Traditionally, a tribal medicine bag contained personal sacred objects that represented the person who carried it. The bags would contain objects such as leaves, feathers, stones, herbs, and other things that the person considered spiritually significant.
The true tribal medicine bags are still in use today for that same purpose; however, many of us have fallen in love with the simplicity of the leather pouch and have adapted it as our own. Besides the coolness factor, these pouches are extremely useful. They can be made any number of ways, but I'd like to show you how I make mine!
Step 1: Materials and Tools
I'm a Tandy Leather fan, so most of the tools and materials I use for my projects come from the Tandy Leather company. I'll show you what I use and you can decide what best fits your situation. The materials and tools I use to make the medicine bag are as follows:
1. Two to three pieces of a soft, supple scrap leather (such as deerskin), at least 5-1/2" x 7-1/2" each.
TIP: Craft stores, such as Hobby Lobby and Tandy Leather sell remnant bags, which is where I found my pieces.
2. A pair of scissors that will cut leather
3. A ruler
4. Elmer's or leather bonding glue
5. Binder clips or a heavy book to lay on the bag when you glue it together
6. To punch the lacing holes, a mallet and a Tandy Leather Craftool #7 Oval Punch (#3778-07, 5/32" x 7/32"). The oval shape allows for multiple passes of the lacing through the same hole.
7. If you make your own lace, a Tandy Leather Craftool Lace Maker (#3784-00).
TIP: Tandy Leather has instructional How-to Videos on their website (tandyleather.com) to show you how to use some of their tools. I used the lace maker to make my lace, but you can use scissors to cut yours, or you can buy pre-cut lace.
8. A fid or perma-lok needle.
TIP: Lacing is so much easier if you use a fid (I made mine using a rifle cleaning rod that I took to a grinder...that was before I began seeing them on the shelves for sale). Both Tandy Leather and Hobby Lobby sell them. Tandy Leather sells the Super Jumbo Perma-Lok Needle (#1193-05). Hobby Lobby sells the Jumbo Permalock Needle. To use the fid (or needle), clip the end of your lace to a point and insert it into the threaded end of the fid; twist until secure...it's ready to use!
9. A cord lock is a convenient item, but not necessary; the option is there. Pulling the drawstrings of the bag tightly and tying a knot will serve the same purpose and is more minimalistic (not to mention, realistic). After saying all that, I'm embarrassed I have one on my bag...think I'll go take it off and tie a knot...
Step 2: Let's Make a Template
We'll make a template from cardboard before we begin. Once the bag is finished and you love it, you'll be able to make another one just like it, because you have a TEMPLATE!
TIP: The template I describe is one I came up with. If you want a larger one or a rounder one, draw your template to reflect that...just keep in mind that the opening must be large enough to be able to fit whatever you will be carrying in your bag (sounds like a really dumb mistake, but I made it).
1. Draw a 5-1/2" (width) x 7-1/2" (length) rectangle on the cardboard and cut it out.
2. I used a large plastic medicine bottle, not quite 2" in diameter to trace around to round off the two bottom corners of the template.
3. The illustrations show the exact measurements for holes to be punched for the lacing and the drawstring(s).
4. Measure the six drawstring holes 5/8" down from the top of the template. This is the line that you will use to mark the holes. Starting from the left, mark these measurements on the line you just drew: 1", 1-1/2", 2-1/2", 3", 4" and 4-1/2". Poke a small hole through the cardboard on these points with an awl, a small nail, or large needle.
5. The best way I've found to measure the lacing holes is to use dividers or a compass and mark or draw a 1/4" margin all the way around three sides: the left side, bottom and right side. The holes to be punched will be marked incrementally on this line. Starting from the top, left side, mark the first hole 1/4" and then every 1/2" thereafter. Somehow this works out perfectly.
Let's get to work!
Step 3: Make the Leather Pieces
1. Mark "Front" on one side of your template, and "Back" on the other side.
2. There are two ways to make the front piece of your bag...with or without a flap. I prefer the flap. It adds a cool factor!
a. Simplistic...minimalistic...without a flap. The first way is tracing around your template: Place your template (with the "Front" side up) over the piece of leather you've chosen for your bag front. Using an awl or a pencil or pen, trace around the shape of your template. Without lifting the template, use your awl (or needle) to poke through the holes on your template to the leather, marking where you will punch the lacing holes. Repeat for the piece of leather you chose for your bag back. Remember to flip your template over in order for the holes to line up perfectly.
b. Raw and cool...with a flap! The second way is allowing a natural flap of leather to adorn the front of your bag. Choose a rough-looking corner or flap on your leather and allow the flap to drape over your template. See the illustrations. Move your template around until the look of the flap suits you. Use an awl or a pencil or pen, trace around the shape of your template. Without lifting the template, move the flap of leather off the template and use your awl (or needle) to poke through the holes on your template to mark where you will punch the lacing holes. As above, trace the template for the piece of leather you chose for your bag back. Remember to flip your template over in order for the holes to line up perfectly
3. Cut out both parts of the bag. If you made the flap, make sure you don't cut it off!
4. Don't punch out the holes just yet...
Step 4: Begin Assembly
1. You can add more coolness to your bag, such as the bear on an oval in the illustration; or, you can leave it plain and minimalistic. If you go for the designs, glue and/or sew them in place BEFORE you lace the bag together.
2. Begin with a dry run, fitting the pieces together to see if the "vibe" is right. If you are happy with the look, it's time to begin assembly.
3. Place your back piece on the table with the side of the leather that will be inside of your bag, facing up. Run a very thin bead of glue close to the edges of the left side, bottom and right side of the back piece. Try not to let any glue run over the edges and DO NOT add glue to the top of the bag or you will glue the bag shut!
4. Carefully, place the leather front piece on top of the back piece. The fancy leather work should be facing up. If you have a flap, fold it over in place.
5. Use binder clips to hold the pieces together while the glue dries...this should be fairly quick. You can also place a heavy book on top to hold the pieces together. Make sure that no glue is seeping out of the sides of the bag or you will have just glued your bag to the table or the book.
6. Once the glue is dry, you can punch the holes. The orientation of the oval punch is important. The dimensions of the oval are 5/32" (width) x 7/32" (length). The punch should be centered on each of the holes with the length perpendicular to the line. Study the orientation of the ovals all the way around the bag according to the illustrations.
Step 5: Lacing and Finish!
1. There's a YouTube video by Richard Black called "Leather Edge Lacing "The Double Loop." It's an excellent tutorial that teaches this style of lacing. He recommends measuring the length to be laced and multiply it by seven (7) to estimate how much lacing is needed. View the tutorial and proceed with the lacing.
2. Cut another length of lacing for the drawstring, approximately 22" in length to thread through the 12 top holes as seen in the illustrations.
3. Holding the two ends of the drawstring lacing, gently pull the bag closed. Doing this several times will help loosen or break-in the leather and will allow it to pull easier, each time.
4. You can add the cord lock or simply tie the drawstrings.
Your bag is finished!
Make it your own by adding beads, trinkets, etc.