Jim Norman: Building a Houseboat of His Dreams

We’ve all heard the expression, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, that sentiment couldn’t be truer for New Jersey native and retired newspaperman Jim Norman. In 2009, Jim was unfortunately part of a round of layoffs at The New York Times, where he worked as an editor. He and his wife made the tough decision to sell their vacation home, and future retirement home, in Maine.

Jim vowed that he would somehow get a toehold in Maine again. Years later, his prediction would come true, just not in the way he originally thought. While researching the “tiny home” phenomenon in 2014, he stumbled upon the story of a man who, instead of building his dream tiny home, built a houseboat instead. Jim knew this was the path for him and a clever and inventive way to get back to Maine — or wherever he wanted to go. He knew wherever he and his wife vacationed it would be on the water. So why not live on the water? “The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Wherever I decided to vacation with it, we would be on waterfront property. And no real estate taxes! What could be better than that?”

jim with boat
Jim and his wife, Ginger, are all smiles taking Jersey Girl out on the Hackensack River in New Jersey.

To Build a Boat

Jim contacted the designer of the “tiny houseboat” and bought a set of digital plans. In May 2015, he started building his future vacation home on the water. At first, Jim worked on the boat in his spare time, as he was still working in the newspaper industry. By the spring of 2016, he found himself looking for another editing or writing job. He came to the conclusion the next year that, at the age of 74, he was past due for a happy and well-deserved retirement. From 2017 on, Jim was able to focus on the boat with his full attention and made it his retirement project.

Jim built the houseboat without any assistance from professionals. But that didn’t worry him. Jersey Girl is actually the ninth boat Jim has built! “The obsession started in 1995 when I built an 11-foot sailing/rowing dinghy. … Next came two cedar-strip kayaks, followed by kid-sized plywood kayaks for three grandsons and a full-sized plywood touring kayak for me.” And just as with the dinghy, Jim modified the plans of the houseboat and made it partially his own design, adding 3 extra feet of length to the boat’s original schematics and a hinged hatch opening to make it easier to climb aboard, among other modifications.

roof hatch
Jim shows how the hinged roof hatch allows for easy exit and entry.

Occasionally, friends and neighborhood kids asked to help out with Jersey Girl, and Jim was always willing to let others get involved in the fun. “Several times, just for the fun of it, I held ‘work parties,’ opportunities for friends and neighbors to come and help out. On one occasion, I invited folks over for the experience of gluing and screwing a bottom panel onto the upside-down frame structure. When it was done, they all signed their names with a Sharpie pen, and those names are still there, although covered with layers of fiberglass, epoxy and paint. A couple of times, neighbors asked me if I would let their kids do something. So I outfitted them with disposable gloves and old work shirts and let them do a few swipes of paint with a roller.”

What exactly does it take to build a wooden houseboat from the hull up? Here’s a brief rundown with photos of the boat’s construction and assembly from start to finish.

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In May of 2021, Jim launched Jersey Girl for the first time in the Hackensack River, near his home. He followed this up with outings in Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey’s largest lake, and in Maine’s Eggemoggin Reach and New Hampshire’s Squam Lake. In the six years it took to complete her, he learned a lot about building your own boat, perseverance and, most importantly, himself. We asked Jim some questions about his experience building a wooden houseboat, and all the ups and downs that come with such a daunting DIY project. He was happy to share more details about the build with us and offer his advice to anyone thinking of tackling a similar project.

Q. Is Jersey Girl for day trips or is she fit for liveaboard?

A. She’s not quite ready for overnighting, but I hope she will be by summer 2022. Plywood inserts fasten between the two settees on the port and starboard sides, and the seatback cushions are sized to exactly fill the gap to make a queen-sized bed. … Three projects planned for the spring are a slide-out shelf for a small refrigerator under the galley counter, a shower arrangement on the aft deck, and two solar panels on the roof to keep the batteries charged up when we’re not connected to shore power. So my hope is to make JG self-sufficient off-grid for a week or more at a time.

Q. How did you feel the first time you launched Jersey Girl?

A. I felt great! Because I had made so many modifications to the plan, and she wound up being almost three times her as-designed weight, I really did not know what to expect. Would I have a boat, or an interesting camper trailer? As it turned out, she not only floated, but she floated right side up, a major triumph right there. More than that, she floated exactly to where I estimated her waterline to be, with a draft of only about eight inches – meaning I can poke around in really shallow water without worry. Also, she’s incredibly well balanced, level in the water no matter where or how passengers like to sit or stand. She easily takes as many as 10 people at a time for day trips (only two for overnighters), and she’s beautifully behaved over the wakes of passing boats. I could not be more pleased.

Q. What was the inspiration behind the name?

A. Well, I’m a Jersey Boy! I grew up in New Jersey and, although I have lived and worked in many different places, I really appreciate all that New Jersey has to offer. So, the name is in honor of all the Jersey Girls, who seem to share a sassy, bossy, somewhat lovingly entitled attitude. … And by coincidence, I keep running into Jersey Girl references: There’s a diner near Lake Hopatcong called the Jersey Girl Café, and a popular local craft brewery that sells cans of Jersey Girl beer.

