Sailmaking for De Tukker
Zen and the Art of Sewing Machine Maintenance
Published: 9th February 2023
Image: Sailmaking at Museum Haven Willemsoord, Den Helder
Author: Hannah

I think, as the anonymous voice of the Tukker blog, it’s probably time to introduce myself. My name’s Hannah, and I’m an OS (ordinary seaman) on the Tukker refit crew. Amongst our group of incredibly skilled craftsman and shipwrights, I’m here on my first professional sailing job after years as a volunteer. I’m keeping the kitchen stocked, learning a lot, helping with the rigging, enforcing the bathroom cleaning rota, and desperate never to paint anything ever again.

I’ve also discovered a love of sailmaking. I’ve always loved repairing sails, and as part of our refit, I volunteered to design and make our new sail covers, in exchange for learning a little about the process of making sails and using commercial sewing machines. That’s how I met Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is my sewing machine. She is tremendously dignified and very skilled. She’s also exceptionally fussy about the things I ask her to do, and makes her displeasure known by choosing to unthread herself every eleven seconds, ideally when I’m in the middle of something exceptionally complicated that I’ve been holding my breath to finish without jumping. That would be fine, except that rethreading her takes 10 minutes, two pairs of tweezers, half a meter of thread, a magnifying glass, and a map. Five separate tensioners need to be readjusted, the bobbin needs to be readjusted, the thread tension rechecked, and despite being a machine, Elizabeth manages to be so offended by my swearing that she’ll occasionally stop completely and refuse to work until someone she likes better uses her, then she works perfectly and without complaint. Obviously. Whole NATO summits have required less diplomacy.

I’d like to say I’ve learned patience, but I’ve mostly just learned to thread faster. What I have discovered is a love and obsession for sailmaking. I’m fascinated by reading patterns and desperate to make a sail with brailing lines in it. I’ve learned to appreciate Elizabeth and we’ll start the mainsail cover on Monday- the largest piece of work we’ve done so far. Like a terrible cop movie, we’re learning to work together. Journeys of a thousand miles begin with a single step- and finding my tweezers.

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