Bowline Bags – The Details Revealed

Bowline Bag
Bowline Bag

You’ve seen the beautiful, practical, yet pricey sail bags made by big name designers.  I thought there had to be a way to make similar sail bags for less money using recycle sails.  The Captain wanted several bags for provisioning and carting goods to and from the  boat.  We were weekend sailors until we tossed the dock lines.  So this Seamless Sailor started searching for a used sail to make lots o’ bags. The Boat Galley has also written about using good shopping bags for provisioning, too. We used these bags a lot.

The first sail came from the Annapolis boat consignment shop, Bacon’s.  For a few dollars I got one with which to experiment.  Several ok bags came from that sail with a green Sunbrella sacrificial cover on the leech edge.  Then a friend’s jib blew out in a storm.  It was in pretty good shape which was really unfortunate for him.  He agreed to let me have the sail if I would make him some bags in exchange – Done! Close the Deal!

Fair warning — a sail is big and can make a lot of bags.  It needs to be cut down to manageable pieces for storage.

How could I make my design unique?  Add the boat’s hull number and come up with a unique handle!  You’ve seen my bags in the Seamless Sailor slide show.  If you want to come up with your own sail bag, use your imagination to “see” a bag in the sail cloth.  Look at the seams and the sacrificial edge to cut out a good-sized bag.  Maybe you are more creative and can style an anchor or seashell.  You can make a bag either with two panels or one large piece.  A good large size is about 18″ high by 20″ wide with a six inch base. Yours could be any size – short and squatty or tall and lean.  Here are the instructions to make yours.

Large Bowline Bag

Finished unlined bag 19″ h x 20″ w x 6″ base depth


— Large amount of clean, recycled sail cloth

— Heavy thread (v46 and appropriate needles ~#18-20)

— 4 – 1” Grommet sets (size 4) and installation tools

— 7/16” Line (about 38-52” x2)

— Adhesive insignia sail fabric for decorative design and templates as desired


  1. Using a square or metal measuring tool, cut two – 38” of line for 7” drop handles (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 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?

  3. Cut two pieces of sail cloth 26” x 22”. 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. This size allows for 1” side seam, 3” top hem, 1″ for the bottom seam and 3” for the bottom depth. Alternatively, you can cut one piece with no bottom seam 48”x 22”.

  4. Mark seams and hems and 3” at base corners outside the seam allowance (or 4″) with washable pen or chalk.

  5. If you want a pocket, cut 8-10” x 22”. Finish the top of the pocket with a hem or binding.  Align with the side seams on inside of the back to stitch in.  If you are using two pieces then you can sew the bottom in the bottom seam.  If you are using one piece, stitch the bottom 3″ from the bottom fold. You can stitch it into two pockets with a line of stitching.

  6. Cut any design or numbers. Remember to reverse pattern so sticky side is on the back if you mark on the underside of the insignia fabric which has pattern lines (alternatively just lay out the design on the front of the insignia).

  7. Carefully place 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.

  8. Stitch 1” bottom seam and side seams adding pocket if desired.You could finish the seams with a zigzag, hot knife or trim.  The sail cloth doesn’t seem to ravel too much.

  9. Turn under top 1”. Zigzag. (I turn the seams towards the back panel.) Then turn under 2″. Mark. Stitch from outside without turning right side out. Allow 1 ¼” to 1 ½” space for grommets. 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 3 times is good. You may have a thicker section of sail such as a sacrifical cover. Or you can add canvas patches on the outside for the grommets adding a bit of color.

  10. To stitch corners and add depth: Match side and bottom seams by taking corner at diagonal creating a triangle. This creates a 6” depth. Mark corners 3” each way if you haven’t already.  Carefully line up the seams so they match.

  11. Stitch 3” in across the triangle for 6” base turning the bottom seam to one side. Finish bottom corner by trimming the seam 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. (Here’s a link to a very good tutorial video on box corners for bags.)

  12. Turn right side out.

  13. Mark grommet placement by measuring the top about in thirds.

  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. Insert grommet piece with neck 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 from front. Make bowline tight to bag, one to the left and one to the right on each side. Make as even as possible.
Bowline Bags
Bowline Bags
Bowline Bag donated for the Pentagon Sailing Club holiday auction
Bowline Bag donated for the Pentagon Sailing Club holiday auction
Bowline Bag

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