width of the base, plus however far back the front panel travels on the side of the bag. This would mean the front panel is 13″ high X 17″ wide + (in this case) 12″ (6″ for each side) + 1/2″ (1/4″ on each side): bringing the total span of the front panel, as is necessary for the pattern, to 29 & 1/2″. with this knowledge then the dimension of the back panel (becoming the flap also) is partly determined: because the front panel of the bag is taking up 6″ of the side (notwithstanding seam allowance) that woud mean that the back panel should take up the other 3″ – keeping in mind that the base is 9″ deep. So the back panel comes to a total of 17″ wide + 6″ (3″ for each side) + 1/2″ (1/4″ on each side for seam allowance) – what is not yet determined is the height of this section. This can be a little arbitrary as some people may prefer a longer flap, for more coverage, or a shorter flap for easier access when wearing the bag**** – what is not so arbitrary is considering the ratio between the front panels height, which constitutes the height of the bag, and the back panels height becoming the flap. In other words, the flap needs to first be at least 13″ high (in this case), and then any additional length from there is arguable. Generally speaking, the additional material would make up about 13″ more, that way when the bag is empty, the flap does not hang any lower than the front panel of the bag (which as has been hammered away at here is 13″ tall). For the skunk a 12″ flap was decided on making the total length of the back panel’s longer dimension 25″, and because the top of that section (or the end of the flap depending on how you look at it) is not stitched to anything it will not require our 1/4″ seam allowance. Therefore the last dimension of this bag to be coupled with the other two is 25″X23 1/2″*****.

Food for thought. While this bag was made, and as the thoughts about the pattern continued to develop it became more and more clear, just how the pattern affects the build of the bag, and the functionality in relation to the user. Here are some further thoughts on the pattern of this bag: What is interesting first is how the base dimensions dictate the rest of the bag – this may be common sense for some aspects of the pattern and/or rather unsubstantial in terms of discovery, but there are a few peculiarities. One is that the width of the flap is quite transparent and quite concrete. As we know by now that measurement is partly due to how much it is offset by the front panel of the bag’s reach around the sides (like we said earlier, this is 3″ + 1/4″ for seam allowance), but something to consider is that the extra 1/2″ that is being used as surface area to sew to the front panel is only being used like this for the bottom 13″ of the back panel – then it becomes a flap – which is 23 1/2″ wide, while the affective width of the back panel is only 23″ wide. Take that as you like. However where the flap’s width becomes more substantial in the build out, is that its width is going to be affected to some extent by placement of the shoulder strap (and the width of the front panel), proving that the measurements of a bag like this all effect each other, it is a symbiotic relationship. If and when the rear panel of this bag grows wider (thus the front panel contracts), it begins to wrap around the bag (when it is in the closed/down position) more. If that factor becomes too great it will cover/interfer with the placement/functionality of the shoulder strap and it’s cam buckle. Of course, this could be accomodated by placing the shoulder strap further back on the side of the bag, or even behind the side-seam, but that may subject the side seam to unecessary stress. Another reason that the placement of the shoulder strap on the front panel accomodates function is that it allows the bag to cradle the back more ergonomically, (also creasing the flap in a way that prevents it from coming up). If, the shoulder strap is positioned rearward users will find that the bag pulls away, as it is filled, from the body more easily (which can be a plus for large loads). This can make it a little harder to control, giving the bag a certain freedom of it’s own to bounce about. Some companies do employ a very rearward harness with great success: one is Pac, and the other is Zugster (if you are a company who uses this strategy, let it be known), not to mention that the Dow Bag also employed this rearward harness design. However, all of these bags which activate this system have a peculiar addition: They use load compression straps, or suspension straps, which work exactly like the suspension straps on a backpacking pack, on the tops of the shoulder straps. In this instance these straps make it possible to cinch the bag closer to the user, separately from the shoulder straps tension on the body. If the bag is completely stuffed, you may leave them wide open to permit easy access, or if the cargo is unruly you may opt to tighten these units down to control the load, or in the most common appliction, these suspension/load adjustment straps keep the bag snug to the body so there is less excess/loose material out of the users control. The last bit of info to keep in mind about the pattern/dimensions of this type of bag is that size matters. Obviously anyone designing such a bag can make it take whatever shape they want: however, if you are scaling your bag up (for more carrying capacity), to only make it wider (and wider), may not be the most affective action. Rather than discuss the subjective qualities of wider bags, versus taller, etc., it is time to consider the user. Perhaps a better way of designing a bag like this is to take into consideration the size of the user – the width of thier torso, and height. If you have an enormous bag that is twice as wide as the user, when it is full, it will easily slide to one side or the other and compete with that persons own physics on the bike. A solution to this, may be to make the bag a little taller and a little deeper, thus achieving the same amount of cargo space with a more stable and manageable bag.

