Since I lived in Belgium (from 2002), I have always carried my passport with me; it was mandatory there and it stuck. I never owned an ID Card. I have this in a pouch that originally belonged to my Rand McNally Streetfinder III Navman GPS unit. This was a GPS receiver that clicked onto the back of a Palm III (see ebay for example, as long as it’s available). I have long thrown away the Navman, but the pouch has been doing passport duty for 20 years, but it started to fray and tear apart. It was good, but I missed two things:

  • A little pocket for a SD card and a camera battery (I lost an empty SD card once because it had become lodged in my passport’s paged, then I dropped in when I opened the passport above a grating)
  • An outside pocket so you could have tickets ready instead of having to pull out 20 sheets of folded A4 paper and search for the right ones.
Old passport bag with contents
The Rand McNally bag, it usually carries my passport, a SwissCard, a metre of ducktape on a credit card and a few metres of toilet paper. In this case, it also carried my printed-out COVID vaccination passes and a multi USB charge cable.

I also had a coverall and old jeans and shoes that I needed to throw out; they were covered in grease from doing a grote klus on the sailing vessel Ebenhaëzer. A grote klus is a mayor overhaul, where we cleaned old grease from the inside of the hull and applied new one; the grease protects the hull from rust, and in cleaning it (literally scraping it off) you will get very, very dirty, to such an end that I usually wore very old clothes as clean ones when going to the ship, then changed into even dirtier and older clothes. I had one shoe with a loose sole, which I ducktaped to keep it together.

The clothes were so dirty they could not be washed to a state where they were usable again, and I had not used them in a few years.

Old clothing
Dirty clothes. The shoes made a key organizer!

My original plan was to make a small zippered pouch from the coverall’s front pocket zippers, so I liberated them with a stitch removal tool.

But after I had liberated them I decided that this was too cumbersome as it was a little too small to put a passport inside, and could damage things in my backpack. So I changed plans to a loop seam (open on the sides) with a simple loop of shoelace to pull the pouch closed; this worked well on the old pouch.

I cut up the coveralls. I used the upper part of the the back which was both the cleanest and the largest area without seams. Then ironed it and drew a pattern on it with chalk. I could make the intended bag exactly twice out of this piece of cloth.

I based the pattern on the design of the old pouch, so it would have a bit of a flat bottom. The inner rectangles are the front and back sides, the two bands at top and bottom the loops for the pullcord, and the area outside is for the seams.

I then made two inside pockets for the SD card and the battery from the inside of the jeans pockets. The pocket for the battery is difficult as it’s sorta 3D, but I just made sure there was enough cloth around the outline. Then I seamed top edge of the denim front pocket. I then sew that to the bottom edge, folded the sides up and seamed everything together. Then I threaded the shoelace through the top loop and sew it to the pouch on the far end.

I disliked the end result for four reasons:

  • The seams for the SD/Battery pockets were ugly on the bag; I had expected them to be an interesting addition but I disliked them.
  • I disliked how the bottom corners came out
  • I seamed too close to the edge of the denim front pocket, it already started to tear out.
  • I had not given the loop seams for the pullcord at top an end seam on the open end, but instead folded them in like with the rest of the side (I made the bag inside out) so they made an ugly “snout” to the pouch when carried on it.

Fortunately, I had just enough material for another pouch. Things I changed in this model:

  • I first folded over side of the top pullcord loop seam and seamed that.
  • I seamed all edges of the denim, reducing the chances of tear out.
  • I redesigned the bottom without the triangles; they still have a little rounded edge to them
  • I moved the SD card pocket the side behind the outside pocket so those seams would be invisible; and I seamed all edges of this inside pocket to prevent tearout

I don’t like to work with sewing pins, but I found out that you can keep the creases in seams decent by ironing them, at least with cotton at high temperature. Then it’s easy to sew this.

I have no formal training in sewing and no clue how to adjust a sewing machine. I have a problem that sometimes the bottom wire makes endless loops and you have to cut a bunch of wires out. I don’t know whether I’m doing something wrong or it’s just because I have a cheap sewing machine — an Aiger HSM5657A that was my ex-girlfriends but when we split up, I kept it because she had used it zero times and I had used it three times at the time. Anyway, I have had to cut out the bottom wire looping many times. Also, the machine started to squeak so I decided to oil it. I didn’t have the manual anymore but quickly found it online. It showed where to oil with an image of the open top, but not how to open the top, and all two screws I could find would not make the top open. After a while of peeking I found two more screws under the carrying handle and oiled the machine. It’s interesting that there is some mechanical complexity, but it was far simpler than I would’ve expected based on the complex stitch patterns it can make.

Also, the bottom spool wire ran out when I was making the last seam, so I had to re-spool that, something that I loved to watch my mother do on her sewing machine:

Other than that, it was simple to continue and finish the bag. Well, when I say simple, I didn’t mean quick. All in all it took me 6 hours to do this all, including cleaning and oiling the machine.

I am not entirely satisfied how the top end came together, but I just ran a few extra stitches over it so it’ll hold, and it definitely looks better than my first attempt, especially with the red and zinc paint spats from the Ebenhaëzer. I reused the cord stopper from my old pouch, so everything except the red thread is recycled. And it holds everything I want it to hold.

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