I often split my days between working in the shop, riding a bike, and working in the office. In addition, I do a lot of adventure sports in the evenings, weekends and vacations. I have long been looking for clothes that can stand up to the rigors of hiking, biking, canyoneering, traveling, and still work for the office. I have finally found it in Rail Riders, a small clothing manufacturer that came out of the sailing world. Unlike a lot of the heavy cotton tactical clothes like the previously-reviewed 5.11 shirts and pants, Rail Riders’ synthetic fabrics are all chosen for their light weight, ruggedness, and water shedding capabilities. The added bonus is they offer several styles that can also work in an office setting, without making you look like you’re an off-duty SWAT team member.
Prices reflect the high quality and short-run nature of the garments, but I have yet to be disappointed with anything they sell. Their clothes are used by adventure racing teams, Himalayan expeditions, and world sailors. On a recent all-day canyon trip, everyone but me came back with the seats of their pants shredded. While this stuff is extremely rugged, it’s not overweight. Many of Rail Riders’ fabrics also have a water repellent treatment that has saved me from some embarrassing accidents while eating or drinking in the car or at my desk.
I did a lot of research into hip cases when trying to find one for my Palm TX five years back. These handmade leather cases not only look good, but they’re incredibly durable. Each one I’ve had has always outlasted each of my phones with very little sign of wear. Handmade from a single piece of leather, the cases are very supple. When empty they lie almost completely flat. When the case is new, the fit is a little snug. And although the case does relax over time, it’s never enough to allow your phone to slip out. I’ve had cases with and without a top flap. Neither my Blackberry nor my Nokia ever fell out of the case despite there being no top flap (note: Blackberry cases also include the “magic magnet” that signals a Blackberry so it knows when it’s in a case).
With my first case I went with a belt loop model because I thought it’d be more secure than the multi-way clip. Since there’s no way to remove the case without removing your belt, I switched to the belt clip with my second case. Turns out the clip is rock solid and incredibly secure. Really keeps the case in much closer to the body so it doesn’t get knocked about as much as other swivel-clip cases. Anything that’s going to get my case off my belt is likely going to have to take a large part of the belt — and possibly a bit of the hip — with it.
A little pricey, but not compared to other high-end, leather cases. From time to time you can also find coupons that’ll knock 10% off. Incredibly well made and worth every penny. I now budget the cost of the case whenever I consider a new cell phone and I even just fired an email to Nutshell asking when they’ll have a G1 case in stock. I should add that I’ve been able to reuse some of the cases with devices of similar size.
Available in various colors, though I always go with black. Made in New Zealand, they typically take less than 10 days to get to me in the U.S.
I am an architect and have been working with programs like Photoshop for years, but Spoonflower really opened up a new world for me: fabric design. It’s a service that let’s you upload an image to a web site and the company prints the design as a pattern on 100% cotton fabric. Their customer service is great, and I think the fabric is reasonably-priced: it costs $18/yard, not counting shipping, and an individual 8×8-inch swatch is $5. The site is still in beta, so I had to request an invite to use Spoonflower, but a week after contacting them I was experimenting with patterns and ordering fabric.
So far, I’ve placed three orders with three different designs (3×3 yards worth) at $ 66 per order, shipping included. The trickiest part was preparing the image file so the pattern matches up. I used the “define pattern” command in Photoshop to test my image files before I uploaded them. I defined the image size (150 dpi), set colors to LAB color space and saved the files in TIF format. After I uploaded them to the Spoonflower site, they were automatically tiled to fill the desired fabric size. Then I specified the shipping address, paid using my credit card and that’s it! The turnaround was reasonably quick: my fabric arrived in a month (I live in Switzerland). I made a skirt with the fabric from my first order — a present for my Mom (pic below).
A couple caveats: I have noticed some distortion after washing the fabric and there was a little color shifting from my original designs. Still, the color shifting and fabric distortion really are minor. Overall, I’m happy with the color accuracy and I’ve been very satisfied with my orders. I have been having a lot of fun with Spoonflower and will likely place my fourth order very soon. I am even considering setting up an Etsy shop to sell some of my fabrics.
