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« Molly's Sketchbook: Quick Dish Towels | Main | Whit's Knits: Hand Warmers and Flip Top Mittens »

Japanese Crafting with Mari: Monk's Bag


When I travel, I am always looking for the perfect travel bag. I like to have a bag that has a shoulder strap long enough to go across my chest, but with a wide strap for comfort. After years of trying to find one, I finally decided to make one! My husband and I took a trip to Japan 2 years ago, and I made a modified monk’s bag with some upholstery weight fabric. It worked like a charm!  Enjoy! --Mari


  • Fabric A - 1/2 yard of Echino print, I used Blue Bird Pixel
  • Fabric B and C - 1 yard each of two Echino solids (if you want the lining to be the same color as the handles, 1 yard will suffice for one bag), I used Fuchsia for the exterior handles and Purple for the lining
  • Straight Pins
  • Coordinating or contrasting thread
  • Rotary cutter
  • Cutting mat

The Pattern


  • Before starting, wash, dry and press your fabric.
  • Be as precise as possible cutting your fabrics. Compare the pieces to one another to make sure they are the same.
  • All of the seams for this project are 1/2-inch wide unless otherwise noted.
  • For help using a rotary cutter, please see our Rotary Cutting Tutorial.

Cut Fabric

From fabric A

  • Panels: cut 2 pieces that measure 9-inches wide by 14-inches long
  • Pocket: cut one piece that is 7-inches wide by 11-inches long

From fabric B

  • Exterior handle: cut 2 pieces that are 6.5-inches wide by 34-inches long

From fabric C

  • Interior handle: cut 2 pieces that are 6.5-inches wide by 34-inches long
  • Panel Lining: cut 2 pieces that are 9-inches wide by 14-inches long


Pin + Sew Exterior of Bag

  • Align and pin one fabric A panel to one fabric B panel as follows: with right sides together, align long sides as well as the bottom edges, place pins along long edge.
  • Sew a seam along the long edge, leaving a 1/2-inch gap at the top and bottom of the seam. Don’t press the seams until instructed to do so.
  • Repeat with second fabric B panel on the opposite side of the fabric A panel.

When you have completed these steps your piece should look like the photo above.

  • Align and pin the second fabric A panel to the opposite side of one of the fabric B panels as above, right sides together. Don’t forget to leave the 1/2-inch gap at the top and bottom of your seam.
  • Finally, pin and sew the opposite side of the second fabric A panel to the remaining side of the fabric B. The exterior pieces will all be connected and should form a tube.

Pin + Sew Interior and Pocket

Sew the lining pieces as above, however before sewing the final seam, sew the pocket in place as follows:

  • Take the fabric A pocket piece, and fold it in half, right sides together to create a 7-inch wide by 5.5-inch long piece. The fold will become the top of the pocket.
  • Sew seams along both 5.5-inch sides.
  • Turn the pocket right side out, fold in the open side (the bottom of the pocket) 1/2-inch and press.
  • Pin pocket to one of the right sides of the interior panel pieces, about 3 inches from the top.
  • Top stitch into place with a 1/4-inch seam allowance along the sides and bottom of the pocket.

Sew the final seam of the interior panel and handle together.


Assemble Bag

Fold and press the long edges of the handles to the inside 1/2-inch, and also the top edge of the fabric A panel 1/2-inch as pictured above. The 1/2-inch gap you left at the top and bottom of the seam will make this very easy.

Press the fabric A panel side seams towards the handles.

Repeat these steps for the lining.

Sew the tops of the handles together as follows:

  • For the exterior of the bag, sew with a 1/2-inch seam allowance. Press seams open.
  • For the lining, sew with a 1-inch seam allowance. Press seams open.

Sew the bottom seams of both the exterior and interior of the bag as follows:

  • With right sides together, line up the two opposite panels, the handles will be folded in half lengthwise, pin into place. Sew seam using a 1/2-inch seam allowance.

Finish Bag

With wrong sides together, slip the lining of the bag inside the exterior of the bag.

Pin the lining and exterior of the bag along the top opening and the handles as pictured above. Take your time to get it right!

Top stitch using a 1/4-inch seam allowance all the way around starting from the top of one side of the panel pieces.

Your bag is finished! Enjoy!

