I had originally written this article for something else but the photos didn't turn out as well as I had hoped and the article got scrapped. Learning curve on the new camera and all. However the photos are good enough for the web use so... may as well post it. Someone may make use of it.
The Average Joe Bow Bag
As a bow paddler on a day trip room is something you donít always have a lot of and even the smallest day pack can often be too much when stowed up front. So things often get stowed behind you; but then you have to turn around to find it or go to shore to dig it out of a pack. This is annoying for things like rain jackets, cameras, or binoculars that are used quite frequently. You donít want to have them just sitting on the bottom of the canoe but there is an alternative.
Enter the bow bag; a perfect sized pack which does not interfere with legroom and is not as likely to get wet either as it is suspended above the bottom of the canoe where any water will collect. For this to work you must have a canoe with a grab handle in the front. Nova Craft, Old Town, and others fit these standard on their canoes but if you do not have them you can always install them yourself. The process is very easy and involves drilling a couple of holes and bolting the handle to the underside of the gunwales. Anyone can do it, the hardest part is getting the measurements right.
For the purposes of our Average Joe Bow Bag we do not want to spend a lot of money on a Frost River or Duluth style Bow Bag. While both are of superior design and construction the cost of ordering them from America can be quite high considering what they are eventually going to be used for. It is entirely possible to make them from household items or items purchased second hand at a fraction of the cost.
You will need some sewing skills and they do not have to be expert by any means. The most difficult part is installing the zipper. I hate working with zippers; you could avoid the zipper altogether and put a closure flap with a button or buckle on the bottom of your bow bag but I decided to go with the zipper anyhow; even though I hate them. I used a plastic zipper because they do not rust. They break easier but a bow bag will not be subjected to very much stress unlike most other canoe gear.
A good source of canvas for this type of project is a fabric shopping bag. It is fairly thin and easy to work with and quite common, I got a canvas bag at a second hand shop, some very strong button thread and a fairly robust plastic zipper to start with. The cost was well under 10£
Once the shopping bag was dissected into its various components, it became obvious that there was enough material for the project, and a few other bits for future use.
I donít spend a lot of time constructing patterns. Once I decide how large I want the project to be, I find an appropriate piece of card board to measure out a template. In this case, the bow bag had to hold a rain jacket and a camera, possibly a few other small items like paddling gloves or a rope. The sides of our bow bag are just rectangular pieces of canvas so there is no need to make a template for them. It is always best to make the side panels of any bag a bit longer than you think you need them when there are any curves to sew around because you inevitably run into problems unless you are an expert at machine sewing, so measure the distance around your pattern and add a few inches just to be safe.
With all of the parts cut out it is time to get sewing. The back top section of the pack is slightly larger than the front; the back is cut into two pieces to allow the larger top section to puff out more and to make it easier to stuff full. The top side panel is also wider for the same reason. For an easier pattern just make the front and back panels identical and make the side panel one long piece that joins at the bottom instead of two individual ones. If you are really good you can make a template for the side panel that allows the bag to taper from top to bottom. The main reason I stick with multiple smaller pieces though is to conserve fabric and make use of every last scrap.
- To turn all of this into a bag, you sew the back top and bottom pieces together turning the seam in. You will end up with something similar to the front panel, only larger at the top.
- Next sew the side bottom panel onto back bottom turning the seam inside the bag. Start in the middle at what will be the center of the bottom of the bag to insure the fabric doesnít come up short on one side or the other. If you have made extra long panels this isnít an issue. You can use pins to hold things in place if you wish.
- Now sew the side top panel onto the back top piece turning the seam inside the bag.
- Next sew the side top and side bottom panels together on both sides of the bag to finish the sides. With all of the seams turned in you should see at this point what the bag will eventually look like as you are about half done.
- The front part is a bit tricky. You can pin it in place if you want, but the best thing to do is turn the back section of your bag thus far inside out so all of the seams are now showing. Find the bottom center of the front panel and the bottom center of the side bottom panel on the bag. This is your start point for sewing, and this time, turn your seams out; this way when the bag is complete and turned right side out, all of the seams will be turned in and will not show. Donít forget to pin your zippers center to the top center of the front panel so you know where to stop sewing the front section. Marking the zippers length on you bag will show you how far to sew the front panel and where to stop, creating the opening.
