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Fabric for Your Sails and Where To Buy

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Brian asked some good questions in his thread 'Silk Sails?'.  In this thread, I'll answer some of Brians' questions and add more information about fabric for your sails. 

 

I learned how to sew when I was eight.  Once upon a time, I sewed almost of my own clothes, everything from haute couture, designer dresses, lined tailored jackets, tailored skirts and more.  Also Christening gowns, art quilts and sewing for my home.  The one fabric that caused me the most grief was silk.  To successfully sew silk, every setting needed to be perfect and flawless technique.  

 

Brian, save yourself the grief and consider a high quality cotton fabric. 

 

Muslin fabric is woven from the lowest quality, short and uneven fibers, essentially, what ever is left over.  That piece of muslin fabric that came with your kit cost the manufacturer less than 50¢.  Sewing your sails from muslin fabric, is the equivalent to building your model of the Constitution or Victory with balsa wood.   

 

Brian asked:  So how can we get a look that simulates the way a real sail would hang in a real situation?

 

Good question.  The answer is using a fabric that has the needed characteristics.  By that, I mean a fabric that has the fiber content, tpi and weave pattern.  A high quality pima / upland cotton fabric has the characteristics needed, it will iron crisp, fold easily, strong, opaque, light weight.  For furled sails, the fabric can be 'finger pressed' and will hold the fold crisply.

Skip the low end Egyptian cotton commonly found in bed linen.  This Egyptian cotton is referred to as 'Fake Egyptian cotton'.  The fibers in fake Egyptian cotton have low strength and breaks easily. 

 

Real Egyptian Cotton is know as 'Giza Egyptian Cotton'.  'Giza' comes in ~10 different grades with 'Giza 45' being the highest quality.  A Giza 45 sheet retails for ~$1,000 for the top sheet only!  If the packaging doesn't say 'Giza Egyptian Cotton', it's fake Egyptian cotton.

 

Sea Island cotton is better than Fake Egyptian, but not close to Giza and difficult to find.               

     

Brian Stated:  Seems to me we have to use a fabric that's so light that it would hang like the real thing in a dead calm, and could flap like the real thing in a breeze. So it has to be as close to the scaled-down weight as possible.

 

Think about the characteristics of wood, each species of wood bends and twists uniquely, based on the woods fibers.  Fabric behaves the same way, different fibers and weaves behave differently 
 

Brian Stated:  Cotton does come in weights lighter than 3 ounces, but this is more often achieved by having less threads per square inch than by using thinner threads. 

 

Fewer tpi is one way of obtaining a lighter weight fabric.  The better way to make a lighter weight fabric is use a finer cotton fiber.  The tpi of Giza 45 is never disclosed, but it is generally believed to be about 350 tpi.  Giza fabric is close in weight to silk and it's ultra strong.      

 

 

FABRICS FOR YOUR SAILS

 

If you want to use the highest grade of cotton fabric, look for 'Giza 45' and be prepared to pay in excess of $100 per yard. The problem is Giza 45 is produced in such low quantities, I have yet to find Giza 45 available for retail sale.     

 

For a more reasonable price fabric, I suggest a high quality pima cotton, found in high end quilt shops.  I've visited a few quilt shops and found a couple of fabrics that have the qualities needed for sails.  The 'Art Gallery Pure Elements' is lighter than the 'Kona Cotton' fabric and recommended for furled sails.        

 

-Art Gallery - Pure Elements 

    100% pima cotton, available in 66 different colors, $12.00 / yard

-Robert Kaufman - Kona Cotton

     100% pima cotton, available in 305 colors, $9.00 / yard

 

 

WHERE TO BUY

 

I've been in a JoAnns store twice in my life and both times I was totally under whelmed.  I unrolled numerous bolts of fabric and every bolt of fabric contained flaws.  Second quality fabric needs to be sold some where and is sold at a discounted price.    

 

The best place to purchase these fabrics in first quality, is from a high quality quilt shop, specifically a quilt shop that also sells Bernina, Pfaff, Viking sewing machines (NOT! Singer.)    

 

If you don't have a quilt store near you, I can ask the local quilt shop if they will mail order to the states. 

 

BED LINEN

 

What ever you select, don't use bed linen.  Bed linen is woven in a sateen weave, over one under two, three or four, resulting in a fabric that is designed to sag.  Sateen weave fabric also has a visible diagonal weave pattern (similar to denim jeans) and that's why the thread sits on top of the fabric. Regardless of what the packaging states, there's no such fabric that contains more than 400 threads per inch.  This is a 'marketing game' where the actual number of tpi is multiplied by the number of plys in each yarn.     

