Super Secure Travel Pocket DIY

In the past I have posted about a “safe travel pocket as an option for dissuading those pesky pick-pocketers whose life skill is to victimize travelers.

Since we have twice been the victims of thugs; once pick pocketed getting onto a bus and once held up at gunpoint, we are probably more conscious of this travel risk than some others. The resulting emotional pain can easily ruin a vacation and it’s associated budget.
Several years ago we began to use the internal security pocket explained in the aforementioned post along with a money belt. It worked well in that it made theft extraordinarily difficult, however Kevin complained that he still needed to carry money in a pocket. To address this we came up with the solution described in this post. It’s a secret zipper-access pocket behind the existing side-entry front pocket of pants or jeans, and Kevin loves it. For those of you who aren’t in love with your sewing machine, do not fear. This is a hand-sewn pocket.

Here’s a photo of the final product and then a tutorial.

Notions: 7″ zipper, 10 x 10 fabric scrap, straight pins, needle and thread.

1. Determine where in the side facing your leg of your side pocket you would like the secret pocket. Tips: place it at an angle that makes it easy to open it with your hand, long enough so your hand can fit and place it so it can’t be viewed (i.e. hidden)
2. Draw a line where you want to place the zipper, approximately six inches long.

3. Turn the pants inside out to check the placement. Now is the time to make adjustments.

4. Cut the pocket on the line. Reminder – the part of the pocket which faces the leg.

5. Pin the cut edges to the back of the zipper so when stitched it looks like the following photo.

6. Using a back stitch, stitch the zipper to the pocket, securing the ends well.

7. Cut off end of zipper if too long.

Note: You now have nothing more than a zipper sewn to the existing pocket.

8. For the security pocket, using the pants pocket as a pattern, cut a piece of fabric ¾” larger than the pocket ( in this example I used black mesh).

9. Fold seam edges under and pin fabric to the back side of the pants pocket.


10. Using a back stitch, sew to pocket sides and bottom. For the top of the security pocket, sew several inches from the waistband. This may vary with the type of pocket. It should look something like this. You can see the zipper through the mesh.


Give this a try. It’s cheap and easy, and could save you a lot of pain. You can get into your pockets but it’s pretty difficult for a pickpocket.


Inside Pocket for Safe Travel

Over the years Kevin and I have had the good fortune of traveling to quite a few countries.  In terms of personal safety, I’d say we’ve experienced most segments of the continuum.  Or is safety a misconception?  Travel to any large city makes one a target for pick-pockets and other petty crime.  We’ve heard about it, witnessed it and more disturbingly, have been the victim of a skilled pick-pocket and have been robbed at gunpoint.

Our Central American trip earlier this year consisted primarily of countries that are wonderful to visit but on the low end of the personal safety continuum, so we had the opportunity to acquire vast knowledge on keeping valuables (passport, credit/debit cards, cash) safe during travel.  When gathering with seasoned travelers or staying in hostels, safety was consistently a topic of conversation as there was always someone who had a personal story or two.  While sparing you the details, I think we all agree that it’s important to keep one’s passport safe when traveling.

Money belts: Pro’s and Con’s

During our Central American trip both Kevin and I wore a lightweight money belt where we carried our passport, an extra credit card and most of the cash from the most recent ATM visit and a small amount in American dollars.  While  this is much safer than carrying these items in a small bag or purse (can be left behind) or in a wallet (eeks – easy target for a pick-pocket), we learned of another option.  The downside is that pick-pockets and thieves know that travelers wear money belts. On a few occasions we heard about travelers whose pockets and money belts were emptied.

Inside Travel Safety Pocket

The Alternative: Inside Safety Pocket

Joe T., whom we met in Guatemala and traveled with for a few days, fits into a category of his own.  For 40 years he’s traveled in Central and South America for 2-3 months each year, staying in hostels and lower end hotels.  When on the go, he keeps a low profile, carries few items of value and he doesn’t wear a money belt.  Instead for 40 years he’s had “an inner pocket” sewn into each of the pants he wears on the trip.  This is such a simple option.  After telling us about the pockets and learning that I sew, one evening he brought me a pair of his jeans so I could check it out.  

