Blood & Plunder: How I Sew Sails

I started painting and modeling for Blood & Plunder in mid-2022. I recently finished rigging a Brigantine as well as a few boats, and took pictures to share my process for sewing sails. This method requires a simple sewing machine and minimal sewing experience.

The Brigantine was able to land, but all men who went ashore died or routed. Firelock Games miniatures and Brigantine ship model. Everything created and/or painted by Alan Ferrency.

Tools and Materials

I use thin cotton fabric for my sails. I look for a thin, natural colored cotton muslin at the fabric store. When sewing the sails, I use ordinary white or natural colored sewing thread. When rigging I use a thicker upholstery thread and tan colored elastic cord.


  • A sewing machine. It only needs to perform a straight stitch, but you’ll have a much easier time if the machine can sew slowly and/or has a hand wheel to advance the needle manually as needed.
  • Scissors. Don’t underestimate the importance of sharp scissors for use when sewing. Cutting fabric should feel like cutting paper, not like chewing jerky. Most folks who sew regularly dedicate a pair of scissors for use only to cut fabric, to reduce the need for sharpening.
  • An iron. Although it is possible to do without an iron and to use sewing pins instead, you will have a much better time using a clothes iron to prepare your hems. In some locations, both irons and sewing machines are commonly available inexpensively at thrift stores and/or estate sales.
  • Water spray bottle. In a pinch you can use a bowl and your hands; you just need to be able to get the fabric damp in a predictable way.
  • Pencil and paper.

Making Sails

In order to make sails, you first need a paper pattern for each sail shape you will be making. You can download sail templates from the Firelock Games DLC site, but beware that these templates often do not perfectly match the assembled rigging. I recommend using paper to fiddle with the exact shape of the sail required, based on your (partially) assembled rigging. Once you have the sail shape correct, you can trace the paper’s shape onto cloth to make a cloth sail.

Trace each pattern onto the cotton cloth, leaving at least 3/8″ (1cm) extra cloth on each side.

I iron the fabric before tracing patterns, to make sure it’s flat and wrinkle-free. When tracing the paper patterns onto the cloth, the direction of the pattern in relation to the cloth is important. Cloth has long straight fibers going the length of the cloth (the warp) and looser, slightly more stretchy fibers going across the warp (the weft); but it’s stretchiest along the diagonal. In order to make your sails look “billowed” correctly, especially if you’ll be using sizing (glue) to curve them, you will want to make sure that the seam lines shown on the sail pattern are parallel to the warp (length) of the fabric. When designing your own sails, typically the seam lines go vertically on square sails, or parallel to the longest side on non-square sails.

Trace around each pattern using a pencil, leaving at least 3/8″ extra cloth on each side, or more between two pieces. This is a folding line, not a cutting line! You need extra cloth outside the line to hem each edge, so cut at least 3/8″ from the line.

When you cut the sails, don’t cut on the line! Leave at least 3/8″ (10mm) of extra cloth on each side.

The next step is to prepare the edges of the sails for sewing. For this, we first fold over the corners and iron them, and then fold over each side and iron it. The objective is to get the pencil line on the outside of the fold once you’re finished ironing. It may not be perfect the first time, but the closer you are, the closer you’ll be to the right size.

Spray the sail to make it damp. Fold a corner over, leaving the pencil line on the outside, so the fold stops just at the corner where pencil lines meet. Use the iron to press the corner until it is dry and stays in place.
Next, do the same on each side: spray, fold, iron to press into place. When you’re finished, iron the entire sail flat. Everything should stay in place without unfolding or causing trouble.

When working with sails with sharp corners such as Lateen or Gaff sails, you may end up with the side fabric overlapping where the next side needs to fold on the corner. I recommend trimming away any overlapping cloth, as long as you don’t cut into the bottom layer or the corner itself. You may also need to trim the second fold before cutting to avoid sewing down too many layers. I usually start on the pointy corner so I pay attention to it.

Trim sharp corners as needed to allow the next corner to fold correctly.

Next is the fun part: sewing!

Here, the overall objective is to sew a line around the edge of each sail to secure the edge, and then to sew decorative “seam” lines along the length of the sail. These lines represent the seams between pieces of sailcloth on an actual sail. Sails are wider than a single bold of cloth, so many pieces of cloth must be sewn together to form a sail. Those seams are typically less stretchy than the rest of the sail, which affects the way the sail looks when it is billowed. Luckily for us, a decorative straight stitch at the proper tension is also less stretchy than the cloth, which helps the sail billow more realistically.

