How to make a sail is much harder than it may initially seem. You’ll need the right materials and plenty of space to lay out the material, tools, and supplies. We’ll guide you through the entire process, but keep in mind that if you want to make a sail for your specific boat, you’ll need to adjust measurements and may even want to choose different types of material based on climate and average weather conditions.
If you’re interested in how to get into yachting and want to learn how to create and repair your own sails, our guide will give you an in-depth look at the step by step process the pros use to make their own sails.
Key Takeaway: While complicated, learning how to make and care for your sail can help you save some serious cash in the future. Additionally, every sailor should know how to make their own sails and alter the sail’s design based on boat size and style. Following our maintenance tips will also help you to get the most out of each and every sailing experience, ensuring your sail is in peak form for your next sailing adventure.
If you’d like to learn more about sailing gear and accessories for this new and exciting sport, click here to check out our sailing shoes buyer’s guide.
Now, let’s get started.
Tools and Materials
The steps we’ll discuss will give you a basic idea of the sail making process. Organization and space will be key to a well-made sail and a more streamlined process altogether.
First off, you’ll need a large flat table and a room with a level floor. The cloth from which you’ll make the sail is sold in strips or on a roll. The strips are usually around sixty centimeters wide. The strips should be laid out on the table or floor, cut to size, and marked. When marking the strips, you’ll want to use a pencil, T-square, and tape measure. To cut the sail cloth you’ll need a sharp knife.
A sailmaker’s bench is a handy tool for sail making. Of course, the bench is designed for sitting on when you’re making a sail, however, it’s also the perfect place for storing your tools and keeping them organized, so everything is easily accessible. The bench contains a wooden stick with twine, a sail maker’s palm, and a small pointed hook. The hook is used to apply tension to the work piece when sewing, which makes sewing much easier.
Other materials we recommend include the following:
- Sail needles
- Sail making thread
- Seam rubber
- Hollow punch
The First Step
The sail cloth strips are first cut to the correct length. This is accomplished with a drawing of the sail. The best way to draw up the sail is on the floor, then place the strips on top of the drawing to mark them off. Next, you’ll sew the strips together until you achieve a rough shape of the sail.
The next steps will involve a series of finishing that will heavily depend on the shape of the sail, in addition to the function and location of the sail.
The sail’s outside edge is folded into the hem, which is reinforced by adding and sewing rope onto it. This is called the leech. Loops are added to the leech using rope. For reefing the sail and securing it to the yard, reinforced holes called cringles are made.
Reinforcing the Seams
Once you’ve marked and measured the strips and cut them, you can sew them together with the help of a thick flat needle. For this step, you’ll need to lay a couple of strips overlapping for three centimeters. Before you sew up the complete seam, you’ll tack the seam first every fifty centimeters. Some sail makers also use double-sided tape for this step.
To sew the seams, you’ll use a straight stitch, stitching from point A to B. If you’re left-handed, you’ll work from left to right if you’re right-handed you’ll work from right to left. Use the sail maker’s bench with the strips laid out on the table to keep everything organized. Thread the needle and begin. You’ll want to keep the seam flat in front of you.
Once you’ve sewn up the seam on one side, you’ll use a flat stitch, turning over the sail to sew up the seam on the opposite side using the flat stitch.
The corners of the sail are reinforced using an extra sailcloth to create additional layers. Some sails have as many as six layers. These layers are sewn onto the sail using sail making thread.
Once the corners have been reinforced and the basic shape of the sail is ready, you can create a hem that measures a few centimeters all the way around the sail. This can be done by placing the sail flat on the floor. Next, fold the edges of the sail four centimeters, making a crease. You can force down the crease with the help of a wooden seam rubber.
Once the hem has been rubbed all the way around and creased you can sew up the hem using the flat stitch. In order to do this, use the bench and sailmaker’s palm in order to tension the work piece as you sew.
Sewing Through Multiple Layers
When sewing, use the needle and palm to push the needle through the cloth. You will also use the pliers to pull the needle through. For areas in which there are more than a couple of layers, use the awl to punch holes for the needle. Several layers of cloth on top of each other are pretty strong, which means you won’t be able to push the needle through the cloth by hand.
Next, you’ll use leech ropes to reinforce the stitches. For small sails, you’ll want to use thinner rope, while larger sails will require a thicker rope.
How to Make Cringles
You’ll need to make cringles before you sew up the leech ropes. These are rope grips and loops for the sheets, through which you’ll feed the ropes in order to allow you to easily handle the sail. You’ll use knot techniques to make the cringles. The cringles will be tied to the ropes before they’re sewn onto the sail.
At the top of the sail’s hem, you’ll make a series of holes called eyelets to run the ropes through. Each of the eyelets is then fitted with grommets. The grommets are tacked in place with the help of tack stitches.
Based on the type of sail you need additional strips may need to be sewn across the sail’s width in order to secure reefing lines. A knot should be tied at the end of the ropes on each side of the eyelet to keep the rope securely in place.
Sail Maintenance Tips
- Did you know that over time, leech flutter and flogging can actually degrade the sail’s performance? So the sails fill rather than flog, after hoisting the sails make sure you trim promptly and steer a course.
- Adjust the leech line correctly in order to avoid leech flutter. Make sure the line is tensioned correctly in order to prevent the flutter.
- Make sure you avoid any type of unnecessary contact between the standing rigging and the sails and never release the genoa sheet late in a tack.
- Always use sails in their designed wind ranges.
- Be sure to cover spreader ends in order to combat chafe. You should also make sure that there aren’t any exposed cotter pins, split pins, or sharp edges around the turnbuckles, lifelines, foredeck, and mast.
- The sail you make should have extra reinforcement in high chafe areas.
- Always limit sun exposure because UV rays can cause damage when the sails are exposed for an extended period of time.
- The sails should be rinsed with fresh water and thoroughly dried before storing in order to prevent color bleeding and mildew growth.
- Never fold the sails on the same fold lines. Doing so can create permanent creases.
- Never use bleach to clean your sails.
- Always patch up tears as soon as possible using a type of pressure sensitive adhesive
- Never use duct tape to repair your sail
- Before heading out, check hardware to ensure that they’re still attached securely to the sail.
- Seam stitching should also be check regularly to ensure no repairs are needed.
- Practice makes perfect. Don’t expect a pro quality sail your first time around. Sail making is a delicate process and a skill that you must hone over time.