Pattern and Tutorial:


  • 7″x21″ strip of cotton or mesh fabric.
  • 8″ strip of narrow elastic

1.  On one of the narrow ends, turn over 3/4″ of fabric to make a casing for the elastic.

2. Run one line of stitching to form the casing.  Note:  If using fabric which ravels, you may need to zig-zag or serge the edge. In these photos I use one fabric of each type to demonstrate the differences. 

3. Slip the elastic into the casing.

Making the elastic casing

4.  Stitch back and forth several times across the elastic to keep it in place.

5.  Pull on the unsecured end of the elastic to form a gather as in the next photo.  (Elastic should be 1″ shorter than the width of the pocket).

6.  Secure the second end of the elastic by stitching back and forth several times.

7.  Fold the fabric to form a pocket about 7-8″ long.

8.  Stitch the sides of the pocket, backstitching on both ends of the seam.  Note:  Very important to back-stitch to prevent the stitches from letting go on the first wearing!

9.  You are now ready to hand-sew the pocket into a pair of pants or a skirt.

Pocket Placement

The pocket should be on the inside of the existing front pocket of the pants (or skirt) and at least several inches from the waist of the pants.  When in public the pocket will not be accessible to either the wearer or a would-be thief. 

Hand-sewing the Pocket into Pants or Skirt

1.  Fold over 3/4″ on the top edge.

2.  Pin in place

3. Hand sew with a double-strand of thread using small stitches.

You are done!  Travel safe.

DIY Travel Shirt / Adventure Shirt / Technical Shirt

When traveling, one of my staples is a travel/adventure/technical shirt.  Typically they are made from lightweight quick-drying fabric.  In recent years, some fabrics include sun protection.  Typical features of these shirts are zippered pockets and vents.  They are especially good for layering over a t-shirt or top, and because of the long sleeves they provide sun protection.  The good and the bad is that these shirts are durable and thus they never wear out.  Because I have always owned two, my travel photos are pretty boring – either I’m wearing the red shirt or the blue shirt.  Now you know where this is going……

Travel Shirt Tutorial

Starting with Vogue 8689, I made a few modifications and now have a shirt I’m really pleased with.  In the future, I’d like to make another (or two?)

Three major changes to the pattern made this shirt very functional as a travel shirt:  a vented back yoke, front zippered pocket and zippered side vents/pockets.  Following is a tutorial for each change.

Additional Supplies:

  • 1/2 yard of mesh or other breathable fabric
  • 3 invisible zippers – I used long zippers and cut them to the desired length.

Back Vent:

RTW technical/adventure shirts often have a vented yoke like this:

To make this change in your pattern you will cut:  a) one yoke from mesh fabric and b) one yoke from the fashion fabric, extending the length by 1″.

1.  Cut one yoke front he fashion fabric, extending the length by 2″ as in the following photo (I extended it by 3″ but ended up cutting off 1″).

2. Cut a back yoke from mesh fabric.

3.  Cut a diagonal from the upper part of the yoke, like this

4. Serge or zig-zag the diagonal edges.  

5. Sew the mesh to the lower back piece with the right side of the mesh against the wrong side of the lower back piece.

6. Top stitch close to the seam-line.

You are now ready to attach the fashion fabric yoke.

1. Finish the lower part of the fashion fabric yoke by turning the hem twice (1/2 to 5/8″ rolled hem).

2. With the shirt back and the yoke wrong side down, lay the yoke on top of the mesh, matching the edges.  Pin in place.

3.  Top stitch the yoke at each end (about 1″ of stitching) and at the middle (1.5 to 2″).  The remained of the yoke will not be attached to the lower back, allowing air to flow (i.e. venting).  The arrows on the following show the top-stitched areas.

Arrows show top-stitching position for back yoke

Front Zippered Pocket

1. When sewing the front yoke to the front bottom pieces, insert an invisible zipper into the seam.  The zipper should be ~1″ from each edge.  On a size 16 shirt, this made a 5″ opening for the pocket.

Note:  If you want more pockets, you could do this on both sides of the front.

