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Those dotted lines on model sails ...


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When I crewed for my dad, back in the 1950s, racing with the Dabchicks Sailing Club in West Mersea, I remember our dinghy sails had lines on them.  They weren't patterns in the fabric; they were seams.
OK, so when making models, we represent the seams with neat little lines drawn on (or sewn into) the fabric.
But what was the purpose of the seams?  I seem (seam? duh!) to remember my dad telling me it was so that the sailmakers could incorporate subtle shaping into the sail.  To create a deliberate 'belly'.  But modern dinghies have sails that aren't made out of strips, so I think he must have been kidding me.
Was it a way of adding strength (tear-resistance) to the sail?
Was it, in earlier times, simply because sail fabric was woven in narrow strips that had to be sewn together to make a big panel?
Was it just for the looks?

Oh, and as a supplementary question, I remember our dinghy's mainsail had slots for three thin wooden battens on the luff edge (have I remembered the term right?).  Were battens ever used in the sails of square riggers?  Or in any more recent commercial sailing vessels?

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Brian,

 

The standard width of a (British) bolt of canvas was (maybe still is) 24 inches, so the sail was made up of panels which were 24 inches wide- minus the width of the seams and yes, making a sail like that allowed the sailmaker to work a "belly" into the sail.

 

I've never seen battens used on commercial sails.

 

John

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Yes, John, the 24" fabric width does ring a bell.  That would explain the seams on older ships - and I must remember to get the lines almost exactly half an inch apart when I build La Rose!

The panels on our (1950) dinghy sails were only about 15 inches wide.  That couldn't have been due to constraints of fabric width.  I'm guessing it just [a] helped make a nicely-shaped sail, and looked expensive.

 

I suppose the 'v' configuration of the seams on foresails would have been to get the stress lines of the sails into agreement with the pull of the sheets?

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Brian,

 

From what I can gather, the so called 'triangulated' sail was supposed to give more strength to the sail and help prevent the tearing of seams caused by heavy shocks and also to help the sail to stretch evenly.  having said that, remember that many commercial fore and aft sails were made with straight seams.

 

John

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When I crewed for my dad, back in the 1950s, racing with the Dabchicks Sailing Club in West Mersea, I remember our dinghy sails had lines on them.  They weren't patterns in the fabric; they were seams.

OK, so when making models, we represent the seams with neat little lines drawn on (or sewn into) the fabric.

But what was the purpose of the seams?  I seem (seam? duh!) to remember my dad telling me it was so that the sailmakers could incorporate subtle shaping into the sail.  To create a deliberate 'belly'.  But modern dinghies have sails that aren't made out of strips, so I think he must have been kidding me.

Was it a way of adding strength (tear-resistance) to the sail?

Was it, in earlier times, simply because sail fabric was woven in narrow strips that had to be sewn together to make a big panel?

Was it just for the looks?

 

Oh, and as a supplementary question, I remember our dinghy's mainsail had slots for three thin wooden battens on the luff edge (have I remembered the term right?).  Were battens ever used in the sails of square riggers?  Or in any more recent commercial sailing vessels?

Here is the way I see it. Like Jim Lad (John) said, sail cloth came in much narrower bolts than now. Besides the 24 inch, they grew(?) to 38 inch width. To represent that on models (pre 20th century) we show those seam lines; be it with a pencil or stitching. I am really surprised that you had vertical 'seams' on dinghy sails. I never saw that when I had a boat. Could it be just for looks?

 

Battens are used on sloop rigged sails. They are there to keep the leech of the sail in the shape you want and not spill too much air. They would be redundant on square sails because the leech is controlled from above via the next yard up there. I do believe battens are used on current sailboats of most sizes, but there are not too many 'commercial' sailboats with that kind of rig that I have seen lately. There are a couple large 'cruise ships' with a schooner rig and I know they don't use battens. Those sails are more for looks, anyway.

 

If you look at the America Cup boats nowadays you can see several battens on the main. They are the horizontal 'stripes'. But they would not be used on the jib.

post-246-0-90786800-1363232090.jpg

 

Edited by Modeler12
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  • 1 month later...

Thanks for all the replies.  I loved the pics, especially Modeler12's second one (which was 'for John').  What class of dinghy is that?  You cut off the top of the mainsail so I couldn't see!  Is it a Flying 15?

I have a supplementary question about those dotted lines.  What's the best colour/type of thread to represent them if I decide to use the sewing m/c and stitch a lot of parallel lines?

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Brian:

In making my sails, I try to use a thread that is either the same color or maybe a shade darker than the sail itself. That way, the seams are suggested and they do not overpower the the model's scale appearance.

 

Here is an example from a recent sail that I made.

mainsailsewn.jpg

 

Russ

Edited by russ
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Hi Probablynot, I've just come across this thread, so sorry if this all comes a little late.

 

The seams in sails were originally, as stated before, due to the limited width of the cloth available. More recently (ie the 20th century!) the seams were cut on a subtle curve to put some shape into the sail so that it approximated an aerofoil section. In the 1950s dinghy sails were made from closely woven cotton and this was produced at that time in (from memory) 15" widths, hence the large number of seams needed to make a sail. Battens were placed in the leech (not the luff - that is the edge against the mast) to support that area of the sail. Modern dinghy sails still have seams (and battens, now made of glass fibre), although the sails are now made of a variety of materials, many of which aren't even woven but are plastic films often reinforced with high tech materials like carbon fibre. This is why many modern sails appear transparent. Most recently, top end sails are made on a large configurable heated table and moulded from plastic sheet in a single piece - not a cheap process and only used for top end racing sails at the moment. A far cry from the canvas and hemp of Nelson's time!

 

Incidentally, the photo of the America's Cup catamaran posted previously shows a fully rigid wing rig - the "battens" identified there are actually the ribs of the wing, covered again in transparent plastic film. And Modeler12's second picture is a Contender - a high performance singlehander, and one I sailed for many years when I was younger and a great deal fitter!

 

All a bit tangential to the normal topics on MSW but I just thought I'd throw it in to clear things up a bit.

 

Greg

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