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real cloth sails?...

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  • Member since
    November, 2005
real cloth sails?...
Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, January 13, 2005 10:12 AM
I have two sailing ship models: a Cutty Sark and HMS Victory. Both come with vacuum formed sails, but I don't really like the looks of those. As I have never built a ship before, I need to know if i can substitute some cloth for the sails, and if so, what cloth would look most realistic. Also I was thinking about the fact that the real sails were usually strips of cloth sewn together, and I was wondering if I could replicate that by using the same technique with thin thread and a sewing needle. I'm going to build the HMS Victory first, as the Cutty Sark is a decade-old model given to me by my friend's dad, and I don't wanna mess up on the Cutty Sark. Also I was curious as to when the Cutty Sark model was released. The one I have is made by Revell, and the stamp on teh deck says "Revell Inc. 1959" or something like that, so I'm assuming the mold was made in '59. The instructions have some holes in them too, so I know that it's been in storage for a while. Also I did notice that the decals are flaking off, and I was wondering if I could find replacements somewhere. I hope you'll pardon the long-winded post, but anyway, any help/tips would be greatly appreciated.
  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Thursday, January 13, 2005 10:48 AM
The Cutty Sark kit was indeed first released in 1959. It's been reissued many, many times since - sometimes with sails, sometimes without. It's also reappeared in a slightly modified form masquerading as the Cutty Sark's rival, the Thermopylae (which didn't really look much like the Cutty Sark), and once, briefly, as the Pedro Nunes, which was the name the Portuguese gave the Thermopylae after they bought her. Plastic kit companies are notorious for doing things like that.

The Cutty Sark kit isn't in the current Revell-Monogram catalog, but is still being sold by Revell of Germany. You might be able to get a replacement decal sheet through the Revell-Monogram website (<www.revell-monogram.com>). Otherwise Revell of Germany probably would be able and willing to help. The aforementioned Revell-Monogram site has a link to Revell Germany. (Be sure you mention that you're dealing with the BIG Cutty Sark kit. Revell has issued Cutty Sarks on four scales over the years - and Monogram still another one.)

The subject of sails is guaranteed to raise hackles among ship modelers. The best any of them can do is offer opinions. I agree that vac-formed plastic sails are hopeless. (Some, admittedly, are better than others, but my custom is to throw them out before leaving the hobby shop.) One school of thought says it's best to rig a ship model without sails; that sails always look fakey. (They also raise the problem of how they should be set. If they droop down naturally they look ugly to many folks; if they're billowing out from the yards, where's the wind coming from?) A good compromise that I happen to like is to fit the model with the sails furled on the yards. More on this in a minute.

The most effective sails I've seen have been on models whose scales are either very large (i.e., 1/4" = 1' or bigger) or very small (1/32" = 1' or smaller). In the former case the seams and individual cloths of the original sails can be represented fairly realistically with cloth. (The favored material is either linen or muslin.) Some modelers (not me) have gotten extremely impressive results on small scales with sails made of thin paper. The great practitioner of that style is the Englishman Donald McNarry, whose book, Ship Models in Miniature, is a classic. (I hesitate a little in recommending that book. Whenever I look at a McNarry model I'm tempted to give up.)

Even in the largest scale museum models it's quite unusual to see sails made from individual cloths. Part of the reason has to do with arithmetic. (Each cloth in a real sail is about two feet wide. Think about how many pieces of fabric it would take to make a suit of sails for the Cutty Sark.) The other problem is that, even on a large scale, it's almost impossible for the fabric to be of scale thickness (unless it's translucent). Imagine the thickness of a piece of real sailcloth, and divide that thickness by a hundred. That's how thin the fabric in the sails of those models should be.

The Revell Cutty Sark and the Heller Victory lie between those extremes. I personally would build either of those kits with no sails or furled sails. To my eye, furled sails look great. They project a feeling of latent power and demonstrate how the rigging relates to the sails, without making the model look like a fish out of water. If for some reason I had to make "set" sails for a model on that scale, I'd probably (very reluctantly) make them out of drafting vellum. But I don't think I'd be happy with the results.

If you're interested in the furled sail approach, do another post. I've got some weird ideas on materials and tricks for making furled sails.

