Sunday, November 29, 2015

Life of UV Thread in the Tropics – How long do you plan to cruise?

Hanging out with friends at Hog Island is the 'vacation' part of living aboard a sailboat.

"We all know that living on a sailboat is a
 vocation, not a vacation."
~ statement made by James, S/V Love-Zur, during the Cruiser's Net

Sometimes life aboard requires a bit of work amidst the fun you'd rather be having. Finding that balance is important. Sometimes, just when you thought you could have a beach day, you notice that you've got some work ahead. I call it "boat love".

If you had a chance to read my previous post on our cockpit enclosure, "What we Love about our enclosure, what we DON'T and what Sailrite said", then you know that a sewing project was in my future and what UV thread to use was my biggest concern.

Troubadour's cockpit is fully shaded by our enclosure.

This blog post is about choosing a thread you will be happy with and, yes, maybe even sucking it up and digging a little deeper into your wallet to buy a more expensive thread. The questions I needed to ask myself (and you may want to consider, as well) were, "How long do I plan to cruise?" and "How often do I want to do maintenance repairs on my fabric/sewing projects?"

Chris and I are full time liveaboards and our Sunbrella and thread is exposed 365 x 7 x 24. If I would have considered this questions carefully, and thought about where I would be living in 2-3 years and what I'd like to be doing (playing on the beach with friends), I may have purchased the "lifetime" thread. At least, I'd like to think I would have.

When I researched the type of thread to use on Troubadour's cockpit enclosure in early 2013, I wrote to my friends at Sailrite to inquire about the UV 92 thread I planned to use:
"V-92 Polyester thread in the tropics will last 2 to 3 years, in less UV areas it will last 5 to 8 years. It is the most purchased thread at Sailrite. Colors of Polyester thread will fade in high UV areas in a year or so. The only UV proof thread is Tenara or Helios P it will never fade and last longer than the canvas or vinyl project, but is expensive and hard to sew with. Another thread that is a little better than just plain Polyester is Anti-wicking thread (only a few colors choices); it will last longer in the UV, but not as long as Tenara or Helios." ~Email from Sailrite (January, 2013).
Although, Sailrite recommended other thread as well, given my cruiser budget (or was it mentality?), I chose the Sunstop V-92 polyester UV non-wicking thread ($13 for 1,000 yards) in a color to match "Toast" Marine Grade Sunbrella. I thought "Two to three years? Okay, I can live with that," and placed my order. The enclosure was completed and installed in March 2013.

UV Thread break down 2.5 years after stitching. Chafe areas from Shadetree awning friction. The area will need re-stitching and patching.
Patch and re-stitching with "Lifetime" thread. (I didn't pull out old stitches, just sewed right over them.)

Flash forward two and a half years to November 2015 and I'm not so happy about my decision. Stitches have begun to break in critical areas. It suddenly feels like the enclosure was installed yesterday!

I know. I was warned. Not one to let this issue lie, I asked Matt Grant at Sailrite if he'd participate in Q & A blog post to answer some questions about thread for this blog post and for all you DIY'ers out there.

Would you comment on polyester vs. nylon thread for the tropics and what bonded means?

Sure. You should never use a Nylon thread for outdoor use. Nylon is not nearly as resistant to sun deterioration as Polyester is. Its benefit is that nylon is more elastic than polyester, which makes it more appropriate for upholstery applications where sun is not the primary concern (but stretch is). Sailrite does offer a UV treated nylon but we still don’t recommend it for extended outdoor use. That said I will make sure we do a weather test on it to see how it lasts.

Bonding is the coating that is added to the thread to make it sew better (lubrication) and to not un-lay during sewing. It is also where the additional UV inhibitors are applied.

I chose Toast Sunbrella for our awning and the color "Ashes" Sunstop V-92 thread #103025, but it doesn't appear that you carry that one any longer.

We are slowly switching to A&E thread brand. The Ashes was a Star Ultra Dee brand from Coats. I still think both are excellent products.

I used the Sunstop V92 black that came with my machine and/or Ultra Dee bonded polyester black Coats DB 92 on my sail pack (that was six years ago) the thread is holding up great.

Black or white thread is always better. These do not get a topical dye that requires a “roughing” of the polyester to get the color to stick. Black is solution dyed, so the color runs all the way through.

Will you comment on shelf life of thread once it is purchased?

At least 5 years when stored at normal temperatures.

Skipped stitches were few and it wasn't necessary to fix them.

After thinking this over and not wanting to be re-stitching the enclosure again in 2-3 years, what do you suggest?

My recommendation is a white or black which are not Vat-house dyed. The dyeing process does weaken a new thread from the start. Also if you have cleaned with bleach that will further diminish the thread life. But that said I love the idea of “Lifetime” threads like Profilen or Tenara. For an Oscillating hook machine, like the Ultrafeed, get the Profilen. The Tenara will last. Just keep in mind that it is a bit harder to sew with than the Profilen (more skips on an oscillating hook machine). For anything else both work great.

Here are some facts: Polyester thread (like the Ashes) loses over 60% of its breaking strength in the first year of use. Profilen and Tenara don’t lose any strength in the first three years. Black or white are the best colors of Polyester to use – they won’t fade quickly and they last longer than other colors. Profilen and Tenara are very expensive when compared to Polyester thread of equivalent sizes.

What needle do you recommend with the Profilen thread? It sounds like the most reliable option for my re-stitching project. We plan to continue cruising in the tropics for five or more years.

I would use a #16 needle with the Profilen. The four ounce Profilen cones are $69. Eight ounce cones are $129. We have clear and black as options. The needles are our part number 857 and a 10 pack is $5.75.


Troubadour's enclosure laces on making it easy to remove - but it takes time away from the fun stuff.
On November 18 and 19, 2015 Chris unlaced and removed the enclosure. Within six hours I had completed the re-stitching project using the “Lifetime” Profilen thread. I am elated with it! I followed Matt's recommendation of a #16 needle (but noticed afterwards that I had been using a #14). In the beginning there were a few skipped stitches, but after making a slight turn of the needle to the 10 o'clock position (as indicated in my Ultrafeed LSZ-1 Guidebook) and using a slightly smaller stitch length, I didn't have any problems. I used clear thread which I like because it makes it hard to see that I even did a re-stitching project.

I highly recommend this thread for your important long term UV exposed canvas projects.

What I used: Profilen PTFE Lifetime Thread Clear 8oz Cone, Item #: 107129, $129, compare to $13.95 for 4oz UV 92 thread (or $26 for 2 cones 8oz equivalent). Or to put it another way "Lifetime" vs. 2-3 years in the tropics.

Check out my other articles on the Sewing on Board and the DIY tabs on our blog. I hope you found this blog helpful as you prepare for your next sewing on board project.

Thanks to the team at Sailrite for your help and responses.


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