What Do I Need to Start Sailmaking & Sewing Sails?
If you're thinking about sewing your own sails, you've come to the right place! At Sailrite®, we sell everything you need to sew and repair sails for your boat. We carry an extensive inventory of sailcloth for sewing your own mainsails, jib sails, genoas, spinnakers, sacrificial sun covers, spreader patches and more. We're one of the sailing industry's most trusted and relied upon DIY sailing suppliers. So if you're thinking about getting into sailmaking and sail repair, this blog is going to explain which tools and supplies you need to become a self-reliant sailor.
Our company is founded on DIY and the idea that making it yourself not only saves money but also gives you an appreciation of sail construction and the design process. Plus, you get the added benefit and accomplishment of being a self-reliant sailor. We hear from a lot of our sailing customers that learning how to sew their own sails has helped them gain a better understanding not only of sail design and construction but of sailing in general. You can become an even better sailor by understanding how a sail is constructed.
Here are the most essential tools and supplies our sailing experts recommend for sailors who want to start sewing and repairing their own sails.
11 Must-Have Sailmaking Tools & Supplies:
Zigzag Stitch Sewing Machine
Let's start with the biggest investment in your sailmaking journey: a high-quality sewing machine. To sew sails, you need a sewing machine that's designed to handle multiple layers of sailcloth, webbing, vinyl window material and more. A sewing machine that can sew zigzag stitches is a must-have for sail construction. Sewing sails with a zigzag stitch is the preferred method as zigzag stitches distribute the strain across standard overlapping sail seams better than straight stitches. Zigzag stitching also contains the raw edge of a seam better given its wider sewing path.
We have two sewing machines that are designed for sailmaking and sail repair: the Professional Zigzag Sewing Machine and the Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 Sewing Machine. The biggest difference between these machines is that the Professional is an industrial, full-size machine and the Ultrafeed is a portable, heavy-duty machine. The other major difference is that the Ultrafeed sews a 2-point zigzag stitch while the Professional can sew both 2-point and 4-point zigzag stitches.
Sailrite offers two versions of the Professional. The long arm model features a 20-1/2-inch arm for easily accommodating large sails. The long arm is typically chosen by professional sailmakers and medium-sized sail shops. The Professional standard model has a 10-3/4-inch arm and is a great choice for sailmakers, small sail lofts and DIYers who want to sew or repair their own sails. The walking foot on both versions consists of wider-than-usual Inside and Outside Presser Feet. The wider feet allow for the impressive 10mm-wide 4-point zigzag stitch, a huge time-saving advantage when sewing large sails, as a 4-point zigzag effectively reduces the number of sewing passes needed.
The Ultrafeed LSZ-1 Sewing Machine sews in both straight and zigzag stitch and was specifically designed with sailors in mind. The Ultrafeed's all-metal internal components are robust and powerful. The machine's cast iron body is impeccably built to the highest standards, guaranteeing a machine that produces quality stitching for the lifetime of the machine. And best of all, the Ultrafeed is portable. You can sew sails at home or at the marina, and then take your machine on board for sail repair and patch jobs while at sea. Given the machine’s compact, portable size, we recommend it for general sailmaking for boats up to and around 35 feet in length.
To learn more about our two zigzag stitch machines, read our blogs “Why Choose the Professional Zigzag Industrial Sewing Machine?” (#300377XHT) and “Why Choose the Ultrafeed?” (#300330XHT). These detailed blogs will help you decide which machine is right for you and your sailmaking needs.
Spur Grommet Installation Tools
Spur grommets are reinforced holes placed in a sail, most often at corners, reef points and fastening attachment points. These reinforced holes are needed for attaching halyards, slugs, lacings, outhauls, sheets, reef points, brailing lines and more. To set a spur grommet in your sail, you need five items: a cutting mat, hole cutter and mallet to first cut the hole. Then you need your spur grommet components and die set to install the grommet.
The size of spur grommets and coordinating die set will vary depending on your sail. However, we recommend starting with #2 and #5 sizes. These are the grommet and die set sizes most often used for installing grommets in mainsails and genoa sails. Sailrite spur grommet die sets will last a lifetime with proper care and use. Our hole cutters are well built and of sturdy design to feel secure in your hand. Using a mallet hammer over a standard hammer is highly recommended as a standard metal hammer will damage the head of your hole cutter and requires more force than a mallet.
