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Silkspan sails

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This is somewhat of a repeat as the various points have come up in various posts in a few forums, but I recently saw photos of sails for a schooner model that were beautifully sewn on the edges and along the panel seams.  If this had been a scale of 1:12 or larger they would be  close to scale, but as the scale was 1:48 they were grossly out of scale and, for me at least, ruined what was an otherwise very nice model.  I know this comes up quite often but there is a solution to get sails that are close to scale and I hope it is worth repeating for those that may want to try something that may add to their repertoire.


The smallest common sewing machine thread that I could find and measure was a little under 0.01" in diameter.  I wrapped 125 turns on a steel rule in a 1 inch spacing to get the diameter.   At a scale of 1:48 this would be about over 3/8"  inch diameter thread.  At 1:64 it would be over 1/2 inch diameter and at 1:96 it would be over 3/4 inch in diameter, all of which are rope sizes rather sewing material.  The tightest spacing on a modern home sewing machine yields about 25 stitches per inch which is having each stitch 2 inches long at 1:48 and 4 inches long at 1:96, again also too large to be realistic in regards to scale.  The seams on the panels are typically 2" wide and 4" around the periphery of the sail, that is 0.04" and 0.8" at 1:48 and 0.02" and 0.04" at 1:96 scale.  The thickness of duck canvas varied with the types of sails, but 15 ounce canvas was one of the common sizes.  This is about 0.06" thick so scale sail material should be about 0.00125" thick if at 1:48 and 0.0006 if at 1"96.  Even the finest cloth that I have found so far, with a sufficiently high thread count to look like the  threads spacing are close to scale,  is 0.008" thick, thus far out of scale as well.


In contrast, some folks, myself included, have been working with silkspan, a nonwoven paper for making sails.   With two coats of acrylic that I used to get the right color and strengthen the material, it is 0.002" thick, much closer to scale compared to 0.008"  for 1:48.    The sails can be set up full or furled.  Adding reef points and tying off to mast hoops and spars or booms  is not a problem.   I add a small dot of tubed acrylic that I mix to match the color of the thread where the line goes through the sail and it is very strong when a hole is punched or drilled through these small dots.


2 inch seams for the panels were made with an acrylic paint marker pen slightly darker than the color of the sail itself.  The tip of the marker  was shaved with a scalpel to a little under the 0.004" for 1:48 scale that I needed as it does expand a bit when charged with paint.


Silkspan is not as strong as cloth, but with one or two coats of diluted tubed acrylic paint, it is surprisingly strong.


Hope this gives some members a few ideas on making sails that are closer to scale.



Edited by allanyed
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  • 5 months later...

It is also quite possible to assemble silkspan-sails from individual panels and add doublings etc.:



Cutting the panels from a sheet of silkspan stabilised with acrylic varnish



Assembling the sail using acrylic varnish as glue



Boltropes, cringles etc. attached as per Allen's description, sail also painted to look 'tanned'



Sail rigged and reefing ropes attached


It also works with what is called silkspan over here in Europe, that is a very thin silk cloth.

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