Happy Birthday to Me!

husqvarna-sewing-machineMeet the newest member of the .retool. sewing fleet – a vintage Viking Husqvarna Automatic 21 E home sewing machine.  It belonged to Will’s mother, Lois, who was an avid sewer.  She got it around 1964.

It came complete with a carrying case, an assortment of feet, bobbins, two cams for creating various decorative stitches, the manual, a booklet of sewing projects, and a few other accessories.

The booklet of sewing projects is especially fun and features a wide array of gift ideas, including eyeglass cases, baby clothes, a dog sweater, aprons for men and women, and my personal favorite, a loincloth!

Thanks Lois (and Will)!


How We Made 150 Wallets in 6 Days; or .retool. at the ESPYs

We recently received an email from someone responsible for co-ordinating the luxury gift bags for attendees of ESPN’s upcoming ESPY awards.

We were excited.

They asked if we could supply 150 items with a minimum retail value of $150 in about a week.  We explained that we are a two-man shop, make everything ourselves, and carry a relatively low level of inventory.  On top of that, most of our items come in at around the $40 mark. It wouldn’t make financial sense for us to offer a gift card for the remaining $100+ balance (did I mention the gift cards had to be valid for at least one year?).

We were less excited.

Then they said that they sometimes include items that don’t meet the minimum retail value, but that if accepted, we would not be eligible for any of the associated press (online features, celebrity posing, etc.). That was fine with us.

We were excited again.

We thought it would be a great opportunity for a production stress test.  We decided to offer our Double-Sided Micro Mini Credit Card Holder along with a small gift card valid only for attendees for a total retail value of $35.

Our challenge was set – make 150 wallets in under a week.

We mapped out our strategy.  We figured out which things needed to happen in what order, established a timeline, and figured out who would do what.  We ordered a few extra supplies, tried to figure out how best to avoid repetitive stress injuries, and had a tasty snack.

Here’s a look at the whole process. Click on photos for a larger view.

The first task was to cut a bunch of webbing. Each wallet is made of up of four strips of webbing – 2 1″ strips and 2 2″ strips.  cut webbing
Next comes joining the 2″ strips to the 1″ strips.  joined webbing pile
Each wallet gets 2 of the new 3″ strips – 1 short divider piece and longer strip that wraps around the bottom of the divider forming a pocket on either side. joined and cut webbing
Then the pieces are sewn together and many threads must be trimmed.  untrimmed wallets
The finished wallets look like this.  finished stacks
Last step – stuff each wallet with a gift card and box them all up for mailing.  boxed wallets

Behind the Scenes

Here at .retool. headquarters, we love a good outdoor photo shoot. Here’s a behind the scenes look at our most recent one.

Location: Tank Hill (San Francisco)
We chose Tank Hill because it has great views, the rocks make a good background texture, and it’s a pleasant walk from the .retool. workshop.

Subject: Belts
We wanted to get some action shots of our seatbelt webbing belts.  We took five of them with us – black, dark blue, orange, lime green, and grey.

Models: Us
Yup, that’s us in front of the camera. Jacob is in the grey jeans and Jamye is in the dark blue jeans.

Photographers: Us again
We do it all ourselves – it’s more fun that way!

Weather Conditions: Windy!
At times, we were concerned we might actually be blown off the hill. Don’t be fooled by the bright, sunny June day – It was quite chilly here in San Francisco.

Here are a few photos we didn’t end up using.  Click on the photos for a closer view.  Enjoy!


One of the things we like about San Francisco is that no matter where you are, you’re almost always really close to nature and to a more urban environment.  Jamye captured that nicely in this photo with the city peeking out behind the rocks. black-seatbelt-belt
This photo gives you a hint of just how windy it was that day. No matter which side of the rocks we were on, the wind always found us. Jamye is pretty much plastered to the rock in this shot. gray seatbelt belt
If you look closely, you can see the goosebumps on my arms in this one.  We kind of like the idea of taking a series of photos throughout the city with our .retool. shirts visible. retool blue seatbelt belt
King of the Rock. This one is reminiscent of a scene from Godzilla.  Watch out city! king of the rock
This one has a bit of a ’70s vibe to it. We’re thinking of including it in our Pin Up Calendar. (Kidding.) orange seat belt belt
The belts take a well-deserved break from a hard day’s work in front of the camera to enjoy the view. seatbelt belts on a bench

Duffle Bags!