Sailrite® Edge Hotknife or Edge Cordless Hotknife
A hotknife is an essential sailmaking tool. A hotknife cuts and seals synthetic fabric, webbing and rope so your material will never unravel. Hotknives are required for sealing webbing ends, rope, sailcloth corners and more. Using a hotknife at sail corners melts the multiple layers of sailcloth together, keeping the assembly from separating at the edges and becoming ragged. Choose between the original Edge and Cordless version depending on whether you see yourself working on your boat or at the marina versus in a designated sail loft or workshop with available outlets.
Sailrite® Cutting Block & Die Holder
When cutting holes for grommets and eyelets, you need to protect your work surface with a cutting block. The Sailrite Cutting Block & Die Holder is a great choice. It features two cutting surfaces — a hard, durable plastic and resilient rubber cutting pad — so you can choose which is best for your particular application. Plus, its compact size makes it easy to store in a toolbox or on your boat.
Dacron® Non-Adhesive Backed Tape
Dacron tape is used to finish and protect raw edges of a sail and to repair rips and tears in mainsails, jib sails and genoas. Non-adhesive Dacron tape comes in either non-folded or pre-folded options. The pre-folded tape is folded in half down the length, which makes it easier to use on sailcloth edges. The tape is made from long strips of Dacron sailcloth cut with the grain so that there is very little stretch. We carry a selection of tape widths in both non-folded and pre-folded styles.
Hand Sewing Needles & Waxed Twine
Our Hand Sewing Needles by W. Smith & Son are the best sailmaker's needles on the market. They are forged from cast steel and feature triangular points and sharp edges that easily cut through thick layers of sailcloth. We sell assortment packs with a range of needle sizes for a variety of hand-sewing applications.
Waxed twine is essential for hand sewing sails. We have waxed twine in both round and flat constructions. The wax coating on the twine gives the material extra weather resistance, which is an added benefit for sailmaking. Using waxed twine (versus un-waxed twine) also reduces chafe during sewing. Flat twine constructions lie close to the sailcloth to minimize snagging.
Adjustable Sailmaker's Palm
Even if you own a sewing machine, there are certain areas on a sail that will require hand sewing. Sailmaker's palms are often used for rope work and sewing areas on your sail that are too thick for a sewing machine or areas where the machine can't reach. Another common use for palms is hand sewing a corner ring, which can often involve sewing through multiple layers of sailcloth and webbing.
Gingher® 8-Inch Scissors
A toolbox basic, every DIYer should have a pair of sharp, high-quality scissors. These are knife-edge scissors that will cut sailcloth like a dream. The sharp, precision-ground blades cut through multiple layers of fabric easily. The bent handle makes cutting on a table or on the ground very easy and comfortable. They work great on slippery nylon and Dacron® sailcloth.
Think of a scratch awl as an extra hand. You can use a mallet to punch it through fabric on an expendable surface to keep the fabric assembly in place. A scratch awl is also used to pre-punch holes in a thick sail assembly for hand sewing. It's extremely difficult and possibly dangerous to push a needle through thick sailcloth assemblies without pre-punching holes first. This is necessary for brass ring or eyelet installations in sail corners.
Seam Ripper Deluxe
Needing to rip out stitches is an inevitable part of the sewing process. Whether you have to correct a mistake, replace a vinyl window, remove a sail patch or more, you'll need a quality seam ripper. The Seam Ripper Deluxe is a small but mighty tool. Use it to rip open several feet of zigzag stitches in just seconds! This seam ripper features a very narrow beak and a protective ball on the hook to help prevent cutting the sailcloth. The flat handle prevents the tool from rolling away and the clear cap keeps both the sharp end and your hand protected.
Other Sailmaking & Sail Repair Supplies
In addition to the recommended tools and supplies listed above, you'll need a variety of other materials to sew and repair sails. Sailcloth, thread, vinyl window material and pieces specific to certain sail types (slugs, slides, shackles, headboards, etc.) are all things that you'll want to order on a project-by-project basis. The list of items below are all things you should always keep on hand for your next sail project.
Materials to Keep on Hand:
- UV treated polyester thread
- Various basting tapes depending on fabric type and project (Refer to our blog "Which Basting Tape Do I Use for My Project?" (#300456XHT) to help you choose the right type.)
- Tear-Aid® Repair Kit Type A (#83211 — for Dacron® and nylon sails)
- Repair Tape Dacron® (#2353)
- Sailmaker's leather
Did you know that Sailrite got its start in 1969 by only selling sail kits and instructions? Needless to say, we know a thing or two about sailing and sailmaking. And we’re happy to pass on our decades of knowledge and experience to our customers. We hope this comprehensive list has answered some of your questions and has helped you determine what tools and supplies you’ll need to order. If you have any questions or need advice on sewing sails, don’t hesitate to contact us. You can post a comment below, call or email us. We’re always happy to help a fellow sailor!