Related items previously reviewed on Cool Tools:
Books on Demand
Brother Sewing Machine
[Check out this blogger's side-by-side close-ups of fabric printed from her artwork. One of her conclusions: "strong graphic lines turn out better than images with subtle shading." -- SL]
The Remington Shortcut is a clipper designed for self-administered haircuts. A curved clipper head makes it almost impossible to over-cut small or large regions, and the clipper’s unconventional hairbrush-like shape makes it easy to reach the most awkward spots on your head. Before getting the Shortcut, I’d tried cutting my own hair several times and always had disasters. On my first attempt with the Shortcut, I got about the same results I’m used to from a pro, which rather astounded me. It seems almost impossible to mess up. Using the Shortcut takes me five to ten minutes, which I usually fit in just before showering for obvious reasons. The cutter can be set from “skinhead” to “George Clooney” and you can easily mix lengths on the sides and top for effect. Once you get used to five minute haircuts on-demand they’re rather addictive. Going to the barber for a typical male haircut now seems as silly — and time wasting — as traveling across town for a shave. Every time I use the Shortcut I save about $20 and at least an hour and a half of my time — a good return on my initial investment.
Due to surgery, I couldn’t wear a belt for a while, so I turned to suspenders. But whenever I’d wear a sweater, I’d have to remove the sweater, then slide the suspenders off and drop my trousers in order to got the bathroom. Then I discovered these suspenders that have only two clips, which attach where it sounds like they should — at your sides, instead of the front and back. My sweater stays on, and I can relieve myself and re-fasten the clips in no time. I wear a dressier version (good for us office workers), but Duluth also offers a heaver-duty kind for guys and gals partial to heavier canvas work pants.
Better than the smoke jumper cinch belt (I’ve tried it) is Patagonia’s Tech Web Belt. It’s lighter and handsomer, comes in colors, and you don’t have the noise and debris-collection of Velcro. I’ve worn mine for six months at all occasions from dressy to sweaty. Trim your new belt to the exact convenient size you want, flame-melt the cut end so it doesn’t fray, and you’ve got the perfect custom belt.
I basically own three pairs of shoes. One is a pair of flip-flops that I wear around the house like sandals. Another is a fancy pair of dress shoes that I dust off for weddings, bar-mitzvahs, funerals, and schwanky dress-up events. But for everyday wear in professional office environments, during travel, and for general romping about, I keep a pair of 10″ Rocky side-zip leather boots on my feet seven days a week.
The handy side-zip means that getting in and out of these boots is loafer-fast — an essential feature for daily wear or moving quickly through airport security lines. The lacing enables me to customize the fit for my feet, but once that’s done, I go months without retying the laces. These boots are designed for use by police officers and other law enforcement and EMS-types, so they’re versatile, rugged, and incredibly comfortable (once they’re broken in). The black, all-leather uppers have clean and simple lines, so they look good in any casual office environment. The boot styling provides ample ankle support, which is nice for hiking, long walks, or keeping my feet dry in wet, snowy, sandy, or muddy environments.
During a typical week, I’ll wear these boots to work from Monday to Friday, then keep them on my feet during the weekend as I wander through the deep snows of Lake Tahoe, or explore abandoned buildings, or stroll along sandy beaches of the Pacific Coast. Yet even after all that abuse, 20 seconds’ worth of buffing is all it takes to clean the boots up in time to walk to work on Monday. When new, there’s an initial break-in period that lasts for three or four days (during which I carry band-aids to prevent blisters). But the leather softens up quickly, and thereafter they feel perfectly natural on my feet. An occasional dose of shoe polish is all that’s needed to keep them looking great. I’m on my third pair now, and with regular shines to condition the leather, I easily get 3 years of daily wear out of ‘em before all the cumulative abuse makes them sub-optimal for office wear. I buy mine from Galls. Check out all the testimonials — kind of hilarious.
The problem I have with regular knitting is getting started. With a hat, for example, I have a lot of trouble getting my size just right and having the first row look neat and not sloppy. Knifty Knitters completely eliminate the size problem and allow you to make the first row just as neat as every other row. Each loom is basically a round circle with pegs on it. Since you are wrapping the yarn on preset pegs, the problem of keeping the stitches the same length is eliminated. I have the round set for hats and the long set, which is mainly for scarves and blankets. Each set comes with four looms. The round set labels the looms by size: baby, child, adult and the largest is either for a big-headed adult or for other projects (like ponchos). They come with directions, which are really easy to follow. I made my first hat while watching a movie. As you work, your hat starts to build up and hang down underneath as you go, which is pretty neat to watch. When it is long enough (the directions tell you how long for different sizes), you use this plastic needle to thread a piece of yarn through the loops at the end and drawstring it tight and tie. Then you use this little hook to pop it off. Done.
