Japanese bag

This simple and beautiful bag was the inspiration for the two-quilt-messenger bag that I made last week (below).

It is constructed from three pieces – the front, the back, and a single side piece.  Each component has a blue face with a red backing.

The side panel does not come all the way up to the uppermost edges, in order to leave room for a casing, which houses the blue cord pull-ties.  The casing is just a gap between the red lining and the blue front, with two lines of stitching to define.
Because you seam the finished components wrong sides together, there is no need to leave an opening in the final construction phase in order to reverse, the way many bag patterns require.  By using the red contrasting fabric for the inside of each of the three pieces, and making no attempt to hide any seams, a beautiful line of color is created – very much like piping.

The ties are long.  Each of the two loops exit on opposite sides, so that when you pull the ties, the loop that is inside the casing opposite, tugs closed.  It’s a simple and elegant design, through and through.

I thought of this bag as I was pulling the next two quilts out of a drawer during my three weeks of purse sewing.
About 14 inches square, these two panels were a good size for a messenger bag, or what I’m calling a messenger bag.  A true messenger bag would have a fold-over flap.
I realized that once I removed the dowel sleeves, I had two of the three pieces of the model Japanese bag.  I constructed a blue strap with finished edges that was long enough to run around three sides of the bag and then up and over the shoulder (14 inches x 3 plus about 35 inches).  I included enough length to make a loop on one end that the other end would tie into, so as to make the strap adjustable.


I also added a good-sized lined pocket on the wrong side of one of the quilts.
The project made me happy for a couple of reasons.  One, it put to good use some quilts I was not crazy about as wall hangings (I love them as purse panels, though!!).  I did six of these, so I can make two more bags.  I sold this one on Sunday.  I think I will select a handle/side & bottom fabric that is much tougher than the one above, so that the bag could carry the weight of a lap top – it’s the perfect size.  Two, I was very proud of myself for figuring out how to borrow some of the construction methods of a long-admired bag.*

P.S. While sewing mine together, I realized that the curved edges were critical to the design of the indigo bag.  I had to stop my side panel seams just short of each corner, leaving four holes that I then hand sewed.  I didn’t really want to cut the 14″ x 14″ quilted panel – doing so would have wrecked the bound edge and posed a different construction problem.


*  I bought this bag from a couple who made a wide variety of useful objects out of beautiful Japanese indigo cloth many years ago at a huge holiday craft fair held at Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center.  I have no name to share with you, I’m afraid!!

7 thoughts on “Japanese bag

  1. deanna7trees

    i love having all types of pretty bags around to carry things on the go. love the one you just made and looks like it’s the perfect size. i really have enough around but i still keep making them and some of them are given as gifts.

  2. saskia

    thanks Dee for this excellent tutorial!

    a couple of the pieces I’m currently working on will be perfect for a bag, rather than a wall-hanging; will post results later on; I like the original bag above and your ‘copy with a twist’ very much.

    p.s. the jacket is still in the bucket……

  3. deedeemallon

    Thank you everyone!

    I find I get into trouble when I switch purses, so I am kind of a one-pocket-book kind of gal… but what I am sooooooo enjoying is turning a so-so work into something I consider smashing. Very gratifying. I will try one soon that more exactly replicates the Japanese bag…

    I’m impressed you’re waiting, saskia – re: the bucket!

    1. Ivana

      Hello, you’ve posted this very long time ago but I decided to ask for help anyways. 🙂 I love the first bag-blue and red lining-but I didn’t understand how to connect the 3 pieces invisibly… Would you be so kind to help out? I am new to sewing, I appologise if this requests is too much and thank you in any case! Warm regards


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