Reader Comments (39)

This is lovely!
January 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSerena
What a stunning bag! I definitely want to make one of these! Thanks for the tutorial. Lucy x
January 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlucy locket
Great tutorial. I have several great upholstry weight fabrics that I wasn't sure what to do with. I am going to have to try this bag! I am a little confused as to why you need four exterior handle pieces. From my reading of the directions, it sounded like you only used two handle pieces and two printed panels. Am I just miss reading your tutorial?
January 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBethany
Hi Bethany,
Two are for the exterior of the handles, and two are for the lining of the handles. You can really see this in the second to last image above.
January 13, 2009 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Thanks for the help. I look forward to making this bag soon.
January 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBethany
This bag is gorgeous! I have seen a similar shape on the street on some girl, but I couldn't make up at the moment how it was sewn. Thank you very much, when I have time, I will make one for myself:-)
I agree with Bethany, if I had enough fabric, I would also make the handle from one piece exterior and interior of 70x6.5 inches:) In fact I haven't noticed that it wasn't like that until I read the comments:-D
January 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterzabacorporation
hello and thanks for the lovely bag pattern. i just need to check - for the handles you only need two of fabric B and two of fabric C (not four of each)? I can't see what happens to the total of eight handle pieces. cheers Rose
January 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRose
This is such a great simple bag! I am feeling the urge to make a few for all my knitting projects! Thanks!
January 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbecky
Hi Rose,
Yes two of fabric B and two of fabric C,thank you! I've corrected the pattern.
January 14, 2009 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
What happens with the 9x14 pieces of fabric C? I am sure I'm missing a step somewhere. I have used 6 pieces so far and can't seem to get everything together. Any ideas? This is a great bag and I am determined to figure it out.
January 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret
Hi Margaret,
The 9 x 14 pieces of fabric C are the panels for the lining of the bag. The lining is assembled the same way as the exterior with the exception of the pocket. You can find the directions for this step under the section above called "Pin and Sew Interior and Pocket". Please let us know if you need more clarification, we'll be happy to help.
January 15, 2009 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I just finished up making my own version of this bag. It came out wonderful and I do love it!

Here's a photo, if you'd like to see:
January 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Ofenstein
What a beautiful bag and the tutorial was wonderful.
Loved the colors ,so clever thank you so much for sharing the monks bag with us!
January 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterginger
This looks very comfy and relatively easy to make for beginners. I've included in our round-up of Favorite Bags here:

Thanks for sharing!
January 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCaley
I just made this bag in less than an afternoon. I had to read the pattern out loud, but it went together in a flash! I will be making a lot more of these - and adding zippered pockets on the inside.

Thanks so much for the tutorial!

You can see mine (the first one) here:
January 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTif
Just finished making this bag, and I love it! The only comment I would make is that the handle might need to be made longer for those of us who are on the curvy side! Otherwise I found this tutorial to be fairly simple to follow, and the bag came together beautifully!
January 31, 2009 | Unregistered Commentertbell
I just finished this bag last night. I love the way it turned out. The instructions were very easy to follow. I made my handles a bit narrower since I am on the smaller side, but lengthened them a bit. I also did a 1/2" seam allowance when I joined the lining of the handles - when I tried it with 1" the exterior handles were too baggy and I would have had a lot of fabric to ease in. Other than that it was perfect. I have already started a second bag and my mommies group is going to do this for our May sewing project.
May 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda Bennett
Oops! I meant to include a link to the one I finished last night. Sorry for the double post.
Here it is:
May 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda Bennett
I just made this bag yesterday and LOVE it! Thanks so much for sharing! I can't wait to travel with it!
June 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHilarie Mae
This was one of the most enjoyable projects I've sewn up recently. I did one fabric for the exterior with a contrasting lining.

