It happens all the time:
He says, "You made this?" opening and closing the zipper, groping the seams, unfastening the velcro with a sound that is unavoidably violent. His eyes and fingers breeze over the marriage of canvas and felted wool, tug on a handle. For a moment he seems impressed, but inevitably his next words are something like, "Have you thought of working with Cordura?" or, "I have a buddy who can get a hold of a lot of Tyvek."
I may not own a car or a microwave, but I am somehow still aware of the plethora of modern synthetic outdoor fabrics in existence. These high-tech, plasticky-looking materials can reflect, repel, deflect, protect...the list goes on. Such fabrics lend themselves well to Himalayan expeditions, unsupported Polar exploration, and whatever NASA is doing these days. But I, like many Portlanders, am a daily bike commuter. I'm riding my bike to work, or the grocery store, or maybe even down the coast for a few days--not crossing a Patagonian plateau. I'd rather look like a regular person with some aesthetic appeal and a bit of class than someone who won a shopping spree at REI. Enter the timeless beauty and unquestionable durability of American-milled cotton duck canvas, and natural wool felted for unparalleled softness and dyeability. There's no question that bags made of Cordura, Nylon and the like are durable, well-made, and serve their purpose. But when searching the local market for bike bags, I felt a lacking sense of artistry. I wanted the bags to reflect the same level of classic, thoughtful design and materials put into assembling my bike. An American-made Wald basket desires a classy canvas bag; a steel frame begs to support an army-green canvas frame bag; cork handlebar tape finds a friend in wooden toggle closures. I think of my bike as a lovingly-made penne al Arrabiata, and I want its bags to be a nice bottle of Chianti, capisce?
While natural materials like cotton and wool sure are easy on the eyes, they're not sacrificing anything in the way of function or durability. There's a reason that thrift stores and army surplus stores are still filled with used canvas rucksacks from the turn of the century onward: that stuff lasts forever! The tight weave of duck canvas cloth lends itself well to repelling water and debris. (For a shameless testimonial to the durability of canvas, see a future post on that time my bike got destroyed but its bags did not). Wool is equally mind-boggling in its magical ability to repel water and dirt, is hypoallergenic, and is naturally resistant to mildew, UV, color fading, stains, flame, and odors. Plus wool makes you look like a real class-act.
The result of all this lamenting about my all-fuzzy-inside feelings for canvas and wool is a bunch of bags, then more bags, bigger and more complex, then a new sewing machine, a growing product list, and now this website (store coming soon). If you share my love of well-made and pretty things, natural materials, non-sweatshop products, bicycles that are sort of heavy and slow, a woman's touch in the bicycle industry, and a sense of humor about all topics listed above, then please check back often for more blog posts, unprofessional pictures, and someday, a real easy way to buy Makeshifter bags online.