Canvaswork bits & bobs.

I have been entertaining / vexing myself for the last week or two with a further foray into learning to sew boat-canvas projects.  This time, it was two projects for Lori and Trident; a propane canister bag in her Sunbrella color (forest green), and a lee-cloth made out of Phifertex, bordered with Sunbrella.  A lee-cloth is a sheet of fabric attached to the open side of a settee in the salon of a sailboat; the purpose of which is to keep a sleeping sailor in her berth, as opposed to flying across the salon during a rough passage.

We could have used one on the crossing from Florida to Texas back in February.  On that trip, Joe was thrown from the settee while asleep during his off-watch time and hit his face on the other side of the salon.   I’ve never seen nor used one, but Lori and I did a bit of prototyping last time I was down in Kemah and I came home with a sort of pattern.  Her settee is about 6 1/2 feet long by 20+ inches deep.  We agreed that a 4′ x 4′ finished dimension would work, with a field of Phifertex, bordered by about 3 1/2″ of Sunbrella on front and back.  Lori also asked for a run of Sunbrella up the middle, to give it a bit more structure when strung up, and a pocket for phone, glasses, headlamp, etc.   It will be anchored on the boards below the settee cushions and secured fore and aft above the cushions, by smallstuff tied to grommets.   Lori picked Phifertex because it is an open mesh vinyl fabric, to allow for airflow.  I found it to be a great fabric to work with.   I’ll be ordering some for my next project – new halyard bags for Nirvana.  Stay tuned.

And…. Voila! <<use your imagination to envision this lee-cloth being displayed against the settee of a sailboat, and not the couch in my living room>>  The pocket ended up a bit wonky, as I was running out of material, but it’ll work.

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If you’re not into sewing or canvaswork, you may want to stop reading now.  Because I will document here some of the things I learned working with Sunbrella using my valiant, but limited, Kenmore model 385 sewing machine – for no reason other than I would have loved to have known some of this ahead of time, as opposed to learning by trial and error.

  • A walking-foot sewing machine (which mine is not) is really the right tool for the job.  As it consistently pulls the fabric from above and below at the same time.  My home sewing machine only has traditional feed dogs below.  As a result, the stitches are rarely consistently spaced, due to variations in how fast/smoothly the fabric feeds under the needle.  An industrial sewing machine is designed to handle the fabric thickenesses I’ve been doing and much more, with much more ease and less pain and suffering (and swearing) and re-doing on the part of the operator.
  • Longer stitch lengths are desirable.  The max stitch length setting on my machine is 4… not sure exactly what that translates to, maybe 4 mm stitch length (?).  But whatever it is, it is not big enough.
  • My Kenmore, surprisingly, has handled everything I’ve thrown at it so far, the max of which was about 6 layers of Sunbrella and 1-2 layers of Phifertex.  Not bad.  I’m using a 110/18 needle with V-92 bonded polyester thread.  If you want beautiful and consistent topstiching, however, you’ll need to spring for a Sailrite or similar walking foot, industrial machine.
  • Pinning through several layers of Sunbrella requires fingertips of steel.  After watching a number of videos, I learned that the pros rarely use pins.  They use double-sided basting tape to hold surfaces of fabric together until they are stitched.   What a great thing!
  • My sewing machine is not rigged to use the ginormous spools of thread canvas work requires, they are too big to sit on the tiny pin on top of the machine for a normal spool of thread.  In addition, the thread has a habit of falling around the bottom of the spool, aka “pooling,” which can mess with your thread tension.  Instead, they need to sit at table level (or lower) and feed up above and then down to the machine.  I don’t know what this doohickey is called, but I’ve seen them on industrial machines, and made one of my own out of a wire clothes hanger, cutting and bending it to do my will.
  • Speaking of tension, whatever the max tension on my machine is, it was not enough for some stitching tasks.  I had to literally pinch the top thread in my right hand to add additional tension so that stitches didn’t loop on top of the fabric for one or two parts of my projects.  I found this to be the case, in particular, when topstitching the webbing that I used on top of the Sunbrella for the propane bag projects.  It didn’t happen when stitching just Sunbrella and/or Phifertex, thankfully.
  • Sunbrella doesn’t like to stay folded very well.  If you run the point of an awl along your fold line, though, it yields a bit more, helping to hold a hem until stitched.
  • A soapstone pencil (a common quilting notion) came in handy for marking Sunbrella.   It marks the fabric nicely, and easily erases with a damp cloth.   I found a #2 lead pencil and eraser worked great for marking the Phifertex.
  • Cutting Sunbrella can be a pain, because it frays.  The right tool for the job is an electric hot knife.  But I stuck it out using only my fabric shears, followed by an application of glue along all the cut edges to minimize fraying.  This took forever to apply and to dry.  Then I took the time to double turn all the hems, so no cut edge was exposed.   If I do much more of this, a hot knife is definitely in my future.

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I’ll stop there.  If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading!  I hope some of this helps a fellow newbie canvasworker.

Sewing project for the boat.

The grill on our boat uses propane, the kind in the little 1 lb green Coleman canisters.   We have been stowing them in one of our cockpit lazarettes.  However, that compartment is not made to hold and properly vent propane gas, which sinks.  That means if a canister were to leak, the gas would collect in the lowest point of the boat; the bilge, waiting for an errant spark to ignite it.   Not good.

You can purchase a storage bag to hang on the rail of a boat to hold a few propane canisters, allowing any leaked gas to dissipate in the air over the water.  Magma (a marine grill vendor) sells one for under $35 which holds 3 canisters.  But it only comes in black and royal blue.  Nirvana’s canvas is navy blue (Sunbrella marine canvas in the color called Captain Navy).   For that reason, and also because I’ve really been wanting to try to sew something made out of sunbrella with my 20+ year old Kenmore 385 sewing machine, I decided to make it instead of buying one.

Lori happened to have an old bag in need of repair that I could use as a pattern, which was really helpful.   I ordered a yard of 60″ wide Sunbrella from Amazon, several 110/18 sized sewing machine needles, some size 69 bonded UV-resistant polyester thread, a heavy duty zipper, and some nylon webbing and plastic buckles.

The prototype:

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You can’t see them in the above picture, but there is a brass grommet and hole in the middle of the bottom of the bag, under that loop in the strip of webbing that runs along the bottom.  It is intended to allow water out of the bag when it’s hanging, if it rains.   The loop, I assume, is to tie a downhaul to the bag when it is hanging, so that it doesn’t swing back and forth while you are underway.  I decided to make my bag with 3 loops, and 3 grommeted drain holes, one under each loop.

The pattern I made, and some notions.IMG_6027

The first step was to install the brass grommets (which you can’t see in this pic either, but they are under the black webbing running down the middle of the canvas in the picture below).  Next step: pin and topstitch the webbing onto the outside of the bag, allowing for loops and buckles to be sewn in as you go.

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The next step was to sew the zipper on, and then sew the other two seams.  And VOILA!IMG_6043

View of side zipper.IMG_6044

I’m so thrilled that it turned out, AND that my current sewing machine was able to do the job.  I will definitely plan a few more boat canvas projects.

*smiling a satisfied smile*  🙂