Start sewing exactly at the corner of the sail, only 1/16″ (1-2mm) from the edge.

Start sewing on one corner, using a straight stitch, very close to the edge. I use a tight stitch, maybe 2-3 mm long. I usually lock the threads on the end by making 2 stitches, reversing for 2 stitches, and then stitching forward until the next corner. To sew a perfect tight corner: go slowly or manually until you reach the corner with the needle in the fabric exactly where you want the corner. Then stop sewing, lift the presser foot, turn the fabric to align it with the new sewing direction, and start sewing the new edge.

When you get to the end, lock the thread with 2 more stitches and trim the excess thread.

When complete, you should have a clean line of stitching close to each edge, with a lot of extra fabric on the inside.

After sewing the edges of each sail, we need to trim the excess fabric before sewing the decorative seam lines. For this, I carefully align the part I’m cutting off on my lower scissor blade as I carefully cut as close as possible to the stitching without cutting the stitching or the lower fabric layer. The corners require extra work because they have several layers of excess fabric that must all be trimmed.

Trimmed sails, ready to sew seam lines as needed.

After the edges are trimmed, the sails may need a bit of ironing to make them flat again. Sewing the decorative seam lines is straightforward. I lock the threads on each end here as well. I mark the location of each line, to make sure they’re spaced correctly, and I use the decorative trim on the front of my sewing machine to keep the fabric aligned. A sticky ruler or marker lines on your machine would work at least as well.

Everything Else

This article is about the sewing… sorry no pics of anything else.

I don’t typically dye or stain my sail cloth, but I do often end up with mineral stains due to ironing that help give it a weathered look… I tell myself, looking on the bright side.

For fore-aft sails, I typically leave the cloth loose, without any glue or starch to keep it in a specific shape. I tend to use tension-based rigging instead of gluing all my yards in place, so the cloth ends up as a bit of a structural component of the rigging when I’m finished.

For square sails, my current technique is to curve the sail on a rubber playground ball, using a mixture of extremely watered down white glue. I use a brush to saturate the sail with watered down glue, and to press it into a curved shape on the ball. Since cloth is stretchier in the diagonal, you’ll naturally end up with the corners ending up a it pointier and the edges curved inward. To keep the top edge of large square sails straight for mounting on the beam, I use a skewer to keep the top edge of the sail straight while the rest is curved onto the ball.

Completed Brigantine using the sails sewn in this article.

Triumph Renovation part 2a: Warring States Chinese

To take advantage of Museum Miniatures’ January sale, I placed a large order for Warring States Chinese figures to bring my triple army up to date. So far I have painted up a lot of Bow Levy, and rebased my DBA 4Sp figures as Light Foot for Early Warring States.

All of the figures are Museum. The red guys were painted by JM, the rest by me.

After I finished painting up all the Bow Levy bowmen, I read the Meshwesh army list more closely and realized I should’ve gotten crossbowmen instead. I opted not to restart from scratch. I have about 5 more bow figures that I will eventually base as Skirmishers or Archers depending on what the army needs when I’m finished.

Newly painted Museum 15mm Warring States Chinese bow levy.

After rebasing, I got 16 stands of Light Foot out of my 12 stands of 4Sp and assorted spare spearmen. This is not quite enough for a triple Early Warring States army; it looks like I may need to buy a few more packs of spears or just pretend my halberdiers are light foot.

Rebased Warring States Chinese Light Foot, Museum Miniatures

JM’s basing didn’t match mine, and the paste he used ran off the sides of the metal bases, so I decided to rebase his 3Cb as proper Archers, and rebased a few Skirmishers for good measure.

Rebased Museum Miniatures Archers and Skirmishers

Running tally of Triumph Conversions

This post

  • Newly Painted: 12 elements; 36 figures (plus 5 not shown)
  • Rebased: 20 elements


  • Newly Painted: 34 elements; 109 figures
  • Painted/Rebased: 7 elements; 8 figures painted
  • Rebased: 32 elements


Triumph Renovation part 1: Greek, Thracian, Macedonian, and Persian

I’ve started playing Triumph. After building a few armies out of my existing DBA figures, I decided to build up my armies to better work with Triumph. Depending on the army, this means either rebasing elements or painting new ones to increase the size of the force.  I’ve had to do a little of both, to get my Classical armies up to date.  Clearly I need to adjust my depth of field  and get some better lighting before I take too many more pictures.

