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Home > Columns > "The Mirror" > October, 2004 - A Basic Weapons Bag
by "The Mirror"

A Basic Weapons Bag by The Mirror

This column was written by Janet Rosen

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Anybody with basic sewing knowledge can make up a beautiful and practical weapons bag in just a couple of hours. This pattern and instructions are based on my three years making weapons bags for sale. The construction is somewhat different from my bags (hey, I can't give away ALL my secrets!), and the instructions assume you know basic conventions like straight grain of fabric or not machine stitching over pins.

What kind of fabric should I buy?

For fiber, 100% cotton, 100% hemp, or a cotton/hemp blend are recommended. Other fabrics have inherent weaknesses that will shorten the bag's useful life. The only exception would be a tapestry-like upholstery fabric in a partly synthetic blend that is both heavy in weight and densely woven.

For weave, a stable and densely woven fabric is the best. Twills, including denim, work very well, as will canvas. I've had some pinwale corduroys and brushed cottons hold up nicely. I don't recommend the thinner Japanese prints or the looser woven ikats if you are transporting your weapons a lot. They ARE tempting though! If you want to use one, flat-line your bag with a sturdy, mid-weight all cotton fabric and treat the two layers as one in the instructions that follow.

How much fabric should I buy?

If you have 65" wide fabric (rare but sometimes seen in upholstery fabric), you can save a lot of fabric by cutting the weapon bag on the crosswise grain (length selvage to selvage). You will only need a half yard of fabric that way.

Otherwise, if you want to cut the bag out of one nice lengthwise piece, you will need to buy two yards of fabric. The leftover will make a second bag to delight somebody with, or, if the fabric is 44" wide or more, there will be enough to make a matching tote bag.

What other notions and tools do I need?

  • Sewing machine
  • Iron
  • Cutting shears
  • Good quality cotton thread to match the fabric
  • Sewing machine needles: number 80/12 for lighter fabrics; number 90 /14 for most midweight denims, twills, cords, or canvas; number 100 /16 for very heavy upholstery fabric
  • Shoelace in a color to coordinate with the bag fabric, for ties
  • One yard of 1" wide cotton belting in a color to coordinate with the bag fabric, for carry strap (optional: you can also make the carry strap from a piece of the bag fabric).
  • T-square or large ruler
  • Fabric marking chalk or pen
  • Straight sewing pins

Getting started

However you plan to wash and dry your bag during its lifetime, you need to prepare the fabric that way before measuring and cutting. If your fabric is not washable (certain upholstery blends), or you know for sure you'll be dry cleaning the bag, just press it with an iron before measuring and cutting.

Lay the prepared fabric on a large flat surface. If your fabric is less than 65" wide, and you bought two yards, you will measure the length along one selvage, then measure the width at a right angle to the selvage, to create a rectangle. To prevent going off-grain with such a long bag, it is best to measure the width at four or five points along the length, not just at each end.

To find length of bag:Length of longest weapon + 15" for overlaps, hems and seams. So for a 50 inch jo, you would measure and mark 50 + 15 = 65" long.

To find width of bag: For carrying two or three weapons, one of which might have a tsuba, a finished circumference of about 12" is good. Allowing for enclosed seam allowances, measure and mark 15" wide

Cut out your rectangle.

Top and bottom edges

At the top, measure 3/4" down, turn to the wrong side, and press flat. Turn a second time to the inside to "bury" the raw edge, press flat, and pin in place. At your machine, sew a row of topstitching " from the top folded edge and then a second parallel row very close to the inner turned edge.

At the bottom, measure up 7" and turn it to the wrong side. Press it flat. Pin in place close to the raw cut edge. Secure with a row of stitching across the width of the bag, parallel to the bottom, close to the cut edge.

Carrying strap

If you are using a yard of store-bought belting, zigzag the raw edges at either end to prevent raveling.