I totally recommend these for the serious and the totally not serious crafter. They’re pretty cheap. They’re easy. And even on your first try, you end up with a really good finished product you can wear or give to someone. I have about a dozen friends who have gotten them since my recommendation and all of them are really into them. Even my husband made a hat for his sister’s kid while watching a movie and it came out perfect. The looms are made for thicker yarns, but if you have tons of old thin yarn you can double it up and use two strands as one (or even three) and that makes it so you can do all kinds of color combinations.
I found the long set a tiny bit harder when I got started (i.e. figuring out the corners), but after a few minutes messing with it I was rolling out a scarf. There are other looms I have not tried from Knifty Knitters, like a flower one and a rectangle one, which all make different things. They also have pompom and tassel makers and one that lets you make tube scarves. But there are tons of other things you can do with the same hat loom, too. My friend got a great book from her library; Knifty Knitters’ web site has a few ideas; and I recently found a sock pattern on the Internet and made pair using the smallest loom in the round set. It was way way way easier than it looked and they came out perfect.
Knitting Without Tears
Brother Sewing Machine
This photo-driven book documents the life and work of legendary tailor Nudie Cohn, whose eccentric pieces of wearable art were worn by countless country, rock and pop musicians, everyone from Elvis to Elton John. The free-for-all that is Japanese street fashion is undeniably more outlandish, but if you keep in mind how Nudie made everyone look like Liberace (even macho country boys in the conservative ’50s!), his work becomes all the more inspiring. There are numerous, thicker retrospectives with glossy snapshots of flashy rodeo wear, but this is the only book that focuses entirely on Nudie.
His story is so enticing I don’t know why no one’s written a comprehensive, narrative non-fiction biography about him: After immigrating from Russia, he became an amateur boxer, spent time hitchhiking coast to coast and eventually started fashioning clothes and costumes out of his garage in the ’40s. If you’re a serious seamster or occasional stitch ‘n bitcher, his embroidery will get your juices flowing. If you’re a home crafter or tinkerer with big aspirations, here’s another fine example of what’s possible.
Most people know to buy acid-free photo albums for old family snapshots, but the same care goes for old garments. For years I’ve been relying on inexpensive, unbuffered acid-free tissue paper to ensure some dear family heirlooms will remain in tact for years to come, including a piece of beaded silk from my step-grandmother’s dance costume from the ’20s. Regular tissue paper is acidic and will yellow over time and damage fragile fabrics, especially silk. Unbuffered, acid-free tissue paper is completely PH neutral. If you want to spend a little more, you can also buy acid-free cardboard boxes from an archival supplier, but as long as you have a buffer of tissue between the plastic and the contents, a standard plastic storage bin is an easy and inexpensive solution. Just make sure to keep the lid slightly ajar to avoid creating a microclimate of heat and moisture. I also separate each garment with additional tissue. The textiles themselves need to be positioned as they are intended to be worn, with as few folds as possible (sharp folds will eventually turn into breaks in the fabric). If I must fold a piece, I go back and refold it every six months in order to avoid permanent creasing and tearing. I also use the acid-free tissue to pad out the inside of the garment in order to maintain its original shape. There are a few important environmental conditions that must be maintained, but this is not particularly difficult: store bins in a dark, cool place (65 degrees Fahrenheit) and maintain the relative humidity level (50% is ideal).
A cardboard box carelessly stuffed with baby clothes or a wedding dress that’s left in a non-regulated environment can suffer a variety of damages: disintegration of delicate fabrics from contact to acidic surfaces (i.e. cardboard boxes); breaks in fabric due to creases, folds, and tight storage; fading from exposure to light; swelling and distortion of the fabric and the running of colors due to moisture; whereas too dry causes brittleness and breakage; and, of course, insect infestation. Moth larvae will eat just about everything: wool, feathers, fur, hair, leather, lint, dust, paper and occasionally cotton, linen, silk, and synthetic fibers. They’re also attracted to blood, sweat, and other biological substances, so you MUST clean your clothing prior to storage. You can also get stiff, buffered acid-free tissue, which is specifically intended for balancing the PH of cellulosic textiles such as cotton and linen. However, unbuffered really is the way to go if you’re dealing with a range of organic material, especially if it’s going to be housed in one box — it’s also slightly cheaper. I took graduate classes in museum conservation, but didn’t decide to properly pack away my own treasures until I assisted with the treatment of a rather large 20th century costume collection infested with moths. We rehoused literally hundreds of garments, ranging from turn of the century wedding gowns to 80’s silk shirts with shoulder pads, using the same unbuffered acid-free tissue paper you can get from any archival supplier.