Good luck. It's a great hobby.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    January, 2005
Posted by ggatz on Thursday, January 13, 2005 11:02 AM
Here is a good resource for sails on models. There are several pages if you just click ' Next ' from this start page..

http://www.all-model.com/wolfram/PAGE33.html


Answers a lot of questions such as " whether to sew or not.. "

Hope this helps.

Gregory
To a dog, every day is Saturday. ' Roger Miller '
  • Member since
    November, 2005
Posted by Anonymous on Friday, January 14, 2005 9:44 AM
Jtilley,

The furled sails idea seems a sensible option. I myself would be rather greatful if you could share some tips on this subject!
  • Member since
    December, 2002
  • From: Harrisburg, PA
Posted by Lufbery on Friday, January 14, 2005 12:16 PM
QUOTE: Originally posted by anton_s

Jtilley,

The furled sails idea seems a sensible option. I myself would be rather greatful if you could share some tips on this subject!


Ditto. Smile [:)]

Regards,

-Drew

Build what you like; like what you build.

  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Friday, January 14, 2005 7:32 PM

Ok, here goes. To discuss this topic thoroughly would require more space than anybody wants me to take up in this forum, but I'll try to write a relatively brief outline.

The first thing to do is get a clear understanding of what happens to the spars and rigging when the sails are furled. There's more to it than simply replacing the "set" sails with furled ones.

In the typical eighteenth-century square-rigged ship the only yards that are fixed in position vertically are the lower yards (i.e., the fore, main, and crossjack yards). All the others slide up and down the masts - up when the sails are set, down when the sails are furled. (The quickest way for a ship modeler to demonstrate a failure to understand rigging is to put bare yards, or yards with furled sails on them, in the raised positions.) If the sails are furled (or left off), the topsail yard should be resting on the lower cap (or nearly so), the topgallant yard on the topmast cap, and the royal yard on the collar of the topgallant stay. Lowering the yards in itself changes the appearance of the model significantly - and, to the eye of an experienced ship enthusiast, improves it.

The Cutty Sark has double topsails. In that rig the lower topsail yard is fixed to the front of the lower cap. When the upper topsail is furled, the upper topsail yard is lowered to a few feet above the lower topsail yard. The yards above it are lowered as they were in previous periods.

All this may be a little confusing in print, but if you look at a good diagram it's actually quite simple. An excellent source (which I highly recommend for any enthusiast's library) is Seamanship in the Age of Sail, by John Harland. In addition to good verbal explanations of the various evolutions, it contains hundreds of excellent illustrations.

Another error lots of modelers commit is to make the "bundles" of the furled sails too big. A real furled sail is remarkably compact - usually a bit SMALLER in diameter than the yard to which it's attached. If you stand on a pier behind a ship with furled sails, you probably won't be able to tell whether the sails are there or not.

Almost any material used for scale model sailmaking is, by definition, too thick. With furled sails, though, it's possible to compensate for that problem by reducing the sail's depth - and thus the size of the bundle.

My favorite material for furled sails is "silkspan" tissue, subjected to a special (but quite simple) treatment. Silkspan can be found in the flying model airplane department of any good hobby shop - for very reasonable prices. I find that the thinnest grade of silkspan used by the airplane builders works well for larger sails. For the smaller ones I pay a visit to the local camera store and buy a package of lens-cleaning tissue. This stuff seems to be about the same material, but finer. The drawback to it is that it only comes in small sheets.

I start out by taping a piece of tissue over some sort of frame (a small cardboard box works fine) and painting it with a mixture of water-soluble hobby paint (I like PolyScale), Elmer's white glue, and water. The color should be a pale greyish beige. (PolyScale makes a railroad color called "weathered concrete" that looks about right to my eye.) The proportions of paint to glue to water aren't critical. I generally apply the mixture with a cheap foam brush from the hardware store. The tissue will sag a bit as it gets painted, but the cardboard box will stop it from drooping back on itself and creating a useless mess.

