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Hoisting the Sails On Your Own Models

Jan 3, 2008
Custom has evolved two classes of old-time ship model; one group exhibits a remarkable perfection of detail but seldom provided with sails. The other group is scenic in character and is generally represented with all sails set.

Models in this general category include a host of model representations of early and medieval ships. Obviously the methods of making and spreading the sails for this general group of old-time models differs considerably to what must be done for a true scale model.

On most of the true scale models coming into the first category the sails are completely omitted, but most of the rigging is shown in place as if the sails were furled or had been stowed away. The reason for this is that it enables the rigging to be shown very clearly and is more instructive.

There are also many problems concerned directly with sail-making and particularly the difficulty of imparting a neat workmanlike appearance to the complete model. If the sails are all set, the material of which they are made never looks really well, generally hangs badly and consequently detracts from that character and atmosphere which should always distinguish the well-made model.

Furthermore, the presence of the sails inevitably acts as a screen and prevents close inspection of the rigging and other details.

For these excellent reasons, sails on a high grade scale model are generally omitted. Hard and fast rules cannot be laid down for this vexed matter of sails, nor is advice of much greater service; choice between sails or no sails lies with the ship modeller, and each builder must decide personally.

A few hints based on successful ways of representing sails on old-time ship models may, however, be helpful and may be adopted or adapted as seems more expedient.
Small scenic or waterline models generally can have their sails made of soft pliable paper, preferably cream coloured. The paper can be cut to shape with scissors, and the bandings, ornamental crests and armorial bearings painted upon them with water colours. The paper can be gummed directly to the yards and the ropes attached with a trace of adhesive.

Larger scenic models may have sails made of paper, or thin materials such as fine lawn, silk or casement curtaining. Sails made of these materials are very often dipped into a strong solution of starch or diluted plaster-of-Paris, and as it dries the sail is modelled so that it appears to be bellying out with the wind.

When this is nicely done the effect is quite good and imparts a sensation of motion to the model. Paint can be - and indeed in most cases must be -relied on for the representations of the seams, reef bands and other details of the sails; also for the decorative features and so forth. The ropes can be attached with adhesive or may be sewn directly to the sail according to circumstances.

Sails can be made with many fabrics; those chiefly employed are cambric such as handkerchiefs are made of, fine linen, calico, silk, and a variety of the recently introduced materials wholly or in part composed of artificial silk.

On a large scale model a good effect is obtained by forming a tiny tuck and stitching it along each of its edges. This calls for exquisite skill on the part of the seamstress if the work is to look really good. Alternatives are to rule pencil lines on the material or to heavily crease it by ruling with a blunt pointed awl or the edge of a bone paper-knife.

The edges of the sails can be hemmed, or bound with a narrow binding, and a thin cord stitched to it to represent the bolt-rope. Similarly the tablings and other doublings can be made of narrow baby ribbon sewn on to the sail with a double row of neat stitches.

There are many details which can be shown on the sails of an old-time ship model; the subject should be carefully studied and the details copied in exactly the same way they were worked on the real ship.
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