Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How to Sew a Multipurpose Pack Cover

Wowwee these long and humid summer days are racing by! I only have two more weeks stateside!

I recently went up on the Long Trail to hike a segment with my boyfriend Ben, testing out my tent, Sugar Mama, walking the 'big ups' and steep downs of the Green Mountains, and making the acquaintance of young bearded through-hiker/hero who called himself Beowulf. Ben and I spent the next several days enjoying Middlebury, Vermont's Festival 'off' the Green, where we heard some wonderful live music at the town's annual folk celebration. I seriously enjoyed the lady folk trio Harpeth Rising and the lively Quebecois gents of Le Vent du Nord, to whose music there was much moonlight dancing and rejoicing (shout out to the fine festival goer-dancer-friend Nellie Pierce).

Things are continuing to fall into place as I prepare to imminently depart for Dominica. One step that was completed today was the creation of a multipurpose pack cover. We used Just Jeff's Homemade Gear Hammock/Pack Cover as a guide, as wisely recommended by my dear friend David. I felt that a few steps were not perfectly clear, so I decided to document my process, in hopes that it may be useful to you, and so you can avoid the expensive pack covers sold in many shops. I'm very pleased with the finished product (thanks for all your help, Mom)!  This is a beginner-friendly project for any seamstress; and I've tried to be as thorough as I can. Thus, without further ado:

How to Sew a Multipurpose Pack Cover!

Completed Pack Cover
1. Begin by gathering all your materials. I purchased three yards of rip-stop nylon fabric and one spool of nylon thread at the local Joann's Fabric Store. This turned out to be more than enough fabric; 1.5 yards would have been plenty. I plan to use the excess to make a tent footprint for my Sugar Mama. I also purchased 1/8 inch (3mm) paracord to use as a drawstring for the pack cover, purchased at a local camping store called Gleason's. I used about 20 feet of rope, but had lots of extra when the pack was drawn tight. I used this slack to wrap around my backpack straps to secure the cover to my pack. The cover could easily be drawn around the pack so that the pack is wearable while covered. The extra slack also helped to tie the cover up when not in use, for easy carry.
gathering materials
Other materials we used included a pair of scissors, yard stick, flexible measuring tape, pen, seam ripper, pins/pin cusion, safety pin, and sewing machine. We also included wine, because yes.

my sewing machine, ready with nylon thread

2. Next let's plan out the design. I want this pack cover to work as rain protection and to contain all the straps and doohickeys of my pack while in transit as a checked bag. It could also work as a ground cloth, food bag, water bag, gear hammock, and other functions.

The basic design of this pack cover is very simple. It is a rectangular sheet with seams on all four sides, leaving room for a drawstring to be threaded through the gap between the edge and the sewn seam. We cut a rectangle of fabric that was 50 inches by 57 inches, with a plan to make one inch seams. The lines on the rip-stop fabric made it easy to trace and cut the lines with our measuring tape, yardstick, and pen.

Once the fabric is sewn, the paracord is fed through the seams and pulled to cinch the edges of the rectangle around the pack or whatever you are storing. The corners are the most complicated step. I'll explain them next.

3. To sew the four corners, begin by folding the corner inward and tucking in the sharp edge, to make a trapezoid shape. Tucking the edge is mainly a cosmetic choice, but it makes a tidier product. Pin this to hold it in place. Repeat on all four corners.
pinning the corner
Prepare your sewing machine by threading the needle and bobbin with your nylon thread. I chose a zig-zag stitch with moderate tension. Sew the four corners down along the trapezoid you pinned, and remove the pins as you go. This should look like the picture below when complete.
sewn corner

4. The next step is to pin down the sides of the big rectangle to make the seams. I made the fold of the seam so that it matched up with the corner of our completed trapezoids. Use the sewing machine again to sew down these sides to make your seams. This was our most troubling step because the machine jammed a few times. I think this is due to my machine, but the slippery fabric and thick thread may have also played a role. Take your time. This is when having a loving, patient mother to come help unjam your machine and continue the project is indispensable. Thank youu!
completed seams with paracord ready

5. Hooray! All the sewing is done! This next part is very fun. Attach one end of your paracord to a big safety pin. Feed the safety pin and cord in through one end of a seam and scrunch the fabric over the pin to send the pin down through to the other side. Continue this process until your rope comes out at the same corner where you began. Pull it through until your two ends of cord are even (while the cover remains flat and rectangular), and knot the two ends of cord together. I looped the two ends while parallel to each other for a strong but simple knot.
finished with sewing and adding cord

6. Now play with your new pack cover! Try cinching it tightly, or extending it out. You can pull on the different bits of rope exposed at the corners to create many shapes and purposes. My pack is a Gregory women's 60 liter pack, and the cover fit nicely around it, with some extra bulk, but with relative snugness.
nice fit!

7. The pack cover folds up small, and only weighs a few ounces. Yay!

Alternately, you could use elastic or some kind of bungie cord to make your pack cover, but I felt that was less versatile. A helpful addition would also be to add a cordlock to the end of the cord pieces, rather than just a knot.
ready for stowing

Thanks for stopping in! I wish you the best of luck with your sewing and other types of adventures. I welcome your feedback, as always.


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