Sunday, April 2, 2017

Our First Sewing Project - 18 Months in the Making

After our first year of Cruising, Gary decided we would buy a sewing machine and start making “useful things” for the boat.  The first project he had in mind was replacing our ageing stack pack (the bag that holds the main sail on the boom and protects it from UV).  I thought this was kind of ambitious for people who’d never touched a sewing machine before, but agreed we should give it a try.
So much material... so little space


First things first.  We needed a sewing machine.  And not just any machine, but one that would sew sail cloth and multiple layers of heavy duty canvas material.  As you can imagine, there aren’t very many machines that fit the bill.  While most Cruisers spend the big bucks and buy a Sailrite machine, Gary didn’t want to spend the mucho dinero required to purchase one (they almost never come up for sale second hand, and if they do, they are sold instantly).  Instead, he began scouring all the sewing shops in Vancouver for the right machine.  It turns out that shopping for a sewing machine as a man has its challenges.  In every store we went into the sales staff would immediately try to talk to me, not him!  I’d stare at them blankly and then Gary would start talking the sewing machine lingo, saying things like “does it have a pressure foot?” and the sales staff’s eyes would widen in shock...  It was an entertaining time.   

After much searching, he settled on a 1940’s vintage German-made Pfaff 130.  She is a beauty – black and sleek, but obviously likes her beer and bratwursts, as she is a hefty one.  I can barely lift her.  Even though she was built in the 40’s she came with an electric foot pedal.  We thought this was great until Gary used it for the first time and it started to smoke in our living room... So, his first task in his new career as a ‘sewing machine repair man’ was to re-wire the foot pedal. 
Making fasteners

Gary then spent the summer searching the internet and buying all the materials we’d need to build our stack pack.  Even though we didn’t buy a Sailrite machine, we spent many dineros buying all the bits and pieces from them that would be required to complete the project.  There were zippers, fasteners, the material itself, the instruction manual, basting tape, pins, needles for the machine, velcro, webbing, the list went on and on.  We bundled everything into boxes and drove it down to the boat in Mexico.

November 2015:  The project began.  We used one of the big empty rooms at the Marina Fonatur in Guaymas to spread the material and cut out the pattern following the directions in the Sailrite “how to make a stack pack” manual.  We measured, basted, and cut.  Then we started to sew.  And sew she did!  In fact, she sewed so fast that you couldn’t feed the material into the machine fast enough!  Since we were dealing with 18 foot long pieces of material (and doing the sewing in the salon area of our boat), this was a problem.  It didn’t matter what Gary tried, the speed was either dead slow (hand cranking the wheel) or lightening fast.  It turns out Gary is like my mother and you don’t want to be near him when he has a sewing machine in front of him. Needless to say, I started to question whether we should have just had a canvas maker make the stack pack for us...Nevertheless, he persevered and managed to get about half way through the project by the end of the season. 

Summer 2016:  Over the winter Gary had investigated ways to make the machine run slower (ie, in control!).  A friend of ours had a similar problem and had added an extra gear to the machine.  We got the name of the guy who did the work and Gary contacted him when we got back to BC.  The guy was based in Duncan, so Gary put the sewing machine in a rolly suitcase and wheeled it onto the ferry and over to the island.  He borrowed my parents car and delivered it to the shop.  The guy added the extra gear, and it worked like a charm.

Winter 2017:  It look us a while to get back to the project this year.  We spent a day in Guaymas in November cutting out the final pieces we needed, but now we were down to the hard part.  Joining the 2 pieces together (of course we didn’t end up following the pattern), fitting it to the sail, and adding all the bits and pieces required to attach it to the boom.  The priority of the project increased in January when the old stack pack finally blew apart in spectacular fashion.  So in early March we decided the job had to get finished.
Adding the fiddly bits


We pulled out the machine and tried the sew the first seam, only to discover that the machine had completely seized up over the season and wouldn’t move!  Gary reprised his role as ‘sewing machine repair man’ and spent a day taking it apart, oiling everything and then putting it back together.  Miraculously, it worked!

We then got sidetracked with things like sailing north, but finally managed to get back to the project this week.  It took us a day to join the critical front and back pieces together (I was quite proud of us at the end of that), and then it took us a day to mock up how it would fit on the boom.  We took final measurements, and spent 9 hours on Friday doing all the fiddly bits.  Gary doesn’t do well with fiddly things, so I ended up helping on the machine (usually he doesn’t let me touch his baby).  By 6pm it was done.

Doesn't this look like fun?
Now the install.  Conditions weren’t exactly conducive to trying to do anything on deck, but we both just wanted to get it done.  The south wind was howling in the anchorage and it took 2 of us to stop the stack pack from being blown overboard.  Gary then broke 2 drill bits and 4 screws trying to install 2 fasteners on the end of the boom...  While we battled with the cover, Sea Rover waltzed all over the La Paz anchorage as the tide changed and the wind started to fight against the current.  Finally, well after the sun had said goodnight, the install was complete. 


It looks pretty good if I do say so myself, especially for 2 newbies who really didn’t know what they were doing.  There are still a few tweaks to make, but we’ll live with it for the rest of the season and make some changes next year. 



The finished product
For the first time ever we are a fully colour coordinated boat, as our bimini, genoa UV strip and stack pack are all grey to match our decks.  I made the mistake of pointing out that all the fenders that hang off the back of the boat are still blue...and I think that planted the seed in Gary’s mind as to our next sewing project – grey fender covers!   Aaagggghhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

3 comments:

  1. Well done guys. So when are you starting to do dinghy chaps?
    Mags and Gord, s/v Kanilela

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