This week’s post features a couple of duffle bags I made over the past few weeks.

The first was a modification of a custom bag I made a while back.  Here’s the original version:

joe-bag joe3 joe-2

It’s difficult to tell from these photos, but the bag has a sort of teardrop cross-section.  The bottom is rounded and the sides taper as they go up. The top of the bag folds down and clips to the sides to create a more typical duffle bag shape.  This version had one external side pocket and one interior zipper pocket.

After several months of use, the owner asked for a wider mouth to make it easier to pack and unpack the bag.  In order to make the mouth wider, I had to make a bunch of other changes as well. I ended up changing the profile completely.  I replaced the sides and the lining, added a second zipper to the top of the bag and a second external  pocket. Here are some photos of the modified bag:

 DSC_0012joe-duffle-v2-opening joe-duffle-v2-lining-pocket joe-duffle-v2-top-b
 joe-duffle-v2-front  joe-duffle-v2-side-a joe-duffle-v2-side-b

I was pleased with how the bag turned out and wanted to make another one. Fortunately, my vacation trip to Kauai was rapidly approaching – the perfect excuse to try my hand at making a carry-on sized version.  Here are a few photos:

 carry-on-top carry-on-side  carry-on-open

This bag has a zippered pocket on each end and two interior zippered pockets in the lining.  The outside is made of 1000D CORDURA® nylon and the lining is 4 oz. pack cloth.

I scavenged the shoulder strap from an old laptop bag – it’s way too long for me and needs to be replaced.  I just haven’t had a chance to make a new one yet.

The bag performed well on its inaugural trip. It held all of my stuff with room to spare. It was comfortable to carry and fit easily in the overhead compartment.  I used one of the outside pockets for a pair of water shoes and the other for snacks. The inside pockets worked well for small stuff like my camera battery charger and more snacks.

The new bag will get its second test this Sunday, hauling wallets to and from the 16th Annual Glen Park Festival in San Francisco.  If you are in the area, stop by and see it (and us!) in person. Here are the details:

Date: Sunday, April 27, 2014
Time: 10am – 4:30pm
Location: Diamond St b/t Chenery and Bosworth; also extending down Wilder St

Note – Our booth will be on Wilder St.

Hope to see you there!

Sneak Preview

We’ve got some new products in development that we are planning to unveil in the next couple of months and wanted to share them with you first.

We’re branching out of our bag/wallet/case niche and expanding into belts and straps (it’s about time, really – we’ve got lots of seatbelt webbing around the studio).

Here are some photos of the prototypes:

The seatbelt belt.

We picked up a small batch of airplane seat belt buckles and metal end caps for our belts.

seatbelt-belt seatbelt-belt-closed

The camera strap.

The strap is adjustable, durable, and it looks great, too!


Custom Order Roundup

It’s been a while since our last roundup post and we’ve had a bunch of custom orders lately – everything from credit card wallets to messenger bags.  Have a look:

Credit Card Wallets

The simplest custom job we’ve had in the last few months was a custom color combination for our Classic Credit Card Wallet – black and foliage green. Classic Card Holder in Black and Foliage Green
Jim contacted us about making a variation of our slim mini credit wallet. You can see an example of our standard version here. He wanted an extra row of pockets and a strip of velcro running the full width of the wallet. Slim Card Holder - Orange and Black
We posted photos of Jim’s wallet on our Facebook page and one of our customers saw it and wanted one for himself in red and black. CH-SM4-red-and-black Slim Card Holder - black and red

ID Wallets

We have had a couple of recent requests for variations on our ID wallet.