I started with figures I had on hand that extend the armies I already have painted. My first batch was enough Greeks and Thracians to at least be able to field single armies.

Now that Greek Hoplite armies are mostly Heavy foot but with some Elite Foot, I need both more elements in total and some different elements to distinguish between Heavy and Elite.  I painted up some Essex Later Hoplite Greek figures wearing metal breast plates to represent Elite Foot, as well as a dedicated general and a few more linen armored units.  Everything is hand painted including the shields, but my decreasing eyesight is becoming apparent.  Along with my 12 Spartan Hoplites this is more than enough to field most Hoplite-heavy Greek armies or a Persian triple army mercenary Hoplite contigent.

Newly painted Essex Later Greek Hoplites, 15mm

The other major change in Greek armies was reclassification of light troops from Psiloi to Rabble.  I had 2 elements of Greek Psiloi that I rebased as Rabble, and eventually I painted some more to bring it up to 4 rabble. The paint jobs were close enough that none of the figures stand out, once they’re based consistently.  I also painted 3 elements of Thracian Light Foot to augment my Thracian army.

Thracian light foot in the front; Essex figures with maybe a few Old Glory? Rebased Greek Rabble in the rear; Essex 15mm

A combination of rebased and newly painted Greek Rabble: mostly Essex, some Old Glory.

Along with the Greek Rabble, I also painted a bunch of Javelin Cavalry for my Alexandrian Macedonian army. Most of these represent Thessalian Cavalry, but there’s also an element that is more plausibly Thracian.  This is a mix of Magister Militum (Chariot) figures and Essex 15mm. The size difference is apparent if you’re looking for it, but not so bad when they’re based consistently and with only two horses per element.

Newly painted Greek and Thracian cavalry for Alexander the Great. Essex and Magister Militum 15mm

Thinking a bit harder, I don’t remember what order I painted all these in, so I might’ve gotten some of it wrong.  In any case, I also needed way more Hypaspists for a triple Alexander the Great army, and my existing Hypaspist needed to be rebased as Raiders.  I could’ve chosen Pike, but I don’t yet have a full set of Alexandrian pike yet, so I decided to make the Hypaspists Raiders for variety.  These were Old Glory figures I got from JM unpainted.  I declined to paint even more Alexandrians looking like clowns, and chose more straightforward colors for their armor.  The shields and plumes are enough color for these elements. I also had a few elements that were previously “4Ax,” but the closest equivalent in Triumph is Greek Mercenary Peltasts (Light Foot); so, more rebasing…

Newly painted Alexandrian Hypaspists: Raiders; Old Glory 15mm

Rebased Hypaspists (Raiders) and Greek Peltasts (Light Foot); 15mm Essex

Next are some mostly rebased Persians, augmented with newly painted Light Foot. I had 4 stands of Persian 3Ax with identical figures on each set of 2 stands, as well as 6 more identical unpainted peltasts.  I painted the 6 remaining guys and rebased everything with different figures on each base for variety.  You can find the newly painted figures if you look hard enough, but the paint jobs are close enough to match well.  I also rebased a bunch of DBA 3Cv stands as Javelin Cavalry, including the general, who is no longer allowed to go into battle on a chariot.  Good for morale, bad for King Darius’ hemorrhoids.

Persian Light Foot; Essex 15mm. Mostly rebased, with the guy sticking his arm out to the right on each stand newly painted.

Rebased Persian Javelin Cavalry; 15mm Magister Militum (Chariot) and Essex.

At this point I have a lot of options for an Alexandrian Macedonian triple army in Triumph, and limited choices for Later Achaemenid Persians. I may pick up some more Light Foot figures for the Persians, but I have enough mounted troops for now.

Rebasing figures that were originally based on metal bases, attached with either super glue or epoxy, is basically not a problem at all. The figures can be removed easily with an X-acto chisel blade, and it gives me an opportunity to update my basing. I’m not sure how difficult it will be to remove figures from wooden bases.

Running tally of Triumph Conversions

  • Newly Painted: 22 elements; 73 figures
  • Painted/Rebased: 7 elements; 8 figures painted
  • Rebased Elements: 12 elements

Later Pre-Islamic Arabs; Alexandrian Macedonians

In preparation for posting images of newly painted figures, I’m catching up on some older pictures I never posted.

