Author Archives: penny

Keeping Technical Clothing Clean

I’ve heard it many, many times:

“You are supposed to wash it?”

“I don’t want to ruin it by washing it.”

“My coat doesn’t keep me dry anymore but I have never washed it”.

Really? You think that sweat, grime, and dirt is GOOD for your clothing? Enough of my ranting. Keeping your investment clean a critical component to making it last. Salt, grime, sweat,  and body oils reduce the function of the properties that make your clothing special. Surface dirt affects the DWR (Durable Water Repellency), and the rest of it can clog moisture movement.

The days of Ivory Soap Flakes are long gone. Now there are excellent products out on the market that make keeping your clothing clean and functioning easy. The two main product lines are Nikwax and Granger’s. They both make a full line of environmentally friendly and easy to use laundry products specifically formulated for different types of fibers. You will want to read the label to be sure you are matching the right product for your particular item. There are down washes, soft shell washes, fleece washes and washes for hardshells and even ropes.

For hard shells, you will have the choice of a one-step or two step process. The steps are cleaning your item, and refreshing the DWR. The two-step process is washing first, then waterproofing.   I have not yet tried the newer one step products. If you opt for the two step process for your hardshell, I suggest using the spray-on for the #2 step, and not the wash-in. The reason to choose the spray on is that that you will not be coating the lining of your item with DWR, which, if coated, can make it feel funky and possibly reduce the effectiveness. Whether you go one-step or two, it is easy: just follow the directions on the bottle.

I wash all our shell clothing at the end of the ski season, and then again mid-way through. One additional thing you can do with your shells is to toss them in a low dryer for a few minutes without washing them. The heat reactivates the DWR, which is the treatment that makes moisture bead up on the outside.  WARNING: use a low dryer, not hot. Hot dryers are the enemy.  The DWR does lose effectiveness after time, due to environmental conditions, so you will want to renew it using the above instructions to wash and renew. You know if moisture is not beading up that it’s time.

You can do down items with down-specific products. There are two critical elements. The first is to only use a non-agitator washer like a front loader, and the second is drying your down. The drying is the critical element with down as it can take hours of air dry and breaking up clumps by hand to get your item fully dry.

A few other tips:

  • HOT dryers are the enemy. Avoid them at all costs. You can melt things and  cause seam seal tape to delaminate.
  • You can use “Shout” and similar laundry helpers to get grime and grease out. You can even use Simple Green or Dawn for things like chair lift grease.
  • Do not spend extra money for sportswear oriented laundry products. Just use your regular stuff with some OxiClean.
  • For handwashing, just use baby shampoo instead of Woolite. Milder, and cheaper.

 

 

Demystifying Waterproof Breathable Fabrics

On the old site, I had a page about waterproof breathable fabrics. It was an attempt to decode the technical jargon and explain the differences in the various types of waterproof breathable fabrics. Two-layer? Three-layer? Monolithic coatings? It’s very overwhelming for we fabric tech people, much less the lay person.  Instead of trying to explain all this myself in a new, updated article, I am sharing this excellent article that is current and does a fantastic job of cutting through the BS and obfuscation that surrounds fabric technology. Even if you are like me and all the tech-speak starts to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher (“wrrrrrr-wrrrrrr-wrrrr”), this one is highly readable.

The following article comes from Blister Gear Review,  an independent adventure sport website whose mission is to publish the most in-depth and honest gear reviews on the planet.   I really like this blog for its non-nonsense, real world reviews. My original intent was to reprint the article here, but at 5+ pages with images it’s easier to link. This article is a “must read” if you have any interest at all in understanding the technology that drives outerwear design and technical fabric development and use.

Outerwear 101

Excerpt:
2L vs. 3L Shells

Here is an important question when purchasing a shell: 2 Layer or 3 Layer? And does it really matter?

2L – The Original

2L garments are constructed with two layers; a nylon face fabric (generally with a DWR) that is bonded to a WP/BR laminate. 2L garments are always lined with some sort of lining fabric. These linings are generally made of thin nylon or mesh, and serve two purposes. First, the lining keeps the laminate from direct contact with the skin. This is important because the laminate generally has a plastic feel to it and can be quite uncomfortable.

