Sailcloth upcycling: a new canvas

Take an old sail and turn it into fabulous contemporary outdoor furniture. It's recycling, it's upcycling, it's environmentally sound..yet, perhaps surprisingly, products aren't that easy to find

By Abby Trow

It's that time of the year when we head to the garden, the pool or the beach..and if you're after some comfortable things to sit/recline on that have a nautical air, are hardwearing and made from recycled materials, consider products made from upcycled sailcloth. Pictured above: Spanish company Dvelas makes terrific high-end contemporary pieces of outdoor furniture using old sails, such as the new for 2020 a simple folding plywood seat for in/outdoors. UK sail upcyclers include Oarsum and Quba. More are needed so come on, get creative!

Dvelas is a perfect example of how simple and effective recycling can be. Based in Pamplona, it takes sails from boats and yachts that have become too worn for further use at sea and turns them into contemporary seating - beanbags, loungers, sun shades, stools and deckchairs. Set up by two architects, a sail maker and a product designer, all Dvelas designs are inspired by sailing and the sea, with ‘the poetry of life on the ocean wave’ providing a conceptual component to the collection.

Designer Arraitz Koch says sails have an intrinsic beauty and the provenance of each one is important. ‘A limited series of products can be made from each sail. All our pieces are tagged with the information we have about the sail they come from – the manufacturer, the boat it was on and the port that vessel was based at.’ Also part of Dvelas are Pamplona architect practice Kahle Oiza Arauzo, Madrid architects Karq Global Design and Borja Fuentes, who manufactures sails as well as being an architect. Dvelas are keen to hear from anyone with sails, coloured ones in particular, in need of a new life, and they may be prepared to exchange their finished products for sails.

Perfect for evening games on deck...sailcloth backgammon set from Oarsum scrolls up when not in use.
Vaurien lounger from Dvelas
Sports/weekend bags made from sailcloth by Oarsum
Coy foldable daybed from Dvelas, made from recycled sails and plywood
Windbreaks made from old sails by Isle of Wight-based
Recycled sail deckchair from Quba

In the UK, OarsumWightsails and Quba are companies that upcycle old sails into furniture, homewares and accessories such as washbags, and the former two manufacture solely in the UK.  

James Griffiths of Winchester-based Oarsum - which his wife Judy set up four years ago - says using old sails to make new products is a very sensible thing to do: 'That's because nearly all sails are made from synthetic fibres and so would take hundreds of years to degrade if they were sent to landfill. 

'Our clientele is growing and customers like the fact that our business is about recycling. But just as crucially they like the colours and originality of the pieces we make - we can personalise our products, which are all hand-made, with dates, numbers and letters, as well as national flags.'

Griffiths says sailcloth can be very lightweight or tough, depending on what type of sail you're talking about, and what's great about it for outdoor furniture and accessories such as cushions is that it's showerproof and very quick to dry.

'However, don't think you can just leave a deckchair, beanbag or cushion out all year because the fabric will become mildewed,' he says. 'You do need to take sailcloth products indoors over the winter months.' 



Recycled sail tote bag from Pablo the Sailmaker, on Etsy, £50
Director's fold up chair from Oarsum

The nautical idiosyncratic look of sailcloth products has broad appeal, says Griffiths, but he adds that sailors and people who like the seaside are particularly fond of it for obvious reasons. And for customers who do enjoy life bobbing about on the ocean wave 'our bestsellers are our washbags that are splash proof and roll up incredibly small, and our backgammon set, which scrolls up to take up no space.'