2. Working on the wrong side of the fabric (to make the underside of the pocket), sew a 5-1/2″ by 5-1/2″ piece of mesh, to the bottom of the zipper tape.

3.  To make the upper pocket piece, sew a 5-1/2″ by 6-1/2″ piece of mesh to the upper zipper tape or seam allowance.  I zig-zagged the edges together.

4.  Pin the pocket pieces together.  Sew edges as in the following photo.  You will notice that on the pocket sides you are unable to sew all the way to the top however this won’t alter the functionality of the pocket.

5. Serge or finish the edges to your liking (I didn’t but if would look better if I’d taken the time to do it.

Zippered Side Vent and Pocket

1. Before sewing the side seam, place an invisible zipper into the seam, starting at least 1″ from the arms-eye.  At the lower edge, leave at least 4″.  (My zipper was 10″ long)

2. Sew the seam above and below the zipper.

3. Using a 10″ wide by 12″ long piece of mesh, sew each side of the mesh side to each side of the zipper tape to form a single piece which will become a vent and a pocket.

4.  Fold the vent/pocket toward the shirt front.

5.  Sew the front seam and the bottom seam of the vent/pocket.  Finish edges if desired.

6.  Run one more stitch approximately 4″ from the top of the vent/pocket.  I’m not sure if this is needed but my thought was that this line of stitching would form the pocket.

7.  Hand stitch the top and bottom edge of the vent/pocket to the front princess seam to keep it in place.

One more note:  Inadvertently, I placed one zipper with the pull at the top and one with the pull at the bottom.  When wearing the shirt I realized that both directions have advantages, so I’ll leave that choice to you.

Finished – combined vent/pocket

Of course, what does it matter if the garment isn’t functional.  This shirt worked so well that I wore it all the time, as you can see in the following photos (oh yes, and we had fun too).

Now, I need your feedback.

The World’s Most Comfortable Travel Skirt

Just having returned from several weeks in Spain, I’m still in the mode of thinking about travel clothing – what worked and what didn’t.  In the coming weeks I’ll share some tips on making travel clothes but for now I need to tell you about this travel skirt which is sooo comfortable.  

Initially I made it for our 2 month trip to Central America where it got a lot of wear. I liked it so much that although faded and somewhat worn, I took it on this trip to Spain.  Honestly, it’s the most comfortable skirt I’ve ever owned.  The inspiration came from a travel skirt on an internet site I can no longer find.   Essentially it is made of 6 panels with ruching on each side of the seams, made from woven cotton/poly with lycra.  This photo is a little better at showing the detail.


  • 1-1/2 to 2 yards of 45″ fabric or 1 yard of 60″ woven mid-weight fabric with lycra
  • 1 yard of 1-1/4″ wide elastic
  • 4-6 yards of 1/4″ elastic depending on skirt length
  • Twill tie if desired


1.  Before cutting or sewing, do a test with the elastic and a fabric scrap to determine the ration of elastic to fabric needed to create the desired ruching effect.  

2.  Cut six pieces of fabric 9-10″ longer than the finished length (mine was 30″ for a 20″ skirt).  For the width, use the following formula.

  • Divide hip size by 6.
  • For each piece, add 1-1/2″ for the seams and 1″ to create the puffy effect.
  • If desired, you can flare slightly, making the lower part of the skirt wider.
  • For 40″ hips, my panels were 30″ long by 10″ wide at the top and 11″ at the bottom.

Cut panels. Middle panel has elastic applied.

3.  Cut 12 pieces of elastic based on what you learned when you ran your test.  (My elastic pieces were about 18″ long)

4.  Serge or zig-zag edges to reduce raveling.

5.  Starting 2′ from the waist edge, stretch fabric while sewing to each side of panels, one inch from each edge.

Note:  You start 2″ from the top as ruching in the waistband makes it too bulky.

6.  Sew panels together with a 5/8 to 3/4″ seam.  Press the seams open although this is somewhat useless as the seams don’t lay flat.

7.  Repeat for all panels.

8.  Turn waistband over and sew 1-1/2″ from the edge.

9.  Insert elastic to desired length.

Note:  I also put a twill tie in the waistband but it’s not necessary.

