The Online Magazine For Amateur Boat Builders














Stitch yourself a deal
at the local sewing (boating) store

by Garry Blankenship & Helen Snell

“Want to go to JoAnn’s Fabrics,” my lovely, fabric-aholic wife asks sweetly.

“I’d love to go to the marine supply store,” I reply heartily.

Is this marital discord? A case of spousal selective hearing?

Absolutely not! Rather it is a harmonious uniting of interests. Under my wife’s gentle tutelage, I’ve learned that sewing stores are a wonderful source of boating improvements for the cost-conscious sailor.

Not the least attractive part is that many such stores offer their regular customers periodic discount coupons. We live in a small city where JoAnn’s is the major store and my wife, a regular supplicant, periodically receives 40 percent off discount coupons, good on most non-sale items. Since my discovery of the store as a viable source of marine supplies, we conduct spirited debates over who takes possession of this financial bonanza. Which, alas, I usually lose. (“Don’t worry, dear,” my wife says soothingly after these contests. “At least you have half a wit, which is better than none.”) But occasionally she lets one fall into my eager hands.

So what can the hopeful boater find?

Well, of course, there are fabrics suitable for the marine environment. You probably won’t find Sunbrella, but there is marine vinyl, which I think of as the poor man’s Sunbrella. It’s heavier, but (until recently) much cheaper than Sunbrella, and in my experience lasts better. I’ve got a gas can cover that’s around 15 years old made from this vinyl, and while it has a couple cracks, it’s still going. The last time I looked, the vinyl was $6.99 a yard, and sometimes it goes on sale for 50 percent off. A true bargain. With one of the 40 percent coupons it is an attractive buy. I’ve used this for a sail cover, outside seat cushions, and various and sundry bags that attach to bulkheads and hold excess rope tails, and binoculars, the GPS and the handheld VHF.

Originally intended to hold quilting supplies, this Onmigrid rubberized mesh bag holds a variety of useful items.

(click image to enlarge)

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There’s also cotton and polyester canvas duck fabrics, and waterproof nylon, that I’m planning to use for a cockpit tent for our Jim Michalak-designed Frolic2 design, Oaracle.

But those are the expected things you’d find. It’s time to think outside the box!

My all-time favorite find is the Omnigrid, a 13 by 9-inch rubberized mesh bag, with a Velcro-sealed pocket on front and a zipper at the top. Mounted with screws and finish washers, they are wonderful at holding all the odds and ends that accumulate on a boat. (Since these are intended originally to hold sewing stuff and there’s not a word about weather resistance on the label, I use these only on inside locations. But we have four on Oaracle, and a couple on our 30-foot boat, with plans to add more — they’re just so darn handy.)

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An Onmigrid installed high on the cabin side inside the main bulkhead of our Michalak Frolic2 design, Oaracle.

We first saw these priced at $9.99, but on sale for 40 percent off, so the actual cost was $6 — which compares to $15 to $20 for a similar product at the marine store. One of the two JoAnn’s stores in our town is closing (in preparation for a JoAnn’s superstore) and the bags can be had for a paltry $4.20.

Put one by the chart table for the parallel rules and dividers, and another to hold the GPS and handheld radio. One by the berth is great for keys, wallets, glasses, etc. Another just inside the companionway is good for sail ties and reefing lines. You get the idea!

Two Onmigrid bags on Oaracle's forward cabin bulkhead provide welcome cabin storage.
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Something sewers and boaters have in common are a lot of small miscellaneous pieces that need organizing. Spools of thread, needles, pins, needle threaders, seam rippers, bobbins, etc. for the sewers. Nuts, bolts, screws, shackles, cotter pins, perhaps a sail mending kit, and more for the nautically inclined, Your friendly neighborhood sewing store will have all kinds of plastic boxes and organizers.

My favorite has four compartmentalized boxes that slide into a holder, and lock in place with a positive snap. When in the holder, lids are held shut so they can’t accidently open and spill the bits and pieces. The holder can even be mounted on a bulkhead.

These compartmentalized sorters from the sewing store provide secure storage for nuts, bolts, and small parts, and the plastic frame/holder can even be mounted vertically.
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Of course, there are bigger plastic boxes, too, and they come in handy. Unlike the plastic tool boxes found at home improvement stores — which typically have rust-prone metal in the hinges or latches — the sewing store containers are usually metal free and come in a wider variety of shapes and sizes. On a Frolic2 design, this is great because of that wonderful stern storage locker. The locker is huge by small boat standards and can hold a massive pile a stuff, which off course quickly becomes jumbled so you can’t find anything. A couple of the plastic boxes quickly help sort out the gear and keep things in order.

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This plastic box from the sewing store, with plastic latches to fasten the lid, is ideal for organizing the extra lines on Oaracle.

Other handy items you might or might not expect to find in a sewing store:

  • Velcro on all shapes and sizes and types. The cheapest I’ve found the two-inch wide industrial strength Velcro is at the sewing section of Wal-Mart. JoAnn’s has a wide variety, including the handy little strips used attach things to posts or lifelines, or hold coiled lines.
  • Outdoor zippers, useful in a number of applications.
  • Marine grade metal snaps — usually at a much better price than the marine store — along with the tool for installing the snaps in fabric.
  • Brass grommets and installation tools, again usually at a better price than the marine store.
  • Mesh screening suitable for insect screens in hatches and ports.
  • Foam of differing densities for cushions. A word of caution, though. This is not closed-cell foam and if it gets wet, it will soak up an impressive amount of water, so we only use this for interior projects. It is not suitable for cushions intended for floatation.

My good wife just leaned over my shoulder and advised me to remind everyone that large sewing chain stores, as well as many smaller stores, have websites. Frequently you can find a discount coupon that you can print out and take to the store. (For example, although JoAnn’s regularly mails her the aforementioned 40 percent off coupons, they also sometimes offer 40 percent coupons on their website for those who have signed up for their online mailing list.)

It’s just about like printing money, and probably the only time you’ll ever get to do that in your boating life!