Sewing Machines and Sails

The last couple of weeks have found me obsessed with sailing again. Perhaps it’s the insanely cold weather we’ve been having. Cabin fever mixed with a healthy lust for summer days and daydreams of warm breezes on my skin… Yes, that would explain it nicely.

At any rate, I’ve been trying to find things to work on until the snow melts. The sail was the first thing that came to mind. It is also one part of the project I’ve been least looking forward to. Maybe it’s the fear of screwing it up, or over-complicating it in my mind. To alleviate those concerns, I’ve spent a LOT of time milling over articles about sail design at the Puddle Duck Racer website, as well as the nice instructions over at PolySail International

I’d decided on a Bolger 59 (aka: Leg o’ Mutton) a long time ago. It’s an extremely popular sail for Puddle Ducks for a number of reasons; a nice high spirit boom and ease of construction being towards the top of that list. Getting down to design, I started by plotting out the rough shape on some graph paper.


What I ended up finding out, was that I should have enough poly tarp to make TWO sails from that one sheet. Not a bad thing to discover if one is as cost conscious as I am! Something I need to keep in mind before cutting, is that the sail only has ONE straight edge: the leech. Both the luff and the foot have a slight curve to them to shape the sail. Meaning the layout on the bottom will need to be shuffled around with the leech edges along the length of the tarp.


Most of the supplies I need to make the sails are here now, after a hefty order to Amazon. I might get a sail kit for PolySail next time around. We’ll see how these sails turn out first. (Why yes, I am planning to build a second PDR!)

After a couple email exchanges with Shorty (from the PDR site) and Dave at PolySail about the sewing the sails vs only taping them, I settled on sewing. That meant making sure the sewing machine was ready for the task. I quickly discovered that my machine, while capable of zig zag stitching, simply was not. Adjusting the stitch width would move the needle laterally, but it would still only make straight stitches.

Frustrating… I popped the cover and then spent about 20 minutes with the manual going over every oil point in the machine from top to bottom. There was a considerable improvement in the smoothness in the machine’s operation, but still no zig zag stitch. I’d resigned myself to taking it to a shop but continued doing some research online. Most people with similar problems seemed to fix it by going over every linkage and making sure nothing was binding. No point in taking it to a shop to do that, so joint by joint I traced all the movement to an actuator that was gummed up with lint and oil. A bit of oil and wiggling and voila, the needle is now dancing side to side. Time for a test!

I've seen worse, I think...

I’ve seen worse, I think…

Wonder how the back looks?

OH, NO...


At this point it was getting late, and far more progress had been made than expected, so I left the nasty stitches for tomorrow. A new day and some further research into thread tension settings and I came up with this beauty:

Hey! That's looking better!

Hey! That’s looking better!

I set the tension to 3, and toyed a bit with the stitch length control and came up with that. Here’s the back:


YES! No birds nests, all the stitches look clean and even… I think we’re ready for the real thing. Just waiting for my V-69 thread, and I’ll get to cutting the sails. More updates to follow!

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