10.  Turn over 5/8″ at the bottom edge for a hem.  Machine sew with a straight stitch.

11.  Because there aren’t pockets in this skirt, to have a secure place for my passport, add a travel security pocket on the inside.

You are done!  Roll it up and put it in your suitcase.

Long Distance Sewing: Margie’s Edwardian Dress

So lovely in her new dress

This dress took sooo much longer to make than I anticipated, mostly because it’s really difficult to fit a dress when you’re not in the same state (excuse #1, I know).  Interestingly, when we got to the point of having a good muslin, it only took a week or two to sew the dress.

Nearly a year ago, my SIL Margie asked if I would sew a replica of a historic dress for her.  For their volunteer work at a 1900’s historic home in their community, my BIL John and SIL Margie needed a dress from that era.  Delighted by the request however unfamiliar with sewing historical garments, I searched for patterns online and thankfully found  Specifically, their 1890’s Day Dress pattern was the pattern of choice.

Here’s a chronicle of the events leading up to the dress completion:

Summer, 2011 – request to sew the dress

Aug/Sept 2011 – Once again, Jomar’s in Philadelphia rose to the occasion.  We planned for our long distance fabric selection and one evening I spent an hour or two digging through the fabric options at Jomar.  After photographing candidate fabrics, I emailed the photo to Margie and John from my iPhone.  “Yes, I like that one; I don’t care for that color; no that’s too blue; that green is nice”  They settled on a lovely light green cotton brocade.

November 2011 – In my possession was a pattern and some fabric but we hadn’t been together so I could take measurements.  Margie and I (with others) traveled to Spain together, so like a diligent sewist, I had my tape measure in my backpack.  This preliminary set of measurements allowed me to alter the pattern and make a muslin.  

Christmas 2011 – Margie and I saw each other for only an hour but had enough time to fit muslin #1.

January 2012 – Muslin #2 completed and mailed to her as then we lived a thousand miles from each other (now ~60 miles).  John kindly took photos of the muslin and pinned some of the areas requiring alteration and returned the muslin to Philadelphia.  His eye for detail was crucial for me to make the needed changes.

February – March – Now things really slowed down as the project was packed away in a moving box while I secretly hoped Margie wouldn’t need the dress.

April – Finally we had an in-person fitting of muslin #3.  I was ready to cut the fashion fabric and start sewing the dress. 

May – Margie stopped by our house for a fitting.  I made a few sizing tweaks and pinned the hem.  A week later my niece picked up the dress and delivered it.  Whew!

All of my sewing friends know that the above outlined events were underscored by showing photos of Margie in the muslin followed by requests for fitting assistance. Thank you to my sewing colleagues who helped me along the journey.  

I was so excited to be finished with the dress that I failed to take inside or construction photos however I can share a few details with you:

Fabric – cotton brocade was pre-washed twice to assure that it wouldn’t shrink in the future.

Lining – lightweight cotton-linen blend for the top only.  The lining and fashion fabric were sewn as one.  This was also pre-washed.

Seam finish – Hong Kong finish with silk organza to reduce bulk.

Buttons – vintage shank buttons purchased on Ebay.  They even smelled vintage, or musty.  The smell passed quickly.  The 22 buttons forced me to learn an easy 2-minute buttonhole technique.

Pattern alterations – added a horizontal dart for bodice fitting.  More about that on another post.

Details – a watch pocket on one of the side front seams.  Margie has since purchased a pocket watch and chain.


This was a great project as it really stretched my skills at fitting.  Margie said she got lots of compliments on her first wearing and I am very pleased with the outcome.



Consistent with one of the purposes of this blog, to share knowledge, the following is a list of tutorials to make them easier for you to find.