Brett wanted an ID wallet in one of our favorite color combos – grey and foliage green. He also wanted an extra row of card pockets and an extra bill divider. ID wallet custom-ID-wallet-interior
Matt wanted an ID wallet in custom colors – blues on the outside and purple on the inside. Colorful! ID wallet-2-tone-blue ID-wallet-purple-interior

Standard Billfold Wallets

Donald wanted our standard billfold wallet with a twist – no velcro. All black, with just a hint of grey in the inside. Nice. Billfold-no-velcro

Coin Pocket Wallets

Here’s an orange and black coin pocket wallet in a non-standard height and width (smaller in both dimensions). We overlapped the webbing and trimmed off as much length as we could. Seatbelt-wallet-orange-black custom-wallet-interior
Mathilde wanted a coin pocket wallet with grommet hole in custom colors – blue and yellow. custom-coin-pocket-grommet-wallet custom-SBW-DGV-interior

Messenger Bags

Yes wanted a custom M-8 messenger bag in black with a red inside pocket and no velcro. We were happy to oblige. custom-M8-no-velcro custom-M8-interior


That’s it for now. Keep those custom orders coming!


Weekend Bag v2.0

One of the first bags we made for .retool. was our vegan Weekend Tote Bag. It’s made of 1000D nylon and has interior and exterior slip pockets and a magnetic snap closure. It works great for a quick weekend getaway, a trip to the store, or even for carrying your daily essentials Here are a couple of photos (click to enlarge).

Our original Weekend Bag.

Our original Weekend Bag.

Fully loaded.

Fully loaded.

We’ve tweaked the design and are working on a small batch of them to bring along to upcoming shows. Next up are the Glen Park Festival in April and Maker Faire in May.

Here’s a rundown of the changes.

New lining material: We’re now using 4oz. pack cloth (commonly used in backpacks) for the lining.  It’s light and durable, two things we like.



Pockets: We replaced the interior slip pocket with a  zipper pocket in the lining.  We added a zipper to the pocket on the front of the bag as well.



Hardware: We switched over to hidden magnetic snaps (they are strong!), changed the hardware from plastic to metal, and added a clip for keys.



It probably would have easier to list what we haven’t changed!

At any rate, we’re having fun with new color combinations and are looking forward to debuting the bags at San Francisco’s Glen Park Festival on Sunday, April 27 from 10 – 4:30pm.



Custom Order Round Up

Over the past 6 weeks or so we’ve had several custom orders come through. They’ve included  custom color/fabric requests as well as tweaks to our standard designs. Here’s a recap (click on the photos to make them bigger):

M-8 Messenger Bag

ImageAt the SF Bazaar Holiday Show, we had a customer who was interested in one of our seatbelt messenger bags. He needed a larger size than we had with us at the show and had one more special request – no velcro!  So we made him an M-8 messenger bag with an inside pocket and no closure for the flap.  The flap is heavy enough to stay closed on its own and we were pretty happy with how the bag turned out.

Credit Card Wallet

We brought a wide selection of our Slim Mini Credit Card Holders to the Renegade Holiday show.  Not quite wide enough, as it turns out.  We had a special request for a credit card wallet in orange and silver seatbelt webbing with dark gray nylon card pockets.


Toiletry Case

ImageThis one was a special request for my good friend and awesome art teacher, Pam.  A year or so ago, I gave her a toiletry case with a print I knew she would love.  It turns out that her daughter also loves it and keeps trying to run off with it. So Pam ordered a second one for her daughter’s birthday. This one features a flashy red interior and zipper.

Custom smartphone cases

We have a longtime customer who has an unfortunate habit of losing smartphones (and their cases). So far he’s dropped one in the bay and left another on a plane.  Last time he ordered from us, he got two custom phone cases, just to have a backup. They are still going strong and now that his partner needs a smartphone for her work, she’s come to us as well. She’s a stagehand and a ranch hand so she needed a case that will stand up to some rough treatment. She decided to get a pair of cases – one to attach to her toolbelt and another that can clip to her pocket.


A pair of phone cases


Smartphone case with loop for tool belt


Smartphone case with belt clip and grommet for extra security