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Old 03-05-2014, 08:07   #1
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Sewing Your Own Awnings

Ok - so last August we moved aboard our ketch (a 1937 Rhodes). We have spent the intervening months getting systems running, and just generally ok for living aboard, and now I'm ready to address the awnings. We have a set which are minimal, in terms of coverage, and we would like to have the awning be wide enough so that the drip line is outside of the cockpit combing.

Here's where we're at: My husband has always wanted a Sail Rite sewing machine, and has always wanted us (which probably means me) to do our canvas work. I've done my share of slipcovers, so I can sew, but it isn't my favorite way to spend time.

However, after getting two quotes to have a marine canvas shop do the project (the first quote seemed like highway robbery at $4500, and then the second quote put me over the edge when it came in at $6900), I'm ready to concede that we can make a series of long rectangles with pockets for battens. Obviously, I know there will be more to this project than that, but I'm feeling just a bit sarcastic after these quotes.

So here are my questions: Is the Sail Rite sewing machine the way to go, and if so, which model? I had one of the canvas shops say that the machines weren't any different than a Singer you can buy at a K-Mart (literal quote), and I would doubt him, but then I went online to You Tube to see if there were any tutorials on sewing your own boat awnings, and the guy at canvas works said, essentially, the same thing (although he didn't reference Sail Rite specifically).

Next question: has anyone made an awning (our plan is one in 3 sections - the boat is 47' long, 11"9' at the widest). I can do this in stages, but I'm curious if anyone's done this and has any suggestions (like, it's totally worth the $4500 to have someone else do it?).

I would appreciate any and all feedback. I may still end up buying a sewing machine, just so that my husband can get this out of his system, but just use it for other projects lol!

Thanks in advance for the input!

Jen Hagemann
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Old 03-05-2014, 11:25   #2
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Re: Sewing your own awnings

I think having a zig sag stitch would be nice. I use a very old singer straight stitch that cost about 100 dollars. It gets through multiple layers. Haven't used a sail rite. Any commercial grade machine should be fine. The sail rite us a nice package and people like them. If I had a extra 600 bucks I might think about one. If your budget it tight you could probably do a Bimini with just about any heavy sewing machine.

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Old 03-05-2014, 13:09   #3
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Re: Sewing your own awnings

Don't have to read the entire post to answer this one. If you have tons of room, a fixed sewing table, are going to so lots of sails and a huge budget go for the Longarm ... but, like most of us that's not what we're doing.
You won't go wrong or be disappointed with the Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1. I bought mine used a year or so ago. I can mend and alter clothes as well as re-stitch an entire sail. My last project was to add re-enforing straps to an old sail. The head and tack with double straps just fit under the foot. We're talking 3/8" thick with sail cloth and strap. Machine sounded like it was punching through a tin can but it did the job without missing a stitch. My last project was a lifting strap for my 500 lb engine to be craned into the boat.
Guess you could say I love my Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1.
I bought a LH zipper foot ... next project is a new bolt rope in the jib.
Lowell - s/v Chasing Summer - Spencer 42/hull 17 ... happy sailing
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Old 03-05-2014, 13:34   #4
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Re: Sewing your own awnings

There are lots of sewing machines on eBay for less than $100. You might just try one of them and see how it goes. Just try to avoid too many layers of cloth.
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Old 03-05-2014, 14:29   #5

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Re: Sewing your own awnings

I do canvas for a living. One issue you will encounter with the sailrite for the project you have at hand is throat depth. Stuffing full 60" of canvas through a small hole like the sailrite is like wrestling a bear for hours. it can be rolled up and a slide made, you will still feel it after a couple of hours. A sewing machine isnt the only thing you will need. A press n snap is worth the investment at $139. Sunbrella is retailing at around $25 a yard or so. Take some off if you can find a wholesaler to set up a trade account. Ptfe thread is a must if you plan on keeping your boat longer than 3-4 years. The thread goes for around $90 for an 8oz spool. What kind of construction method are you planning on? I tried 3 methods for my awning before I landed where I am. Im using heavy fibeglass battens that measure 1/4"x1 3/4"x 8'. I found these hold their shape in high winds. The lighter ones would bend weird and turn into a sail that would drag an anchor and one time even pushed a piling over I was against. The ends must be reinforced with multiple layers as the battens work against the material when the bows are bent. The bows go away when a hole is worn thru. A grommet tool will be required. A hammer and punch can be used with the proper dies for the press n snap. Use seaming tape to hold the long seams together while stitching. This makes full flat felled seams less of a chore and adds waterproofing, but will gum up your bobbin case and hook they will require periodic cleaning.

