After 10 fantastic years of use, this past summer it came time to replace our custom bimini. Our boat doesn’t have the standard bimini cover with a frame, it came with what I’m guessing is a home job, a bar lashed to the backstays with canvas. At some point in the future I would love to have a fully enclosed cockpit, but until that time the simple bimini works just fine. It keeps the sun off in the summer, and provides some shelter from the rain all year.
After tackling small projects over the past few years such as winch covers and lifeline covers, I figured “how hard could it be” to replace a simple bimini? Yah, simple sewing is one thing, but custom also means no pattern! Yes, I could pattern the existing bimini, but over the past 10 years we’ve also noted some options for future improvements, so while yes there’s a baseline pattern to start from, there’s no final pattern.
Being somewhat of a type A personality and a perfectionist, I of course had to browse the internet watching sailrite videos to determine what stitch types I’d use. I also scoured the internet for browsing patterns and types to see if I could get some ideas for how how to change the design.
Having an idea of how you want to sew it is only the first part of the challenge, once you think you know how you want to sew it, it’s then playing within the restrictions of the sunbrella fabric widths. Because I wanted to change the design slightly from the original, it of course meant I couldn’t sew the bimini with one piece of fabric. Understanding the fabric limitations, I then had another idea to strengthen the rear of the bimini around the bar on the back stay, as well as another idea on the front of the bimini. After a few months of researching and potentially trying to overcomplicate the design for being more of a beginner sewer, in the end I scrapped some of my ideas and went for a more simple approach so I could actually get on with it and sew it!
Our custom bimini also has zippers, allowing canvas sides to attach for the winter months when you’re not using the boat. They’re not really designed to be used while underway, more for protecting the cockpit over the winter. Again, I love boat sewing, everything’s always custom, people who only ever sew off a perfect pattern have no idea how easy they have it.
So, after months of angst over how to sew, I just got on with and told the husband it will be what it will be. A little supply shopping at Jeune Brothers Awning and I was good to go. Marine bias tape which is a lifesaver when sewing canvas, zippers, canvas, thread, marine vines, grommets, bungy cord and fastners.
I used the old bimini as my pattern guide and made some adjustments. I sewed the bimini in two pieces. I did the main body in one big piece, and then added a second piece at the top for the zipper.
One of the modifications I wanted to make on my bimini from the original design, was to add some grommets and bungee along the sides. When wind storms hit the old bimini use to flap like crazy, often causing the zipper to the dodger to come undone. On my new design, I widened the side seams to create room to run some bungee inside, coming out through some grommets.
To finish the bimini I ended up going with some fabric Jeune Brothers Awning use for their awnings. The benefit of this fabric is you don’t have to sew through three or more layers of sunbrella, but the downside, I found it annoying to work with since it wouldn’t hold a shape. I did use my bias type foot attachment for my sewing machine which made it a little easier, but I think it was my most annoying part of the sewing.
I’m happy with how it turned out! The new bimini cover fits better than the original so my modifications worked out great. Some fall and winter wind storms will need to really test out if my bungees on the side are going to help, so only time will tell how they will work.
Now that it’s up of course I’m already making notes of what I’d change in the next version ; ). Yes, I’m sure I could make some changes to it now, but it’s up and it works, so I’m moving on!
Happy sailing, and I encourage you to try some boat sewing if you haven’t ventured there yet. You can always try winch covers or lifeline covers first. I can’t say it’s always easy, but it’s rewarding when it’s done and you’ve saved money!