The lining’s main purpose, however, is to protect the laminate. Even though the laminates are engineered to be resistant to fouling, without further protection of the laminate, its durability can suffer greatly. 2L garments are generally constructed with some amount of seam taping. Seam taping keeps water and wind out at the seams, but does not breathe.

2L outerwear dominates the market for many reasons. 2L construction lends itself quite well to making insulating garments, which dominate the consumer market. (People want their coats to be warm. Who knew?) 2L construction is also less expensive because the technology has been around much longer. The construction of the garments is easier because the lining allows many sewing options with less need for seam taping, and the design is easier because of the ability to work with a lining.

3L – Or, Why does this jacket cost $600???

3L garments are constructed with 3 layers: (1) a nylon face fabric (with a DWR) that is bonded to (2) a WP/BR laminate, which is bonded to (3) a tricot layer on the inside.

3L construction: blue = nylon face, yellow = WP/BR laminate, orange = tricot liner

3L construction: Blue = nylon face; Yellow = WP/BR laminate; Orange = tricot liner.

3L garments are not constructed with a lining and are therefore often shells. 3L pieces generally use the most advanced (and therefore expensive) fabrics and laminates. These fabrics make up some of the most technical pieces of outerwear available. Construction of 3L garments is difficult. Every seam has to be taped or welded, and every cut greatly modifies the look of the garment. Given that both seam taping and the fabric are extremely expensive, and construction is difficult, 3L garments can be costly pieces of outerwear.

So why bother to make (or buy) a 3L jacket, when you could just produce or purchase a 2L jacket?

There are a few reasons why 3L construction has gained a lot of momentum in the industry lately. First is performance: the addition of the bonded tricot liner increases the breathability of the garment. The tricot is hydrophilic and, as you sweat, the tricot preferentially absorbs your sweat and transports it to the laminate so it can diffuse out. Contrast this with a 2L garment, where the water vapor has to randomly bump into the laminate while navigating between your skin and the lining to diffuse out.

The next advantage is weight. 3L garments can be made without a lining, and therefore, save a substantial amount of weight when compared to their 2L counterparts.

The final advantage is the durability of 3L construction. The addition of the tricot liner adds a significant amount of support and protection for the laminate that is not present in a 2L garment. In short, a 3L garment will have better performance, with less weight, and be more durable than a comparable 2L design—albeit at about twice the cost.

2.5L – Or, What in the hell is a half a layer?

This is not a very common construction in the world of winter outerwear, but it is a common source of confusion, so we’ll briefly touch on it.

A 2.5L fabric is made up of two and half layers—sort of. It has a nylon face fabric (with a DWR), a WP/BR laminate, and then a printed lining. This printed lining is present for the sake of protecting the laminate, but does little to eliminate the clammy, plastic feeling of the laminate directly on the skin; hence the designation of a half of a layer. 2.5L fabrics are used on active rainwear because they are easier to produce and end up being lighter than 3L garments, though less comfortable.

 

Make Lycra Bike Shorts, Part 2

Time to finish the shorts by adding elastics. The quality of the elastic does matter. I recommend the 1″ no-roll for the waistband.

1" non roll elastic

1″ non roll elastic

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gripper elastics

Gripper elastics

For gripper, there are lots of kinds available from the suppliers at sources. The amount of stretch in each kind will vary so you will need to experiment for the correct fit around your thighs.

Do not use the pattern instruction numbers to cut your elastic, especially for the legs.  Put the shorts on sans leg elastic, and measure thigh circumference at the desired length of the shorts. Cut the elastic just a little bit shorter, or use the same number, allowing for overlap. This will give you a nice, flat, non-sausagey look.The elastic may actually be longer than the leg opening, not to worry – just stretch the lycra to put the elastic on smoothly.  For most people, the numbers given with the pattern instructions are way too short, and create a thigh elastic that is just too tight. Warning: you may have to experiment here to get the feel that is right for you. I recommended basting your elastic on first to check the length keeping in mind that when you actually stitch it, it may grow a bit.

Note: for all elastic installation, divide elastic and garment opening into quarters and mark/match up quarters, stretching elastic and/or lycra as you go to distribute stretch evenly.

