The Possibilities Are… Bag Shaped

Venison is quite possibly my favourite meat but I do wonder sometimes if the thought of all the projects than can stem from its consumption is what really makes me enjoy it so much.  There are so many things that can be made from the sinews, bones and skin the possibilities are endless – but for this blog they’re going to be bag shaped.

Making Buckskin is a lengthy undertaking that includes mess and some seriously hard graft but it produces such a tactile and robust material it’s worth the effort.  There are some great books that cover the topic of creating Buckskin in detail or indeed you can spend time with us to be guided through making your own so I’m not going to cover the steps here but it’s always good to have a project in mind for when yours is finished.  Alternatively if you want to skip to the making without the mess and graft why not skin an old sofa for its leather and use that instead.

When I’m out in the woods delivering courses there is always a myriad of things I might need so a possibles pouch was the perfect solution.  It keeps pockets empty to improve movement (especially when doing friction fire) but I still have essential items with me at all times instead of stuffed in my rucksack.  It also doesn’t drag your trousers down and bruise your legs in the way overloaded cargo pockets do.

Before you start I would recommend really researching what you want to go for in terms of design.  I say this because getting the Buckskin has been hard work so ideally you don’t want to be making decisions as you go along only to find out you’ve run out or not used it to its full potential.  For this reason I spent a lot of time scouring the internet for styles and inspiration and also started to gather the items I might want to keep in it so that I could gauge the size it needed to be.  I then set about making a template on paper.  Remember Buckskin doesn’t fray so the need for hems as with material is done away with but you still need to accommodate space for stitching panels together.

For the style I opted for it could be broken down into panels…

  • Front and Back – the same template was used for both panels to keep them the same size.
  • Opening Flap – this was sized so it had an attachment strip to connect to the back panel and then accommodate the depth of the pouch plus the length of how far it needed to reach down the front panel to close. In theory this could be done as an integral part of the back panel without the need for sewing but as I was working with a Muntjac skin I just didn’t have the space to get this as one piece.
  • Gussett – this gives the pouch depth and also some structure. Make sure you cut this longer than you feel you will need as it’s better to cut it to size after it’s stitched on as measuring curves will never be spot on.
  • Belt Loops – these need to be sized so it will take the belt you normally wear and allow the bag to hang in a place that feels comfortable to you when worn. Try also to think about different layers that are worn at different times of year.  How does it work with your rain coat or thermal layers?  Put the thought in now and you won’t have regrets later when it fills with water because it’s hanging below your coat.
  • Toggle – this could easily be a piece of antler or wood but I chose to keep it Buckskin.
  • Closing Loop – again this could be a cord of your choosing or perhaps even a flap with a hole in but I kept with a simple Buckskin option.

Like I said take your time and use these paper templates to lay them out on the skin to make sure you use it wisely.  Also keep in mind you will have the skin side (where the fur used to be) and the flesh side (where the meat was) which is generally fluffier from processing.  It is typical that the flesh side will form the inside of the bag with the skin side being on display.  Look for things that will help with the style of bag you’ve chosen, such as the thickness of the skin.   For example, I chose to take the strip for the gusset from the strip that would have run from the neck to the rump along the spine as it’s the thickest so it gives the best structure.  Belt loops also need to be robust but also think about features, such as scars in the skin, that you might want to include or avoid on certain panels. When you’ve put in the thought and laid out all the panels draw round them faintly with a pencil.  My recommendation at this stage is to step away for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes to make sure you’re happy – only then do you take scissors or knife to the Buckskin.

Once you have all of the panels cut out its time to start sewing together and unless you’ve got a seriously heavy duty sewing machine this is going to mean doing it by hand.  Hand sewing has its advantages – if you want to keep things really natural it will enable you to use thread you’ve made from the deer’s sinew but most importantly it will be stronger as you can use a saddle stitch method.  A saddle stitch involves using a needle at both ends of the thread and passing each through the same hole but from opposing sides.  If you’re unfamiliar with this method of sewing there or lots of online tutorials that will show you or alternatively a running stich will also work but is less durable.  Ultimately the majority of stitching won’t be on display as we’re going to make the pouch inside out first so all the joins of the panels and gusset are hidden inside when finished.

Remember it’s important to consider the skin and flesh sides when putting this together and of course keep track as to which panel is which so the front stays at the front etc.  To aid the sewing it might be necessary to pre punch the holes using an awl or something similar as it’s easy to break needles by applying too much force to make a hole during sewing.  Once the front, gusset, back and opening flap are all together (that’s the order of build I would recommend) you can turn the pouch the correct way out and start adding the finishing touches.  With the belt loops it may be worth pinning them loosely at first and trying them on your belt to ensure it hangs correctly and the spacing between them accommodates the placement of the belt loops on your trousers.  When you’re happy make sure you really go to town on the sewing as this is going to be the point all the weight and stress gets put through – I used a square with diagonal lines and even a triangle above to ensure they were very securely attached.

To finish it all off you need to add your closing mechanism.  The toggle I made from Buckskin is very simple but looks quite special.  To make it you cut a very thin, long triangle shape.  Starting at the base of the triangle you roll it tightly up towards the point (making sure the skin side faces outwards) until you have a few centimetres of the point left – ensure there is enough to pass through as described next and also allow a platform to sew to the opening flap.  Carefully using a sharp knife you create a slot that goes all the way through the rolled up Buckskin to allow you to then feed the point through the slot like a letter going through a letterbox.  It can be fiddly but be patient, take care and the end result will be simple but very pleasing.  This then gets sewn to the opening flap using the excess of point that has been fed through.

For the closing loop I opted for something simple that allows a lot of flexibility.  I used a strand of Buckskin that I threaded through four holes in the front panel and then knotted at each end to stop it pulling through or falling out.  The gives me the ability to loosen and tighten the opening flap depending on how much is in the possibles pouch.

You should now have a bag to be proud of that’s ready for many adventures.  And to prove how robust it can be here’s the before and after taken nearly 3 years apart.  It’s still going strong with no repairs having been made and comes out with me to the woods every time… but maybe just a little bit dirtier than it started.

All I need to do now is think of a project to make from a muntjac skin that I’ve made into full grain, oak tanned leather so keep an eye out for that blog or get in touch with your ideas of what you think the project should be.


Bushcraft Instructor


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