Cotton cloth for first sail?

by Jim Anderson
(Aiken, SC)

I'm intending to make my own sails, and am currently reading The Sailmaker's Apprentice with an eye to practicing the techniques involved.

For my first attempt, I was thinking of using cotton cloth, since it has the reputation of being easier to work with than Dacron (though much more stretchy).

Once I have a bit of practice, I'm quite willing to buy some Dacron sailcloth to make my second (improved) set of sails.

My boat will be a 12 foot dinghy, constructed of 1/4 and 3/8 ply, and sprit-rigged.

I would only hope to get one season of sailing from my initial sails, then apply what I've learned in order to build a second set over the winter.

I know that cloth of around 4 oz weight would be best, but I can only find canvas in 7 oz and heavier.

What cotton fabric would you all recommend?

Or should I just go straight to 4 oz Dacron?

Thanks for any advice you might provide!


Comments for Cotton cloth for first sail?

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learning sailcloth
by: Emiliano Marino

Ahoy! You could go straight to 3.8 oz dacron, but you could practice with Tyvek, a poly tarp, hardware store painter's drop cloth or cut your sprits'l out of a used sail.

Alternatively, there's hemp fabric available and light untreated cotton; neither of which are intended for sails but can be made to work.... and you'd learn a lot.

Good luck... you can reach me through The Artful Sailor at

by: Al D

Tyvek house wrap has been used for sails.

Cheap and readily available from the home improvement big box store.

Can be stitched or taped. Easy peasey.

Cotton Cloth for first Sail
by: Cal

Here’s a hint for you, we made all our first sails at home, cotton rots linen is your best choice.

You can get it from china and you got to get yourself an awl, it’s like a little sewing machine, look it up there cheap, (handy stitch) always had that in my kit.

Silk thread was a way to go, strong as steel and you can pick it up from surplus para shoot real cheap.

The litter the sail the better canvas, just two much weight, at one-time flax was used but today it for food.

I have a roll of flax it’s about two hundred years old and the wheel it was spun on from Sweden, the Vikings used it for sails, strong and lasts for ever but like I said linen or silk and have fun.


I could go on, the best linen Egypt, Lebanon it’s like a carpet the count of thread count is its strength, hemp and sisal stronger than steal, better then carbon fiber.

Think aba sail awaya

by: Mike

It’s surprising how well duct tape sticks to poly tarp but it can also be glued then sewn.

And it’s cheap.

Poly Tarp?
by: Jim

Thanks for the suggestion! I had considered poly tarp, but I wasn't sure if it could be sewed conventionally.

Usually I see where people just tape it into shape.

If it can be taped much like cotton or Dacron, I will add it to my short list of candidates, though.


Poly Tarp?
by: Mike

Many years ago I built an 8ft dinghy rigged with a sprit sail made from Poly Tarp.

Worked a treat.

Like you, I wanted to make my own but never having done it before didn’t want to waste expensive cloth.

It worked a treat, lasted most of the season before it started to fray but was still good enough to act as a template for a Dacron one.

And it was good practice trying to sew slippery material on a machine, new Dacron is very slippery.

No reason why you couldn’t do the same with cotton.

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