These figures were painted in 2013-2014, but I don’t think I ever posted pictures of them.

First is a Later Pre-Islamic Arab army I built for BBDBA. Most of the figures are Essex, I believe; but frankly I don’t completely remember.

Later Pre-Islamic Arab army, 15mm

Next are two stands of Companion Cavalry for Alexander the Great’s army.

Alexandrian Macedonian companion cavalry, 15mm Chariot (Magister Militum) miniatures

OpenForge: 3d Printed Dungeon Terrain

The availability of a large selection of models for wargaming and RPG terrain was a huge factor in deciding to purchase a 3d printer. Here are some examples of OpenForge dungeon tiles I’ve printed and painted.

OpenForge dungeon tiles and Carrion Crawler models printed in PLA.

Because OpenForge 2.0 “low wall” pieces weren’t available when I settled on what I was going to print, I decided to drop the wall height by 15mm everywhere. This makes things more visible in tight spaces while keeping it visually interesting, but unfortunately the doorways don’t line up perfectly.

I settled on using magnetized bases: each base has a spherical magnet at the edge of each 1″ square, which allows the pieces to align and stay aligned during use. It’s not a strong connection, but it works fine for single floor dungeons.

The first image is an encounter I set up for a D&D game I’m running with Ezra and some of his friends. This is the tower in Thundertree (from the Mines of Phandelver introductory adventure) some time after another group of adventurers came through and killed the dragon.  Carrion crawlers and insects now inhabit the area, preventing local loggers from using and restoring the tower.

A selection of painted and unpainted OpenForge dungeon tiles

DBA Army III/70b: Georgians

Here is my recently completed Georgian army for DBA 2.2+.

DBA Army III/70b: Georgians. Essex miniatures.
Georgian 3Kn General and 3x3Kn.  Essex Miniatures.

I painted this army for the God Wills It! First Crusade Campaign Theme, which will be run on Saturday night at Fall-In 2013.

The primary factor for me choosing this army was that the slot was still available in the campaign.  However, I also had a number of the figures on hand, as leftovers from other projects.  I chose the rest of the figures based on what Jack Sheriff used in his Georgian army.

Unlike Jack’s figures, most of mine are stock, unmodified Essex miniatures.  The exceptions are four Light Horse models, which were Bulgar archers.  They had large toggles on the front of their coats, which I removed to make them look almost identical to the Essex Kipchak/Cuman figures.

III/70b: 4x2LH. Essex Miniatures.
III/70b: 2x4Sp. Essex Miniatures.

The Knights are a mix of Essex Georgian knights and other similar knights.  The general and his supporting figures are a generic Eastern European command set.

I had a hard time finding any definitive information on colors and shield patterns for this army. I would not use this army as an example of what Georgians are supposed to look like.  I was inspired by a few other painted Georgian armies online, and pictures of

As usual, these are painted primarily with Vallejo acrylics. I use a combination of painted highlights and several colors of ink washes for shading.  Shields are hand painted.

III/70b: 2x3Bw. Essex Miniatures.


III/70b: 2x2Ps. Essex Miniatures.


25mm DBA Army III/62b: Early Polish

DBA army III/62b: Early Polish; 25mm figures.

“Since when do you play 25’s?”
“Why are you playing 25mm?”

I’ve gotten a lot of heckling from my friends, but the explanation is simple: at Fall-In 2013, there is nothing else going on during the 25mm tournament, and I’m not going to use up my whole Saturday without playing anything before the campaign event.  If I did that, I’d only go buy things.

So, I built a 25mm army from figures I had on hand.  I didn’t paint this army, I bought the figures already painted.  I only touched them up, applied some ink, and based them.  They’re brighter than they’d be if I painted them, but I didn’t have to put the effort in, which is fine with me.  I’ll save my limited 25mm painting for HotT armies.

DBA Army I/51: Neo-Assyrian Later Sargonid

In preparation for the Assyrian campaign event at Fall-In 2012, JM and I ordered Neo-Assyrian Later Sargonid armies from Magister Militum.  JM planned to paint his for the campaign event, and I’d paint mine so we could build a BBDBA army out of them.  Yeah, that was a year ago.

DBA army I/51: Neo-Assyrian Later Sargonid; Magister Militum figures
Assyrian Chariots; Magister Militum miniatures.

