February 25, 2021

Sailor’s Ditty Bag

Our kids activity this week is a step-by-step tutorial for sewing your own ditty bag

Written by Kirk Cusic, Education Director

Today's At Home Activity is a little more complicated than our usual ones, but don't be intimidated! There is still lots of room for creativity if you stick with it. Today's project is a sailor's ditty bag, useful for holding all sorts of bits and pieces but often used to carry sewing supplies like a fid, a palm, a cake of wax and your sail needles and thread. These instructions came from "The Arts of the Sailor" written by Hervey Garret Smith. We have used his tutorials for several previous posts, like our rope fender project and the bound grommet tutorial.

These instructions make a bag that is approximately 12"x 7". One yard of canvas will be plenty for one bag. We did use a sailor's palm a few times to help push the needle through several layers of canvas, but you can also use a few layers of cardboard or leather or a wooden spoon (as long as it isn't special!) to protect your hand if you don't have a palm.


- Light canvas (8 oz or less)

  • - Waxed sail thread and heavy sewing needle
  • - Palm
  • - About 25' of light 3 strand line, 1/4 inch or less
  • - Small piece of dowel or a wooden spoon

click each image to view larger

Step 1: Cut out a rectangular piece of canvas 14" x 23 1/2"

Step 2: Use the dowel or wooden spoon to fold over and crease the top 1/4 inch of the long raw edge.

Step 3: Fold the same edge over by an inch and a half and sew with a flat seam stitch for the top of the bag (this will be the outside of the bag).

Step 4: Use the dowel to fold and crease the bottom 1/4 inch of the raw edge under (opposite of the first 1/4 inch fold).

Step 5: Do the same to the short raw edges, again folding 1/4 inch of them in opposite directions and creasing. 

Step 6: Now sew the two short edges together with about a 1 inch overlap using the flat seam stitch making a cylinder. 

Step 7: Cut out a 7.5 inch diameter circle of canvas. Use a bowl that measures about it 7.5" across to trace if you don't have a compass at home.

Step 8: Attach the bottom to the cylinder you created making sure to tuck in the raw edge as you go with an overhand stitch. 

Step 9: Make 6 grommets out of the light line and attach them evenly spaced around the top edge of the bag (check out our tutorial on Hitched Eyelets for more detailed instructions).

Step 10: For the lanyard cut 3 pieces of light 3 strand line at 8 feet and on piece at 5 feet. I used a little tape on each end to temporarily keep the line from unlaying. 

Step 11: Tie a 5 bight Turks head knot, this will act as a closure for the bag and will slide up and down on the legs of the lanyard. Make this knot as small as you can! 

Step 11.5: If you need help, review our Sailor's Bracelet article for a tutorial on the Turks head knot.

Step 12: Find the middle of the 3, 8-foot pieces, tie them in an over hand knot and lay up a 3-strand flat braid about 3-4 inches long.

Step 13: Temporarily seize each end of the braid and untie the overhand knot. Fold the braid in half bringing all 6 strands together and tie a Mathew Walker knot in the end to join them. Remove the temporary seizing. 

Step 14: Tie a continuous crown sinnet until it measures 4-5 inches long.

Step 15: Finish the sinnet with another Matthew Walker knot.

Step 16: Reave the legs of the lanyard through the center of the Turks Head knot and attach them to the sewn eyelets you created in the top of the bag by seizing or splicing.

Our Director of Education Kirk Cusic reports: "Having never made anything of this nature, I am pleased with how it has turned out! No doubt there are those among us who poses the skill to make a finer example. If you make one for yourself, please remember to post it to our social media. We always love to see your At Home Activities."

As with all our At Home Activities we would love to hear what you thought of this project! Share your photos with us by emailing us at [email protected], posting on our Facebook page or tagging us on Instagram @herreshoff #HerreshoffFromHome.

Leave your comment