Pant Leg Jug Carriers and the Blanket Stitch

Snip, snip, snip go the scissors. Chug, chug, chug goes the sewing machine. I’m down to final preps for my upcoming mule ramble. That means sewing up canvas covers for my water jugs. I’m feeling lonely tonight. Julia, my wife and the only person that ever rode a mule with me on one of my rambles, is not coming on my upcoming Mules West journey.

Bernie Harberts, top hat, sewing

The past few evenings I’ve been sewing on my old White sewing machine. I don’t know why but wearing a top hat while I sew makes me feel more tailor like. This is the same top hat I wore when Julia and I got married on the town dock in Oriental, NC.

Bernie Harberts, top hat, sewing

Long distance mule riding can be a jarring, uncomfortable way to travel. That’s why it’s largely a solitary endeavor. It’s just too hard to find 2 people who want to put up with the hardship. Here Julia is enduring a rainy march through West Jefferson, NC. She wrote a beautiful piece about the rigors of the road called Living Lean

That Julia won’t be with me makes me sad. She’s staying at home to take care of Snookie, her dog of 10 years. I hope once I’m on the road with mules Brick and Cracker a glance at my new water jug covers will cheer me up. I’ll smile, knowing a part of her is with me.

Okay, at least a part of her jeans will be with me.

On our last mule journey, from our farm in Western NC to Virginia and back, we carried our water in 2 half-gallon cranberry juice bottles. They were plastic with stout molded handles that made them perfect to hang from the pack saddle. The only problem is that after 6 weeks in the southern sun, they turned cloudy.

julia carpenter, carrying water

Julia hauls water from the spigot to our campsite. Yep, that water is pretty brown. This scares off many people which makes it even more special Julia chose to join me on my last mule trip. The water tasted just fine.

Bernie Harberts, pack mule, mule polly

In addition to our camping gear, mule Polly of the Lost Sea Expedition series hauled all our gear, including our water. One of our water bottles is visible behind the black and orange picket rope.

Those degrading water bottles got me thinking. If 6 weeks in the sun turned the clear plastic milky, what would 6 or 9 months under the open sky do? Would the sun ping a bunch of plastic off those bottles leaving me to drink a mix of water and plastic particles? Would I have to chug a gallon of cranberry juice like a mule man with a yeast infection just so I could buy 2 new bottles every month?

No, what my water bottles needed was better sun protection.

Julia and I call a 450 square foot cabin home. That means runs to Goodwill are frequent, mostly to drop off stuff. Julia had a favorite but worn out pair of jeans headed there. The knees were ripped, the cuffs frayed. Perfect.

Here’s how I spent my evening.

Bernie Harberts, water bottle, blue jean

The water bottle and the old blue jeans headed Goodwill-way. Each pant leg would make a “bag” for the water bottle. The bottle is an empty cranberry juice bottle.

Bernie Harberts, water bottle, blue jean

I’ve sewed the bottom of the pant leg closed. Next I’ll sew in the draw string. I bought my White sewing machine on Craigs List for $50.

Bernie Harberts, water bottle, blue jean

Close up of how the draw string is sewn. The hole is reinforced with a few rows of back and forth stitching.

Bernie Harberts, water bottle, blue jean

The finished water jug cover. The draw string is military 550 paracord.

Bernie Harberts, water bottle, blue jean

Julia might have a tough time getting her old jeans back on…

As I sewed away in to the night, Julia put her finishing stitches on the blue shirt I’ll wear on my trip. She put blanket stitching on the shirt’s collar, pocket and cuffs.

Bernie Harberts, water bottle, blue jean

My blue shirt. It’s part of my traveling uniform: coveralls for daily use and blue shirt and khaki slacks for when I have to pretty up.

It’s getting late. I’ve got pant leg water bottle covers and a beautifully saddle stitched shirt. I look at Julia’s amputated shorts lying forlornly on the floor, gone from blue jeans to cutoffs that nobody wants at Goodwill. That won’t do.

I’ve got blue thread on the sewing machine for the top stitch, blue thread on the bobbin (the bottom spool of thread). I pin and sew and hem away on those soon-to-be-hemmed short pants and half an hour I hold the pants up to the light.

I run my eyes over the stitching. One leg is hemmed blue. One leg is hemmed tan. I’d failed to notice I had 2 colors of thread on the bobbin.

“Don’t worry”, Julia says, “I can still wear them this summer. I’ll just blanket stitch the hem with pink thread.”

I know she will.

Bernie Harberts, water bottle, blue jean

Close up of Julia’s handiwork. It’s a groovin’ 1970s look that more mule travelers should rock.

In 3 days I hope to saddle up, ride out the front gate and head west with my mules. When I’m out there on the road missing Julia, I’ll look at my water bottles and smile. Somewhere else, I hope she’s looking at her newly hemmed shorts, smiling, and thinking of me too.

PostScript: This turning ladies jeans in to stuff you can carry things in seems to be a thing with me. The photo below is from an article I wrote about a mule ramble I did back in 2013. It’s called Ronald’s Borrowed Vomit Saddle Bags

For a pommel bag, I used a pair of blue jeans. My buddy Ronald Hudson paid 33 1/3 cents for them at a flea market. I made a recording of how that came to be. Maybe one day I’ll play the story for you. To make saddle bags, I just tied knots in the legs and lashed them to the saddle. Filled them with canned kippers and two quart bottles of water. Most days, lunch on the road is fish and water. Or, in this case, some pears picked along the side of the road. If anyone needs a pair of American Outfitters jeans, get up with me after the trip. I think they’re a girl’s size. They come with a hell of story but no tinned fish or fruit.

2019-04-04 12:17:55

Since you’re heading West, I’m guessing you won’t be passing by our farm on your way out! I love your pictures – and your good use of Julia’s old jeans…

Be safe, my friend – tell Julia we’d love to have her over one evening…


Bernie Harberts
2019-04-04 22:26:16

Ha! You must have been typing that comment as I was riding my mules toward your house. Sure was great visiting this afternoon. Seems to be becoming a ritual – visiting you all before I head out with the mules. Now I can head West! Have a great summer.


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[…] aren’t in the same place. The time had come for repairs. I sewed this water bottle cover out of a pair of my wife Julia’s pants. The cranberry juice bottle only sprang a leak this week. Not bad after over 110 days of mule […]

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