Making your own sails

If your main reason for making sails is to save money then you are probably going to be disappointed with the results and deservedly so. If, on the other hand, you like making things and are prepared to study a bit, and have the use of a suitable sewing machine and a big enough place to work in, both the process and the result can be very satisfying. Do not be distracted by those who claim you can make decent sails for nothing out of blue tarp. As with any other craft you will need knowledge, skill and the right tools. Why waste all that on rubbish materials?

Much of the knowledge you need is in books so before you do anything else go and read. Todd Bradshaw's "Canoe Rig" is an inspiring place to start though biased more towards the traditional than you might consider appropriate. Todd has written an article on the Canoe Sailing website which will give you an idea of what you will need to do.(click here). If you have not done this type of sewing before start with smaller projects such as outdoor clothes or bags. You should also look at some professionally made sails to see what they look like.

Finding a suitable sewing machine is a problem which is glossed over in some books. Modern domestic machines are often too flimsy. Many old machines, which would have been ideal when they were new, are worn out with long use and not enough oil.You should try to get a small industrial machine such as a tailor might use; these are available secondhand and refurbished from various dealers. A machine like this does not take up too much room and it will also make curtains.

For your first sail I would strongly recommend a kit. I hope you already know that sails are not flat. Much of the art and mystery of sailmaking lies in getting the right 3D shape. A kit will have been computer designed and laser cut and although it is possible to design and cut by traditional means there is just too much to learn for a first attempt. Incidentally many professional sailmakers, including us, get their sails cut by specialist laser cutting firms. We can supply kits for any of the sails that we now make as well as others that we used to make. Get in touch with us to find out what sail types and sizes we can supply. Alternatively you could order online from a specialist firm such as Sailrite. You will in any case want Sailrite's catalogue for sourcing those difficult to find tools and parts.

Some people advocate cutting down old sails. If you know what you are doing you can achieve a reasonable result but in that case, you will probably decide that this is not the way to go. The all important 3D shape of the sail will be lost when you start chopping it. One of the great things about canoe sailing is that everything is small and cheap enough to be able to do it right. We have seen many instances where people have been trying to teach themselves to sail with horrible recycled rigs which nobody would be able to sail.