Have you ever dreamed of making your own sails. Well, we did! Was it hard? Well, at times, but we had never done it before, and we started from scratch. If you began with a kit from SAILRITE, it would be much easier and quicker since all the panels are precut and the seams are already marked.
To begin with, you have to remember that sailmaking is an art, and that there aren't a whole lot of books out there on the subject. One book that proved invaluable in our efforts was THE SAILMAKER'S APPRENTICE, by Emiliano Marino. In his book there was an abundance of well drawn pictures as well as plenty of detailed explanations describing the whole sailmaking process from start to finish. Also, included were specific recommendations on how to make various four sided sails like our own Lug sail.
In our minds sailmaking is the process by which you join flat panels of material together to produce a three dimensional shape called a sail. This is acheived by broadseaming (overlapping seams in varying amounts) or by attaching tapered panels together. The process is easily illustrated by simply pinching in a portion of a napkin on one side and then observing the resulting concave shape. Where and how much change is produced is the art of the sailmaker. Generally speaking, heavy slow moving boats like LITTLE CRUISER have sails with lots of draft (camber), while lighter and speedier boats, like multihulls, have less.
To make our sail, we first laid down the old one that Matt Layden made on a large cement slab that happened to be across the street from our house. Then we pulled all four corners taught with duck tape, and we taped down the rest of the sail firmly every foot or so with blue making tape. Next, we traced around the edges with a pencil. Everything was then measured carefully, noting the location, position, shape and width of all the the broadseams. It's important to realize that the shape of the sail is determined not only by the amount of broadseaming, but also by the shape of that seam. For instance, we observed that the broadseams at the foot of our old sail flared significantly, which in the end produced a very full and round shape at that location. We also took notes on where the corner patches, reef patches and battens were located. When we removed the sail, we drew lines connecting all the corners, which gave us our baselines.
Once we had all the measurements we needed, we went ahead and laid our 36" wide 4 ounce dacron cloth over our marks, leaving six inches of overlap all the way around, and we alternated the direction of each panel as we went. We taped everything down, and we drew all our broadseams in with pencil, using wooden battens to shape them accordingly. Next, the panel were stuck together with special double sided seam tape. If a mistake was made at this point, it was easy to simply pull the seam apart and to reposition it again. When all the panels were joined thusly, the sail was "inflated" by simply shaking it up and down, which filled it up with air. When, everything looked "okay" (smooth and fair), the seams were then sewn.
This task was made easier by first rolling the sail up on each side of the seam. Then a sheet of plastic was place on a small hill adjoining the concrete slab, and we positioned our hand operated sewing machine in the middle of the plastic. Incidentally, our sewing machine is a heavy but inexpensive 75 year old industrial zigzag Singer sewing machine that we mounted a hand crank on. Finally, we let gravity do the work, and the sail slid easily down the hill and through the machine with a minimum of effort and fuss.
When we returned the sail to the slab, we aligned it with the marks we had made earlier, and we taped it down once more. The sides (foot, luff, head and leech) were then drawn in according to our earlier measurements, using a batten to fair in the rounds. After everything was double checked, the sides were cut free, and viola. We had a sail! Well almost...
Next the corner patches were applied. They were cut out of the extra sail cloth, and we were careful to keep the weave of the cloth in the same direction. To make things easier, the patches were first adhered to the sail with a light coat of 3M 77 spray adhesive, and then sewed on. The tablings were then sewn on, and after that the batten pockets were made and sewn into place. Finally the webbing for the clew, tack, throat, head and reefs went on to finished up the project.
What we discovered in making our own sail was that the process could be time consuming and that a sturdy sewing machine and a large work space made the process easier. We also found out that we really didn't save much money; but in the end we got a much better sail since everything was triple stitched and heavily reenforced. Most importantly, we learned how to build our own sail which should make modifying and repairing it much easier in the future; and the sewing skills we gained in the process have come in hand for making other things like cushions, awnings and storage bags.
Update 10/23/2008: We are now in the process of making a new sail for Little Cruiser. We started the process in the beginning of this year, but we didn't finish since we decided to go sailing instead! Now it's time to get back to this much needed task. You can see what we've done so far at this page, which amount to planning out the miter of the leech panels and determining how much round to add to the head of the sail.
Left- After trimming the sides. Right-Getting ready to sew the broadseams.