My wife mentioned a “ditty bag” to me the other day, and I just stared at her blankly for a while before asking, “What’s a ditty bag?”
“Weren’t you ever a Girl Scout?” she asked with a smile. I was briefly a Cub Scout, but I don’t remember ever learning about any bags, ditty or otherwise.
My wife explained to me what ditty bags are, and by my understanding, they seem to be a sort of mess kit, but with a different—though equally cool—name. A little online research also turned up the existence of a 1946 Girl Scout songbook that takes its title from the little pack. The volume is filled with Brahms and Bach melodies, as well as Appalachian tunes with titles like “Grandma Grunts.”
A little more research revealed that the source of the name “ditty bag” has been lost to history, but the bags themselves have been traced to 19th century sailors who used small bags to hold sewing supplies or various other odds and ends while on a lengthy sea voyage.
A good-sized ditty bag can even hold a plate and some utensils, making it the perfect solution for keeping track of those mealtime basics, especially if there’s a large group—a pack or troop, even?—of campers all chowing down at once.
Modern ditty bags may be made out of waxed canvas and rope, but these DIY instructions come from my mother-in-law’s days as a Girl Scout. She later adapted and adopted the steps to create ditty bags for my wife’s large family so they could keep track of whose dishes were whose when they went camping.
• 2 loosely woven washcloths
• needle and thread or embroidery floss
• 2 shoelaces
Place washcloths together so they line up as closely as possible. Using the thread or floss, sew three sides together with a whip stitch (in other words, use thread to sew around the edges of the cloths, pushing the needle through the bottom 1/4-inch of fabric, then looping the thread around the outer edge and back through the front side). You should have a pocket when you’re done.
Weave shoelaces in a wide running stitch across either side of mouth of the pocket, one shoelace per side. Don’t sew the two pieces together to close the opening. This is where having a loose weave is key: If your washcloths are loose enough, the aglet (that pointy, rigid end of the shoelace) should be strong enough to push through the fabric. Tie the ends of the shoelaces together on either side, using a strong knot. Pull one side tight to create a drawstring closure for your bag.
You can add a name label for easy identification, or color code the washcloths so individual campers can pick out which one is theirs. Decorating the ditty bag can even be an activity of its own, but considering what comes next, not just any adornments will do.
Once the ditty bag is complete, fill it with a single set of dishes and utensils: plate, cup, bowl, silverware. For the duration of a trip, each camper is responsible for her or his own bag and set of dishes. Campers retrieve their own bags at the start of each meal, wash their dishes, return them to the bag, and hang the bag from a tree or clothesline to dry and wait for the next meal. The bag itself can be used as a placemat or napkin and be washed out after each meal as well.
What a great idea! I like that it teaches individual responsibility in addition to reducing waste. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of a ditty bag until now. I can believe, however, that I’ve never heard “Grandma Grunts” sung around a campfire.