Fabric Flowers, Japanese Cherry Blossoms

Fur Collar, How to sew

Jeans Hemming the Professional Way

Legging for adults, Free Pattern

Leggings for children, Free Pattern and How to sew 

Neckline finish, Self-fabric bias binding

Pants, How to sew convertible pants with zip-off legs

Pleating Taffeta

Prairie Bonnet, Sewing a Laura Ingalls-style

Security pocket for travel

Shirt, Vented for Travel or Adventure

Skirt, Making a skirt from pre-ruffled fabric

Skirt with yoke, Free pattern and How to sew

Slipper socks, How to make from lace

Spaghetti strap, Sewing

Sweater, Felt and Upcycle 

T-shirt, Making a dress from

Travel skirt, Make your own

How to Sew Convertible (Zip-off) Pants: Tutorial

For by DH and me, zip-off pants fall into the category of “better than sliced bread”.  They offer an option to pack one less item when traveling and are great for day trips, especially during the fall when there are weather changes.  Then there’s the “petite” issue.  Rarely have I been fortunate enough find them in a size that doesn’t require alterations.   For Kevin, zip-off’s are easy to find but the configuration of pockets just hasn’t matched his preferences.   You know where this is going…..

Now that I have much more time to sew, I set off to make a pair of Kevin (shorts) and one pair (capris) for me.  After scouring the internet for a tutorial, I ended up purchasing out of print Kwik-Sew 2406 from an Etsy seller.  There may be other patterns available however I’ll save you the trouble.  All  you really need is a pants pattern and this tutorial.  


1. Pants pattern and fabric

2. Decide on where you want the zipper to fall on the pants.  i.e. above the knee, at the knee or below.

3.  Notions – snaps, additional zippers or cord.

4. Zippers – purchase one for the fly and 2 light to mid-weight separating zippers for the legs.  I used a 27″ zipper for Kevin’s knee-length pants but would reduce that to 26″ the next time.  For my capri-length pants I used a 18.5″ zipper.  Note:  Purchase zippers at the exact length if you can, or you can purchase a longer zipper than you need and reduce the size by removing and replacing the zipper stop.  Archer Zippers in NYC will cut zippers to your desired length – you will need to call them.  Their color palate is amazing.


1.  Start with a pants pattern that fits well and which has fairly straight or wide legs.  Avoid fitted pants.

2.  Cut the pants from the pattern, cutting the upper legs 2″ longer than the desired length of the upper pant leg.  Note:  To accommodate the tapering of the sides when you turn up the hem, remember to cut an outward flare on the hem seam allowance.

  • In addition to the pattern pieces, you will need 2 strips of fabric for the zipper guards.  Cut them the length of the zipper by 2-1/2″ wide (cut on the grain)
  • Do not cut the lower legs at this time. (but do make sure you have enough fabric left for the lower leg pieces).

3.  Sew the pants.  Stop before finishing the hem.

4.  Overcast the hem edge.

5.  Turn the 1-7/8 hem to the inside and pin in place. (If you started with a 2″ hem, you likely lost 1/8″ when overcasting the edge.)

Zipper Application: 

Note:  If you need to cut your zipper, do not cut it until after you have completed the next step.

1.  Pin the zipper to the hem with the right side of the zipper facing the hem.

The zipper start and end:

  • Should be at the inseam – zipping the pant legs is too difficult if the start is on the outside seam.
  • Should barely meet. The zipper will not work if there is an overlap, but it is OK if you have a small gap between the start and the end.   Note:  Zippers will zip in opposite directions, as in the following photo.

Zippers pinned to the hem, going in opposite directions.

2. From the back side of the zipper, stitch the zipper to the upper leg, approximately 1″ from the bottom of the hem.

2.   You’re getting there.  Now you will stop sewing and cut the lower leg pieces from your remaining fabric.

Cutting the Lower Pants:

1. I would recommend that you make a pattern.  Measure at the line where you sewed the zipper to the hem of the upper leg, you need the top of the lower pants to be the exact circumference as this measurement. 

2.  Following the same taper as the upper leg, cut the lower leg pieces, adding 1″ to the top of each lower leg piece.

Making a pattern for the lower leg. Click to enlarge.

3.  Sew the sides of the legs together.

4.  To reduce the chance of making an error, mark the inseam and outer seam with your favorite marking tool.

5. Turn under 1/2″ at the top of each lower leg.  Pin or press in place.

6. Now pin the wrong side of the top edge of the lower leg to the right side of the zipper.

Pinning the lower leg to the zipper

7.  Carefully unzip the zipper.  Toss the pants aside for a few minutes.

8.  Check the pins to make sure the zipper is in place.  Folded edge of the lower leg should be close to the zipper teeth.

