Tuesday, February 28, 2023

 About Sailrite

Having mentioned three books by Jim Grant of Sailrite, I guess I should say some things about the company itself.

Sailrite began as 'Sailrite Kits': Grant and his wife Connie were enthusiastic sailing racers in Chicago and then in California. They needed sails and Grant figured out how to make them--they then came in second in a race. That led to the creation of 'Sailrite Kits' in 1969. The company gradually expanded to offering sailing and sewing supplies and their own version of a Brother sewing machine. Their children grew up, worked in the company and it expanded again, with new products and a wider range. When Jim and Connie retired, their son Matt and his wife Hallie bought the company. They were business majors in college and applied that knowledge to running the business. Today, sail kits are just a part of what the company does. And canvas and sewing products of all sorts are well represented. While Jim Grant wrote books, Matt Grant and his brother Eric have turned to videos--good, tight, simple videos--to show how to use their products in a variety of fields--hundreds of videos with thousands of views.

They have their own line of sewing machines and supporting gear.

They have a stellar reputation for customer service.

Some think their prices are high. While they have competitors, there are none of comparable scale or depth or with similar reputations.

Simply put, you will probably discover that Sailrite is the elephant in a good many different rooms....we will encounter them again.

 Tents and Awnings

After digging out my favorite books on sail and boat canvas design I decided I should pull some up on awnings and tents. I have modified and repaired both but never made either from scratch, save for 'boom tents' for boats.

I went hunting online. There are a number of books dealing with tents, tent design, tent history. Tents for camping. Tents for reenacting  and 'live action role play' (LARP). There are books on historic tents, modern tents, exotic tents. And much more in the form of web articles and youtube videos. Some have real detail, others just sketch out ideas.

When I searched for books on awnings, the cupboard was pretty bare. There were some things from early in the 20th century, but awning materials have evolved since then. I found two options: on Amazon there is a Kindle book called 'Canvas Awnings: The Complete Guide to Make Your Own,' by Chad Kordes. And it turns out that Jim Grant of Sailrite, his son Eric, and his wife Connie, have collaborated on a free ebook:  https://www.sailrite.com/awnings-how-to-book. It looks rather good.

My observations from this searching:  awnings are much less popular than they were 50 years ago. Many of those used today are for commercial buildings and made of vinyl coated materials, not canvas. As for tents: most people buy tents today unless they want a particular type or style, or some quickie inexpensive thing for a special event.

Working on tents and awnings is rather like working on sails: large panels to be joined together. The materials typically used are different from sailcloth and the machinery needed may be a bit different as well, but the setups required can be very similar to those for sailmaking. Curtains can also require similar setups. I will tag them along with the descriptions of sailmaking that I am developing.


Tuesday, February 21, 2023

 Books on boat canvas

There are quite a few books on boat canvas and a lot of canvas work has a place on boats, from covers to cushions, to sea anchors, dodgers and much else. Many of these books are older but still available, as much recent work has been presented as video.

If you look up 'canvas work' on line you will find lots of decorative projects--not particularly heavy work. For the moment I will present some of the books I have found most useful:

Another publication by Jim Grant of Sailrite. Lots of detailed images and clear suggestions.

Frank Rosenow was apprenticed to a Swedish sailmaker before he became a world cruiser. He shows a few projects that are different in construction from Grant and others, He has a nice way of sketching ideas.

Jeremy Howard-Williams was a prolific writer on sails and rigs but not so much on sail design. This book on canvas work is both clear and reasonable concise. includes useful how-to information.

Karen Lipe's two volumes provide slightly different approaches to explaining projects and construction. That may be helpful.

When searching for books I usually start at 'www.bookfinder.com,' which searches across many other sites.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

 Moving forward

As this blog evolves I will provide a great detail on HOW to put sewing projects together, but I will NOT include many project plans. There are  quite a number of books on doing canvas work, some on making sails, quite a few on leatherwork. In the current environment we also have a lot of online info on how to do one task or another, but there are shortcomings. The BOOKS on sailmaking and canvas work show how projects can be crafted, but they provide surprisingly little useful info on equipment choices and ways of setting up for jobs. That is the area I will tackle.

Here are some resources you may want to seek out, starting with guides on sailmaking.:

Mainsails by Jim (James Lowell) Grant broke the dam on providing useful numbers on sail design. Previous writers had talked about 'broadseaming' and 'edge round' to control the 'draft' of sails, but Grant made the job explicit. Professional sailmakers took hold of his instructions and used them in their own work. It is still in print since 1970 and still useful. Grant and his wife Connie created the company we know today simply as Sailrite and built a business selling kits for sails. Grant also produced similar books on other types of sails and a course teaching sailmaking, etc.

Emiliano Marino wrote the wonderful 'The Sailmaker's Apprentice' that expands the topic dramatically and is well worth a read. When putting numbers to broadseaming and edge round, he copies Grant closely. The book has equally wonderful illustrations by Christine Erikson

Paul Fisher of Selway Fisher Design in England also has produced a couple of  pamphlets on sail design. Less detailed than the preceding versions, it does provide enough info to craft a simple sail. Some of the construction details provided reflect UK practice, slightly different from North America. I have the first, 'Sail Making for the Home Boatbuilder.' 
The current version is 'Sails for the Home Boat Builder.'

