The History of the Ditty Bag

The History of the Ditty Bag

January 25, 2018

The Ditty Bag is “a small bag in which a sailor keeps small tools and equipment, also personal articles”. But what is a ditty bag and how did it evolve?  The ditty box is a variation in shape and material, but not in purpose of the ditty bag.   

The ditty bag and the sea bag, a relative of the ditty bag, were the first projects for an apprentice either in the sail-maker's trade or as a working seaman. The reason for this is that these items incorporated primary skills when making and repairing sails.  According to McLeod (1947), “Apart from the use of the gear, making a bag is good practice for other jobs where cutting out is involved”, referring to the sea bag itself, “among the 'old-timers' there is a tradition that a 'proper sailor's bag' must contain five flat seams, the bottom also being put in with a flat seam.”  Besides learning the techniques of seaming, making twine grommets and sewing eyelets, the bags were an essential part of the sailor's sea-going wardrobe.

The ditty bag still does have one common purpose and that is to hold the sailor’s personal possessions and some tools of the trade. It was said that the old sailor referred to his ditty bag as a “housewife” because in it he had all the essentials for repairing his clothing, personal belongings and generally everything on deck. For an unknown reason, the bag was also known as a “jewing bag” and was hung from a hammock ring or perhaps a hook or peg next to his bunk in the forecastle. These bags generally were companions to the sailor’s sea bags or sea chests. Though these items were widely used, little is known about their origin and how they evolved.

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