9.  Working from the right side, sew the lower leg to the zipper.

10.  Zip the lower to the upper leg to assure that it looks correct and to take pride in what you’ve done!

11.  Repeat with the other leg.

12.  Remove both lower legs in preparation for sewing the zipper guard.

Zipper Guard

You could probably stop at this point however all of the zip-off pants I’ve seen have a zipper guard on the inside.  I’m thinking this is for comfort.  It’s the last step and a fairly easy one, so pull out the two  2-1/2 by zipper length pieces of fabric.

1.  Check the zipper guard length against the zipper length to confirm that it is the same length.  If not, adjust.

2.  Fold the zipper guard in half lengthwise and overcast the edges.

Zipper guard

3.  Turn pants inside-out (remember, lower pants are removed).

4.  Pin the zipper guard to the inside of the zipper.  Cover the zipper and check to be sure that it is at least 1/4″ from the hemline (so it doesn’t show when wearing with the lower legs zipped off).  The zipper guard should meet at the ends rather than overlapping (creates bulk).

5. Turn pants right side out.  Removing pins as you go, sew 1/8″ from the zipper stitching line (the one you sewing back when you sewed the zipper into the pants).  You will sew through all layers of the fabric and the zipper.

Sewing the Zipper guard

Finished zip-off pants

My Capri Zip-off’s

I’d love to hear if this works for you.  What is missing in the tutorial?

More Drama at the Nicaragua Border

(photos will be posted later)

OK, this one will be short – if you´re going to listen to me complain about the Nicaragua borders, I owe you some information about the beauty that lives between the borders.  Will save that one for the next time.

We dreaded the thought but the only way to leave Nicaragua is to go through the border patrol.  OK, there is another option.  A couple of people tried it and you have never seen border patrol agents run as fast as these guys.  It´s hard to believe that someone would try.

When we left the beautiful beach town of San Juan del Sur via Chicken Bus, we transferred buses and then headed for the border.  When we got to about 5 miles from the border, we passed hundreds of semi trucks who were lined up nose to tail, waiting to go through the border into Costa Rica.  I´m not sure if it´s always so busy but we did hear that the reason is that it was the start of Semana Santa or Holy Week.  This means a week of vacation for Central Americans, not a week of going to church as I did when I was a kid.  Many Costa Ricans head north to the Nicaragua beaches and vice versa.

So after our first experience with a ¨guide¨ as we navigated his crazy border, we were committed to making it through on our own.  After all if we can navigate Chicken Buses, we can make it through Immigration and Customs. Little did we know that the guy who sat behind us on the bus was our personal guide!  As soon as we got off the bus he walked us to the back door of the Immigration office but the guard wouldn´t allow him to get in.  He then told us we needed to get in line with everyone else.  Now this was a line about as long as a football field and 2 or 3 people wide;  in the 100 degree mid-day sun.

Soon our self-appointed guide found us in line.  For $10.00 per person, he could get us to the head of the line and we wouldn´t need to wait.  We declined several times until he gave up.

We were in line behind 2 gringos who are teaching in Costa Rica.  While it was nice to meet several fine young people, this also made us look like an American family.  Soon, 4 men aggressively (like just about knocked us over) butted into the line, right next to the 4 of us.  Immediately Kevin´s instincts took over as he recalled the pushing and shoving of pickpockets in Greece last year.  We moved away from the guys as others in the line tried to stop their line jumping.  The 4 guys stood their ground as we must have seemed like good targets.   We held our bags tight and watched every move but were sure they still wanted to try something.  About 15 minutes later, as we entered the actual immigration office, Kevin saw one of the 4 guys trying to put his hand in the pocket of the young teacher.  His action was quickly averted.  Isn´t this the classic pickpocket story?

While this was occurring, a bunch of people ran through our line, chasing down someone else who had her wallet stolen buy someone.  I guess if you are going to wait in the crazy lines, it´s a great place for petty thieves to prey on unsuspecting travelers.

After the immigration office there were about 3 or 4 more stops before we were legally in Costa Rica.  Still complicated but at least we did it alone this time!