 

I was given a set of Giza 45 pillow cases and this fabric would be perfect for sails.  Unfortunately it's a sateen weave.  I've been looking for a retail source of Giza 45 for a couple of years, but it's produced in such small quantities.

 

Here's more information on Giza 45

   http://www.albinigroup.com/en/albini-excellences/raw-materials/giza-45

   http://www.albinigroup.com/files/brochure-pdf/BROCHURE-GIZA-45-inglese.pdf

   http://www.lyfconsul.com/blog/2014/8/1/the-queen-of-cotton-giza-45

 

 

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Deedee

Very informative many thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience.    One comment, silk span may be what was being referenced, not actual silk.  I  may be wrong about that, but silkspan is something to consider.It comes in several weights and was commonly used as the fabric covering for flying model planes for years.  It is made of plant fiber and is a paper similar to that used to make tea bags.

Allan

Edited by allanyed

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Hi Dee_Dee, just caught this thread. Thank you for your very informative post. I shall have to pay the local quilt shop a visit and ask a lot of questions.  I also checked out your lobster smack, very nice work.

 

Michael

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Also just caught up with this, ahem, thread. Thank you for that information, Dee Dee. And yes, many of us use SilkSpan for sail material. It is not a woven product.

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Kevin

Calico is unbleached, untreated cotton and is thick and often has tiny pieces of the cotton boll shell in it.  NOT something for scale sails.    Silkspan (Modelspan in the UK) is harder to find than in the past but still out there and comes in several thicknesses 00, 000 and 0000.  There is also interlacing material and may very well be silkspan renamed from what I read on it.   

 

Allan

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Kevin

Calico is unbleached, untreated cotton and is thick and often has tiny pieces of the cotton boll shell in it.  NOT something for scale sails.    Silkspan (Modelspan in the UK) is harder to find than in the past but still out there and comes in several thicknesses 00, 000 and 0000.  There is also interlacing material and may very well be silkspan renamed from what I read on it.   

 

Allan

Thank you Allan

Edited by Kevin
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Grades of muslin fabric, from fine to coarse, including calico, differ in the US and UK. 

 

The reason for this difference has to do with politics of 18th century England.  Calico fabric, originated in the city of Calcut, in southern India.  It was a coarse muslin fabric, with a small lotus designs and was imported to England.  To protect the woolen industry, Parliament passed an act banning these printed fabrics.  The demand switched to a 'gray cloth', ('gray-market'), a coarse grade of muslin fabric, still called calico fabric, that was not dyed or printed.  This plain fabric was then finished, dyed and printed in England.  In the UK, calico and muslin are similar fabrics, the difference is calico is coarse and muslin is less coarse. 

 

In the US, calico fabric is dyed and printed with small designs, popular with children's clothing.  Muslin is a plain fabric, comes in various weights from sheer to coarse sheeting and primarily used for test fitting custom garments, shellac polishing, culinary, theater and photography and medicine.

 

The first step of making fabric is 'combing' which cleans and aligns the individual fibers.  With muslin fibers, more often than not, the brown 'root' of the cotton fiber remains attached to the fiber.  This fiber 'root' is the same color as the boll and is slightly coarser than the cotton fiber.  These fiber roots are the tiny brown flecks of color in muslin fabrics.  

 

As for tiny pieces of the actual boll in the finished fabric - it's just not possible.  If there were bits of the boll, the individual threads would constantly break during the turning / spinning process and weaving process.      

 

Grades of muslin fabric:

In the UK, Australia and New Zealand:

- Calico – simple, cheap equal weft and warp plain weave fabric in white, cream or unbleached cotton.

- Muslin – a very fine, light plain weave cotton fabric.

- Muslin gauze – muslin.

- Gauze – extremely soft and fine cotton fabric with a very open plain weave.

- Cheesecloth – gauze.

 

In the US:

- Calico – cotton fabric with a small, all-over floral print

- Muslin – simple, cheap equal weft and warp plain weave fabric in white, cream or unbleached cotton and/or a very fine, light plain weave cotton fabric.

- Muslin gauze – the very lightest, most open weave of muslin.

- Gauze – any very light fabric, generally with a plain weave

- Cheesecloth – extremely soft and fine cotton fabric with a very open plain weave.

 

That said, muslin fabric, of any grade, is a poor choice for sails.  The two pima cotton fabrics listed in the op, are a much better choice and only costs a few dollars more.  

