I almost called this “sewing a new dodger”, but let’s be honest — the actual sewing part is maybe 10, 15% of this project? The other 85% is patterning and taping and cutting and binding and taping and stitch-ripping and taping and binding and swearing and binding and taping.
Case in point? This baby took 215 feet of binding. TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN FEET. I ordered 300′, because it was cheaper to order 300′ than 200′ (go figure, Sailrite) and thank God I did or we would have been short!
Anyways, other than pictures the only thing I really wanted to share about this project was some of the debates we had with ourselves…
Makrolon vs Strataglass vs Other
So the old dodger has some super cheap plastic vinyl windows, and while they looked *really* good when we first added them (we replaced the windows and the zippers in the old dodger before finally declaring it dead last winter), they didn’t hold up at all. They turned yellow, they fogged, and then finally last year they ALL cracked when we took the dodger down. So we knew that going the cheap route wasn’t the answer.
Next up, we ordered a roll of Strataglass. At $200 a roll (small roll!) this stuff isn’t cheap, but it comes highly recommended. That said, when it arrived we felt… disappointed? The edges were delaminating a little, and even when it was completely flat it wasn’t completely wave-free. Given the price and the reputation, I think our expectations were maybe just too high — but if we were going to all the dang hassle of building a new dodger, we wanted something that would look AMAZING.
Side note: Jon and I had many conversations about this before I finally gave in and agreed that he was right, Strataglass wasn’t the amazing product we’d hoped it would be.
Enter Tim, the awesome owner and face behind Canvas Tek — a local marine canvas shop here in Portland. Jon ran into Tim on the docks and got chatting with him, asking what he’d recommend for window materials. This was how we learned about Makrolon — a super thin Lexan-like glass, that you can sew. It’s CRYSTAL clear, and hard as nails. Tim told us we might have to cut it out with a jigsaw. We were sold.
Final verdict: Now, in all fairness, I need to warn you that sewing this stuff is NOT fun. It definitely took a toll on my Sailrite sewing machine, and it absolutely added some gray hairs to my poor streaked head. BUT — and this is the important part — it looks SO good, and is SO clear and completely unwrinkleable, that I would absolutely without a doubt use it again.
Not that I’m ever sewing another dodger!
But if I was going to, I’d buy this stuff.
Stamoid vs Sunbrella vs Other
So again, the old dodger (which we really liked, by the way — if it wasn’t cracked and literally falling apart we would have kept it!) was made from an interesting vinyl-fabric hybrid. We never figured out exactly what it was, actually — but it was kind of plasticy on the outside (aka: waterproof) and then a darker green canvas on the inside.
We’d seen Sunbrella dodgers and liked how they looked, but we also really loved our vinyl-like old dodger. In talking to Tim again (he was a wealth of knowledge throughout this process!) he suggested we consider Stamoid. Stamoid kind of feels like a cheap table cloth material (but don’t worry, it costs WAY more 😉 ). We decided we liked it, and bought it.
Final verdict: I’m still undecided on this one. It’s really nice to work with — there’s zero fraying or strings to deal with, and it looks super clean and crisp — but it also has zero give so it needs to be sewn *very precisely* or it looks like wrinkled garbage.
Adjusting the old frame vs Buying a new frame
The old dodger shape was great — we loved the protection and look on the boat. But it was 2″ shy of being able to fit two solar panels on top side-by-side (we could fit one panel the opposite way no problem), it was at *precisely* Jon’s eye-level (so he couldn’t see over it or under it comfortably), and given how much we found ourselves hanging on to it in rough seas, it wasn’t necessarily the most sturdy thing ever.
We briefly debated starting from scratch with a new frame, but in the end decided we could modify the frame ourselves. By cutting the aft supports down 3″, we lowered the overall height of the dodger and lengthened the top — giving us the room we needed for two solar panels. Then we added two additional forward struts, making the whole thing wicked rugged.
Wicked rugged, I say!
Final verdict: Complete success. Modifying stainless bits is surprisingly fun.
Doing this ourselves vs Hiring a professional
Okay, true confession time — this was a project I’d been dreading since the day we bought the boat. Dodgers are intimidating! Dodgers are big projects! Dodgers can change the whole look of the boat! But after Jon installed a new engine AND painted the topsides this year (the other two projects I was terrified of), I pretty much had no excuses left 🙂
In fairness though, because we made some mistakes and wanted to do this the most “right” way we could, doing it ourselves didn’t save us quite as much money as we’d originally hoped — and it definitely took a lot of time.
- Quote #1: $5000 (I don’t think they wanted our business though), zero time
- Quote #2: $3500, zero time
- Doing it ourselves: $1080 plus approximately 55 hours of our time.
Our costs broke down as follows:
- $400 on Stamoid, Makrolon, double-sided tape and zippers
- $110 on binding
- $70 on the Sailrite Swing-Away Binding Accessory — literally my FAVORITE sewing machine accessory. If you are doing ANY binding, do yourself a favor and buy this.
- $100 on stainless struts and fittings
- $150 on a white leather hide – completely not necessary, but I really like using leather to reinforce critical points, and having a whole hide around to do chafe protection is super handy. Plus who doesn’t like leather??
- $50 on snaps
- $200 on Strataglass – complete waste, but we’re keeping it for a future bimini and cockpit enclosure
- Patterning: One FULL day. But this made everything else infinitely easier
- Cutting out fabric and windows: Two days. Insane, I know, but it’s a ton of work to even transfer the patterns to the fabric, and we were being super careful.
- Installing snaps: half a day. Why do the little things always take longer than you expect??
- Rest of the time was sewing
Other random lessons
- Buy the stupid patterning material from Sailrite. I tried to use some cheap vinyl from Joanns but it was too heavy and stretchy
- Put regular painters tape down before you put the double-sided tape down on your frame (when you’re patterning) – makes it infinitely easier to peel it all off later
- The Sailrite video on dodgers is not that helpful – the dodger they make is pretty ugly, and way simpler than most cruising dodgers. We did much better walking the docks and looking at how other people did things, as well as how our old dodger was constructed
- Mark EVERYTHING – once you take the patterns off the frame, they stop making sense at all. Especially pay attention to where zippers will start and stop, and where fabric pieces will all join together
- Dodgers absolutely need brims. We thought brims might be an old fashioned thing, but realized they do the critical job of keeping water from running on your face AND keep zippers protected from the sun.
- Zipper pockets around the frame work well to tension everything
- You can cut Makrolon with scissors. But then you will need to throw out those scissors.
- You can sew Makrolon with a Sailrite (mine is an old LS-1, and it did just fine) but you will absolutely need to buy needles (I’d never replaced a needle on my machine!) and you may have to play with the timing if the slamming throws everything out of whack.
- Sewing Makrolon sounds like elephants are stampeding
- A large living room is a huge plus – we did the top and part of the sides out of one long piece, and it was over 14′ long! Luckily my mom-in-law didn’t mind us taking over her living room!
- Double-sided tape is a miracle
- You can’t install snaps in one layer of fabric – they’ll tear out. So we added a 3″ strip of leather to the entire inside bottom edge of the dodger, and that turned out really nice.
At the end of the day
We’re so happy with how it all turned out, and I learned a LOT about sewing and about dodgers in particular. We’ve had quite a few compliments on the dodger, and Tim the canvas man even offered me a job 🙂 So I take that as a pretty good sign that it turned out well!