{October 5, 2014}   Pocket hacking

I saw an article about pockets today (or rather the lack thereof on womens’ clothing), and it prompted me to finally start the blog about pockets and pocket-like things that I’ve been putting off way too long. So long, in fact, that I’m not really sure where to start. This is going to be a long one – but don’t worry, there are plenty of images. :)

One of my hobbies the last couple of years has been working on pocket alternatives (utility belts, purse mods, etc). But I feel like the story starts much further back…

Pockets to Purses to Utility Belts

In grade school, I had pockets. And I loved pockets. I always carried at least a pencil and notepad, probably as far back as grade 2 (I remember writing poems in it at recess). By highschool, I was into cargo pants, and filled my pockets with all kinds of useful things.

In university, my style changed, and I didn’t want to wear cargo pants any more. But that meant less pockets – and the problem has been getting steadily worse ever since. These days, even jeans have undersized or fake pockets. Skirts and dresses almost never have any at all.

At first, I tried offloading some of the pocket stuff to my backpack. That had problems, though – especially for my wallet and phone. The backpack was harder for me to reach, and easier for thieves. One good development came from that, though – I started thinking about backpack organization (but I’ll leave that for another post).

I resisted buying a purse for a long time – I’m not quite sure why. Probably because I still felt uncomfortable with anything so stereotypically feminine. They looked incredibly impractical, too. But one day I saw one that was perfect for me – small enough to not hurt my shoulder, adjustable so I could stop it from swinging around while cycling, and comfortably androgynous without being ugly. It even had a detachable strap, so I could easily untangle it from jackets and backpacks.

That purse lasted several years, and was repaired quite a bit, until the zipper was truly unsalvageable. :) my essentials were in there, easily reached and secure, and everything else went in my backpack.

[side note: it turns out that purse is still available on the interwebs – but they only ship to the states. FFFFFUUUUUUUUUU]

Since then, I’ve never found a purse quite as good. Purses have some inherent disadvantages that annoy me, anyways. I have to remember to take my purse off before adding or removing a sweater or jacket. It swings around wildly at inconvenient times. It’s never as waterproof as it ought to be in such a rainy city (see also: hats). It can only hold a tiny weight without being a strain on my shoulder. And there’s always that little fear that I’ll accidentally leave it somewhere.

So, a few years ago, I started looking into utility belts. I’ve seen some really pretty ones in stores, but it’s infuriatingly hard to find one that even fits me, let alone suits my needs. They seem mostly built for much larger girls.

I do own a couple, though. The first one was a slim leather-and-brass thing I found in a discount bin at a stall at a festival. At the time, my phone just barely fit in one of the main pouches. It was useful for a while, but just couldn’t quite hold enough; I’m not sure my current phone would fit at all. The second utility belt was bigger, but a little too big; it was just a little awkward reaching the bottom of the pockets, and there wasn’t a good safe place for a phone to not get scratched. It was also kind of ugly.

With those, I discovered that utility belts had their own set of disadvantages, too. Pouches that were small and snug still had an amazing ability to interfere with seating, despite my small frame, and get caught on chair arms and such. Pouches that were bigger tended to flap around awkwardly, and interfered even more. If my pants actually had pockets, they were harder to reach (but at this point that hardly matters). Utility belts never have any waterproofing, so they have to hide under my jacket, making awkward lumps. Even if they did have waterproofing, taking the belt off to put my jacket on would probably be even more annoying than doing the same with a purse.

Still, I wanted to try my hand at solving these problems – or at least making a utility belt with appropriately sized pockets. Somewhere in my planning, I had the idea to start small and modular, with pouches that could attach to any belt (or combine to form giga-purse), so that I could experiment more easily. The first one: a simple phone holder.

Modular pockets: Iteration 1

I was very unsure about that phone holder, so I decided to make a rough prototype out of foam. On the one hand, I was right: even before finishing it I had plenty of ideas for improvements. On the other hand, it was a bit too fragile, and broke often enough to interfere with testing. Still, I patched it up and used it for a while, and learned a lot.

At about the same time, I was looking for a way to put my wallet on my belt. I had a nicely sized wallet that even looked nice; the challenge was making it attach so that I could easily detach it to fish out coins or keys, without making it easy to steal. I ended up using magnetic purse-clasps to attach it easily, with a chain to prevent theft and forgetfulness.

Between the phone case and the wallet, I discovered some pretty tricky issues. If the belt they were on wasn’t in belt loops, they would slide along the belt, and the belt itself would slide too. If they were on belt loops, getting them on and off meant taking the whole belt out and then rethreading it. And reaching them under my jacket was very inconvenient, especially with my long jacket. The wallet got knocked off fairly easily, and while the chain kept it safe, it was still annoying.

In the end, I went back to purses while I planned the next iteration, and found myself too busy for sewing soon after. I did make a purse organizer at one point (the wallet didn’t fit in any purse), but the fabric was weaker than expected and soon gave out, and the pouches were just deep enough to be awkward anyways.

It wasn’t until this summer, when I saw a woman wearing an awesome leg-holster-thingy, that I was inspired to try again.

Iteration 2

First off was a new phone holder, this time out of fabric, and including a pouch for things like lip balm and earplugs (yep, still got the fucking noise sensitivity). I stuck velcro on the back of it, then threw together a quick armband with elastic, velcro and a safety pin to test. It worked surprisingly well and became a handy little thing to use around the house, or at parties safe enough to leave my wallet unattended. The velcro keeps it from shifting too much when I’m pulling the phone out, and also is easy to detach (a bit too easy, though; I can’t wear it outside until I have some clip to hold it securely).

Oh, and I also added a Velcro patch to my Halloween purse, since it didn’t have a
separate space for my phone:

Molle Experiments

After discussing the pocket problem with some friends, one of them introduced me to the molle system. tl;dr: it’s how the military attaches modular pouches to vests, backpacks, etc. This seemed great – one of the problems I was trying to solve had already been researched; they just hadn’t made it look pretty.

Of course, it turned out to be not quite so simple. I tried making a simple molle strap with a velcro patch, so that I could attach the phone case to a belt. The first attempt undid itself at the slightest pull. :P It turns out that the way molle straps usually loop around a bit wasn’t just redundancy; you need at least one fold to keep it from popping open. Luckily I was able to get that minimal one fold by just moving half of the snap, and then I had a usable fastener.


That wasn’t the only problem, though. I was back to the old issue of loops over belts: they slide around the belt, and the pressure tends to make the belt bunch up. I’m hoping to solve that on the next iteration, by making a belt that’s two layers thick, sewn together to make small molle loops. I’ve also got a crazy idea involving those kitchen bag clips… probably won’t work. :)

Anyways, at the moment I’m working on a pouch to hold laundry things. It’ll be good practice and a test of the molle thing. Once that’s done, I’ll make a belt to hold it and my phone case with less slipping. If that works out, the next project could be something for outside the house. :)

Winter is Coming

It turns out there are seasonal issues with these things too, though. The phone-on-armband doesn’t work so well when the temperature is in that awkward range where my sweater is on and off every few minutes. It’s harder to get it on over a sweater, too. The utility belt is more useful in summer, when I can avoid the jacket issues I already mentioned. I kinda wonder if I should add molle loops to the jackets themselves, to make up for their sad little tiny pockets… But then I have to worry about weight distribution and whether it’ll make the jacket swing around…

Anyways, that’s a peek into what I’ve been working on when I’m not programming! :) I’ll try and remember to post again when I’ve done more experiments. Maybe next time I’ll try to summarize the problems and solutions I’ve found, too, since this post was more of a narrative. I still feel like I have more questions than answers right now.

et cetera