 

Silkspan is an option, but I find the 1/8" or 1/16" strips for the panel seams, more out of scale than a properly sewn line.  

Edited by Dee_Dee
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Oh, DeeDee, I wish you'd PM'd me and mentioned you'd started this interesting thread!  It's taken me over half a year to discover it!

I was having so much fun experimenting with various weights of silk for making sails.  I really, really thought it was the way to go.  Silk doesn't have to be shiny - it can look like cotton.  If you get the right weight of silk it hangs just perfectly, bunches up perfectly too.  BUT the concensus of the replies I got was that silk wasn't any good - wouldn't stand the test of time.

http://modelshipworld.com/index.php/topic/13457-silk-sails/?hl=%2Bsilk+%2Bsails

At that time I was just experimenting.  I couldn't get on with my model-building, out in the workshop, because I was waiting for my cataracts to be sorted out.  Playing with the sewing machine indoors just kept me busy!  I've got loads of sample silk left over now - maybe the Admiral will be getting some freebie silk chemises and panties if I can find some patterns online!

My cataracts are history now.  They've been done, and I can see better now (without glasses) than I could 72 years ago when I first started to wear specs.

But to be honest, I still see silk as a suitable fabric for model ship sails.  Not for museum-quality builds, perhaps, but for any hobby model that doesn't have to aspire to a 100-year life.

But...
Yes, DeeDee, you're right.  There really are some decent cotton fabrics available to do the job.
I'm grateful for your advice.  Now, however, it looks as though I'm going to have to start searching online for some samples of the lightest-weight Pima cotton available, and do some more experimenting!

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Posted (edited)

Dee Dee

 

I think you have become our go to person for cloth and sewing!!  You mention properly sewn seams are more to scale.  You may be right.  Do you know what is the smallest distance between piercings through the cloths are when making what is to be a seam?   It would be interesting to compare to the spacing on the actual contemporary hand punched and sewn sails.  Even if the actual sails stitching was spaced at 1/2" (I don't know what the spcing actually was supposed to be), the model stitching would have to have a spacing of 0.01 inches at 1/48.  Is that possible with a modern sewing machine?  

 

I agree that if one has a 1 foot seam using silk span or even a 6 inch seam, for the cloths, it looks totally wrong.  The reef bands, tabling, linings and such are comparatively wide so easy enough to scale.  Other than sewing seams for the cloths, I am curious to know how these are best shown to scale by the members here.  Sharp, light pencil lines has been a favorite of mine up to and including 1/4" scale. 

 

Allan

Edited by allanyed

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Brian,

 

My bad! 

In the original post, I posted info on two fabrics I purchased for my sail project.  The 'Art Gallery - Pure Elements' fabric is the lighter of these two fabrics.  I chose these two fabrics, due to the fact these two fabrics are distributed world wide and / or are available on-line.  You can search for info on both of these fabrics using the brand and product line.    

As for fabric sails, what bugs me most is the triple fold 1/4" / 6.5mm hems.  I've been working on different ways to do hems on sails.  I tried a new method yesterday and the hem is 3mm wide.  I think I can get the hem width down to ~2.0mm.  Here's a photo of the first attempt.  I did this at night, so the tension is off.  I've treated the edges with some new stuff I just found and it looks promising.  The treatment prevents the edges from stretching and gives the edges of the sail strength so they don't sag.  I'll continue to work on it, then post with all the information.  (Also, this is not the fabric from above, it's some fabric I purchased for quilt backing.)

 

Here's a sample of the seam:

post-206-0-88913700-1483294749_thumb.jpg

 

The treated edge gives the sail strength, so the fabric doesn't droop as much.

post-206-0-21232600-1483294877_thumb.jpg

 

I need to clean up my work space and start working again on my 'sewing techniques for model sails' project.

 

Dee Dee 

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Allan,

 

I put the comma in that sentence in the wrong place.

   "I find the 1/8" or 1/16" strips for the panel seams, more out of scale than a properly sewn line."

   Should be:

   "I find the 1/8" or 1/16" strips for the panel seams more out of scale, than a properly sewn line."

 

"A properly sewn seam" is a line that blends into the fabric and all you see at arms length is a smooth line of reflected light or a smooth shadow. 

  

Hand and machine sewing can not be scaled down to size.  Instead, think 'Trompe l’oeil painting'.  Trompe l’oeil painting creates a visual illusion that tricks or fools the eye into perceiving details.  The objective with hand and machine sewing, is to create an illusion that will achieve the desired results.  This illusion is created through the use of the right materials, settings and techniques that will absorb or reflect light as needed.

