3-D Sewing: Sail Bags!

Monday, July 31, 2023

Ever since visiting a shop in Annapolis, Maryland that sold tote bags made from sailboat sails, I've wanted to try making one myself! I loved the idea of using something old to make something new!

Tote bags made from a sailboat sail

My husband and I recently bought a sailboat to use on our local lake, and we joined the sailing club too. It didn't take long for word to get out that I knew how to sew! Some of our new friends gave me this old and broken sail to use to sew some tote bags!

Sail from an old sailboat

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I had no idea how big the sail would be, so I didn't know how many tote bags it would make. I ordered 25 yards of 2" wide webbing in three different colors (red, navy, and black) to use for the handles, and I bought 1 1/2 yards each of five different colors of duck canvas (red, black, light blue, dark blue, and tan). 

Duck canvas and webbing for sail bags

Then a couple weekends ago, I went to a quilt retreat and took this along as one of my projects to work on there. I knew there would be a large space available to spread out the sail and work, so it was the perfect time!

I'll also note that I do not have a Sailrite sewing machine (yet!). Sailrite machines are made to sew sails, but I was confident my Juki would be able to sew it too!

A sailboat sail that I turned into tote bags

I watched this YouTube video as a tutorial, then got to work! I drew a rectangle onto the sail using my favorite air erasable pen, then cut it out with scissors.

Drawing a rectangle onto the sail to make a tote bag

Here is the result of that first bag! I learned so much from this one! It was a wonderful video tutorial, and I liked the sewing method very much. However, I wanted to change up the measurements to make a second one.

First sail bag I sewed

I liked the size and shape of the second bag much better!

Finished sail bags in two sizes

So then I started cutting all the pieces from the sail, duck canvas, and webbing for as many bags as I could.

Stack of cut sail pieces to make sail bags

For one bag, I cut two 13" x 24" rectangles and one 8" x 10" rectangle from the sail, one 13" x 24" rectangle from the duck canvas, and two 52" long pieces of the webbing.

Stack of cut sail pieces to make sail bags

I kept cutting until I couldn't get even one more piece cut from the sail. It was enough pieces for 42 tote bags!! I had no idea I'd get that many! (And I really hope they weren't hoping to get that sail back!) 

The leftover sail pieces

Since I didn't know how many tote bags I'd be able to make, I only had enough webbing to make 24 bags. I laid out all the pieces for those 24 bags, mixing and matching the canvas and webbing for lots of different colors combinations.

The cut sail pieces, canvas, and webbing to make sail bags

A polyester thread would probably be the best choice in this situation, but I only had 50wt Aurifil thread with me, so that's what I used, and it worked great! I matched the thread color to the webbing color, and I sewed all the bags with black webbing all at the same time. (Then the ones with navy webbing, then the bags with red webbing.)

Hemming the piece of sail to be used for a tote bag

I was able to cut several of the pieces from the edge of the sail, meaning it was already hemmed and ready to use. But many of the pieces came from the center of the sail, so I folded one long edge over twice and hemmed it. (For both of the bag pieces and the pocket.)

Using clips to hold the straps in place before sewing

I placed the pocket in the center of one side, then I used sewing clips to hold the webbing and pocket in place. (In the tutorial video, they used staples, but I found that the sewing clips worked just fine!) I spaced the ends of the webbing about 8" apart. I made sure the webbing covered the sides of the pocket and that the ends were spaced exactly the same on both the bag pieces. Oh, and I made sure the straps weren't twisted. My large cutting mat worked well for this step.

Laying out the webbing to be the bag handles

Then I just used a straight stitch to sew from the bottom of the strap to the top, then I sewed an X at the top for extra reinforcement of the stitches before sewing back down the other side.

Sewing the webbing onto the sail pieces to make the handle straps

After just a few bags, I was able to sew pretty fast!

Sewing the webbing onto the sail pieces to make the handle straps

Hem pieces if needed, sew on the straps, sew the sides and bottom together, top-stitch, sew up the sides, turn right sides out, done!

Top stitching on the canvas to reinforce the bottom seam

Each bag took me exactly 30 minutes to sew. The only way I could sew it in less time was when my mom helped me clip the pieces, because I could sew while she prepped the next bag. (And this doesn't take into account the hours of cutting I did!)

Turning the sail bag right sides out

I typically do not enjoy 3-D sewing, but this was fun to sew! Each one was so satisfying to finish!

Sail bag with blue webbing for straps and blue canvas for the bottom

The photo above shows the side of the bag with the pocket, and the photo below shows the other side of the bag.

Sail bag with blue webbing for straps and blue canvas for the bottom

This is my favorite detail! The way this bottom corner is sewn is brilliant! So simple, yet so effective!

The bottom corner of a sail bag showing the canvas

Here's a look inside the bag. The edges are just raw (no French seams, though I did consider that). And if you look carefully at the bottom corner, you'll see how the inside of that triangle corner ends up. It's a bit of clever origami!

The inside of a sail bag

Here's a look at one of the bags where I cut the pieces from the edge of the sail, so the edges were already finished without me hemming them.

A sail bag made from a sailboat sail with black webbing for straps and a tan canvas bottom

And I still have about 20 more bags to sew once I get more webbing!

Pieces cut to make sail bags

Here I am holding all 24 bags that I sewed at the quilt retreat weekend!

Tote bags made from a sailboat sail

And here are the same 24 bags on a garment rack once I got home! (You can see the pile of cut pieces for the other 20 on the table behind them!)

Tote bags made from a sailboat sail

These were such fun to sew, and I can't wait to share them with our local sailing friends! If I have any left over, I'm thinking about listing them in my Etsy shop. (That won't be for a few more weeks after our next sailing club meeting. Watch on Facebook or Instagram for an announcement if I have any!)

I'm a bit worried that this will really give me a reputation at the sailing club! I'm thinking repairing sails is a lot like hemming pants! Ha!


  1. The bags are great! I'll watch for them in your Etsy shop! Margie \TN

  2. Beautiful Bags! I am amazed at the items you can get done. I need to get moving on my sewing. Kathy R. NJ

  3. that is amazing. I love that you repurposed the sail. I just love these kind of projects.

  4. Amazing, Laura! I can't believe how many you've already made! I live in Maine and you should check out seabags.com in Portland (Maine) to see all the varieties of bags they make from sails. You might find even more inspiration for the next sail that comes your way :)

  5. how did you do the bottom corners?

  6. Great job, Laura! These bags look wonderful. I’ll be watching your Etsy shop to see if any are left.

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  8. Laura, Great job as always! I love your bags & all of your techniques! So neat the re-purposing! Happy stitches


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