I’ll just admit it up front; this post is going to be all over the place. Yes, it’s an RV project. And yes, there’s sewing. But beyond that, it’s going to wander. I can’t tell you how to follow along because I’m frankly not good at sewing. Not yet anyway. Me sewing is like your mom taking you to the movies when you were a teenager. Yeah, you’ll get there; but you really wish it was someone else doing the driving. So with that caveat out of the way, let’s get started.
What I’m tackling here is the storage space that we have on the underside of our flip-up bed. Winnebago had originally supplied a large Velcro pocket that covered up most of this space.
Since we typically store bikes underneath the bed, we didn’t want to strap axes or other heavy things under there lest we damage the bikes. So we started storing our dirty laundry in the bag. But this was a problem because the bag was a simple envelope affair, which meant it got really tight once you put a few things in it. The other problem was the Velcro. It was what can only be described as RAZOR SHARP. After about the 20th bloody cuticle from trying to put a pair of shorts in the laundry bag, I decided to do something else.
So I ordered this 20″x60″ net storage bag from Organized Obie. This certainly made it less painful to put things in and out of the laundry bag. But we soon faced another problem.
You see, that net storage bag is meant for lightweight items. So by the time we load it up with a few days’ worth of dirty laundry, it starts to sag. Stef has some sort of problem with my dirty underwear and cycling bibs blocking the door to her wardrobe, so she told me I needed to go back to the drawing board and come up with something better. After thinking on it for a while, I came up with these requirements:
- Bag(s) should occupy about the same 20” x 60” space as the original.
- Bag(s) should be removable to avoid having to find yet another bag to transport laundry in
- No Velcro
- Mounting to underside of bed should be strong enough to hold the weight of the laundry when the bed is down.
- Bag(s) should be opaque (to avoid displaying our laundry) but still breathable.
- Bag(s) should have a closure that will cinch tight to keep things from drooping.
10 minutes of half-hearted searching on Amazon while playing with the cat didn’t reveal any obvious solutions, so I knew pretty quickly that this meant I got to make something. (Since I like making stuff, it doesn’t take much of an excuse.) With the success of my recent curtains project fresh in mind, I designed some laundry bags. What I had in mind was a canvas (breathable) bag with sewn-in side and bottom panels. I wanted to bag to have a flap-over lid with a buckle closure. Sort of like this:
That’s the picture I had in my mind anyway. The rugged, manly, laundry bag. And I wanted to make three smaller bags instead of one huge one. Sure, they’d be easier to carry, but they would also mean we could sort our dirty laundry as we put it away – then dump the whole bag right into the machine. Ahhh… efficiency!
I don’t have any hope that’s how the bags will get used though, because… Stef.
But anyway, that was the plan. The first step was to pick up some fabric and some thread. In my mind, I thought it might be roughly similar to going to the wood store to pick up wood for a new project. But this is what a trip to the wood store looks like:
At the wood store, you’re surrounded by danger, forklifts, pickup trucks, and everyone just assumes you know the procedure even though it isn’t written down anywhere.
In contrast, this is what a trip to the fabric store looks like:
At the fabric store, you’re surrounded by children and mini vans. There’s no real danger unless one of the children sneezes on you. They do have their own set of procedures though with the “cutting desk”, and everyone just assumes you know the procedure even though it isn’t written down anywhere. There are also more kinds of fabric than there are kinds of wood. A LOT more. Most of them seem to have Disney characters on them. But eventually I found the plain canvas, nylon strapping, and buckles.
Making the Bags
I’m pretty good at planning out my work with wood. I can lay out the pieces, mill, cut and join them, and I know how that goes. Planning out a project with fabric was a bit more challenging because you have to think inside out vs right-side out. It’s a wrinkle (ha!) that you don’t have with a woodworking project. If you’ve ever cut a piece of carpet only to realize it fits perfectly… but with the backing side up, you understand. I consulted my plan (which was really just scribbles on used printer paper) and then went about cutting the fabric.
My canvas was 60 inches wide. I didn’t know this, but it’s extremely difficult to cut for 5 feet with a pair of scissors and have it come out straight. The first thing you have to do is go back to the fabric store again for $50 scissors. But even with those it’s still pretty difficult, so I went out to the shop and cut things the only way I knew to do it – with a drywall square.
