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Lessons learned sewing sails

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Having some ancient sewing experience, I decided to make my own sails.  Then after making two sets, thought I might save others from my pitfalls.

First, kit sailcloth is generally too heavy. I tried it for furled sails and it didn’t work, even with the sail sizes cut down by almost half.


Original fore sail in kit cloth, trial fit for furled appearance



Fortunately, I received some Amati cloth from the club. This is still a bit heavy but will look good on the ship. BTW I found the same cloth at the fabric store, just look for bleached muslin in the lightest weight they have. 


 It has been a long time since I last sewed anything serious on the machine and I learned a few lessons for sails.

  • If you roll the hems as I did, cut the cloth about 5/16” larger than the finished sail size for seam allowance. I aimed for 1/8” hems and almost made it.
  • Apply Fraycheck on the cutting lines and let dry before cutting, muslin frays in the wash.
  • Fraycheck stiffens the cloth enough to make it harder to sew a small hem and keep it straight. Pressing the folds helps.
  • Be very careful drawing guide lines in pencil on the sail. I did so to align reef points and the lines haven’t completely washed out after two hand washings and stain remover.
  • Iron often.
  • Use the smallest stitch your machine will make and experiment with thread tension.
  • Finish all seams by hand, this will help hide the knot and thread.
  • If you sew the fabric seam in the sails, use a matching thread. This will give texture without overwhelming the appearance of the sail. Personal preference!!


Photos of sails for 1/64 Bluenose, not close to professional (the close ups show all the faults! .


Fore sail, reef points not yet trimmed



Jumbo jib



Jumbo jib close



Jumbo jib closer


Current build: HMS Pegasus, English Pinnace (on hold)

Completed build: MS BluenoseSkippercraft

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  • 2 weeks later...

A job well done Dave!


If I may add my own experience:

make sure the sewing machine is well tuned. I did not know that sewing machines need tuning, util a professional seamstress examined my work... (I use an old singer a 60ties build). Actually she played with those rods that regulate the feed of the string. Once fixed, the stitching was even. If you ask me If I can do it by myself, no, I can't. I'll have to consult her again...


I used some textile glue, only tiny quanities to secure the corners. Not visible, acceptable results.




Current build: not decided yet.


Previous builds:

Traditional Greek vessel "Symiaki Skafi" (scratch)

Traditional Greek vessel "Perama" (scratch)

HMS Bounty (kit)


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Neat work on the sails Dave.



Current builds  Bristol Pilot Cutter 1:8;      Skipjack 19 foot Launch 1:8;       Herreshoff Buzzards Bay 14 1:8

Other projects  Pilot Cutter 1:500 ;   Maria, 1:2  Now just a memory    

Future model Gill Smith Catboat Pauline 1:8

Finished projects  A Bassett Lowke steamship Albertic 1:100  


Anything you can imagine is possible, when you put your mind to it.

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Personally, I don't like sewn sails. Particularly the hems tend to be grossly out of size, as the cloth thickness is way overscale.


Anyway, if you do insist to sew, it is helpful to pin (or glue) the cloth down onto a piece of silk paper (the type used to make carbon copies in the age of the typewriter). This prevents the cloth from being pulled out of shape by the machine. It also facilitates sewing a predetermined path (not always straight for sails !), because you can draw the pattern on it. The paper can be ripped out easily after the sewing has been completed.


On the same line, I have simulated in the past boltropes by reducing the stitching step to almost zero, i.e. to the diameter of the thread, stitching effectively a beading onto the cloth. The sail was cut out after the paper backing hat been ripped out. The beading can be stabilised with a bit of clear varnish to prevent it from becoming undone.





panta rhei - Everything is in flux



M-et-M-72.jpg  Banner-AKHS-72.jpg  Banner-AAMM-72.jpg  ImagoOrbis-72.jpg
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Brian, I don't know what size needle I used, will have to check. I sewed the seam lines after cutting the sails but before hemming. You could sew the seams first if you use seam tape, which might look good. I laid out the sails so the long edge aligned with the bias to minimize stretching and pulling the sail out of shape. Sewing seams at an angle did not pull the cloth, the hems did more. Practice will improve and I may try a different technique. Handkerchief cloth is a good choice.


Michael, thank you. I am happy with them.


Wefalk, I agree the hems turn out large, I accept this for Bluenose since it is my first build and I am trying to learn as much as I can. Great recommendation, that is a good way to get a finished edge. Thank you.


Dave B

Current build: HMS Pegasus, English Pinnace (on hold)

Completed build: MS BluenoseSkippercraft

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