For a nice finish on your gripper elastic:

serge elastic onto WS of legs

serge elastic onto WS of legs

1. Use wooly nylon to serge the elastic to the inside (WS) of the shorts leg.

2. Use a narrow zig-zag to stitch loose edge of the elastic to the WS of the shorts.

 

 

Finished leg elastic

Finished leg elastic

3.Turn elastic up, and then  stitch again on the upper edge of the elastic from the inside. Use a wider zig-zag, or a 3-step zig zag. View is from the outside.

 

 

 

For waist elastic, first check that shorts waist does not need altering in height, or fit. Ladies, this is a good time to adjust if you prefer a low-rise cut. Be sure and leave 1″ extra for the elastic install.  Now,  cut a length of 1″ elastic that feels comfortable around your waist. Pull it up a few inches, over lap the ends 1/2″, and cut. If you prefer to work with actual numbers, cut the waist elastic 60% of the desired finished size, then cut and over lap.

To install the waist elastic,  see notes above. Serge the elastic onto the WS raw edge of the shorts. Turn to inside, and topstitch on with a wide zig-zag. Be sure to pull on the elastic, flattening  the lycra to the waistband as you go. (pulling out wrinkles).

You should be done now – ride ’em like you stole ’em.

Make Lycra Bike Shorts, Part 1

IMG_4632Making biking shorts can be a rewarding project. If you have a serger, a machine that does a zigzag stitch, and basic sewing skills, you should find these easy enough. If you do not have a serger, do not despair as long as your machine has some zigzag options. If you need a reference, the Singer books on active wear, sergers or stretch fabrics are all very good.  Unfortunately, many patterns for cycling gear have been discontinued. You may find them on eBay, Esty or other venues for older patterns. Jalie has made 2216, their multisize pattern for shorts and jerseys, available for download for a small fee. Other patterns to look for are Stretch & Sew 313 and 312, Kwik Sew 1727 and 1233, and Green Pepper 404 and 409. Sometimes retailers will have old stock for sale.

flowerjerseyLycra Notes: Different lycras have different amounts of stretch. Swim lycra is thinner, and is less supportive, plus the quality will  vary depending on where you buy it. Swim prints are fun for a panel insert. Supplex lycra has a lot of give, and is  cool to wear in the summer. 9 oz,  called Beefy or Cordura lycra, is excellent, but heavier/warmer. It is very supportive, and very durable. You may need to go up a size in your patterns if you use this lycra as it is more dense and less stretchy than other types of lycra. There are some two way only lycras out there (rashel knits) These only stretch lengthwise; DO NOT BUY this kind of knit. Be sure the lycra is 4-way stretch.  If your local store does not have a good selection of lycra, check the Sources page.

Sewing notes: For seams, a serger with wooly nylon is best. You can experiment with flat-lock seams if you want, but I have not had good success with the typical 2/3 thread flat lock options. If you have a cover stitch machine, you can play with seaming it from both the RS and WS to mimic a top loop cover stitch. If you only have a regular machine for your seams, look and see if your machine does this stitch: __//__// ; it is an excellent stitch for seaming lycra.

Chamois/Pads: I used to make them from scratch but forget that. AeroTech Designs has a fabulous selection of chamois to choose from to put into your shorts. The pads come with installation instructions.

Cut: Cut the pattern according to directions. You may want to add extra length to the legs, or some additional seam allowance if you think you might want to make adjustments to the fit. Mark the pieces carefully as it is easy to get the panels mixed up. Because of narrow seam allowances, use a pencil to mark instead of snips. If you want to put in a print accent, replace one of the side panels. Do not put on the elastic at the waist or legs, or put in the chamois yet.

Fit: Once you have the shell of the short made, you can tweak the fit. I have a really small waist, so I always take it in from the hips on up. You can also make the legs longer or shorter, or lower the waist. Do not forget that you will fold over the waist and the legs 1″ when you add the elastic.

Installation of waist and gripper elastics will be covered in part 2.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that used to exist on the original website

 

 

“How Did You Get Into This?”