I’m sure some will tell me a drywall square isn’t a good sewing tool. But my first idea was to staple the fabric to a piece of plywood and run it through my panel saw, so just be glad I didn’t try that.
With the fabric cut, I realized I had another problem. It immediately starts to fray and unravel if you look at it wrong. The proper way to deal with this is with an entirely different kind of sewing machine called a “serger”. They look about like this:
But a serger is actually a tool I don’t have. Yet. So in the interest of keeping things moving, I realized my current machine (A Janome HD3000) had an “overedge stitch” which sort of tries to do the same thing. That works OK and looks about like this:
It also burns up a lot of thread, which meant I had to go back to the fabric store (again) and get more. Who knew?! This was my third or fourth trip, and some of the ladies there were starting to recognize me. After a day of cutting and tidying up the edges, I had three nearly identical piles of parts.
It was about this time I realized I had a serious problem. You see, my sewing machine is in the laundry room, because that’s where the iron is. There’s a surprising amount of ironing in sewing. I liken it to having flat and square stock before you start woodworking. But the laundry room is also where Mel’s litter box is.
It turns out that our cat, Mel, is a “social pooper”. Pretty much any time someone goes down near the laundry room, you can count on Mel to follow behind and poop, because he can’t read and I guess he likes company when he poops. So every single time I sat down to work on this project, Mel took the opportunity to relieve himself. I basically gagged my way through this project.
Apart from the stench of cat poo, the project more or less went off as planned. Somewhere along the way, I learned about pins.
Pins are sort of like woodworking clamps that can make you bleed. The function is basically the same; they hold things together while you work on joining them. The main difference between pins and clamps though, is that since pins are so cheap, it IS possible that you can have enough of them. This is unlike woodworking clamps, where even after 15 years, you still need more.
Lots of sewing later, I had three bags that looked like saddle bags.
The bag in that picture is actually holding all of the laundry in this picture.
It could hold a lot more, so I think the size is fine.
The final hurdle in this project was to come up with a way to attach the bags to the underside of the bed. I decided to do this with “common sense fasteners”. I found that name intimidating, because it implies that if you don’t know how to make them work, you don’t have common sense. Someone in their marketing department dropped the ball there. “Easy Fasteners”, “Friendly Fasteners”, “Can’t-possibly-screw-em-up” fasteners… all of those would be better names.
I ordered a bunch of these fasteners. While I was waiting for them to arrive, I watched videos on how to install them. It turns out you don’t actually need common sense to install a “Common Sense Fastener”. What you do need is A 68 DOLLAR TOOL THAT ISN’T GOOD FOR ANYTHING ELSE!!!
So I take back everything I said about common sense fasteners. Those people are evil geniuses. They clearly got the last laugh.
But once my 68 DOLLAR TOOL THAT ISN’T GOOD FOR ANYTHING ELSE arrived, installing the fasteners was simple. You simply place the tool on the strap where you want to install the fastener, and then pound out your frustrations until the 68 DOLLAR TOOL THAT ISN’T GOOD FOR ANYTHING ELSE cuts perfect holes and slits in the material.
Then insert the fastener
bend the prongs over
and use a lighter/blowtorch/flamethrower to singe the ends of the nylon.
Then there’s this complicated step where you try to sew the straps to the outside of the bag from inside the completed bag and through five layers of canvas and webbing and it doesn’t work well and you break your sewing machine like 6 times and yell a lot and then you have to complete the project on your backup sewing machine while your “heavy duty” machine is in the shop.
I don’t have any pictures of that step.
But I do have pictures of the completed bags hung up in the RV. Here they are!
As promised, the bags remove and are very manageable for toting to the laundry. In these pictures, they’re actually holding two weeks of Stef’s laundry, so the capacity is more than adequate.
In addition to Stef, Mel was there for the install and unveiling of the new bags. But he was clearly unimpressed.
And with that, the laundry bags are done. I’ve got some other interesting projects planned in the weeks leading up to our big summer trip. Air conditioners, toilet experiments, refrigerator performance. All those are coming up.