The Pilgrim Bag

The Pilgrim Bag

The Pilgrim Bag


The term 'pilgrim bag' here generally refers to what nowadays we know and use as a 'shoulder bag', for the simple reason that in the Middle Ages (and later) people wanted to keep their hands free, as we still do .

Those who carried shoulder bags, mostly men, tended to be artisans, traders, farmers, hunters, pilgrims, and beggars.

Items carried varied, but mostly it was for food while traveling and any items which would be handy while on the long trek to the Holy Land. I have made my bag big enough to carry a standard notebook for taking to classes.

Images of these bags can be found in sources from The Maciejowski Bible in the 13th Century to the Hours of the Duc du Berry 1408-09. Most appear in the 1400s.

Suggested Materials:

Home Decorating Fabric (45” Home Dec from Jo-Ann’s works great)

Upholstery FabricCanvasMicrosuede

Heavy VelvetWoolVinyl/Leather

Lining: cotton broadcloth or any medium weight fabric


1 yard fabricmatching threadembellishments

How to Draft the Pattern:

Take a piece of newsprint, use the center fold as your starting point and draw a dot 5 ½ inches to either side of the fold. Connect the dots. This is your top line.

Measure down 13 inches from the top line, made a dot. On either side of the dot measure out 8 inches, connect the dots. This is your bottom. **If you would like an angled bottom measure down 2 inches from the fold and make a dot, Measure down 2 inches from the edges of your bottom line and make a dot at each corner. Draw curving lines connecting the dots, but going no higher than the first bag bottom line.

Connect the top line with the bottom line with 2 straight lines, making a trapezoid. This is your bag body.

Using another portion of the newsprint, make a 12 inch long line, mark the center point. From the center point measure down 7 inches, make a dot. Draw two gently curving lines up from the dot to either side of the 12 inch line, this is your flap.

Sewing Instructions:

Uses ½ seam allowance unless noted.

Cut 2 of bag body from outer fabric and lining

Cut 2 of flap from outer fabric

Cut 2 strips of fabric for strap ½ the length you want plus 1/2 inch long and 6 inches wide

Stitch bag body, right sides together, on bottom and both sides, re-enforcing stitching at the top. Turn right side out. Clip corners. Iron flat. (do no iron if using vinyl)

Stitch any pockets to bag lining, then sew bag lining along both sides and bottom leaving 6 inches in bottom unstitched. Re-enforce each side of hole. Clip corners. Iron flat.

Stitch flap right sides together leaving the long end free. Clip curve, flip right side out and iron. Sew ¼ inch along long side of flap right side out. Pin to bag body, right side to right side.

Stitch shoulder strap lengths together at short end. Iron seam open.

Fold in half and stitch long edge together, making a tube, being sure to match seam where 2 lengths stitched together. Flip right side out. (A turning tool found at most fabric stores becomes a godsend here)

Pin finished strap to back of body of bag, right sides together, and place inside lining. You will now have a bag sandwich with bag body, flap, strap and strap with the long edges of the strap tucked in. Line up top edges and pin like mad. **Be sure that the pocket is on the side you would like it, (I prefer the back) and that the flap is pinned to the bag body, not bag body, straps, flap because then the bag will not be able to close.

Sew around the top edges, I suggest going over the straps a couple times. Pull back right side out through hole in bottom of lining. Hand stitch the hole in the lining closed.


Unfortunately we have no way of knowing if there were internal pockets on the bags, but evidence from other pouches and purses does not show internal compartments so I doubt they would have had them in larger bags. This is completely conjecture. I have made mine with small inner pockets to keep my cell phone and inhaler so I don’t have to dig to the bottom.

Pockets can easily be created by taking a square of fabric, turning in the raw edges and sewing the square along the bottom and sides directly to the inside lining. I suggest using a small zig-zag stitch at the top of each side seam to re-enforce where the most stress will occur. You can also further divide the square of fabric by topstitching a divider through the pocket square and the lining and again, re-enforcing the top.


Purses in Pieces: Archaeological Finds of Late Medieval and 16th-Century Leather Purses, Pouches, Bags and Cases in the Netherlands [Paperback]

Olaf Goubitz (