I have done canvas for some people who did it theirselves the first time and did a wonderful job. One person in particular told me he saved thousands, but when he figured out how much time he had into it it was worth it to hire me to restitch his canvas and recover some cushions.

Add up the cost of the tools, the sundries the fabric, then subtract the total from the lowest bid you got. Take how much time you think it will take, then triple it. Then see how much your getting paid per hr for the canvas work your going to do. You might be surprised. This weekend I made about $5 an hr doing a somewhat complicated seat I put a price on. This included multiple trips to the hardware store because I got mixed thread t nuts out of a bin and had to tear the seat apart once it was stapled together and replace half of them. Believe me, there arent any millionaire canvas workers out there, even as steep as the price seems sometimes.
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Old 03-05-2014, 14:44   #6

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Re: Sewing your own awnings

[QUOTE=I can mend and alter clothes as well as re-stitch an entire sail. .[/QUOTE]

REALLY?? I would love to see you fit half of a cruising sail from a 42' boat through the throat of a sailrite tabletop machine. My machine has a 10.5" throat and I wouldnt sew the body of a cruising sail for $100 an hour.

The sailrite you mentioned has a 7"x4.5" throat. My machine is double that in sq inches. I wanna see half a sail fit thru that tiny hole.
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Old 03-05-2014, 14:53   #7
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Re: Sewing your own awnings

We did our own cushions, awning and dodger on an old J.C. Penny machine we picked up at a yard sale for $10. The previous posters who talk about the difficulty getting all that fabric through the short arm are spot on.

But, if you want to save some cash, have the satisfaction of doing it yourself, and don't get upset about ripping out and resewing seams it can be done.

We really like the double sided seam tape we bought from sail-rite. It made it easier getting those long seams done, while "wrestling the bear".
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Old 03-05-2014, 15:19   #8
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Re: Sewing your own awnings

My wife had a LSZ 1 machine and loved it. It is tough to get a full roll of canvas through the throat, but do-able. What Sail-Rite gets a lot of credit for is customer service, and the effort they make to produce videos to help you do learn to do many projects. I have the machine, and this summer I will attempt to sew some boat projects, hoping to learn enough to sew enclosure panels for the cockpit, and a binnacle cover.
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Old 03-05-2014, 15:29   #9
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Re: Sewing your own awnings

We brought a Sailrite LZ1 and a couple of kits (Wheel cover and sail cover).

It wasn't that hard. Took a few hours on each and it was a bit of a struggle but we just followed the video and the instructions and (I think) both turned out pretty well. The saving over the commercial product pretty well covered the cost of the machine, and the sail cover fits better than many of the professionally made ones.

However I will admit that the machine has sat unused since then. We could sell it but there are a ton of other projects that need doing.

As far as using a second hand machine it would be hard to find one that is good enough. The Sailrite is a heavy duty machine with first class parts and service backing. Many sewing machines have plastic gears and I can't imagine those lasting. Good quality machines are highly prized - just try to buy a second hand Sailrite!
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Old 03-05-2014, 15:36   #10
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Re: Sewing your own awnings

I've used my cheap K-mart sewing machine (fitted 100 size needles and used heavy duty polyester upholstery thread) for re-sewing the weather strip on my genoa, as well as awnings for the cockpit, upholstery, sail covers and for repairing clothes as well. But if you have the patience to search out a long arm heavy duty walking foot machine second hand, it will enable a few jobs that simply cant be crammed through a domestic machine, in particular any sail repairs on anything other than the edge of the sail. On the other hand, if you find a good sail loft they'll do repairs cheaply enough to make the investment in a big sewing machine a bit superfluous. My latest project is putting leather upholstery in the main cabin, and i'm finding the little k-mart special huffs and puffs its way through double leather seams without catching fire - yet...
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Old 03-05-2014, 16:10   #11
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Re: Sewing your own awnings


We have made a number of different awnings over the years. Here's a few more ideas while you're thinking about things: in no particular order

1) If you line the batten pockets with sail cloth scraps, they don't chafe through.