If you are making one from your own fabric, cut a piece 36" long and 4 to 4 " wide. Fold it in half, wrong sides together, press. Open it out and fold each long raw edge to the center foldline, press them in place. Turn and re-press along the original center foldline. You now have a long piece folded in quarters with the raw edges all tucked in. Edgestitch along the long open edge to secure all the layers.

The strap should be affixed so that when the bag is hoisted onto your shoulder, it doesn't drag on the ground or bang your ankle. You'll need to experiment to find the right position for you.

Lay the bag flat, right side up. Measure down 15" to 17" from the top edge, and 4" in from one long edge. If you are shorter than average, measure 17", if you are taller, 15". Mark this spot with a pin.

If this next part makes no sense, refer to the diagrams 1 and 2 right away! The idea is that the strap is sewn "wrong ways" to reduce strain on the stitches when the bag is in use. Lay the strap upside-down, with one zigzagged cut edge at the pin, but the rest of the strap ABOVE the bag. Pin the strap in place (see diagram 1).

Diagram 1

Flip the strap down towards the bottom of the bag. Measure down 27" from the top pin and 4" in from the long edge. Mark this spot with a pin. Turn the strap so that you will again have the wrong side of the strap facing up, and pin it in place (see diagram 2).

Diagram 2

In order to check strap position, take a few pins and secure the two long edges of the bag together. This is one time that lining things up perfectly is not important. Hold the bag upright, letting the bottom of it drag on the floor a couple of inches. Lift the carry strap over your shoulder and recheck where the bag bottom is. Adjust the top pin up or down until the bag is at a carrying height that is comfortable for you. If necessary, move the bottom pin as well to keep the pins 26" to 28" apart.

Once you have the strap positioned where you want, remove the pins from along the long edges of the bag and lay it flat. With the right side of the bag up, sew the strap to the bag, stitching in a square with an X inside (see diagram 3).

Diagram 3


Lay the bag flat, face up. Fold the shoelace in half and lay it along one long edge of the bag, 3" from the finished top edge. The shoelace fold should be at the raw edge of the bag. Pin in place. Stitch in place 1/4" from raw edge (see diagram 3 and 4).

Diagram 4

Side and bottom seams

Start by folding the bag in half lengthwise, WRONG SIDES TOGETHER. Make sure that all edges (the long raw edges as well as the finished top edge and the folded bottom edge) line up evenly. Pin in place. Starting at the finished top edge, sew a single seam " in from the raw edge, all the way down to " from the folded bag bottom. Pivot and continue the seam to the folded long edge of the bag (see diagrams 3 and 5).

Diagram 5

Press the bag along the seam to help "meld" the stitches. Carefully trim one long edge seam allowance to between 1/4"--3/8", leaving the other seam allowance at 1/2". Position the bag so the seam allowance can be pressed open. Press the seam allowance open, using as much steam and pressure as appropriate for the fiber content of the bag.

Turn the bag inside out. Make sure to get as much fabric free at the two bottom corners, with a combination of carefully poking from inside with your bokken and prying from the outside with a large pin or darning needle. With your hands, work the seamed edge to lay as flat as possible inside the bag. Pressing it again may be necessary with some fabrics.

With the bag still INSIDE OUT, pin in place along the long seamed edge and bottom edge. Make sure that the carry strap and the long ends of your ties are well out of the way, so they are not caught in the sewing you are about to do.

The second seam needs to be far enough in from the edge to completely enclose the first seam. Usually a standard presser foot and a 3/4" seam allowance will work. If it seems difficult, try using a zipper foot and just "riding along" inside the edge of the first seam.


Press the bag along the seam to help "meld" the stitches. Turn the bag right side out. Check the length of the bag to make sure the seam was fully enclosed. If stray bits of fabric are poking through, your second seam was too close to your first seam; turn the bag inside out and restitch the second seam, 1/4" further away from the edge. Turn the bag right side out.

Again get as much fabric free at the two bottom corners, with a combination of carefully poking from inside with your bokken and prying from the outside with a large pin or darning needle. Press the bag, add weapons, and get back to training!

© 2004 Janet Rosen.

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