I get asked a lot, “how did you get into this”? I’ve been sewing my whole life, starting with little blankets for my Breyer horses. I was first exposed to the outdoors industry working for Pat Smith and MountainSmith in 1983 when he was still in his garage and made the move to the  first facility. There,  I was a jill-of-all-trades batching packs for the sewers, inspecting packs, shipping and almost anything else. This was my first exposure to entrepreneurship, outdoors goods, industrial machines and production.

I cobbled together most of an apparel design degree but  did not complete it due to life happening.  I spent a lot of years doing custom clothing and bridal. When we moved to Spokane it was a great opportunity to quit that niche. Honestly, as a jeans-coated-with-dog-hair kind of gal, and piles of gear all over the place, it never was a good fit.  In the meantime, I was rummaging through the back tables in fabric stores as the first fleeces were just starting to come out.   A few patterns became available and I was able to outfit my husband and little boys with fleece garments. Adult fleece garments were spendy, and there was nothing for kids. In my quest to make affordable gear, I began to reverse engineer, tweak, and search out information that was not obvious for the home sewer.  This was noticed in the community, and a guy said to me, “you should be repairing gear”. What a great idea!

Spokane is the kind of place where small businesses are supported by the community, and we have a very active outdoors community here. It wasn’t long at all before I was getting known as “The Zipper Lady”.  I got the bright idea to build a website in ’97 or so, and established an online presence. Back then it was easy: hand code some HTML, add some links and voila`: a website is born.

I had read about Usenet in a women’s magazine and I sought out rec.backcountry. My Usenet newbie “hello, I can fix your gear” post did not go over well, and the trolls had a field day. I do not remember who it was, but I am ever grateful to the kind soul who emailed me and gently explained the Usenet faux pas I had made and let me know the correct way to (non) advertise on a non-commercial newsgroup. The key was participation and a one line signature, so that’s what I did. I helped people do their own repairs, told them where to find materials, advised them on gear care, and in return, they called on me when it was time for a pro. In addition, I was for many years a moderator and participant in the Gear Makers forum at the Backpacking.net site.

Throughout all this, the work started coming in. Whether it was a referral from a website, friend-of-a-friend, search engine, an outdoors club, or a referral from a manufacturer I confess I never kept track after I got to 45/50 states and some international work.  I now have arrangements with  local stores to collect local work, in addition to contract work and all the great folks that somehow find me. I’ve never consciously advertised, but I do believe that the willingness to share information and help other when I can contributes to things coming my way.  This leads me to thoughts on hoarding information, which will be posted another day.

Love, Attachment, and Saying Goodbye

very old REI tag

very old REI tag

Over the years, I have seen some amazing classics come through the shop. It’s always amusing when I have the same thing buried in the gear room somewhere. This happens more often than you think. Snow Lion, Petzl, first generation Patagonia and Marmot, Gerry; REI labels from the 70s….great old stuff. Some of it is terrific shape, and some of it is beat to shreds.

I DO understand your relationship with your gear. I get that you romanced and honeymooned in that tent, and your children were conceived in it. Perhaps you summited a particular peak with a certain coat or pack. Maybe you’ve had that day pack forever, taken it around the world, and it still works. Or it did, except for the zipper, My job is to know when to repair and give an item a little TLC, and when to find a tactful way to say, “it’s done”. I always feel bad as I do empathize!

1980: Alpenlite backpack,  wool from Army Navy surplus and Goodwill, Pivetta  5 hiking boots, Epoke 900s and Narrona 3-pin boots in the backpack. Location: Snow Creek trail, Yosemite

1980: Alpenlite backpack, wool from Army Navy surplus and Goodwill, Pivetta 5 hiking boots, Epoke 900s and Narrona 3-pin boots in the backpack. Location: Snow Creek trail, Yosemite

I confess that I didn’t truly get this until we had a family event that underscored this attachment. We used to have a Jansport traildome. The green one with the fiberglass poles? You know it if you’ve been around as long as I have. It was actually my husbands, acquired sometime in the late ’70s.  He and I did our first winter ski trip in it and many many backpack trips in the Sierra, and the Colorado and Wyoming Rockies. We had K-Koted the leaking floor back in 1985, Fast forward to the mid 90’s, when my husband and I are stoked to finally have the kids in their own tent (the Jansport) on family trips. We were camping on the backside of Mt. St. Helens, and over night there was a torrential downpour. Our kids roused us because the inside of the tent was a lake. Sigh. It was obvious: this tent was at the end of its life. How could that be? All I know is that it felt horrible and somehow wrong to toss it in a dumpster, but that’s what I did. Would a little farewell ceremony have been better? I’m not sure about that but I still recall the angst.