When the painted tissue is dry it's stiff and smooth; the fuzzy original texture of the silkspan is gone. I then use a fine pencil to lay out the shape of the sail. I make that shape a trapezoid, with the long axis identical to the scale width of the sail but the depth considerably less. (Again, that ratio isn't critical, but half the scale depth would be about right.) The reason for the trapezoidal shape is that (assuming I'm working on an eighteenth- or early-nineteenth-century square sail) I want the finished bundle to be fatter in the middle than at the ends. While I'm laying it out in pencil I also lay out a narrow hem on each side. Then I cut the sail out and, using white glue again, glue a piece of fine rigging thread (the boltrope) around the edge, and fold and glue the hem over it. (The hem isn't authentic, but it strengthens the sail and will be barely detectable on the finished product.) Then, using a small needle and thread, I fasten the sail to the yard - or, if the ship dates from after about 1820, the jackstay on top of the yard. I then rig the various lines that are attached to the sail - clewlines, buntlines, leechlines, sheets, tacks, etc.

At this point the yard/sail/rigging assembly looks pretty stupid. But now comes the trick. I touch the sail with a brush that's been dampened in water. For some reason (I don't entirely understand it), the water softens up the white glue but doesn't affect the paint. The sail takes on the consistency of a thin sheet of rubber, which can be bundled up by hauling on the appropriate rigging lines and teased into authentic-looking wrinkles and creases. It takes me a while to rig the gaskets that hold it in that condition; if the sail starts drying out before I'm finished I dab on a little more water.

When the water evaporates, the sail is remarkably stiff and durable. I have a couple models whose sails I rigged this way more than twenty years ago, and they look good as new. (If anybody's interested enough to post an e-mail address, I'll be glad to send some photos.) I also used the technique on a model of a Chesapeake Bay skipjack that's in the Mariners' Museum, where I used to work. (My good friend, the late Marvin Bryant, built most of the model, but wasn't able to finish it. I did the sails and rigging, and some of the details.) It's gotten quite a few nice comments from modelers and sailors.

I find it much easier to do all this off the model. I generally clamp a piece of wood dowel in a vise on my bench and secure the yard temporarily to that. When the furled sail has dried out I transfer the yard to the model and secure the ends of all the rigging lines appropriately.

That's the short version. I suspect nobody wants the long one. Hope this helps.

P.S. Since I typed the above material our friends at Drydock Models and H.M.S. Victory Scale Models have been kind enough to post some pictures of three of my models on which I used this sailmaking trick. Here are the links: 

Much later edit:  those original links to Drydock Models don't work now.  But, courtesy of our good FSM Forum friend Michel vrtg, the same photos are here:  http://www.hmsvictoryscalemodels.be/johntilleygallery.htm .

Still later edit (2016): Michel vrtg's site is no more. Most of the pictures are reproduced in the modified version of this post, on www.modelshipworld.com .

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    December, 2002
  • From: Harrisburg, PA
Posted by Lufbery on Monday, January 17, 2005 12:31 PM
Mr. Tilley,

That was fantastic. I'm saving your post for future reference.

Thank you, and warm regards,

-Drew

Build what you like; like what you build.

  • Member since
    January, 2005
Posted by ggatz on Wednesday, January 19, 2005 12:45 PM
John Tilley,

If you would like to email me some of those pictures, I will see that they are posted over at DryDock Models..

I would also like your permission to post your technique..

There are a lot of technique hungry modelers over there who would be very grateful for this information..


Gregory

GregoryGatz@netscape.net
To a dog, every day is Saturday. ' Roger Miller '
  • Member since
    November, 2005
Posted by Anonymous on Wednesday, January 19, 2005 6:37 PM
jtilley:

Outstanding Post !!!!

Thanks;
John
  • Member since
    November, 2005
Posted by Anonymous on Wednesday, February 09, 2005 12:36 PM
Take a look at the Jan/Feb issue of Ships in Scale. Page 21 and 22 discuss a technique called the "drawn thread" method. Have to admit I've not tried it with fine silk (the fabric of choice for small scale) but it works perfectly with coarser fabric (drafting linen for instance) and larger scale (1/48 for instance) and produces perfectly parallel "seams." You need twice as much fabric because you'll destroy 1/2 of the panel by pulling threads to the other half but it's well worth the small expense.
  • Member since
    August, 2003
Posted by grounded on Saturday, February 19, 2005 11:19 AM
Great Posts Everyone,
This is a great forum, I think!!!!!

