Fabric Feature: Vinyl

If you’re looking for a durable, weather-proof, easy-to-clean fabric for your boat, patio, awning, or even your home, you might want to consider vinyl. Vinyl fabrics come in a variety of types, textures and colors and are designed for a wide array of uses, all with the same great durability. In today’s Fabric Feature we’re going to take a closer look at this ultra-strong synthetic fabric.


A Bit of Vinyl History

Polyvinyl chloride (or PVC) was first created in 1872 by a German chemist, Eugen Baumann. Baumann never patented his discovery and therefore PVC was never patented until 1913 when another German, Friedrich Klatte, devised a new method for the polymerization of vinyl using sunlight. Vinyl was largely considered useless however, until 1926 when a researcher at BF Goodrich, Waldo Semon accidentally invented plasticized polyvinyl chloride. Semon was trying to create an adhesive to bond rubber to steel when he stumbled upon this new and improved version of PVC instead.

Vinyl was first used in shock absorber seals and grew in popularity during World War II when rubber was scarce. It worked so well as a wire covering on Navy ships that researchers started developing more commercial applications for vinyl. Today, about 60% of vinyl produced is used by the construction industry, but it’s also used for packaging, transportation and textiles.

Why Vinyl is Great

  • • Waterproof
  • • Weatherproof
  • • UV Resistant
  • • Fade Resistant
  • • Durable
  • • Great Strength & Stretch
  • • Excellent Abrasion Resistance
  • • Easy to Clean

Drawbacks to Vinyl

Vinyl can be tricky to sew, especially for beginners, because it has a tendency to get stuck when feeding it through a sewing machine. In addition, if a mistake is made and you rip out a seam, the stitch holes will still be visible. Stitch holes being a problem is largely personal preference, as this will bother some sewers more than others. To help sew vinyl fabrics evenly without sticking, try using a sewing machine with a walking foot, like the Sailrite® Ultrafeed Sewing Machine.

Another drawback to vinyl is that some vinyl has a plastic-like feel and doesn’t breathe well, making it sticky and hot to sit on. This can be avoided by spending a bit more for a nicer quality vinyl and also by selecting the right vinyl product for the right application. Look for a vinyl that’s recommended for seating if that’s the desired use.


Grades of Vinyl

Vinyl fabric is a very diverse fabric group and one vinyl fabric can be very different from the next. For this reason vinyl fabrics are often classified into groups or “grades” based on their intended uses.

Marine Grade Vinyls, for example, are developed for use in a marine environment as upholstery on boats, awnings, and even outdoor furniture. These vinyls are made to be durable, resistant to abrasion and mildew, and colorfast. They also have the ability to withstand extreme temperature changes and weather events. If the design is suitable, marine grade vinyls are also often used in commercial applications, hospitals, and homes.

Other vinyl grades include Automotive Grade, which is similar to Marine Grade but also meets stringent standards for automotive safety and is often designed to mimic leather and Decorator Vinyl. Decorator Vinyl is mostly for home use and often mimics patent leather, snake-skin, or crocodile. These vinyls are also frequently used for handbags and rainwear.

For a low maintenance fabric you can depend on inside or out, vinyl is a great option. You might just be surprised how stylish it can be!

Browse Sailrite’s stock of vinyl at Sailrite.com.

Why do you love vinyl? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

  1. johnmckeel said:

    Do you have any recommendations about which thread to use when sewing marine vinyl? It’s time to recover those cockpit cushions!

  2. Ruth Foster said:

    Our last boat was a Tanzer 25 and the owner before us made modifications to the boat and the sliding hatch was removed. When the hatch was out we had a large opening that was uncovered. I purchased some marine grade vinyl and that piece of vinyl was out in the elements for years. The colour stayed the same and the fabric remained soft and pliable as when it was new. We would cover the companionway for winter storage in Canada. I was always amazed at the performance so agree with buying the right type of fabric for the job.

    • Nikki said:

      Love to hear those great reviews! Thanks, Ruth!

  3. johnmckeel said:

    I’m curious if color makes a difference? Here in southern California, we worry about the sun. (Sorry, didn’t mean to rub it in…) But it is surprising the difference your choice of colors makes. Even a light brown deck can be too hot for bare feet.

    • Nikki said:

      That is true, John. Dark colors will attract and hold more heat than lighter colors. The dark color will not quickly fade in the sun, though.

  4. John said:

    Terrific summary of the material’s characteristics. I’d never really considered sewing vinyl, although I’ve hated our cockpit cushion covers for years. Perhaps it’s time to put two and two together…

  5. Janet said:

    I’m new to sewing with these fabrics so this question might sound silly. How can you tell the good side from the bad side on the solid coloured Sunbrella fabrics? I purchased some marine grade, true brown coloured Sunbrella fabric, but after the pieces were cut out it was really hard to tell which side of the fabric was the good side. Can someone enlighten me on this please. Many regular fabrics are rolled onto the bolts inside out and some are rolled on good side out. Not sure if the latter is the case with Sunbrella. Help

    • Nikki said:

      Hi Janet,
      Sunbrella Marine Grade fabric actually doesn’t have a right or a wrong side, so whichever side you face out will be just fine!

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