Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Pretty Panniers

The moment I spotted this book in the library I knew I wanted to make these pannier bags. On my daily bicycle commute, on shopping trips, social visits, sessions of letterpress printing my pannier bags are stuffed full with changes of clothing, food, water, library books, groceries, gifts, anything that will fit all go in my panniers.  I've worn through two sets of pannier bags in five years and developed strong ideas about what would constitute my ideal form.  I have yet to see anything on sale that I consider good enough to spend what new panniers cost- and  my second hand pannier purchases have inevitably been disappointing compromises.

Pannier bags must be capacious and water proof. They should be stable i.e. not get caught in the spokes, bang into your legs or slide around unbalancing the bike. And I want bags that are both high visibility and pretty. I don't need them to be easy to remove from the bike, in fact for security reasons, I appreciate the opposite. I challenge you to show me panniers on the market that meet every one of these criteria.

I would never have dared to try making my own panniers without finding Lisa Lam's book with her detailed and well-illustrated instructions.  I might not have dared to tackle Lisa Lam's pannier pattern without roping in Anna, to make it a collaborative project. Lets spend your school holidays making ourselves pannier bags! I said.  It will be a good challenge, I said, we'll learn lots. And amazingly, Anna said yes.


 Poor Anna, I led us down a dark ally way of quite the most difficult project either of us have ever sewn, and we are both fairly experienced home sewists.  It was definitely a good call to do it together because I would have given up in despair at several points but Anna kept me going, and I believe, visa versa.  However, I would not recommend you try this particular pattern with out an industrial sewing machine: there was simply too much bulk for our domestic machines to handle. 

Capacious insides lined with beautiful brassicas.
We did alter the pattern somewhat: our bags are wider and longer, with a front end angled to avoid hitting pedalling feet and pocket flaps with a fitted velcroed lip, etc. Some of our changes made the sewing harder (extra reinforcing), and some of it made it easier (no buckles).  But the hardest bits to sew on our machines were straight out of Lisa Lam's pattern. One of the best things we did do was first to practice making a mockup from curtain offcuts to come to grips with the pattern's challenges and to test our alterations. 

My flaps are a little big and don't fit the pockets perfectly.  Don't look to closely at the seams please!
 We didn't save any money making our own panniers once you count in buying gorgeous laminated cotton from the USA via Etsy, lots of haberdashery*, a walking foot for my sewing machine and the cost of sewing machine repairs. Interested bystanders who casually remark 'you could make these to sell' invoke hysterical laughter as a response. I think it's meant as a nice, naive compliment.  But, the frustration and anguish of extending far far past our comfort levels as sewists; the moments of accomplishment not only at the end but intermittently when finishing some tricky bit and pronouncing the result 'not completely crap'; the ubiquitous wonky, wabi sabi seams; the passion each of of us feels for our own quirky choices of fabric; all these things bear absolutely no relation to the idea of making things for money.   I am inordinately proud and pleased with my home made panniers but I am under no illusion that they could be a commercially viable product.

Born of blood, sweat and tears (literally)  but aren't they beautiful?
*In the middle of the project we ran out of binding and when Anna went to buy more, the shop ran out of my colour, and when she ordered more, they lost the order. When she finally picked up my long awaited binding, they gave it to her for free, thank you Spotlight. Why does Anna do my shopping? That was part of our division of labour in this collaboration: I'm the one who can read patterns and she's the one who has a car.