Apparently this bag was a catalyst to talk about patterns, and the many different fluctuating ratios that these patterns take advantage of. In the next post, the vehicle to freedom, will show how these dimensions were adjusted for yet another configuration. Aside from the pattern – there is of course the material, hardware, and organizational configurations to employ. In this case, keeping with the basic black classic format, the materials were easy to come by: first of all everything must be black, from the inside to the outside, zippers, Velcro, buckles etc. – notwithstanding a little bit of reflective accoutrements on the sides for some kind of sanity and saftey. The exterior of the skunk is 1000 denier Cordura (1000D all the way around, no Ballistic bottom boot here), and the inside liner is 18 ounce VCP (vinyl coated polyester, not to be confused with PVC). All Velcro is 1.5″ wide, with the hook side attached to the front of the bag, and the loop side attached perpendicuarly (the the hook) across the under-side of the flap. The interior pocket is composed of 200 denier coated oxford nylon, and creates 7 separated areas, one with a black zipper for closure, and finally a single pen pocket. As mentioned before, this bag was meant to be something of a classic design with just a few contemporary features that have proven themselves quite useful. The first of these two features are the extra set of female-end side-release buckles (all hardware is ITW Nexus on the skunk attached to the top of the front panel. Those two little buckle ends are really useful to keep your flap-straps out of the way when they are not in use (around here that means most of the time). The second “contemporary” feature is not necessarily used on any other bags that we know of, but it is nonetheless an addition to such a bag and it’s design. This is the middle pocket, it is an always open pocket sandwiched between the exterior 1000D and the interior 18 ounce VCP. The middle pocket is as wide as the front panel of the bag, and on the skunk it is 11″ deep – made with 200D oxford coated nylon. The idea of it is to create a quick access pocket like that of the backpacks, for U-locks and anything else that is not going to run away on a normal run. The thing about this middle pocket pocket is that it was necessary to keep “hidden” in order to maintain the classic look of the bag. Obviously, as was done on the backpacks, someone could simply sew a flat pocket right on top of the front panels exterior, but aesthetically that was not the right direction in this instance, which is why on the skunk it is cleverly(?) tucked in between the exterior and the interior, keeping it out of sight, but also taking full advantage of the bags natural function. So far it is a true winner of convenience – no more cramming your U-lock into your parcels, and then fumbling for it’s location later on. Also to note is the wrap-around Velcro, further stabilizing the flap in strong winds and rain, essentially this is acheived by placing two extra strips of Velcro (one on each side), onto the sides of the bag (PAC uses this idea also). The last (for the moment) feature of discussion is the shoulder strap, which uses your most basic cam buckle, this is probably the oldest, but most well tested, shoulder strap system. These are the reasons why it was implemented: it is classic, it is simple, simple = functionally superior, but mostly – because the cam buckle uses dive belt webbing, it is very secure and easy on the shoulder for heavy loads, you do not get slippage like on the x-straps often used, and in all seriousness, a split strap is pure novelty (interjection anyone?) – when push comes to shove, a single cam buckle with a bit of dive belt webbing is the most secure, durable, and versatile format to use. This elder setup can be looked at as fewer parts = fewer problems, seatbelt webbing is too flimsy for practical everyday use (unless you bolster it with padding, but then you run into problems of bags being made for use over one shoulder only [some companies allow the user to switch this, BaileyWorks being one of them], and also the problem of not being able to tighten up the bag anymore than the padding will allow).

