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Weaving the Sail for the Model of the Kinneret Boat

Courtesy of The Original Jesus Boat Store of the Jesus Boat Museum, Nof Ginosar

Weaving the Sail for the Model of the Kinneret Boat

By Kay McWilliams

Kay McWilliams describes how she became involved with the Kinneret Boat aka Jesus Boat model project and her role in weaving the sale for the model. 

Uncle Sam has a way of bringing diverse talents together. In this case, Dr. Shelley Wachsmann came to my office to have his income tax done. He told me about the Kinneret boat project during the interview. He mentioned that Mr. Bill Charlton was constructing a model of the boat and hoped that they could find someone to make a sail for it, as the sail needed to be woven from very fine yarn to keep it in scale with the rest of the model.

When not doing taxes, I am a handweaver, so I volunteered to do the weaving. Time was the biggest hurdle-util 15 April every year my time is entirely spoken for. The sail was needed by 1 May.

After consulting with Dr. Fred Hocker, we decided to weave the sail from a very fine linen thread. We ordered one-half pound from Fredrick J. Fawcett, Inc. of Petaluma, California, originally a company that supplied fine threads to makers of ships built in bottles. Linen was chosen over cotton as a sail material, because it was probably in use in that area at that time. According to Dr. Paul Fryxell¹, cotton was not introduced to Egypt as a fiber crop until much later. Linen fiber has also been found wrapped around Egyptian mummies, so we know it was being used in cloth production at that time.

Linen fiber is produced from the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum), specifically from the structures which carry water in the stems. Therefore, it is very strong when wet, and when dry, it is stronger than cotton. It has long been used for sails because of its strength under damp conditions. It is also more resistant to sunlight than cotton. It is subject to mildew damage, but is resistant to insects.²

The rimary stems of the flax plant produce fibers which are very long, and can be spun, when wet, into a very fine, strong thread, referred to as line linen. The linen line we used for the model’s sail was as fine as a baby’s hair, and more easily broken. In addition, it was spun very tightly to give it extra strength, but that caused it to twist back on itself and any other threads in the vicinity when not under tension.

The sail was woven in three sections, each ten inches wide, then seamed using the same linen used in the sail, to create the appearance of a rectangular sail of the period. Each section consisted of 630 threads, each three yards long. Fortunately, I was able to measure the threads at my office, which caused some curious looks.

After tax season was over, I had time to dress the loom. Each thread was placed through a slot in the reed, which kept them separate from each other; then the threads were inserted into individual headles, which help form the weaving pattern. A plain weave was chosen for the sail. Because of the difficulty with tangling threads, dressing (which is normally less than 2 hours’ work for this length), took nearly fourteen hours. Finally the weaving could be started and, I’m happy to report, took only two hours to complete. To help prevent breakage, the warp was sprayed with a fine, water mist during the weaving process.

Before the woven product can be considered cloth, it must be finished. For linen, finishing consists of washing in very hot water and strong detergent. The damp fabric is then either ironed with a hot iron or beetled. Beetling is pounding the cloth with a wooden mallet to flatten the fibers and help even the weaving-which is the process we used. Sails of this period were also probably sized or coated with boiled flax seed to create a less porous cloth.

I prepare income taxes because I like to help people and because I like the stimulation of the ever-changing tax laws. I became a weaver more than fifteen years ago because it provides both challenge and satisfaction. The sail project allowed me to help people with my weaving, as well.


Kay McWilliams

Institute of Nautical Archaeology

PO Drawer HG
College Station, TX 77841-5137




1.      Fryxell, Paul. 1992. USDA cotton specialist, Personal communication.

2.      Hochberg, Bette. 1981. Fibre Facts. Bette Hochberg, Publisher.



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