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post #5 of Old 08-26-2003
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Making Your Own Sails

You are looking for a suggestion on where to start.

Don Casey, the old boat guru, wisely suggests starting small and modest. Take his advice.

1)Find yourself an old homemaker''s electric sewing machine with a nice, heavy mechanism and flywheel; an old Kenmore or Singer, for example (it should feel too heavy to use as a doorstop). Take it to a shop to have it cleaned and reconditioned. Preferably a shop where the repair person is elderly. They should smile warmly when you heft your old gem onto the counter, and concur in your intent to use it for sailmaking (the fellow behind the counter at my neighborhood shop told me with amusement that every spring he gets a raft of boat owners bringing their wive''s late model sewing machines in for repair after trashing them trying to do sail work on them).

2. Find a small, simple project to start with. A wind scoop for your forward hatch; a sail cover kit from sailrite; add some reefing points to your mains''l, or redo (beef up) the reinforcing triangles at the head and clew of your existing jib or main (either of these will give you a really good idea of whether your machine will handle sewing through several thicknesses of dacron capably).

3. After doing 2 above, or if you know your way around a sewing machine well enough already, and are of a mind to upgrade your boat by adding roller furling, you can do what I did: Take an existing sail or buy a used one, and convert it for roller furling. Sailrite has the kits and instructions; it typically involves shortening the luff by cutting off a triangular strip from head to tack, repositioning the head reinforcement patch, attaching a special luff tape for the furler extrusion, and attaching a sacrifical (sunbrella) cover to the leech and foot of the sail so that when it is rolled, the dacron is protected from UV.

4. If you are really intent on trying sailmaking, start off by making a storm jib for your boat. Lower material cost, easier to cut, lay out for seaming, easier to fix mistakes if the shape comes out wrong, etc.

Once you''ve got your machine and have a few of these starter projects under your belt, you''ll hopefully have an appreciation of the fun and challenges involved in making your own set of sails.

Happy stitching,

Allen Flanigan
Alexandria, VA
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