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Sailmaker's bench close up of spaces for tools

The Maritime Museum of BC

Sailmaking is still a contemporary and historic rewarding skill and career, and sailmakers lofts are busy sites of design, drafting, repair, and innovation. Sailmaker’s benches are a key tool for working on sails; sitting down, the sails go out in front of you.

We don’t know the donor or the year this bench was built, or who used it. The cataloguing record for this object is very bare. But it’s so striking in our collections space, and its parts are both familiar and intuitive. You need your tools beside you as you work, that’s what the panel with holes is for. A sailmaker would have hand tools here, fids, marlinspikes, seam rubber, prickers, awls, shears, and more. There are pockets along the side for spools of thread and twine, beeswax lump, sailmakers palm, tape measures, scissors. The seat is covered in natural canvas—this bench has no padding. You can both stick needles in it, and prevent some awkward slivers. There’s also a rubber block as a pin cushion—the needles used for sailmaking can be quite large. When seaming or roping, you can also connect a sail hook to your bench, to keep the sailcloth taut as you work.

The ubiquity of this important tool, both historically, and for contemporary sailmakers, means we know quite a lot without knowing the cataloguing details. There’s a shared story in stitching away, by hand or machine, in a sailmaker’s loft.