*Which is partly the reason for going with basic black. It seems that the basic black bag is a thing of the past(?) – as more and more companies move towards the bright and bold designs, and custom options for bag aesthetics. There is one company that still proudly offers the “black bag”, Seagull Bags. Why is this considered important? Well, to put it simply, A) Black goes well with everything, B) The world is full of unnecessary things, and in a time when when people are latching onto more and more trinkets and toys, perhaps it is easier on our being to take a step back and enjoy simplicity, C) Keeping it simple means longevity of function, the best wheels are round for a reason.

**For all intents and purposes, we will consider the height of the bag, exactly that – if it is sitting on the shelf, with some stuff in it, how high up the front of it stands. The width of the bag, how much the span is left to right, still sitting on the shelf. And the depth, how far back the back of the bag is from the front panel (the front panel being the opposite side of the bag which encounters the users back). This rather strange explanation is because, in terms of depth, that could define two things, either how deep the bag is (it’s height) or how wide the bag is according to it’s base. This is confusing no matter how it’s described – so a diagram to follow soon is in order.

***Adjust your seam allowance to suit your needs. Depending on your accuracy, your binding tape or bias tape, your presser feet – with guides or not, your materials (do they fray easily or not at all), your stitching (is it a straight stitch or an overlock stitch, if it is an overlock stitch, your seam allowance will be exactly what the serger cuts the excess material to be, therefore it is a precise measurement), or lastly depending on if you need the excess material on the interior of your item to stitch in other accoutrements.

****If you wear the bag snug to your body and up high on your shoulder – a lot of flap can be quite cumbersome to get out of the way when you need to access the interior of the bag. But of course if you live in area with extreme weather shifts, the added coverage has it’s benefits in keeping your belongings dry and safe.

*****Something to note is that these patterns are drawn out from the center (once the dimensions are factored), this was mentioned before, but what this means is that the center of the base works like an X-axis: once it’s center is drawn in, then the other dimensions follow from there, so instead of drawing 3 rectangles on top of each other, it is like 6 rectangles moving out from a center line. This keeps everything lined up very easily, as opposed to going around the shapes and using 90 degree angles, which in terms of materials that are sewn, never seems to work that well. Example: a center line is drawn and from that line marks are made at equal distance on both sides at precisely 11 1/4″ – this governs the width of the flap, etc., etc..

3 Comments so far

  1. J Tizzle December 2nd, 2008 9:22 pm


    Dude, that looks like a robot in a coffin.

  2. admin December 22nd, 2008 12:49 pm

    Funny you mention this. Because originally this was supposed to be packaging design for a robot – the stripes are actually it’s treads. The middle box with the X is an LED screen that has voice activation animated by the LED’s. However, due to lack of financial means for such an expensive LED screen – it was decided that the imagery better constituted a black satchel of sorts. This we know now as the skunk. With that said, perhaps we should address what these images really constitute. For the needlefeed website, they are considered to be a kind of reflexive moment traveling back and forth between the computer and the sewing machine, and then back again into the computer. We find that there is an intensive quality by creating this rabbit hole, or mirror within mirrors to step between alternate dimensions. And, of course speaking of dimensions, the “screen shots” here display a flat and/or
    1D mode of the skunk, and of course when the bag is stitched together it will become 3D, but only by folding the 1D upon itself allowing this jump from the first dimension to the third. If we can see this “robot” then more clearly it would seem to signify propulsion at the galactic scale. The skunk itself is a traveler, and when thrown over the users back we will be confronted by the movement again, in the most physical mode that we relate to daily.


  3. BROTHER DB2-B791-015 » Click Clack February 5th, 2009 1:03 pm

    […] Brother DB2-B791-015 was having some maintenance issues while finishing up the skunk and the NFCO. Or at least it was making some noise while the stitching for the main strap(s) were […]