The making of sails for boats and other vessels, with specific reference to the hand-stitching of the rope around the edges of the sail.
|Historic area of significance||UK (coastal regions)|
|Area currently practised||UK (coastal regions)|
|Origin in the UK|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||21-50 (See ‘Other information’ section for more details)|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees||11-20|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required|
Techniques include ‘lofting’ on a floor with strings and battens, creating broadseaming and edge curves to make a controlled aerofoil shape in the sail, then buildin it using both machine and hand sewing.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Technology: Sail panels have been sewn together with machines for 150 years. The majority of hand-sewing involves the edging and other details on the sails. Even where the sails are sewn by hand machines or by hand the design is usually computer-produced and sent to a computerised cutting machine. The parts come back as a jigsaw to be sewn in whatever way is decided. Apart from individuals making the odd sail, there are no firms dedicated to hand-made sails.
Market issues: Many people would like to have sails made traditionally, but very few are willing to pay the price of someone working eight hours a day hand-sewing. The exception might be a restoration project financed by public or charitable funds. The future will depend on builders and restorers of traditional boats being willing to spend the extra money for authenticity.
Training and skills issues: There are still people able to make sails by hand, but they are not being replaced as they retire. There is virtually no training, although some traditional sail making is taught as part of boatbuilding courses, usually by visiting tutors. A young person wanting to start in traditional sail making would need to join a mechanised firm that might have a branch doing traditional work, or find one of the few ‘old boys’ who still know the craft.
- Association of British Sailmakers
Craftspeople currently known
- Ratsey & Lapthorn, Isle of Wight
- Chris Spencer Chapman
Status: Traditional sail making is considered to be vulnerable. While the numbers are relatively small (opinions differ as to whether there are 11-20 or 21-50 skilled craftspeople), there are a reasonable number doing it and while craftspeople may not be in their 20s, not everyone is over the age of 60.
The Maritime Studies Department at Orkney College in the Orkney Islands, Scotland runs a traditional sail making course. The course features traditional handwork, sewn eyelets and cringles, working with both traditional canvas and modern sailcloth. Course leader Mark Shiner is in discussion with the current sail making industry about a national qualification for new-start sailmakers.
Modern industrial sail making employs will over 100 people.