has anyone here done there own canvas or upholstery work?

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Senior Member
Dec 22, 2009
Vessel Make
Albin 43 Trawler
id like to learn to do my own as theres no way I could afford to have it done right now. my father has a sewing machine that will handle this type of work... any direction on how to learn? im looking for simple window covers and a moring cover for my flybridge.. also i would really like to redo my settee couch..

thanks to all
There is a book by Don Casey called This old boat. He goes into sewing for the beginner. Or if you know someone who knows how to hem and baste. there is really not that much to it. Just the material. An artistic eye helps. As it is sort of like soft sculpture.* If you can work with wood you can work with fabric. The book even goes into how to set the tenision on the machine. *Easy to read and follow I would highly recommend it if you know nothing about sewing.


-- Edited by skipperdude on Wednesday 27th of January 2010 01:02:32 PM
We have been doing our own for many years. We have a Sailrite machine and all of the covers on Beach House including the bimini we did ourselves. Some of it we have posted on the site. There are several good books on Marine canvas, I believe Sailrite actually carries some of them. They also have a discussion board on the site with work other folks have done and you can purchase "how to" info from them on larger items. It just takes a little practice and the right material. Good luck. Chuck
There are several books out on making canvas items for boats. I don't recall any of the titles but I bought one for my wife, who does all our canvas work these days.* Try Amazon.com for canvas-making books.

My wife bought a huge Brother industrial sewing machine at a marine consignment shop the other year. This extended arm machine weighs about 90 pounds and is the first sewing machine I'd ever seen with its own lube oil sump. The motor, which is mounted under the table and is connected to the machine by a belt, weighs 110 pounds. I suspect this thing could sew plywood together if you had the right needle.

The most critical thing in making or repairing boat canvas is the thread. When canvas gives out it's usually not the fabric (assuming the fabric was good quality to begin with like Sunbrella) but the thread. The thread fails due to UV deterioration, salt, dirt, etc. Once a seam starts to go, the fabric can start flapping around and then it begins to tear and it's all over.

There is only one thread worth using in marine canvas work and that is Tenara which is made by Gore. It is currently the best thread in the world, resistant to sun, salt, abrasion, dirt, chemicals, you name it. It is used by all the best canvas fabricators, from marine to RV to patio to commercial items. Tenara is hellaciously expensive. We haven't priced it lately because we still have a lot of it left but when we bought ours a single bobbin of this stuff ranged from $200 to $500. At the time we bought ours it was available in only two colors, white and black. It requires a special tension setup on a sewing machine and specific sizes of needles. This information is called out on various websites that sell Tenara including Gore's own page about it.

We bought our boat almost twelve years ago. There were canvas covers for almost every piece of exterior teak on the boat. Some of them were newer than others, so I imagine the collection was the result of the last two previous owners. Some of the covers, particularly the large, two-piece flying bridge cover, were very old when we bought the boat. We keep our boat outside and our marina in the winter gets regular storms that can have gusts up to 80 mph although 50 and 60 mph are more common.** We did not expect the flying bridge cover to last more than a year or two longer, but here we are twelve years later and it's still intact. But ony due to my wife's diligence in repairing seams the moment they start to fail, or putting patches on the fabric where contact with something underneath has worn it thin.* We also keep the boat's stern to the prevailing wind which helps prevent the canvas from flapping up and down.

In addition to repairs, my wife has added all sorts of additional covers, like outboard motor, windlass, small window, barbecue, bimini, nameboard, etc. covers.

The attached photos are of our boat with all the covers in place. While it doesn't show, there is also a cover across the whole teak transom. The covers do an impressive job of lengthening the life of the brightwork finish. We use the boat year round--- in the winter we simply remove the window and name board covers and take the boat out as-is. To replace all this canvas with new would cost well over $10,000--- we've gotten estimates from marine canvas shops. So my wife's efforts are saving us a ton of money. We don't much care for the old-fashioned blue color, but that's what was on the boat when we got it so we've stayed with it for all the new canvas.

Marine canvas is very expensive if you have it made professionally.* Doing it yourself will save a lot of money, and keeping up with seam deterioration and replacing old thread with Tenara will save you even more money.


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Does keeping it dark inside retard mold growth. (All the covers)
Marin that looks amazing! tell your wife great job, that is exactally what id like to do on my albin perfect for the winters aboard. again great job i really love it
We've never had any mold issues in the boat at all, covers on or covers off. The main reasons we use the window covers (the big ones came with the boat, the small ones were made by my wife) are 1) to keep the window tracks as dirt-free as possible and 2) to keep the UV bleaching of the interior teak, upholstery, etc. to a minimum. Note that there are no covers on the non-opening windows although we do keep the blinds closed. There are covers for the large non-opening windows in the aft sides of the main cabin but we leave the starboard one off so people can read the "In case of emergency" sign we stick in the window.

We have removeable vents in the aft deck so there is good air circulation in the lazarette. The engine room vents on this vintage of GB conduct a fair amount of fresh air into the engine room, particularly with the boat facing aft into the prevailing winds. And there seem to be enough air leaks around the door and the forward hatch that the boat is never musty even in the summer. Of course, we use it year round so even if we don't go out we go up to it just about every weekend and stay on it. So it's not sitting shut up for long periods of time.

My wife can only take credit for some of the covers in the photos. The hand rail and cap rail covers, all the grab rail covers, the large window and windshield covers, the sailing dinghy cover, the transom cover, the aft hatch cover,*and the flying bridge covers all came with the boat. Everything else is courtesy of my wife, although over time she has repaired, re-stiched, patched, or reinforced virtually every piece of canvas from the previous owners. She also made a big protective cover for the teak wheel at the upper helm (that rotates with the wheel) and other odds and ends in addition to what I mentioned in my first post.

She is not a professional so would be the first person to say her stitching is not on a neatness and straighness par with a pro shop even with her 5,000 horsepower sewing machine. But it holds up and it doesn't look bad, so we're not complaining.

-- Edited by Marin on Wednesday 27th of January 2010 07:07:01 PM
We have done all of the interior, and only minor repairs on the canvas as canvas takes a heavy duty machine.

Since we make all our canvas clear plastic the mild dew/mold has been reduced. **
I've done some projects on my previous boat and it's not that hard to learn if you are manually inclined. It's very rewarding and it will save you a lot of money. But I would suggest to start on small and simple pieces (like a BBQ cover) to get a feel for it. Not sure I would do any upholstery though. This is better left to the pros or to someone with a lot of experience. There is an article on this in the current issue of Cruising World.
Should anyone be looking for a real machine , a neighbor in the canvas business is selling a commercial grade singer mounted in a table with clutch and motor below.

She only needs $50 for it as an internal belt is gone (cheap) but the machine needs to be "re-timed" which is $$$ st a singer shop.

DA Book is aviliable on line, it cant be "that" hard to re time.

Any interest and I will post her number.

Would have to be picker up in SW FL , about 50 miles inland from Ft Myers.

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