As with many plans, this one failed to survive contact with the enemy.  JM didn’t go to Fall-In, and I didn’t have an occasion to paint the Assyrians for BBDBA until this year.  I planned to go to Fall-In 2013 with Mike Kaizar (there’s that “plan” thing again), and wanted to play Assyrians in Big Battles. I got as far as painting this army in September before Mike cancelled, and I found another Big Battle partner who already has Assyrians painted.

Assyrian Spearmen; Magister Militum miniatures.

I didn’t do much research for color selections with this army.  Essentially, I had a vague memory of seeing Assyrians in light blue-grey and red, and did that.  The army painted up fairly quickly due to the few number of colors used, and I’m happy with the way they turned out.

Biblical armies are my “dump stat,” so I don’t usually spend much time on them despite tending to enjoy the fast pace of Biblical battles. Luckily it’s often fairly easy to get a good look for them since they typically have simple clothing.

Assyrian Spearmen; Magister Militum miniatures.

I like the Magister Militum figures. I believe these were originally Chariot miniatures before Magister Militum purchased the line.  They’re sculpted well, and have a “toy soldier” feel, with very limited and static poses.  The overall effect is good, though it has a bit of a “retro” feel compared to more modern figures.

The figures they provided for the Horde elements are interesting. They sent an even mix of archers and lightly armed spearmen. I decided to base them up similarly to Pavisers, since it doesn’t make much sense to put the spearmen behind the bows.

Assyrian Auxilia; Magister Militum miniatures.


Assyrian Cavalry; Magister Militum miniatures.


Assyrian Psiloi and Horde; Magister Militum miniature.


HoTT Army: Professor Hans’ Metal Minions

Here is my latest Hordes of the Things army: Professor Hans’ Metal Minions.  I just made that up.  I finished this army before Cold Wars, but didn’t get a chance to post about it yet.

Professor Hans’ Metal Minions
Professor Hans and his Avatar: Magician General.

Professor Hans was afflicted with Polio at a young age.  For years he studied Science, Technology, and the dark arts of Alchemy to try to find a solution to his frustrated confinement. After receiving a small mechanical assistant robot from his uncle, he began experimenting with building ever more complex mechanical bodies.

Eventually he invented a mind-machine interface that allowed him to give his creations the autonomy they deserved. This army is the result of years of experimentation with transplanting insect and animal brains into mechanical bodies.

His work must continue until he feels he can successfully transplant his own brain into a suitable host body.  In the mean time, his army gives him the tools he needs to find human subjects for further experimentation.

Professor Hans’ Brass Spiders: 4x Beast

This army is built primarily out of Mage Knight figures, but there are a few from other prepainted sets: Dungeons and Dragons and Dreamblade.  I repainted, touched up, and/or converted all of the figures in one way or another.

Professor Hans is a figure called “Gent” from the Dreamblade series of prepainted miniatures.  I repainted him with a brass colored integrated wheelchair.  In his hand he holds the Aetheric Impulse Controller for his Avatar, who can shoot its Aetheric Wave Gun at enemies that Hans has a particularly strong interest in.  Hans’ Avatar is a repainted Mage Knight figure.

Professor Hans’ Camel Backs: 2x Shooter

His brass spiders are early creations that use a spider’s brain to control their steam powered bodies.  They are Mage Knight figures that originally had riders.  I removed the riders, filled in the seats, added smoke stacks, and repainted them all.  These are Beast elements.

The Camel Backs are an early success with Hans’ use of the mammalian brain.  They carry steam boilers on their back and shoot cannons instead of spitting. These are Mage Knight figures repainted silver with brass highlights.  They are Shooter elements.

Professor Hans’ Turtle Men: 4x Blades

The Turtle Men use brass bodies controlled with the brain of a snapping turtle.  They are mixed Mage Knight figures, also repainted in a better brass color with matching color highlights.  They’re Blade elements.

Papa Bear is a giant steel mech controlled with the brain of a bear.  It’s a Dungeons and Dragons prepainted figure. Most of the paint is original, but I changed the highlights from copper colored to brass so they’d match the rest of the army.  This is a Behemoth element.

The Dragonfly combines Hans’ insect brain interface with a flying mech that uses his newer, smaller power sources.  It’s a flyer. This is also a Mage Knight figure that had a seat and a rider. I filled it in and repainted portions of the figure.

Now all I need is a stronghold!

Professor Hans’ Papa Bear: 1x Behemoth


Professor Hans’ Dragonfly: 1x Flyer