A sailor’s Ditty Bag is a small personal bag or pouch used by sailors to carry their personal belongings and essential items while aboard a ship. It is a traditional and practical accessory that has been used by sailors for many years.
The Ditty Bag is typically made of durable material such as canvas or heavy-duty cloth, designed to withstand the rigours of life at sea. It often has a drawstring or or in modern days a zipper closure to secure its contents. The size of the bag can vary, but it is usually small enough to be easily carried or stowed away in a sailor’s bunk or locker.
Sailors use Ditty Bags to store and organise their personal items, such as toiletries, writing materials, sewing kits, small tools, spare buttons, and other miscellaneous items they may need during their time on board. The bag helps keep these items easily accessible and prevents them from getting lost or damaged.
The term “ditty” in the name “ditty bag” comes from the Old English word “dite,” meaning a small item or tool. Sailors would often refer to their personal belongings and small essential items as “ditties.” Over time, the term became associated with the bag used to carry these items.
The Ditty Bag holds a significant place in maritime tradition and is still used by sailors today, although modern advancements and changes in seafaring practices may have altered its contents and usage to some extent.
A Decorative Ditty Bag Demonstrates a Sailor’s Skillset
The ditty bag is a tangible representation of a sailor’s knotting and canvas work skills. Sailors can show off their expertise by skilfully tying intricate decorative knots to create a sturdy drawstring closure for the bag. Additionally, they use their experience to sew together durable canvas panels, crafting a functional vessel for their personal belongings. Not only that, there are some example of decorating the canvas with drawings, or even fraying the canvas to make knotting patterns in the canvas. The ditty bag showcases the sailor’s craftsmanship and proficiency in traditional skills associated with life at sea. Today, the knot tier creates a ditty bag to show off his current skillset.
Making a Ditty Bag is Difficult
You will often hear people say, “I will never make another Ditty Bag!“. This is because (well in my case), you need to learn new skills, such as sewing canvas, when you have never sewn before. On one occasion, I managed to cut myself quite badly, which meant that the canvas work is forever decorated with my blood. If like me, you are not a sewer, then a few inches can seem like miles of work in front of you. After each Ditty Bag, I did vow never to make another! The trouble is that every so often, you see someone else’s bag that inspires you to make just one more. I currently have three canvas and one leather Ditty Bag
Fine Examples of the Ditty Bag
Below I have put together a collection of different Ditty Bags, so that you too will be inspired to make one and forever hate me, for making your go through the blood, sweat and tears that you might endure on the way. However, in the end you will be so proud that you have made your very own Ditty Bag, which will be full of memories of how it was made.
Tanned Ditty Bag
Of course not all Ditty Bags are the same colour. I have often wanted to get hold of some old red sail cloth from a Thames barge, as I just love the way the sea and sun have faded the sail. This Ditty Bag by Edward De Wit (Rope Maker) is currently in the stages of being made, but as you can see he has tanned his cloth prior to making the actual Ditty Bag.
Ditty Bag by Gérard Vasseur
I have to say that I am a huge fan of white cloth for making a Ditty Bag, as it does not take long to get a lovely patina, giving it a rather lovely aged look
It is always nice to see what is kept inside a Ditty Bag….. a lovely selection of knotting tools that you would love to own! You can also see that a Ditty Bag makes a good place to hang some of your better knotted creations.
Ditty Bag by Gord Chisamore
A lovely simple Ditty Bag showing off a couple of well executed Matthew Walker Knots framing the Ditty Bag handle.
Ditty Bags by Joe Schmidbauer
The first Ditty Bag has some rather nice ringbolt hitching around the top of the handle, with a Turks Head followed by the elegant Star Knot, leading onto our old friend that Matthew Walker knot and then a bit of Continuous Crowning, Another Turks Head, not sure what the next knot is, then finishing off with another Matthew Walker. Eventually, the leads are close with another Turks Head.
In this example, you can see that the canvas has been deliberately frayed and then tied to form a pattern. I have to admit, this is something I have not done myself as yer. The main feature on this handle is the Globe Knot.
Ditty Bag by Joris de Jonge
In this Ditty Bag, it is good to see the use of a different coloured cord to contrast with the white of the cloth. It is funny, as I write this post and look at all the sewing, I can remember how sore my fingers were in the making of my Ditty Bags. You will also see in this photo the sailmaker’s palm, which certainly help to shove that needle through a rather resistant cloth!
Ditty Bag by Mikko Snellman
In this fine example you can see how external pockets assist in keeping your most tools easily accessible. Mikko has made many Ditty bags and often uses tarred hemp and salvaged line from old fishing nets. You can also see on the second one, lovely decorative canvas work. I think also on the first one, the main handle has Coachwhipping incorporated.
Ditty Bag by Tom Briggs
In this Ditty Bag, you will see that Tom has also incorporated some embroidery skills to add his initials to personalise the bag. A nice little touch is to have a baby Ditty Bag to keep smaller items safe.
Ditty Bag by William A Gura
In the following examples, you will see how William has used a Rope Thump Mat design to decorate the outside of the bag. Not often seen, but also the base of a Ditty Bag can be decorated with rope work and art. In the final one, there is a nice nautical touch of decorating the bag with signal flags.
Ditty Bag by John Trevvett
Here is a brand spanking new bag by John, a few years of hard work and it will look even better! In this particular case John has spliced his cordage onto the bag.
I hope that the images above inspire you to create your first Ditty Bag or go on and make another. Like I said at the beginning, you make one and say “NEVER again!”. However, you will get the urge to make more and demonstrate newly learned skills. If you want to see more bags and plans, just search this site or click on this link Ditty Bag.