Doing it yourself is less expensive than an boat canvas shop.

Sewing Canvas: The Ins and Outs of Outdoor Fabrics

by Lydia Morgan
From a Newsletter published in the Summer of 1998
(things have not changed!)

We have been marketing Awning, Marine and outdoor furniture fabrics for ten years. We have noticed that most sewers are reluctant to try a project using the heavier outdoor fabrics. It's easier than you think. You can make your special project and save yourself some money. Most Canvas shops charge at least $50/hour labor. Sewing with outdoor fabrics is fun and gives a unique sense of accomplishment. It isn't everybody that can make a tote bag to match his or her RV's Awning.


For a first project, using outdoor fabrics, we recomend you keep it simple. Make slip covers for your patio furniture or a custom bag. If you own a sailboat, a winch cover is a great first canvas project. There are two very good books on using outdoor fabrics available. "The Big Book of Boat Canvas" and "The Complete Canvas Workers Guide". Take on larger and more complicated projects as you build your confidence.


Selecting the right fabric for your project will depend on what you are making, the look you want to achieve and the which part of the country you live in. Outdoor fabrics are also useful for backpacks, tote bags and other accessories. In general, outdoor fabric will cost more than clothing fabric - for good reason - it has to stand up to the weather!
Sunbrella®, manufactured by Glen Raven Mills, is the most common Awning and Marine canvas. It is a solution-dyed woven acrylic canvas. It is available in over 40 colors. This fabric is highly water-resistant but not waterproof. It is among the easiest to sew of the outdoor fabrics. It is not particularly abrasion resistant. Wear points have to be reinforced with a vinyl. Sunbrella will last for many years out in the weather.After about four years, renew the water resistance with Aquatite. For more information about Sunbrella visitGlen Raven's Website
Another popular fabric is Denim-Backed Vinyl. It is a gray denim fabric laminated with an off-white vinyl. Like any vinyl fabric, it is waterprof. The vinyl is the side exposed to the weather. This fabric does not have the longevity of Sunbrella, but is less expensive. It is very abrasion resistant. To extend the life of the fabric, spray the vinyl side with 303 Protective Spray.
Vinyl Laminates are a two ply fabric. Two layers of vinyl are laminated over a scrim of polyester thread. The top and bottom can be different colors. White or off-white is usually the outside color and light blue or a tan the inside color. The usual application for vinyl laminates is for Awnings. The boating applications include Bimini tops or Dodgers. To extend the life of these fabrics, spray the side exposed to the Sun with 303 Protective Spray.
Pfifertex®; also known as Vinyl Coated Mesh is an upholstery fabric foroutdoor furniture. It can be thought of as "fiberglass window screen dipped in vinyl". Available in a variety of colors, it is used to make slip covers along with closedcell foam or polyester batting for outdoor cushions. It makes an excellent see-through bag. We made the perfect mesh bag tostow the anchor and anchor rope on our boat...the water drains right out! It is also used as a windscreen, for partial wind blockage. Because vinyl-coated mesh blocks 50% of the light, another application is for partial light blockage. For boats or RV's it is often used as a windshield or window cover, to decrease the amount of light coming through.
Clear Vinyls are primarily used for enclosures for screened-in patios or porches.For boats, it is used to enclose the cockpit or flybridge area. It is sold either by the yard or in sheets. The sheet glass is more optically clear and more expensive. The 20 gauge will make a great see through pocket book. Use Novus for cleaning and scratch removal.
Boat Shrunk Canvas and Poly/Cotton Canvas can be left outdoors in the cooler regions of the world. They are water repellent and mildew resistant. They are excellent cover fabrics. A good rule of thumb: If the boating season in your part of the country runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, these fabrics will work o.k. for you and save you some money. But, they don't last long in the South.
Our Chair and Seat Vinyls are marine grade and have some resistance to the weather. However, they may not be left in the weather permanently.(303 Protective Spray will greatly extend the life of any vinyl exposed to Sunlight.) Upholstery grade Vinyls have a very short lifespan in marine service.
Nylon fabrics: Oxford, Packcloth andCordura®, along with our Cotton Duck, make great tote bags, backpacks and soft luggage. These are easy to sew for a beginner project. To see all of our Outdoor and Marine fabrics, go to Outdoor Fabrics.


Sewing canvas and other outdoor fabrics requires heavy thread. For sewing Canvas on a home sewing machine, we recommend V 69. This is the heaviest thread that can be used on most home machines. If you have access to a commercial sewing machine you can use V 92, which is heavier.
We have v 69 in one ounce spools (aprox 300 yd) in a variety of colors. We have v 69 in four ounce and one pound spools in black and white.


To use the heavier threads, like V 69 you will need to use a larger needle. We recommend you use a #18 Jeans Needle.

Sewing Machines

Most sewing machines made in recent years will work with the heavier fabrics. The ones that work best are machines that allow easy adjustment of the lower bobbin tension. The heavier fabrics will not damage a sewing machine, if handled correctly. Do not allow the fabric to drag. To help the fabric flow well with large projects, place a table to the side and front of the machine. All Vinyls sew better with a walking, rolling or Teflon foot on your machine. For more information, go to Sewing with Heavier Thread.

Our Customers have a high success rate using these Fabrics. If you have any questions, please Contact me.

Back to SewTime with Lydia

Thank you for reading Lydia's article on Outdoor Fabrics. We hope you have learned something from this article. This button takes you back to the main page. Or click on a merchandise category on the left hand frame. If you were wondering how to sew canvas, I hope this article was of help.

If you like what you see here, please like us on Facebook!