 

Take a look at your best dress shirt.  Specifically, the top stitching on the collar, placket, and cuffs.  At arms length, you don't see individual stitches, rather, your eye sees either a shadow or reflection, pending what the designer wanted as the finished effect.  On an oxford shirt, most often your eye will see a shadow, but on your finest dress shirt, your eye will see either a reflection or a shadow.  This effect is achieved by using the right materials, settings and technique. 

 

Trying to scale down the individual stitches to 48 to the inch, or 0.5mm stitch length, will have the opposite effect, more like flashing neon lights.

 

Here's a stitch comparison I did on linen, with two different thread thickness.  (I didn't use a 'guide' when sewing these lines, so they're a bit wonky.)

The line on the right, I used ordinary cotton / poly thread, that measured 0.14mm.  On linen fabric, this is sort of OK, but not the best.   

The four lines on the left were sewn with 0.08mm thread and this thread is much better. 

The two lines on the right, both were sewn with a stitch length of 3mm, the difference in thread thickness is visible.  

The line on the left, 2mm stitch and 0.08mm thread, nearly melts into the fabric.  This line works on this linen fabric, but will not work on the lighter weight cotton.  (Sorry for the crummy photo).

I have some 0.05mm specialty thread that I need to experiment with on the cotton fabric.

At arms length, on the 5mm stitch length, my eyes see a broken line of light and reflection, on the other lines, I see a smoother line of reflected light.   

(Also, there's no 'puckering'.)

 

post-206-0-84748600-1483295601_thumb.jpg

 

As for pencil lines, most examples I've seen were made with an ordinary pencil.  On art quilts, I would use colored pencils and fabric paint pens to add detail.  So I'm thinking a colored pencil, the same tint as the fabric color will look more realistic.  I tried a number of colors and the one I liked most was a yellowish brown.  Regular pencils are graphite based and 'smear' easily.  Colored pencils are wax based and less chance of smearing.  Prismacolor colored pencils are nice and lay down a nice line of color.  You can buy individual Prismacolor pencils at Michaels for about $1 each.   (Prismacolor has a quality problem, so, check the pencil and make sure the colored lead is in the center of the wood.)

 

Dee Dee

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Dee Dee, Many thanks for your detailed explanation, it is greatly appreciated.  Another part of our hobby likened to artwork.  Gotta love it. 

 

Just learned Seawatch Publishing published an addendum to TFFM Volume IV that explains making sails with silkspan.   Initial photos that I have seen of these cloths' seams, tablings, and linings indicate they look more subtle, more to scale, and far more realistic than any sewn sails I have seen to date.  I also learned that what most of us call panels on these old vessels are more correctly known as cloths, as described in David Steel's Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship.  My use of the term in my previous post may have caused some confusion.

 

To get totally crazy with scale, as silkspan does come in several thicknesses, it could be used to account for the various actual sail thicknesses which lessened the higher up the masts they were located. 

 

Every time I think I know enough about any subject in this great hobby, ten new things pop up to prove me wrong. 

 

Allan

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Mark,

 

Those are nice sails.    

 

Drawn thread work is an old technique, dating back to the 13th century Béguinages of Flanders and Béguines of other northwest European countries and the beginning of the art of lace making.   Drawn thread work is a simple technique to learn and takes years to master.   

 

In Olivier Bello's sail example, there are ~70 sail panels or 140 threads to be pulled.  Quoting the comments from one of the side bar photos:  "Needless to say, the break of a single thread means that the whole thing has to be done over." 

 

The sails on this model are approximately 2 feet / 60cm tall.  It takes a lot of experience to draw 140 threads that long!  Eek gads! 

 

I've not seen any sails made with this technique on MSW, can you point me in the right direction to find?  I would love to collaborate.   

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Here's a better photo to compare machine stitch length on linen fabric.      

 

The 2mm / 0.080 stitch gets lost in the fabric and the 3mm / 0.080 thread is too visible.   Thinking a 2.5mm / 0.080 might be optimum.       

 

post-206-0-65002100-1483754770_thumb.jpg

 

 

Here's a three inch sample of drawn thread on this same fabric.  Click on the photo for a close up view of this effect.  This is a technique that needs to be done in bright day light.  I did this one thread last night and took about five minutes to do.

 

post-206-0-64319900-1483754823_thumb.jpg

     

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What is the complete title of "TFFM"?