Thanks

Bruce
  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: USA
Posted by widepaul on Friday, February 25, 2005 4:48 PM
Beware of acting on a dream - It can take a while to achieve. I always wanted a wood ship model - in 1975 I purchased Model Shipways Rattlesnake - the solid wood hull model. I ended up building it with sails (see link below) using what is called ballooner cloth - very fine cotten cloth. I also had the reference book:

http://www.modelshipgallery.com/gallery/misc/sail/privateer-pb/rattlesnake-index.html

on loan from the library which helped a lot. The end result turned out really nice - but it took nine years to build.

Sails are really cool and give a sense of action - but the model has to be large enough in scale to work well. Just my 2 cents.

Cheers,
Paul
  • Member since
    February, 2003
  • From: Lacombe, LA.
Posted by Big Jake on Thursday, March 17, 2005 6:40 AM
John,

What model brand and scale of the Bounty did you build?

Jake

 

 

  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Thursday, March 17, 2005 7:51 AM
Jake - It's the old 1/110-scale Revell kit. Actually, seven pieces of it (not counting the crew figures): the hull halves, the figurehead, the transom, the hull of the launch, and the quarter badges. The blocks, deadeyes, and gratings are britannia metal castings from Bluejacket, and the steering wheel came from the spares box. Everything else is scratchbuilt from styrene, basswood, boxwood, degama wood, brass, etc. The rigging is silk.

I don't know that I'd want to build another model this way. When I started it I wasn't aware of just how bad the kit was. As it turned out, using the kit parts probably saved me a week's work or thereabouts - in a project that took about three years. But maybe it's of some use in convincing "non-believers" that a plastic kit can be the basis of a serious scale model.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    February, 2005
  • From: Australia
Posted by rokket on Friday, October 21, 2005 7:41 PM
There are so many great posts it's almost not worth putting in my 2 cents...but I will. Just to say that jtilley has said it all and has great advice (and pix of great work!).

I also suggest furled sails. I'm not a real sailor, but have worked on a square-rigger. They are a thing of ebauty, and yet all the lines are simply there to do a job. There are a lot of them. To see a model with standing rigging only is just half a job, it looks empty. The furled sails show the running rigging and a good look, without getting into the "fakey" billowing sails. It's worth the effort. Good luck.
AMP - Accurate Model Parts Fabric Flags, AM Uboat Goodies & More http://amp.rokket.biz/
  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Sunday, October 30, 2005 10:06 AM
I'm "replying" to this thread yet again to get it moved to p. 1. The topic has come up in a recent post.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    April, 2004
Posted by Chuck Fan on Sunday, October 30, 2005 10:07 PM
Has anyone considered using plastic foil to simulate sail hanging limp? I am thinking about spray painting platic foil to do that?
  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Monday, October 31, 2005 8:58 AM
Can't comment; I'm not familiar with the term. What's plastic foil?

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    April, 2004
Posted by Chuck Fan on Monday, October 31, 2005 11:43 AM
QUOTE: Originally posted by jtilley

Can't comment; I'm not familiar with the term. What's plastic foil?


Saran food wrap.
  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Monday, October 31, 2005 11:55 AM
I confess that the idea of making sails out of Saran Wrap had never occurred to me. I'm inclined to doubt that it would work - for several reasons. First, it's awfully difficult to get paint to stick to stuff like that. The material obviously is exremely flexible - and most paints aren't. Second, any Saran Wrap I've ever seen has a consistency that just isn't much like canvas. Third, the stuff I've seen is extremely fragile. I'd be concerned that punching holes in it with a needle might lead to disaster.

On the other hand, I've noticed that quite a few different brands and thicknesses of such stuff are available nowadays. Maybe there is some that would have the necessary strength and consistency - and maybe there's a brand of paint that would stick to it without falling off when the stuff is flexed.

I'm inclined to think there are lots of better materials for sailmaking than that. But I've never tried it. I'd certainly be interested to see the results.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Monday, November 21, 2005 11:52 AM
I'm "replying" to get the thread moved to page 1 of the forum.  The topic has come up once again in a recent post.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    August, 2005
  • From: vernon hills illinois
Posted by sumpter250 on Monday, November 21, 2005 4:30 PM

      The sails I've done for 1:87 scale ships, have been furled. I start with facial tissue, and separate the plys. With a single ply, I cut a full size sail, and lay it out on the kitchen counter. The tissue is then sprayed with water. Using a metal straightedge, from the bottom up, gently push the "sail" into a bundle. While still wet, pick up the bundle and lash it in place on the boom, or spar, or, in the case of a headsail, pile on deck, or lash to the sprit.

