Summer Dance didn’t have much in the way of canvaswork when we bought her: the original mainsail cover and an old outboard engine cover that also looked pretty ghetto. Besides being 1980’s brown in color, the canvas of the mainsail cover was faded and shredded in places, much of the stitching had disintegrated, and the zipper had come almost completely loose. It was unsalvageable but it did work as a pattern to sew a new cover out of Sunbrella, the gold standard of marine canvas.
The mainsail cover was my first canvas sewing project. I used it to get the feel of working with canvas and to practice sewing with our standard New Home sewing machine. If you already have a home sewing machine, it will probably work okay for up to several layers of canvas, depending on the thickness. Four yards of canvas was more than enough for me to make a 10′ mainsail cover and a new outboard engine cover with remnants left over for smaller projects. I ordered the canvas from SailRite along with the thread, front zipper, hook and loop fastener tape around the mast, and twist fasteners for under the boom.
I took the old cover apart at the seams, laid out the parts on the new canvas, and traced around them with a soapstone pencil, also from SailRite. I cut the parts out with scissors but later, when I made the cabin cushion covers, I discovered how much better a hotknife works for cutting synthetic marine canvas like Sunbrella. Instead of the edges unravelling, they fuse solid. That not only makes them easier to work with and prevents getting pieces of thread everywhere, it also ensures that they won’t come loose after years of use and abuse. Rather than buy an expensive industrial hotknife, I made my own hotknife solution.
The rest of this project was simply sewing it together the same as the old cover and installing the twist fasteners and the end tie. SailRite has plenty of how-to videos on all of the necessary steps including a video on making a mainsail cover from start to finish using one of their kits. If you don’t have an old cover to use as a pattern, I recommend a kit. I purchased one for a foredeck sail bag.
The only other thing you will need is practice at making long, straight, consistent seams and sewing around corners through numerous layers of canvas. A magnetic sewing guide really helps out. Rather than buy one, I made my own out of a scrap of hardwood and a couple of rare earth magnets. I also highly recommend using Seamstick to hold the pieces together as you sew. It helps a lot too.
The mainsail cover project only took a leisurely evening to make and it turned out great. It’s tough, too. Mine was put to an extreme test during the freak storm that heavily damaged Summer Dance. The mainsail cover came through with no significant damage and it protected our mainsail from certain destruction.
Gentlemen, start your sewing machines!
Give making your own canvas gear a try. And for the guys out there, don’t fall for the stereotype excuse that men don’t sew. Plenty of sail makers are men and they perfected their chops on projects like this. When you juice it down, it’s about plans, materials, fasteners, and power tools; all things that DIY guys (and gals) like. Even if you’re all thumbs when it comes to pointy needles, this is a project that you can do together with your first mate or friendly seamstress.
If you’re like me, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is and go on to make other projects like an outboard engine cover, cabin cushion covers, crib board storage bag, lifeline cushions, foredeck sail bag, bimini cover, tiller cover, winch covers, and more. For some truly ingenious canvaswork ideas, check out Don Casey’s 100 Fast and Easy Boat Improvements.
If you like this project, then you’ll really like my ebook Do-It-Yourself Small Sailboat Canvaswork. It contains a dimensioned drawing for this project and eight more canvaswork projects as well, all for only $20 USD. Click the picture at right to order your copy for immediate download and get started today!
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