Bowline Bags – the details (Updated June 2016)

Upcycled sail bag made from the main sail of a Catalina 27. The front design is the code flag “H”.

My friend asked me to make her a Bowline Bag and she’d pay me for it.  Whaaaat? After being flattered and stunned, I agreed with a few conditions.  I couldn’t guarantee a delivery time since we were underway and I wanted to sew at a dock and that would be a few weeks.  I needed to acquire some better sail cloth.  She agreed.

I’ve made about 15 bags.  Each one gets better, but I still am not very efficient making them aboard with somewhat limited space.  Nevertheless, I try to improve the instructions in hope that the next one will be even better. (If you are one of my friends with an early version, I’m sorry.)
Bowline Bags
Finished unlined bag 18″ h x 20″ w x 6″ base depth with design on front


–Large amount of cleaned, recycled sail cloth
–Heavy thread (v46 and appropriate needles ~#18-20)
–4 – 1” Grommet sets (size 4) and installation tools
–7/16” Nylon line (about 38-52” x2) for handles
–Seam binding or centerfold acrylic 7/8″ binding (optional)
–Adhesive insignia sail fabric for design and templates as desired
  1. Using a square or metal measuring stick, cut two – 38” of line for 7” (for 11” drop cut 52” line). Seal ends with hot knife or fire starter. Use a metal blade putty knife on a safe surface such as glass, wood or marble. Ends will be hot for several seconds.
  2. Select an interesting section of used sail. Is there an edge that will take place of the top hem edge? (If so consider cutting a slightly shorter piece.) Is there stitching or a logo or sail number to position on the front of the bag? Will you be adding a design?

    The bag includes a reef point. I added a short piece of line through the reef grommet..
  3. Cut two pieces of sail cloth 24 1/2” x 21”. It is a bit easier if you make a paper pattern. If you don’t cut with the hot knife, use it to seal the edges or be sure to cover the seam edges with binding. This size allows for 1/2” side seam, 3” top hem, 1/2″ for the bottom seam and 3” for the bottom depth per side. Alternatively, you can cut one piece with no bottom seam at 48”x 21” (see alternate instructions).
  4. Mark seams and hems and 3” at base corners outside the seam allowance (or 3 1/2″ total) with washable pen or chalk.
    1. Alternate: For the one piece version, mark where the pocket will go taking into account the 3″ depth that the base will take up on the back and side.
  5. If you are adding a pocket, cut 8-10” x 21” and hem top or add binding. You can split it into two pockets with a line of stitching once it is added to the back but before sewing the side seams.
  6. Cut any design or numbers out of insignia or other material. Remember to reverse pattern so sticky side of the insignia fabric is on the back if you mark the desgin on the underside which has printed grid lines (or just lay out the design on the front of the insignia).
  7. Carefully place the design on the outside of the bag taking into consideration the side seams, top hem and base depth. With zigzag on widest stitch, “embroider” on design. (For the code flag “H” I put the design on Sunbrella so it would stand out.)
  8. Stitch 1/2” bottom seam and side seams. Position the pocket in the side seam and back stitch top of pocket. You could finish the seams with a zigzag, hot knife or binding trim. (I added a small ribbon in the side seam to add a carbiner as a key holder.)
    1. Alternate: If you are using one piece and want to add a pocket, sew the bottom of the pocket to the back inside above where the base will be, turning under the edges.  When sewing the side seams, line up the top edge of the bag and mark the top of the pocket. Back stitch at the top of the pocket. Bind or finish side seams.

      Inside view of pockets, key ribbon, pouch and grommet and seam finishing
  9. To stitch corners and add the bag’s depth: Match side and bottom seams by taking corner at diagonal creating a triangle. This creates a 6” depth. Mark corners 3” plus seam each direction if you haven’t already.  Carefully line up the seams so they match.
  10. Stitch 3” in across the triangle for 6” base turning the bottom seam to one side. Push out the corners. Finish bottom corner by trimming the seam, finishing it and stitching it down about 2″ out from the seam to the base. Be sure the base seam is pulled out so there isn’t any caught in the seam. This gives the base a bit of substance at the corners.
  11. Allow 1 ¼” to 1 ½” space for grommets spaced across the top about in thirds. Consider if you need to reinforce the points where the grommets will be either with a piece inside or canvas sewn on the outside. It depends on the section of the sail chosen for that area and how firm it is. I like more than 2 layers of plain sail to hold the grommets. Turning under 2 times (for 3 layers) is good. You may have a thicker section of sail such as a sacrificial cover. Or you can add canvas patches on the outside for the grommets and add a bit of color.
  12. Turn under top 1” (or use binding on the top edge). Add any interfacing for the grommet areas as desired. Zigzag. (I turn the side seams towards the back panel.) Then turn under 2″. Mark. Stitch from outside without turning right side out. Watch as you sew the top hem not to catch the other side by holding it slightly aside. Add any exterior patches for the grommets here if needed.
  13. Mark grommet placement by measuring the top about in thirds, maybe bit further apart as desired. Center so the grommet is about 1/4″ below the top edge.
  14. Use grommet tool/drill bit to mark/cut hole. Need very hard surface if you are hammering the hole with the grommet tool. May need to cut opening with sharp scissors very carefully if a clean hole isn’t punched. Drill tool makes short work of cutting the hole. Make sure to only cut one side at a time. Insert grommet piece with neck towards the inside of the bag with the smooth side facing out. Use smaller circle inside. Place on round grommet holder. Hold tool at base and hammer to turn center under.
  15. Add line using bowline knots for handles using about 8” for the knot. Insert the line from front. Make bowline tight to bag, one to the left and one to the right on each side. Make the handles as even as possible.
  16. It’s easy to make a small envelope-style bag to go with the Bowline Bag.20160619_130328Previous version of this blog here.

Leave a Reply