2) You don't need to be able to set grommets unless you want to, as you can make sewn loops. They don't look quite as nice, but this is for an awning, not a ball gown. We can set grommets, and I like being able to do it.

3) You can make sail covers, downwind rain awnings , awnings, jerry jug covers, winch covers, windlass covers, all with a home sewing machine. At some point, you're going to try to do something too thick and break a needle and have to handsew through many layers, but it is all doable. My machine is a Pfaff 130 that belonged to my Mom when she sewed for me while I was growing up. It's wearing out, but that's another story.

4) When you design your awning, consider how you will reef it or get it down in a blow. Also, for the bow section, consider the need to sometimes get to the windlass in a hurry. The overall design for the bow should include how someone in a hurry can get there. Trial and error may find you using rather heavy bungee for strength, because it is quick release; others prefer rope ties.

5} You might consider WeatherMax over sunbrella, costs about half, but only guaranteed half as long. I find it even easier to work with, FWIW. Be aware, sunbrella will require waterproofing after 4 years in the tropics. If it's only for shade, this doesn't matter, and if you're going to use the awning to catch water, you can retro-fit them if you don't design them in.

It is all extremely doable, but if you don't want to sew them, that's a whole different ball game. Boy people can sew, too, so maybe on your boat sewing will be a blue job. In which case, let him choose the sewing machine.

Ann & Jim, U.S. s/v Insatiable II, SE Qld, for a while
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Old 03-05-2014, 16:15   #12
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Re: Sewing your own awnings

We've had an LTZ -1 for a few years....after doing the math on a total canvas job, it was a no-brainer. Good advice on doubleback tape (basting) for longish seams. HeHe after the first time, you'll be a pro the second...cheers, stonefloat
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Old 03-05-2014, 16:23   #13
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Re: Sewing your own awnings

I have a couple of home machines that I tried using for boat canvas in the early years but I promise you, unless it is an extremely heavy duty machine you will be constantly breaking needles and getting the machine adjusted. I spent so much money on adjustments (if you jam it bad enough to break a needle it WILL need to be adjusted after) it would have paid for a new machine.

It didn't take long for me to tire of shelling out money to the sewing machine repair guy so I broke down and bought a Sailrite, the cheapest model LS-1, and it was the best investment ever. My husband and I have done several boat rebuilds and I have done upholstery and canvas for 4 previous boats and I am now working on my 5th. I have not tried any huge pieces like sails or boat complete covers, but for cushions, sail/tiller/winch/cockpit covers, bimini covers, dodgers, and the like, the machine I have is perfect. I have also used it to make bags, duffels, and the like. I don't have zigzag, but I manage to get done whatever I need to do without it. It's a solid heavy machine. Nothing elegant or complicated about it, it's just a simple workhorse.
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Old 03-05-2014, 17:17   #14
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Re: Sewing your own awnings

I would scrap the canvas all together and build a hard top and your done forever and it increases the value of your boat.



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Old 03-05-2014, 18:17   #15
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Re: Sewing your own awnings

Anne hit the nail on the head about being able to reef your awning. I sewed the awnings for my first 2 cruising boats on an old Singer Featherweight, plastic gears and all. The first one I did, I hand sewed a bolt rope all of the way around and up the center. The next boat, I didnt bother with that. These were backstay to mast, awnings, and I put the ring for the center support just far enough forward to be in front of the dodger so that I could reef it down, and have it just lay across the front/top of the dodger. I also sewed in Donkey Di#%s for water catching. They were a tube sewn tightly around a piece of flexible plastic water hose, with a piece of small line sewn so that you could cinch down on the hose when you slipped it in. You dont want to sew in plastic funnels, tank adapters, or anything hard that can hit you in the head if the awning is flapping. When you were not catching water, you pushed the cloth Donkey Di#% up/ inside out, so that water didnt run into the cockpit. I also sewed weather cloths all around the cockpit, wind scoops, dodgers for both boats, a drifter for the first boat, windlass covers for both boats, and other small things. After many years service, the plastic gears let go, and I junked it. I must admit that I did all of that work at my home, or in a boat yard. I never carried the machine on any of my boats, since I have never had 110 volt onboard. I would love to have a Sailright, but not at $600. ______Grant.

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