- Sew the front panel to the rest of the bag from beginning at your start point at the center bottom. Sew up both sides to the spot to where your zipper will be installed. An area the same length as your zipper will be left open. If you want you can pin the zipper into place on the front panel and mark the fabric at the zippers beginning and end or you can sew it by eye. With the bottom of the front panel now sewn on you have your bag; you just have to turn it right side out.
- Adding the zipper involves the only complicated step in the sewing. Putting the zipper in place on the inside of the bag, sew one side of the zippers material to the inside of the front flap. You can roll the front panels fabric into a hem for a neater appearance. Just be sure that the zipper pull tab is on the outside of your bag and not the inside. Sewing the second side of the zipper material onto the inside of the top of the bag can only be done by opening up the zipper completely. It may be tricky sewing the second side on a machine. Depending upon your sewing machine you may have to finish things off with a few hand stitches. It is best to roll a hem here to so the project looks better.
- Once you have the zipper firmly sewn in place, pinch some fabric on the top of the bag in your fingers and roll it forward to cover the zipper. About a half inch roll is all that is needed to protect the zipper. Mess around with it a bit and get the flap just how you want it, then open the zipper again and carefully sew through the top of the bag one stitch line to hold the flap in place. Now zip up your zipper and add any finishing touches. I added a small piece of braided leather to the zipper to grab hold of.
Now with all of that seamstress stuff out of the way you can start the easy stuff; adding the leather straps to the back. This can be made out of fairly thin leather but not garment leather. An old belt would be perfect but for this project I used leather known as blacksmith sides left over from a pair of chaps that I made for a girl. It is very strong but quite thin and very easy to work with and was used for blacksmith aprons at one time. Buckles can also be salvaged from various sources but I bought new ones as they were only 55 cents each. Usually I like to go with brass as it does not rust but nickel is a good second choice.
Creating the straps from a larger piece of leather is easiest if you have a strap cutter like I do. You set it for the width you want and cut away. If you do not you can make straps with a utility knife and a metal straight edge. Another method is to stick a good sharp knife deep into a board or table and drive a nail in half way next to it. The distance between the nail and knife is the strap width. You use the nail as a guide post for the edge of the leather and push the hide into the knife, cutting the strap. This only works for thicker leather though, for thinner stuff you must cut a starter line into it about two inches and pull it through.
With the straps cut you need to make long holes for the tongue of the buckle to work through. An inch or so back from the end is fine; the straps will not be supporting any weight so fewer stitches are required. You can buy a tool to cut this hole or you can punch two wide holes an inch apart and remove the leather between them with a knife. With the tongue holes in place, now you mark and punch your stitching holes to secure the buckles and attach leather to canvas. As long as your stitch holes are about 1/8th of an inch apart even thinner leather should hold fine. After punching your stitching holes to attach the leather to the bag with a spring punch or an awl, fold the straps like a belt and with the smooth side against the bag , sew through the two pieces of leather and the canvas to attach the leather strap to the bag. If you think you are likely to fill the bag with rocks at any time then add a third piece of small leather on the inside for reinforcement.
- Hand sewing leather is fairly easy; take two leather or tapestry needles an about 12 inches of waxed linen thread, secure a needle on each end of the thread and run one needle through your first punched starter hole. Now just figure ď8Ē sew, with both needles going through each hole until you complete all the holes. Tie off and the excess on the under side of the project.
With both straps sewn onto the bag, all that remains to do is to punch holes for the buckle tongues and you are done. Secure the bag to the grab handles of the canoe as tight as possible to mark the holes before punching them. You should not need to add further adjustment holes
When the project is complete you will have a canvas bow bag that should last for years for a fraction of the cost of the major sellers, and you will have had the joy of making it. It takes a few hours but is a fun little project for the Average Joe Paddler. This little piece of kit is popular with the ladies and is an excellent addition for any one who mostly paddles in the bow seat.