Sail Making by Hasse and Company


A view of Port Townsend from the pier.
A view of Port Townsend from the pier.

My trip to Port Townsend would not have been complete without a trip to the sail loft where Bonnie has been apprenticing since March. Those who don’t know her can better appreciate her path to sail making since she has worked on several tall ships. She initially worked with the Hindu (based in Key West, FL) and I believe her last ship was Lynx, based out of Newport Beach, CA. Landing in Port Townsend, Washington was a series of chance happenings and who-knows-whos and she’s enjoying the town and learning her new trade.

I accompanied her on her daily walk  to work that morning from her cute little house. She declined a speedy trip in my rented car. She said she prefers to walk since that is about the only exercise she manages to get right now.

The walk took us along a ridge above the town and bay. We passed a number of houses, some of them victorian and painted with colors that highlight their details but you know they would be fussy to do (I think they call these painted ladies). Most of the houses we passed had yards that had pride of ownership written all over them.

This is the view of the ferry port from the street that runs along  the ridge.
This is the view of the ferry port from the street that runs along the ridge.

The street descends into town and takes you past several blocks of the cute architecture I mentioned in my last post. Once we were at the port Bonnie steered me toward her favorite coffee shop, Velocity Coffee where I could grab some breakfast. She continued on to work (essentially across a parking lot).

The coffee shop was attached to a store that carried a variety of items that make sense to sailors. There were bins of brass hardware, books, foul weather clothing, cards and gift items and hanging from the ceiling were two very beautiful wooden kayaks with labels that explained they had been made as a community project. The wooden ship connection to Port Townsend suggests that wood artisans may gravitate to the town. I noticed this tiny shed of a gallery that flowed it’s wood creativity right out onto it’s shingles:



I arranged to meet Bonnie at the end of the day for my tour. I had some initial confusion as there are two tenants in this building, one being a canvas company. The canvas company door is directly off the parking lot so I assumed this was the entrance. Canvas and sail making also sound interchangeable to a sailor neophyte like me so I was on the verge of going into the wrong place. I learned later that the canvas company did serve boaters, but they made items like cushions as opposed to sails. Luckily, a discussion with someone in the coffee shop had reinforced the name “Hasse”. I chose to investigate a bit more and found the Hasse entrance on the opposite side.

The Hasse sail loft is on the second floor of a long building facing the small Point Hudson Marina. The space feels a bit like a narrow gymnasium with varnished wooden floors, long windows along each wall and a very open concept.

The main sewing room  and 'working floor space' of the sail loft.
The main sewing room and ‘working floor space’ of the sail loft.

When I arrived, it was end of the day on a Friday and one of the sewing machines was getting a good cleaning & oiling. I was told this was regularly scheduled maintenance but if they happened to miss a week or two it wasn’t serious. One of the very experienced sail makers was preparing to smudge one of the machines as it had been ‘acting up’. For those that aren’t familiar with this treatment, smudging is the ritual of burning a bundle of dried herbs (often sage) as a method of cleansing. The bundle is lit at one end, the flame is put out and then the smoke from the embers is directed around whatever needs to be cleansed. This ritual is borrowed from Native American ceremonies.

One of the sail makers smudges a temperamental sewing machine.
One of the sail makers smudges a temperamental sewing machine.

Each sail maker has a designated stool for their work. Bonnie said sail making is quite physically taxing so anything that can help to provide leverage, protection, or just ease the process is welcomed. However, it seems no one has figured out how to overcome the crouched, bent-over position one assumes for much of the day.

Sail makers' benches.
Sail makers’ benches.

The sail maker’s palm is a leather strap that fits the hand like brass knuckles. In the center of the palm is a metal disc sewn into the leather strap which provides protection and a hard surface with which to help force the needle through the fabric. Anyone who has tried sewing leather or multiple layers of fabric with an inappropriate needle will recognize the value of this tool!

Sail maker's palm for sewing with needle and thead.
Sail maker’s palm for sewing with needle and thread.

This unusual tool which looks like a soldering iron connected to a vacuum hose had copies of itself hung throughout the sail loft. The vacuum was a centralized system so all the “guns” were attached to hoses strung about the ceiling and they dangled down within easy reach.

A heat gun that melts and seals nylon edges.
A heat gun that melts and seals nylon edges.

Some of you may have already made the leap of understanding as to the marriage of the soldering iron and a vacuum. If I say this is used for sealing nylon edges, perhaps it becomes clearer. It seems the vacuum attachment was a way around needing to use a fume hood. Rather than trying to carry whatever you are working on (which may be large) to a site with a fume hood, this creation was designed to suck up the nylon fumes while you remain in place.

I was not initially aware of the centralization of the vacuum until I noticed other guns with corks in the end of their vacuum nozzles. Bonnie explained that the strength of the vacuum is reduced with every nozzle that remains open. If no corks were in the other nozzles, there wouldn’t be enough suction for it to be of any use.


Corked vacuum nylon cauterizing gun.
Corked vacuum nylon cauterizing gun.

Many people who sew have experienced insufficient space to lay out their fabric. It takes little imagination then to realize the difficulties that may be present trying to work on sails. I caught the tail end of the procession of sail makers carrying this rolled up sail into the next room on video but I can’t seem to get it to upload correctly. Instead, here is Bonnie posing next to the sail in it’s temporary storage place on this cutting table. What you may not see here is that this l-o-o-o-o-o-ng table looks pretty much like a huge air hockey table. The top appears as a plexi-type material that is perforated  throughout the entire surface. Rather than blowing air like an air hockey table, this unit creates a suction that pulls the fabric flat.

This long table is perforated with holes and can 'suck' the fabric to keep it flat.
This long table is perforated with holes and can ‘suck’ the fabric to keep it flat.

This room also had a pull-up bar. My initial thought was that it was used to drape fabric or hold things off the floor. Nope. It was a pull-up bar. Bonnie decided to try a few herself and then offered me the option. Ha ha.

Hasse Sails are a desired product as evidenced by their 1-year waiting list for new sails. I was told that some minor repairs can happen fairly quickly but the rule of thumb is that you will be on a waiting list of some kind no matter what you plan to have done. Hasse sail makers do create a few other items like totes out of sail cloth, ditty bags (can be in different sizes) and I was also told they do custom peace flags (I think you really have to know someone to accomplish this request).

I wanted to wrap up this post with this sign I saw in the sail loft. I had a brief discussion with one of the other sail makers about it. Anyone who has learned to sew from their mother can relate to that sentimentality of having Mom there to answer any  questions. It reads: “Sewing Problems? We share ideas and help with each problem. It is just like Mom is right there helping you!”

The Mom sign.
The Mom sign.


3 thoughts on “Sail Making by Hasse and Company”

  1. How interesting about the smudging. I had a friend who problems with her house and some guy came round and wafted burning sage all around it – I think it must have worked as she went on to live another 7 years there. I haven’t been sailing for years but anything nautical always appeals to me, it sounds like you had a great day 😀

  2. Looks like you are having a great trip!Thank you for sharing your adventures with us. Please say hello to Bonnie from Jay and Roni Hall!

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