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. Many years of development has gone into modern sail materials - they are designed for a job. 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. E.g. Todd Bradshaw's "Canoe Rig" can be an inspiring place to start - but it is biased towards more traditional canoes and rigs than those that are in general use today.

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 second hand and refurbished from various dealers. A machine like this does not take up too much room and it will also make curtains.

Sails are not flat. Much of the art and mystery of sail making lies in getting the right 3D shape. These days most sails, including those made by Solway Dory, have been computer designed and laser cut. Although it is possible to design and cut by traditional means there is just too much to learn for a first attempt.

Some people advocate cutting down old sails. But the all important 3D shape of the sail will be lost when you start chopping it. Unfortunately we have seen instances where people have been trying to teach themselves to sail with horrible recycled rigs which nobody would be able to sail.