   When dry, the "sails can be stained an appropriate color, and left to dry. The last step is water/ white glue/ detergent (wetting agent) mix, to solidify the sail bundle in place. If you want, the cringles for halyards, outhauls etc. can be carefully pulled free of the bundle, and after drying can be reinforced with paper. After the glue mix has dried, sheets, and halyards can be attached at the cringles. The same can be done for slab lines and buntlines on square sails.

Pete

Lead me not into temptation ..................I can find it myself

  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Thursday, December 22, 2005 10:25 PM
Once again, I'm "replying" in order to move the thread to p. 1 of the Forum.  The topic has come up again in a recent post.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    December, 2002
  • From: Harrisburg, PA
Posted by Lufbery on Friday, December 23, 2005 12:25 PM
Mr. Tilley,

Why not send a note to Jeff Herne and ask that this thread be made "sticky"? That way, it stays at the top of the page. It's certainly worthwhile.

Have a wonderful Christmas,

-Drew

Build what you like; like what you build.

  • Member since
    November, 2005
Posted by Anonymous on Friday, December 23, 2005 4:08 PM

That would be great.

The only problem is that I want my pics of my Sanat Maria and Pamir sticky also. Unfair.

 

Just kiddin. gree with Lufbery., this should be made sticky as well as a few other I might add.

 

Robert

  • Member since
    November, 2005
Posted by Anonymous on Tuesday, February 14, 2006 3:22 PM

For Old MacDonald; this reply is to move this topic forward.  It seems to have been pretty well analyzed and these posts may be of some help.

Best,

Ron

  • Member since
    February, 2008
  • From: San Bernardino, CA
Posted by enemeink on Tuesday, April 08, 2008 12:15 PM

2 years later and lets see if there are new ideas about.....

I'll add that i've come across a method of using the vac-formed sails as molds to make paper sails. I'm going to give this a try over the weekend.

"The race for quality has no finish line, so technically it's more like a death march."
  • Member since
    March, 2007
  • From: Portsmouth, RI
Posted by searat12 on Tuesday, April 08, 2008 2:02 PM
I've often wondered if perhaps a very fine ripstop nylon could used, with a hot cutter to seal the hems, and then 'ropes' could be round-stiched into the edges, gaskets simply inserted, etc.... Anyone ever try this?
  • Member since
    July, 2006
Posted by Michael D. on Tuesday, April 08, 2008 2:30 PM
 enemeink wrote:

2 years later and lets see if there are new ideas about.....

I'll add that i've come across a method of using the vac-formed sails as molds to make paper sails. I'm going to give this a try over the weekend.

 

I've tried this method awhile back with satisfactory results using tissue paper. It is a tedous proccess though if your looking to display with the sails fully set.....good luck.

 

Michael

  • Member since
    May, 2006
  • From: CT
Posted by Seamac on Saturday, April 25, 2009 1:49 PM
Hello Mates,
As usual, Professor Tilley has inspired again!  I had just about decided not to do sails, but now I'm rethinking.  Working on the Sultana and it shouldn't be too much trouble to undo if I don't like the way they come out.  Still several months (maybe years) away from that job.
As a model railroader we seldom have use for sails, but do have to simulate cloth for many projects, i.e. laundry hanging on a line, canvas tarps over various things and, for us modeling the "olden days", the tops of passenger cars were covered with canvas.  One trick I use is facial tissue but, to hold it in the position I want after slightly dampening it, I spray it with hair spray!  It dries fast and works like a charm to freeze the tissue.  I am thinking of trying that with a fan blowing gently to simulate a breeze, then freezing the sail.  You can paint, stain, use chalks (grind into powder then apply with a very soft brush).  Working carefully the tissue holds its shape while the paint dries.  One caveat - most of the time the tissue is backed by something in model railroading so I am not sure that paint wouldn't undo the hair spray (hair spray is just a very fine urethane) - the chalks may work best as there is no liquid to soften the tissue. 
The above might work for "full" sails, I like Professor Tilleys idea for furled - Thanks Professor!
Seamac

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