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repairing sails

Discussion in 'Canoe Sailing' started by abhraxas, Jun 14, 2006.

  1. abhraxas

    abhraxas LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Does anyone have any tips/advice on the repair of an old lanteen sail. The fabric is in generally good condition but with a few holes that could enlarge with use.
  2. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    You can just sew on a patch using dacron sail cloth or cotton bed sheet material. There are sail repair tapes in various colors available from most marine suppliers but this is not a long term solution. I have even seen silver duct tape used with limited success. New sails are usually not very expensive if a patch or tape doesn't work out.

  3. Todd Bradshaw

    Todd Bradshaw Sailmaker

    Duct tape on sails? Sure, and if you have any cracked ribs in your canoe the best fix is a big, thick blob of fiberglass and epoxy resin...

    When a sail that's been duct taped comes in for a proper repair I either have to cut out every bit of the taped area because the goo it leaves behind gums up the sewing machine, or sew over it and then take about three more hours to disassemble, clean and then re-time the machine. And guess what?...I'm not paying for that extra are! Duct tape has no place on a sail for any reason.

    If it's a cotton sail, all holes should be patched with similar fabric. The edges of the patch should be folded under and the patch should be sewn down (straight stitch or zig-zag, 8-10 stitches per inch, most home sewing machines work fine) around it's edges. You can either put a patch on both sides, patch one side and then sew the area around the rip or hole to the newly installed patch or cut out the hole and hem the edges. Your patches should generally be an inch or two bigger than the hole.

    For Dacron or other synthetic sails, small rips and holes up to an inch or so can be permanently patched with a patch of peel and stick, Dacron Insignia Fabric on both sides of the sail. (the easiest place to find Insignia Dacron is probably - punch-in item code #945 if this link doesn't work){40CA5348-3B75-43C7-BDC8-19EB9145D6AEVEREST8}&ic=945&eq=&Tp=

    You can actually fix pretty big holes this way, but once your patches get much over about 6" long, it's a good idea to sew them down around their edges (use a zig-zag stitch, about as big as your home machine will make, right along the patch edges).

    You can also patch using regular 4 oz. Dacron sailcloth (not peel and stick stuff). For best results buy a roll of sailmaker's double-stick seaming tape (Sailrite has it - item #20307 would work fine) and run a line of it around the edges of the patch fabric to hold the patch in position, then sew it down (zig-zag) around it's edges. You don't fold the edges of Dacron patches under. Just cut them neatly, stick them down and sew with a couple rows of stitching.

    General tips:

    On any fabric - line up the weave of the new patch fabric with the weave of the original fabric. Otherwise, your patches may distort the sail's shape. A properly patched area shouldn't make a bump or distorted area on the sail.

    Some areas of the sail get higher stress in use than others. Sticky-back patches may need to be sewn down (even small ones) if the hole happens to cross seams or is in one of these high stress areas.

    If you are cutting out old, torn fabric and patching the area, you always patch first and then cut out the bad stuff. That way, there is far less chance of distorting the sail's shape in the patched area. Cutting out a big hole first and then trying to fill it without making a bump, hump or lump in the sail is pretty hard to do, so avoid it.
  4. OP

    abhraxas LOVES Wooden Canoes

    sail repair

    Thanks, Todd. This is an Old Town sailing rig, dating from the 20's or 30's as far as we can tell and it appears to be cotton. I will try to patch it with the similar fabric- any idea what weight of cotton that would be?
  5. Todd Bradshaw

    Todd Bradshaw Sailmaker

    Most of the light cotton sails were Egyptian cotton in the 4-5 oz range. The deal with Egyptian cotton is that the raw fibers are quite long. This allows it to be spun into thinner yarns than regular cotton and this in turn allows weavers to make finer, stronger, more tightly woven fabric - better for making sails. Because of these finer yarns, these high quality fabrics will have a very high thread count per square inch (or whatever dimension they use for a measurement standard). They are so tightly woven that they have a little bit of sheen to the surface when compared to typical light cottons used in clothing.

    You can try the fabric stores, but the chances of finding something really high quality are generally not very good. For repair fabric, the best bet is to try a place like Bed, Bath and Beyond - where they sell high thread-count, real Egyptian cotton sheets, pillow cases, etc. It seems to be about the only common source these days for the really good stuff. They aren't cheap, but you can make a lot of small sail patches out of a pillow case and they tend to have a lot of subtle colors that might match the aged cotton color of the old sail reasonably well.

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