How to Make Enclosure Side Curtains for a Boat
This tutorial below will show the steps required to make your own side curtain enclosure panels. Every detail from patterning, sewing, and installing fasteners and zippers will be shown. Making your own boat enclosure curtains on the Bimini top may save you thousands compared to having a canvas shop to do it. It’s not as difficult as
it looks, especially after reading this tutorial.
Installing the side curtain
To attach our side curtain we will be using a zipper since our bimini top is made from
fabric. If your top is a hard top you may want to use awning track and rope or fasteners.
To sew on the zipper the bimini will need to be removed. Prior to its removal we need to mark the appropriate stop and start locations for the zipper or zippers.
Typically the zipper should stop about an inch or two away from the frame. This makes it easier to insert the zipper starter pin into the starter box when installing the side curtain.
The finished the side curtain on the port side, here you can see below.
The end of the zipper which stops about 1 inch away from the radar arch. Be sure to
mark these start and stop locations on both the starboard and port sides of the bimini.
Now the bimini for boat can be removed and taken to the sewing table. This finished zipper needs to be the correct length or longer. Then, checking to be sure the zipper is long enough to be used all along the side of the bimini.
The Seam Stick
She then flips the zipper to the underside and will apply a double sided tape called
seam stick for canvas to the flange of the zipper. This Seam Stick is a ¼ inch width
and is perfect for zipper applications because it is not so wide that the glue comes too
close to the teeth of the zipper.
The Seam Stick will temporarily hold the zipper in place so we can sew it down perfectly. The zipper has been separated and it will baste the side which has the starter post or pin to the bimini top. When the side curtain is removed we do not want the slider to left on the top but rather on the curtain so it does not flop around in the wind. We are basting the zipper so the edge of the flange is about a half inch away from the facing strip that has been sewn to the side of the bimini.
The distance from the edge
The distance from the edge is not too important, except that you want the curtain to tuck under the bimini’s edge to keep the weather away from the zipper. This finished zipper is too long so we will cut it to size with scissors at our stop mark.
The best way to use YKK #10 Finished Vislon zippers from Sailrite. Take the left over zipper and match it up with the opposite side (the side with the slider and starter box). Cut the opposite side of the zippers end off so the length of zipper is exactly the same as what has been basted on the top. Be sure to cut the end with the stop and not the starter box.
Next cut some 1” binding to a size so it can wrap around the zipper’s end to make
a zipper stop. Then begin sewing the zipper down starting at this binding zipper stop
end. Keep the stitch about an 1/8” away or more from the zippers teeth to aid in future zipping and unzipping of the slider.
The stitch length
The stitch length should be about 6mm in length. For this boat bimini project you can use duty portable sewing machine that performs great for a job like this and is cost effective.
LS-1- They are portable yet heavy duty walking foot sewing machines. This is the LS-1 a straight stitch model. You will need a heavy duty machine for enclosure side panels and the Ultrafeed sewing machines can’t be beat for the price and performance they provide.
In fact a single full enclosure job like this will easily pay for the machine and more.
As is customary when you begin sewing and end sewing do some reversing to lock the stitch in place.
Place a stop on the opposite side of the zipper that will be used on the side curtain.
Be careful to avoid touching the top.
The zipper flange
Zip the opposite side of the zipper back onto the top. Now we will use the wider 3/8 inch on the other side of the zipper flange. This wider seam stick will hold the patterning material which will be applied in the next step. Install the port side zipper following steps.
To pattern the side curtain the bimini top needs to be installed back on the boat. To
pattern we will use 3M filament strapping tape as a base for our seamstick double sided tape. This strapping tape will make it easy to remove the double sided tape from the boat when the patterning is done.
So, your boat already has snap studs installed for side curtains
so we will position the tape approximately 1 inch away from the snaps. The center of
the tape should be thought of as the edge of our curtain. If your boat never had a side
curtain you will need to think about the best location for a side curtain and apply the
tape as a frame for its creation.
The side curtain will be zipped to a front curtain which will be created after the side
curtains are finished. So, we need to think about how we want that forward edge of this side curtain to be created to make the best zipper junction.
Typically most zippered junctions to forward or aft enclosure curtains are at a corner or very near a corner turn. If your boat never had enclosure curtains installed be sure to walk around your harbor or marina and take note of how other enclosures are made. Some of the most amazing ideas can be gained from what others have done.
Notice here that the 3M filament strapping tape is not up against any hard surface. It
is simply attached to the front windshield and then the bimini tubing frame at the top. This will be the zippered edge of our side curtain where it will join up with the front curtain.
Next apply the seamstick for canvas 3/8 inch wide double sided tape on top of the strapping tape.
You can use Dura Skrim Patterning material from "Sailrite" to make a pattern. Cut
an approximate size panel to fit our side curtain frame, it is larger, but not so large
that it is difficult to work with. We like to start at the top, so to prep for basting
the pattern material will be held in place via a pony clamp at the forward edge. We could do that also at the aft edge, but since this boat has a radar arch and snaps are installed to hold the bimini top to it we will simply use a snap to hold the pattern material in place there.