 

Ron,

 

TFFM = The Fully Framed Model.   There's 4 volumes.. and they are available from Seawatch Books who are a sponsor here with an ad on the front page.  I find they are a great resource even though I'm not building a Swan Class ship.

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I too have heard the argument that tea or coffe will set in motion a chemical process that winds up ruining sails, but one seldom sees sails disintegrating off models. Certainly very old models have sails that start to go to pieces, but who is to say if those sails were ever dipped in coffee? They very likely are just old. I say go ahead and stain you sails with caffeinated beverages, the color you get is perfect and hard to improve upon with other more complex methods.

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TFFM = The Fully Framed Model, or the title in full: The Fully Framed Model, HMN Swan Class Sloops 1767-1780 in 4 Volumes, SeaWatchBooks.

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Brian,

 

Ah yes, the on going discussion about coffee and tea.  As for the acid level of coffee and tea, I'm not a chemist.  But I do know, if I drink more than one cup of coffee, I will be doubled over in severe pain, looking for that bottle of Zantac.  

 

FWIW, sunlight / UV light does more damage to fabric and faster.   

 

 

Here's a different idea to add color to your sail.

 

From a distance, a life size sail has a monotone color.  As you get closer to the sail, you start to notice various colors in the sail. Then up close, you see all the color variations, stains, markings and more.  Instead of dyeing a sail to a monotone color, try using watercolor paints!  Nothing fancy, just an ordinary set of kids watercolor paints.  When you're done painting the color on, let it dry, then add highlights with colored pencils. 

 

Here's a link that does a good job on 'how to' use water color paints on fabric:  http://www.ellaclaireinspired.com/how-to-watercolor-paint-on-fabric-tutorial/

 

As for colored pencils, a couple of yellows, a couple of browns, a dark red, a medium blue and white should do it.  When you're done adding highlights, set the color with an iron set to medium.  I prefer Prismacolor pencils over the inexpensive grade school box of pencils.  Prismacolor pencils have a higher level of wax and you can buy them individually.   Prismacolor has a quality control problem, so check each pencil to make sure the 'lead' is in the center of the pencil.  

 

When that's all done, use a 'fine point fabric paint pen' in a gold, bronze or silver color, to add a hint of hardware details to the sail.    

 

Dee Dee

 

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On the "How Realistic Can One Make Sails" thread, I posted one option to add fullness to sails, using a drawn fabric technique. 

 

Here's another technique for adding fullness to a (three sided) main sail.  This simple technique can be used on fabric, paper and silkspan.

 

All sail patters (I've seen) show a 90* right angle at the tack of the sail.  If you increase this angle, by one or two degrees, the length of the leech will increase by ~1/8".  That doesn't sound like a lot, however, when the sail is attached to the boom and mast, the leech will be too long. 

 

In the second photo, the foot and luff of this paper sail were taped to the cutting board at a 90* angle.  The additional length in the leech 'billows' and gives a natural looking shape to the sail.

 

The increased angle will vary, pending the angle of the boom.  

 

Very nice sails Druxey.  FWIW, my modeling interest are working boats and classic wood boats, not warships.

post-206-0-55027700-1484180434_thumb.jpg

 

 post-206-0-06895800-1484180234_thumb.jpg   

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In real terms, distorting the shape of the sail to increase the length of the leech would result in a very inefficient sail. It would simply spill the wind that you'd otherwise be using to propel the boat.

 

A leech line (embedded inthe leech seam, and tightened) might redeem matters, but I reckon the sail would still look a bit like a captive parachute.

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Sail shape is very important for sail performance and this has always been understood by sailmakers No Sail is ever realy flat or two dimensional when set and drawing and in fact a perfectly flat sail won't work to it's full potential in exactly the same way an aircraft wing wouldn't generate lift if it were flat too. By way of illustration here is a photo of a modern Kevlar sail being manufactured. It's being laid up over a rigid form, the exact shape of the form will have been painstakingly arrived at after much computation. Kevlar has zero elasticity so when complete this is the shape it will always assume when set on the racing boat it is being made for, so the forms shape represents the sailmakers idea of a perfect sail shape. Alterations in the shape will effect the sail performance when they get out on the water. This understanding of how sails function is not new, sailmakers have always understood these concepts and have always sewn their sails with an eye toward how they will set when put to use. So very few seams on sails that would otherwise be nominally two dimensional are sewn in a perfect straight line, there are nearly always subtle curves involved. Now on a model MOST of these subtle curves are going to be invisible but on the other hand NO sail that is depicted as drawing wind should ever be flat.

post-3035-0-97889600-1484227065.jpg

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