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Sail making tutorial
A tutorial for making realistic sails on LEGO ships.
About this creation
This tutorial can also be useful on wooden model ships, but these sails are easier to make and they also look a bit easier, and therefore I think they are more suitable to a LEGO ship than on a more detailed wooden model ship.

Anyway, here we go.

In this tutorial I will mainly focus on the main topsail because if you know how to do that one, all the other sails will be a piece of cake as well.

The first thing when you want to make sails is of course looking for reference.
There are some good books about ships but there are also many good drawings on the internet.
Then you can (if you want to) put a piece of cotton or other cloth (linen for example) in a bucket with tea or coffee. I used black tea.

Coffee will probably make it more brown than thea. At this point it could also be nice to wrinkle the cloth a bit so the sails look a bit more hand-made/worn out.

After soaking, it's smart to iron the sails so you don't have all the wrinkles in it.

Next thing is to decide the scale of the sail. In this tutorial I'm making the sail twice as large as on the picture:

In that scale you can make the outlines of the sail:

Then you can add vertical lines. On minifig illusion scale 1cm between each line looks realistic.
But Greenhair and Perfectionist are using more space between them and that doesn't look bad either.

On the right half of this sail I used a darker pencil than on the left halft to show you the difference.
I think the lighter half looks the best.

Now on to the horizontal lines, which you can see here:

Note: not all sails have these horizontal lines. It depends on the ship you're making which ones do and which ones don't have them.

The space between each line is about 1cm, so that makes 2cm on my sail.

Next thing is too add spots on the place where usually are ropes. I believe the ropes are used for taking in the sails.
Adding all those ropes is too much work IMO (although it has been done), so to give the impression of them, I add these dots. Here are the ropes on a picture:

When you're finished with that, the next thing is too make the outlines brown.
This is not neccesary, but it looks quite nice. It resembles the rope on the edge of the sails, like you can see on the bottom of this picture.
Be sure to make these lines quite thick, so it's easier when you're cutting the sails out.

Of course, you want all the lines to be visible on both sides and on exactly the same place.
When you're very good in measuring, you can just draw the same thing on the other side.
Another (perhaps easier) way is to place the cloth on a window (or a light table), so you can easily trace the lines.

Even easier is to trace a few important dots on the edges, so you can connect them on your table. Drawing on a window is quite hard.

Now you can cut the sail out.

One of the last things is to varnish the edges. This is to prevent the sail from unraveling.
I always use revell varnish, but perhaps nail polish or glue works fine as well.
If you dont want the sails to be modular, you can also put glue all over the sails and let it bend in a certain shape like wind blowing in the sail.

Use about this much:

And the final thing of course is to sew the sail on a yard, and put it on your ship:

Finally, for making jib sails, there are different line patterns:

The one on the left is the most common. The one in the middle is quite rare, and the one on the right is more modern (clipper era and later).

Comments and questions are always welcome.
Good luck!


  November 27, 2013
I'm building a 1:64 scale model of the British cutter "Lady Nelson" and will be adding sails. I've read many instructions on making sails and I think I will add some of what you described with one other example. I like the "simplicity". Thank you.
 I like it 
  September 18, 2013
This tutorial is most appreciated! Sorry about the low number of smilies that it has. Deserves much more...
 I like it 
  February 17, 2012
Perfect. I'll use this guide next time I need costom sails.
 I like it 
  February 16, 2012
Thanks my friend this will make any ship look much, much better.
By Nykle Dijkstra
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