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Making Ship Model Sails

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The following techniques were utilized in preparing sails for my circa 1800 Virginia pilot schooner model.  Materials used in making sails included: sailcloth (thin cotton muslin, available at fabric stores), .020 linen line stained hemp color (BlueJacket Shipcrafters #R1682), all purpose sewing thread (Coats & Clark hemp colored #543), and Dritz Fray Check liquid (available at fabric stores).  Special tools utilized included: 2nd hand home sewing machine and high quality sewing sears (4” and 8”).  References utilized include: ship model plans; Making Sails, a mini-practicum by Robert Hunt; and Steel’s Elements of Mastmaking, Sailmaking, and Rigging of 1794 by David SteelPrior to starting, the sailcloth was washed using a warm water cycle with several pairs of blue jeans for color.


The sail outline, seams, and reef bands were then laid out on the sailcloth using fine drafting pencils.  The sail design was based on the ships drawings and reference to Steel’s Elements of Mastmaking, Sailmaking, and Rigging.  Final dimensions were checked and adjusted to suit the model’s masts and spars.  The bottom edges and reef bands of all sails were curved and they were laid out using ships curves.  Note that if the sail design is not shown on the model drawings, it can be laid out using the model’s rigging plan and data from Steel’s Elements of Mastmaking, Sailmaking, and Rigging.


The seams and reef bands were sewn using hemp colored thread and a straight stitch (28-32 stitches per inch).  The bolt rope (.020 linen line) was sewn along the sail outline using hemp colored thread and a narrow zigzag stitch (approximately 3/64” wide and 28-32 stitches per inch).  Cringes were modeled by leaving small loops in the bolt rope at sail corners and reef points.  Note that all sewing of seams, reef bands, and the bolt rope were accomplished prior to cutting out the sails.


A thin line of Fray Check liquid was run over the zigzag stitching and bolt rope prior to cutting out the sails.  After allowing the Fray Check liquid to dry, the sails were cut out using high quality sewing sears.  Reef points were sewn on by hand and secured by Fray Check liquid using the same thread used for sewing the seams, reef bands, etc.  After completion, the sails were ironed using a steam iron set on cotton.


Halyards, tacks, downhauls, sheets, and the jib traveler were seized to the sails, and the fore and main sails were laced to the gaffs prior to mounting on the model.  Mast hoops were lashed to the sails using hemp colored thread after mounting to the model.  All sewn attachments to the sails were secured with Fray Check liquid.


Details of the model sails are illustrated in the following photographs:


Pete Jaquith







Edited by Pete Jaquith
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