I made it for a friend, who is shorter than me. I would need to lengthen the straps a few inches for to comfortably fit me (I'm 5'8" with some curves). I think it will fit her perfectly.
June 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermeg
I just finished this purse today! I added another pocket on the inside and put a seam in the middle of that pocket to make two smaller pockets which fit my cell and my ipod perfectly. The strap is comfortable and just the right length for me. This shoulder bag is multi-purpose and easy to sew. I recommend this pattern for beginners and experts alike! Thanks Mari!
August 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSloan Rowan
Dear Mari,
Your pattern was exactly what I needed. We took a 5 week family trip from Europe to Australia and I made four of these bags, in different sizes, one for each child and for myself. The children loved them and carried them everywhere themselves. On board the aircraft, shopping in the city. collecting shells on the beach and treasures from wherever. They each had responsibility for their own drink, purse and toy, if they chose to bring one out for the day. No more overloaded Mamma, no more having to stop and check right to the bottom of the backback where X was. The broad strap made the bag easy to carry and also made an easy eyecatching mark on the children in a crowd. Brilliant! Thank you so much.
September 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGill
Thank you, Mari and Purlbee! This was a wonderful pattern to learn to use my rotary cutter. I don't have a sewing machine, so I used lighter weight cotton fabrics and hand-sewed the seams, and the whole project took one satsfying snow day afternoon and evening.
February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMickeyknits
Thanks for a great tutorial. I just made one with a few modifications...
March 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKCL
hi, can you guys let me know....can i make these to sell using this pattern?
June 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterangelina
Hi Angelina,
We're sorry but our patterns are copyrighted and for home use only, they may not be used for resale. Thanks so much for checking with us though, we really appreciate it.
June 22, 2010 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I made a bag for my mother-in-law to use when she goes grocery shopping. It is the perfect size for a small grocery bag, in the spirit of eco-friendly shopping. The pocket can stash coupons and a shopping list. Since it is fully-lined, I think it will be able to carry heavy loads, especially if one were to sew french seams.

The bag will also be the wrapping on her Christmas present, to minimize the use of wrapping paper. I just need some lovely ribbon and my handmade green Christmas is ready!

Thank you for the pattern. It all fit together perfectly! This will be my go-to bag for fashionable people.
December 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErin
Hi I just wanted to say thank you for this pattern, I made it up this morning for a friend as a birthday gift. I had some beautiful embroidered silk panels from a fabric sample book and used a different design on each side, it looks amazing and fits so snuggly against the body. Really enjoyed making it too.
Penny x
March 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPenny
I wondered if you can make it with the strap being just one long piece of material and therefore not need to sew together? The reason I ask is that I have a bag like it but it doesn't have a join in the strap and always wanted to make it and your bag is the nearest I have come to after googling.
April 1, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergill
Hi Gill-

You certainly could sew it that way. Thanks for writing in and let us know how it goes!

April 2, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
I love this pattern and I'm actually making it right now, but I'm really confused about where the pocket goes...does it go inside the bag on the panel piece? I'm a pretty beginner sewer but I've been doing a lot lately and thought that I could work on this one. I'm just stuck on where the pocket actually goes, and it might just be because I'm reading it wrong or something, but any advice would be great! Thank you!
November 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ
Hi J-

The pocket goes on this inside of the bag, it's sewn onto the lining in the middle of one of the panel pieces.

I hope that's clear- if you have any more questions please don't hesitate to ask!

November 25, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Ok, I was hoping the comments would help, but they made me more confused. There should be 4 pieces of fabric for each interior/exterior handle fabric right? 34 inches would be really short. The instructions say just 2 pieces of 34 inch fabric.
Thanks, Heather
November 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHeather
Hi Heather-

The instructions are correct. You cut 2 pieces for the handles, not 4. These pieces meet in the middle of the top of the handle so the handle is very long.

I have found that reading through patterns can be very confusing and I have better luck when I actually jump in and do it! If you have any more questions please let us know, and good luck with the project!

November 29, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Just want to make sure that I'm seeing this right... There is a seam at the top of the handles where they meet at the shoulder? (not one long piece that wraps continuously around?)
March 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKim
Hi Kim-

You are correct!

Thanks for your question!

March 4, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Wow. I've made two bags in two days and they are stupendous. I have a huge fabric stash and plan on making a bag for all the upcoming birthdays in my world. I finished the first one (newbie sewer) and it is the most "finished" piece I have made yet. Thanks for the pattern. I did it step by step, reading the pattern over and over on my computer as I did the pinning. It came together very quickly. Thanks again.
March 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdeborah
This is a lovely bag!
Is it possible to make it without the topstitching across the top of the centre panel and along the inner edges of the handle? Could this be accomplished by, before sewing the seams at the top of the handle, placing the outer bag inside the lining right sides together, sewing the lining to the outer bag, turning it inside out through a handle, and sewing the seams at the top of the handle last?
I thought you choice of fabrics (bluebird, fuschia, and purple) was really inspired!
Kind regards,
September 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarol
HI Carol-

That sounds like it would work just fine.

Thanks for writing in!

September 15, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee

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