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What Makes Your Recycled Sail Cloth Sea Bag Unique?

Just like wrinkles are a sign of experience and wisdom, our recycled sail cloth has a story to tell about the adventures each sail has seen. The previous life of the sails we reclaim is unique and can be told visually in the character marks found on the sail cloth.

Tales of narrow escapes on a sandbar, sailboat races won or lost, and long summer afternoons chasing the wind are embedded along with salt spray in the fibers of the sailcloth. We fully clean our sails before we make them into bags, but the materials still retain the essence of what they once were and where they have been. It's this previous life that makes each bag unique.

These special character marks on the sail cloth tell a story. Rust stains, stitching, or type of insignia all give hints about how old the sail cloth might be and who might have made it. The features below are relics of time spent on the water or unique aspects of the sail that all had their notable purpose. We wonder if your Sea Bag has any of these unique markings.

1. Rust

Rust marks are commonly seen on many Sea Bags. We love the story a rust mark tells so we spoke with Carrie Mack, our Vice President of Sail Acquisition, to get a firsthand explanation of where rust marks come from. Before the 1950’s, sail boats used cotton line on the jib, which is a triangular sail located forward of the boat mast. Over time, they found that the cotton would shrink and when it did, the sail would become too full, and sailors wouldn’t get the best performance from their sails. To eliminate this issue, sailmakers swapped cotton lines for wire rope. This change occurred in the 1950’s and lasted into the mid-1980’s and over time, the wire rope would rust onto the sail fabric. Carrie explains, “If you get a bag that has rust on it, the sail could be as much as 70 years old!” She goes on to say, “It’s amazing if you think about it, in todays’ world, how something that has been around for 70 years can have such a wonderful life and so much character and so much life left in it. When I get a bag with a rust stain, it makes me so excited, because this is a tradition in sail making that’s no longer around. And eventually the sails with the rust stains will no longer exist. So I always look for a characteristic like that which is super unique to the bag.”

2. Stitching

Another common feature that you may find on many Sea Bags is the original stitching. Many sailmakers were known to only use certain thread colors for their zigzag stitch which is used to assemble the sail when it’s made. This helped to identify who stitched the sail and where it came from. When you compare stitching on different bags, you may find that the size of the stitch also varies, or even better, you may find original pencil markings. The stitching, whether colorful or white, adds extra character and uniqueness to your one-of-a-kind bag. And of course, you’ll notice that all Sea Bags that feature an applique design use that same zigzag stitch, which we consider our unique signature.

Different sail insignia from different boats

Sail insignia indentifies different boat classses

3. Insignia Material & Color

If you are a fan of Sea Bags, you know that Vintage Collection sail insignias come straight from the mainsail. The mainsail of course, is just what it sounds like; the main sail on the boat. What you might not know is that the material and color of the insignia is a great indication of just how old that sail may have been. Carrie goes into detail about how the materiality of the insignias have changed over time: “Mainsail insignias were first made from canvas, then progressed over time to spinnaker, then to spinnaker with an adhesive, to now when they are typically sunburnt or screen printed right onto the sail cloth.” Therefore, if you happen to get a vintage bag that doesn’t have zigzag stitching, that would be an indication that it is likely a newer sail. The coloration is also a great hint. “Most insignias start as primary colors of blue, red, and black. Therefore, the more the color is faded, the older the sail is or the more time it has spent on the water.”

A Vintage Insignia tote featuring a telltale on the front of the bag

4. Telltales

Telltales are small pieces of colored yarn or spinnaker material that are used as a tool to determine how your sail is performing in the wind. Most larger sails will have multiple telltales and they will appear on both sides of the sail, usually opposite one another. When telltales are flying perfectly in unison with one another, it means you’re getting the maximum performance out of the sail. Carrie says, “If you find a bag that has one in it, I find it lucky, because it’s the one that tells you you’re right on course.”

Tanbark sail panels to be sewn into totes, showing the discrepencies in color

5. Color and texture of sailcloth

Lastly, the color, weight and texture of the sail cloth can be a great indication of how old the sail is and what type of boat it may have come from. If you’ve ever been to a regatta, you’ll know sails can be a wide variety of colors. Windsurfer sails can be more lightweight and are often bright neon colors to improve visibility. Tanbark sails are much rarer nowadays and come in unique shades of browns based on the tradition of soaking them in tannins from tree bark. Traditional sails are mainly white but can also be shades of tan or cream, as light colors ensure visibility in open water and make it easier to spot wear or damage.

Textures will vary from thick and crisp to soft or almost satiny sails. Crisp sails typically come from small sailboats, often handled by junior sailors, that may just sail around the bay from time to time. Bags made from softer sails are typically a heavier weight and can indicate an older sail, or one that has logged more hours of use. Typically, a larger sailboat will use a heavier weight sail to stand up to the weight of the boat and the force of wind.

Secrets in the Sails

These distinct characteristics are like secrets told by each piece of sail cloth. Sails come off the water, imbibed with salt, kissed by rust, and worn by wind and waves. All these factors give a sail its unique character and ensures that every bag is truly one-of-a-kind. That’s what makes every Sea Bag unique.

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