|American 18th century Ditty Bag |
linen with hemp lanyard
The ditty bag was the nautical equivalent of the long hunter's "possibles bag": a container for keeping near to hand the small gear and personal items that were needed on a daily basis. The artifact pictured at left that sold at auction in 2010 was identified as an American 18th century ditty bag. Its construction is typical of ditty bags made before the mid-19th century, after which cotton canvas replaced linen, and metal grommets were used instead of those made by hand from strands of hemp line. Some ditty bags today - more likely to be employed as wine caddies than for seamanship - feature roped bottoms that are flat instead of rounded, but these are modern innovations.
Analysis of surviving, early ditty bags in museum collections, along with images contained in records of private sales, indicates some variation in the smaller details of construction, such as bag diameter, lanyard length and number of strands, but they are closely related in most other respects. The main components of such ditty bags are:
- an open, cylindrical linen canvas bag, between 5" and 7" in diameter and 16" - 20" deep, with hand
|early ditty bag without its lanyard|
- small grommets made from spliced, small diameter hemp cord marline, hand stitched in linen thread or hemp sail twine;
- a lanyard also made from hemp marline, usually tarred, comprising anything between four and twelve strands, with a loop at the end so that the bag could hang from a hammock hook when not in use. The lanyard is usually attached to the bag by splicing loops through the grommets. It could be quite rudimentary, or feature a number of fancywork knots that showcased the sailor's skills. I am by no means an expert at knot identification, but the 8 strand example, above, seems to employ a double chain sennet and two stopper knots for the handle with a running Turk's Head for the closure. Only the knotted portions have been tarred or varnished in this particular lanyard.
For my 18th century reconstruction, I opted for a linen canvas ditty bag 7" in diameter and 18" deep, following the diagram, provided by Master Sailmaker Louis Bartos of MARINER SAILS in Ketchikan, Alaska.
|Ditty Bag Construction Diagram courtesy Louis Bartos of Mariner Sails|
I used a #13 sail maker's needle from Wm. Smith & Sons and found it pierced my line canvas easily. It was, as they say in Southeastern New England, "wickid shahp".
I followed the instructions provided by Hervey Smith in his estimable book The Marlinspike Sailor and used three 7' doubled strands to form a six strand lanyard.
In between the Matthew Walker's knots I placed an alternating series of round crown sennets: first laid clockwise and then counter. I found it was easier at this stage to stick a large fid through the lanyard loop and then lay the strands out in wide bights before drawing them tight. The result is a very satisfying handle with 14 alternating round crown sennet knots.
|The lanyard in progress, with alternating round crown sennets|
formed below a Matthew Walker's knot
|The finished lanyard handle|
|A 3 strand running Turks Head knot closes the bag|
The finished ditty bag has served me well. It is a popular ditty bag pattern that, except for the materials used, has remained little changed during the last 2 centuries. I'll discuss the tools and personal items I researched and acquired to carry in it in a subsequent post.
|Reconstructed 18th Century Sailor's Ditty Bag |
made by Tim Abbott from linen canvas and tarred hemp marline