Vasa's Sails

I enjoyed Dr. Hocker's presentation of Vasa's sails and as I am writing a historical piece approx. 100 years prior to Vasa I am wondering if I might ask the following questions. What were the sails woven from cotton, flax, hemp or another material? Were they impregnated with a preservative, like Stockholm Tar?
I understand the Vasa's sails were woven in northern France. Has any of your research identified the city in norther France?
Many thanks in advance. Vasa has captured my attention from the beginning of her rebirth.
Dr. John H. Hodson


  • Hi Dr. Hodson,
    Thanks for your interest in our sails!
    The surviving sails we have are made in three types of cloth. The lower sails (courses, mizzen, spritsail) are in the heaviest weight, which is all hemp.The light sails (topgallantsails, mizzen topsail, spritisail topsail) are in a cloth with a finer weave, flax warp with hemp weft. The two sails for the ship's boat are similar in weight to the light sails but a different weave, and appear to be all hemp. Hemp was preferred, and in many maritime trades, using flax instead of hemp was considered fraud. There is no trace of impregnation or treatment in the cloth. Sailcloth might be treated to preserve it, but usually with fats or oils rather than tar. Tar makes the cloth sticky and stiff, so it will not set well.
    The contract for the maintenance of the fleet specified French cloth, but did not say from which of several weaving centers in France the cloth had to come. The center of the French sailcloth industry shifted somewhat over time. In the 16th century, when the English navy bought most of its sailcloth in France, they preferred cloth from Ollerons and Poldavie, but by the 17th century, cloth from Vittry or Noyalls was more common.
    Good luck with your writing!
    Fred Research Director, Ship Unit, Ph.D.

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