Percy Blandford was a prolific writer on many topics. He is also noted as a marine architect, provided many designs for fairly simple boats. He used a very simple style that used many drawings with details spelled out. During his 101 year life he published over 100 books. Modern Sailmaking doesn't give the  same measurement details as Grant and Marino, but one CAN make some sails from this book--and it is also a feast of details about how sails go together.

These next three books turn up in the used market from time to time. Gray's book is from the cotton sail era, and interesting for that. Bowker and Budd mostly represent that era as well, but with a few notes for the conversion to modern sailcloths.Schmit shows some practical sails and details of construction, but is not a general purpose guide. All interesting, but not at all essentials.

Simply stated: this is a brilliant publication. Even though it targets traditional canoes, it applies to all canoes and is useful for folks interested in any small boats. Beyond this book, Bradshaw has been a prolific and helpful correspondent about small boat rigs, writing on the Wooden Boat Forum, the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association site, and elsewhere. I like it so much I bought a spare copy.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

 Work on The Project, the whole Project, and nothing but the Project....

Sounds great, doesn't it? But it doesn't always work that way as I have proved to myself more than once.

A big project like a sail can demand some significant real estate. In 'traditional' modern sailmaking (!!), an outline of the sail is laid out on a clean, smooth floor with enough extra space to walk around. Panels of cloth are laid out, with appropriate markings for seams and the like. Then panels are taped together and the thing is sewn, in whole or in parts. And sewing itself  demands a different space, either floor or table space, typically twice as long as the longest seam of the sail. This is often manageable, but it takes both planning and cooperation from the members of your family. Whoops--unexpected guests. Project must go into hiding.

Even with the space negotiated there can be hiccups. Some necessary component hasn't arrived or you received the wrong thing. It happens. Your sewing machine balks. A sail project that drags on can create big family issues or fester uncompleted for a very long time. While the unexpected can always occur, it IS possible to plan so carefully that most problems are precluded. 

Preliminary layout of a sail on a cottage floor. I have carted furniture outside, have a tarp handy in case of rain. This sail occupies about 144 sq ft.

Here is that sail again. It is an experimental rig combining the features of a square rig and a balance lug sail. It worked surprisingly well.

A need for careful planning seems obvious, but haste and determination to get going can bollix many things. Here is an outline of a process:

Building a sail:

1. Visualize every step of the project, including its sequence.

2. Identify spaces and the times they will be available (this may involve going somewhere away from home to find space.)

3. Make a detailed list of materials and tools needed and get them ordered.

4. Practice sewing with the material you have chosen. Get your machine performing well.

5. Make a detailed list of every part of the plan, including checkoffs for every step. I use a yellow pad.

6. When all materials and tools are in hand, place them where they will be handy.

7. Get started, checking off steps as you go.

Here is a similar sequence for a boat cover:

1. Work out the design for the cover. There are several good published sources on designs.

2. Get materials and tools, including sewing machine, in hand.

3. Figure out where you will measure and lay out the panels for the cover (hint: panels that go from side to side are often easier than ones that run the length of the boat.)

4. Decide where you will sew the cover. If clean space is available it is convenient to sew right beside the boat, but that may not work out. You may have to tape, staple, and clamp sections of the the cover and then take them elsewhere to the machine. (Inconvenient but often necessary.)

5. Again, make a detailed checklist of steps and all other items.

6. Cross your fingers and get started.

Sequencing big projects is VERY important.


I'm Bob, the Aged Mariner. (Old, but not quite Ancient yet, and no albatross.) I got hooked on sailing in 1975 when friends took me out on a 17 foot daysailer. Soon after I bought my first boat, a very modest 12 foot mini scow I found tied to a tree. It came with a single sail and had the option of a jib. I determined I would make a jib, to save money. I knew that a zig-zag sewing machine was the desired choice and I bought an early one, a Pfaff that would have done the job--but my wife hated it, so back it went and I started on a machine quest that led to curiousity and a whole lot of cheap purchases at flea markets and garage sales. I got kind of hooked on sewing machines and what they could do....

I knew nothing about sailmaking. Fortunately I found a used jib at minimal cost and was saved from making a completely incompetent sail. But I learned, and studied, and nearly 50 years later I am an amateur sailmaker and canvas worker with plenty of knowledge and some skill. I see lots of questions about sewing big items (sails, etc.) and heavy things (some leather and parts of sails and vinyl materials). I decided that some folks might benefit if I put this accumulated knowledge down in coherent form, hence this blog.

On a Canadian lake. I am sailing a Grumman canoe rigged with a homemade sail in the 'crabclaw' format. Things don't get much simpler than this!

My plan for the blog: lay out the possibilities and issues of sewing big and/or heavy things, identify working strategies, dig into LOTS of details about equipment, and listen to comments and questions from readers.

This blog has a sibling, 'Simple Sails, Simple Sailing' to be found at www.simplesails.com

 About Sailrite Having mentioned three books by Jim Grant of Sailrite, I guess I should say some things about the company itself. Sailrite b...