The bimini top has hard action sockets installed to give the snap more holding power. Unsnap the corner snap and lay the pattern material over the stud and re-snap the top over the pattern material. This holds it in place. The fastener will snap but it will take a lot of force since the pattern material is between it.
Moving back inside the boat we can now baste the pattern material to the zippers flange via the seamstick for canvas that we installed at the swing table. However the Bimini’s forward pocket is not allowing the pattern material to lay nicely so, cut a relieve notch in the pattern material until it is free to lay flat up against the Bimini’s
Then remove the basting tapes paper transfer reveling the glue and carefully baste the pattern in place. You can doing this with only one person, but if you have a second person on the outside of the boat to apply pressure to the opposite side of the zipper second person would find it much easier to quickly baste it to the zipper.
If you don’t like how it looks you can separate it easily and re-baste it multiple times.
Now that the top of the pattern is fixed to the zippers we can move to the outside of
the boat and baste the rest of the pattern in place following the same principles.
A second person to apply pressure to the backside of the strapping tape here would be helpful. Now that the pattern is up, but more adjustment is required, it is always a good idea to cut off excessive overage, which makes the fine tuning adjust even easier to accomplish.
Make any and all adjustments now for a perfect fitting side curtain. If the pattern looks
good and is tight with no wrinkles are hard spots your enclosure curtain will look great.
The first step will be to trace a line along the center of the zipper’s teeth. Use a permanent marker with a fine tip. The line here at the aft edge is not very straight,
but we can fix that at the sewing table. Mark where the zipper ends start and stop on the pattern. A little secret trick - is to leave the half of the zipper basted to the pattern,
for more accurate marking at the sewing table later on.
As is customary a good pattern should be marked with as much detail about the boat as possible. However, don’t mark so much that you get confused at the sewing table.
marking along the radar arch and windshield edge
These will not be cut lines, but are for her reference only. You can also marks where the bimini frame falls, this will not be used when making the side curtain, but again is for reference, if needed.
Be sure to make the side curtain “Sout” for starboard outside surface so when the
second port side panel is made you do not get confused. Draw a line with the permanent marker where you want the edge of the curtain panel to end. This line should be about 1 inch away from the snap studs that are already installed on this boat. Also, mark where each snap falls on the pattern for reference. Along the top where the bimini’ edge is she will mark there also.
This corner is important because the bimini has a snap holding it to the radar arch the side curtain will have to avoid that spot, so be sure to make where that snap is on the pattern.
Along the windshield her line is more than an inch away from the snaps, that is a preference and not a rule, she wants the curtain to stop along the bottom edge of thealuminum window frame here.
Drawing a line down from the top proves to be difficult for her to keep straight, no
worries, it can be straightened at the sewing table later on.
The pattern and strapping tape with seam stick can be removed. Since the zipper is basted to the pattern we are going to try to unzip the pattern leaving the zipper attached to the pattern. This will give us the opportunity to mark the zipper edge more accurately on the opposite side of the pattern at the sewing table.
Because we left the zipper basted to the pattern we can more easily trace along the teeth on the outside surface of the pattern material. So, instead of following the line we traced inside the boat along the zipper we can use this line instead. We can also confirm the start and stop zipper locations. If the zipper fell off of the pattern, well then you would have to rely on your first marking that was done inside the boat, not a big deal, but those lines are obviously not going to be as neat as this new line.
Remove the basting tape from the zipper. Since we want the zipper’s teeth to hang slightly past the top edge we will create a new line that is down from the main cut line about a half inch.
Here on the pattern you can see where the corner snap was that held the bimini top in place (remember we snapped it over the pattern material earlier). This snap must be avoided when creating this side curtain, so think about the best way to finish this corner off.
All the edges of our curtain will be finished off with a 1” binding, one straight or angled
edge is much easier to be bound than several turned edges.
Along this forward edge the line was not very straight, but we know that it is suppost to be straight so we will use a straight edge here. This is the edge where a zipper will
be installed to attach the front curtain.
Cut out the pattern with scissors. Here we are nesting the port and starboard side curtains on our clear vinyl window material for the best possible usage.
Some vinyl choices for your Bimini
You have some choices in what brand and quality of clear vinyl you can use. We will start with the best brands Strataglass and O’Sea.
These are very UV and scratch resistant vinyls. They are also very clear,
like looking out a glass window. Strataglass is a little stiffer while O’Sea is softer.
O’Sea is chemical resistant while Strataglass is not. You can using O’Sea 30 gauge for our enclosure curtains. The second best option is Crystal Clear and Regalite both are UV resistant and very clear.
Crystal Clear is more firm while Regalite is softer. For those trying to save money Plastipane 30 gauge is an option, but not recommended since it is not as UV resistant and not as clear. Remember the cost of the clear vinyl is nothing compared to the labor involved.