 

How do you know when it’s time to toss? Things like Velcro, snaps, zippers, and drawstrings are an easy fix. If the item needs patching, is the patch now going to be the strongest part of the item? This is not a good thing. How about the base fabric? Is it in good condition or is it showing signs of fading, thread breakdown, or UV-induced weakness? For tents especially, UV breakdown of the fabric and breakdown of the coatings is a sure sign of an elderly tent. Mildew and flakey coatings are unrepairable. In my experience, there is no good fix for worn floors or worn flies.  If you must use your tent on its last legs, the blue tarp fix (over the tent,  and/ or another one inside and on the floor) is the only real way to stay dry.

I can’t tell you the right way to say goodbye to beloved old gear. Whether you toss it,  tuck it into the rafters of your garage, or have a memorial ritual is up to you. What I can tell you is how to take care of what you do have, and make it last as long as it possibly can.

Happy Trails until next time…

 

 

 

 

 

Working With Silnylon

This is the first of several articles from the “old” site that I will be reissuing on the blog. I have some great info on tarps along with a file full of assorted schematics that I plan to put together in a tarps entry coming up.

Silnylon is silicon impregnated ripstop nylon. It is extremely waterproof, extremely lightweight (1.1 oz. per yard), and extremely durable. Ultralight backpackers love it for this reason. It’s a little tricky to work with, but making your own gear out of silnylon is very rewarding.  Tarps, tarptents, raingear and even re-usable shopping bags can be made with silnylon.

You can find it at Thru-hiker.com, Outdoors Wilderness Fabrics. Check the Sources page for additional suppliers.

Sewing:

  • use “taut sewing”: apply tension to the fabric with your hands, in front of and in back of the needle. The object is to tension the fabric, not pull it through.
  • use a good quality polyester thread
  • a walking foot (even feed) is a very helpful accessory
  • Use a #80 or 90 needle and make sure it is new and sharp

 

Pinning:

  • glue stick
  • binder clips
  • pins in seam allowance

 
Cutting:

  • use SHARP shears.
  • try hot cutting two layers with a soldering iron, using a sheet of glass underneath. This will seal your cut edge so it won’t ravel, and if your two edges are going to be seamed anyway it will hold them together.
  • rotary cutter with mat

 
Seam ideas:

  • Plain Hem: fold 3/4″ twice and edgestitch.
  • Mock flat fell seam: illustrated here. To make a “mock” felled seam, use a 1″and 1/2″ seam allowances, and fold the longer one around, then top stitch
  • Seam illustrated at Ayce’s Workshop

 
Sealing silnylon: use McNett Silnet.

Welcome to the New Site and Blog

Welcome to the new Specialty Outdoors site and the new blog. I’m excited to bring this live!  The hand-coded 1997 version was overdue for a makeover.  It’s been a while in the works: after some futile attempts to update the site myself, I realized I was in over my head and went to plan B, hiring some pros to help me do it. So, first of all, big thanks to Nile Sprague of www.nilestyle.com for the web help and Ted Moon of MoonVue Graphics for the graphics.

I love the new look, and hope you do too. My intent is to provide clear information about the business side of Specialty Outdoors, and to bring freshness to the “Tips” section. I may muse a little about my work.  Don’t freak if you can’t find some of the tips you may have had bookmarked: older material will be updated via blog entries, and I hope to introduce new material as I go along.

Where does “Badass Sewing for Dirtbags” come from? Not too long ago, I was introducing myself to one of the new ski patrollers at our home mountain, and that’s what he said: “I’ve heard about you! You do badass sewing for dirtbags!” That made my day, and it beats the heck out being The Zipper Lady.

You can follow me  on Facebook or right here.

Stay tuned and thanks!!