Two of Jim’s grandchildren visit during the winter of 2018 and give their approval.

Q. What was the hardest part of building her? Did you run into any unforeseen complications or problems? If so, how did you solve them?

A. That’s a good question! Boatbuilding is nothing BUT a serial exercise in problem-solving. And because I made so many modifications in the existing plan, and developed so many methods for doing what I wanted to do, I turned out to be an expert in creating more problems for myself. In fact, I seem to have derived what I call Jim’s First Law of boatbuilding: Every solution begets a new problem. And so on.

One of the most persistent problems during construction was how to keep rainwater from filling the unsheltered hull before fully enclosing it with the decks and cabin. No matter how tightly tarped and covered the hull was, it seemed that rain always managed to find a way in. Ultimately the answer was that water accumulation was simply unavoidable, and I just had to budget time for bailing and mopping in my construction schedule.

Because I was doing so many of the things that I did for the first time in my life, I encountered problems that I just had to sit for a while and think about – and consider the future consequences – before going on.

Q. What do you like most about the do-it-yourself lifestyle?

A. Not only is it very satisfying to do things oneself, but it makes it possible to get things just the way you like them, without having to settle for some manufacturer’s or retailer’s idea of what you need. I’ve never been frightened of DIY, no matter what the field. I’ve learned to do carpentry, boatbuilding, mechanical work, electrical work, plumbing, brazing, welding… People often ask me, “Is there anything you can’t do?” I tell them I’ve never tried my hand at brain surgery, and that’s probably a good thing.

diy fabric projects
Top: Jim made protective deck covers using Softouch® fabric. Bottom: Roll-up window shades using Top Gun® and Protect-It™ fabric.

Q. What advice would you offer to someone interested in building a boat or tackling a big project like this?

A. I guess I’d say if you have a dream for something big, don’t put it off for as long as I did. Get started on it when you’re young. And if you do put it off as long as I did, don’t listen to the naysayers, even if they are the people you love and respect. Just find a way to get started; you’ll quickly pass the point of no return and then you won’t have any choice but to finish it.

Sewing for Jersey Girl

One of the final steps of the boat’s creation was the interior finishing. This is where Sailrite came in. Jim had never sewn prior to the projects he made for Jersey Girl. But as we’ve learned so far, that wasn’t going to stop him. “I bought the least expensive consumer-grade heavy-duty sewing machine I could find, watched a couple of online videos on how to use it, bought a remnant of heavy fabric from a nearby fabric store, practiced sewing in a straight line for a half hour, and that was it! The rest, as they say, is history. It turns out I like sewing, and one of these days I’ll probably find a way to justify one of Sailrite’s machines!”

Jim purchased Sunbrella® Canvas upholstery fabric, high density foam and the Sailrite® Blade Foam Saw and made cushions for the seats and seat backs (15 in total) that will double up as the mattress for sleeping. He turned to Sailrite’s popular 30-Minute Box Corner Cushion tutorial to help him make the cushions.

foam cutting
Measuring, plotting and cutting foam for the cushions.

He also sewed interior roll-up window shades that also attach to the outside to protect the windows when trailering the boat. He used Top Gun for the window shades with an inner layer of a soft protective lining fabric to protect the windows during transportation on the highway. Finally, he patterned and created exterior deck covers to help prevent rainwater and spray from seeping in through the hinged hatch covers.

Watching the 30-Minute Box Corner Cushion video is what convinced Jim that he could tackle these sewing projects, even though he’d never sewn before. While using Sailrite’s Fabric Calculator to help lay out the fabric for patterning and cutting, he contacted Sailrite customer service wanting to know if Sailrite also offered a Foam Calculator. We didn’t at the time, but Sailrite has always listened to customer suggestions and ideas. We now offer a Foam Calculator that shows DIYers how to nest foam pieces to get the most usage out of their foam sheet and to help save money.

cabin interior
The finished cabin interior. We think Jim did a fantastic job on the box corner cushions!

What’s Next for Jim & Jersey Girl?

Now that Jersey Girl is finished (mostly!), Jim is ready to get her on the water and enjoy his six years of hard work and determination. But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to slow down. Even though the bulk of his work on Jersey Girl is done, he’s not planning on slipping into a life of inactivity in front of the TV. “Now that I am retired, with all of my other interests, I often wonder where I ever found the time to work for a living. If you ever see Jersey Girl on a waterway near you, be sure to stop me to say hello!”

Jim will turn 80 in May 2022, and he says he’s probably through with big building projects. Instead, he’s putting his hands to work on a new venture — writing a book. The book will chronicle his adventure building Jersey Girl and all that came with the experience. “Now that most of the work is done, the chronicle will also be about the places we travel together, the things we see, and the people we meet along the way.” Jim plans on taking Jersey Girl up the Hudson River and possibly to Canada for a rendezvous with other boatbuilders, painting and photographing what he sees along the way, two other passions of his.

And even though Jersey Girl’s sewing projects are complete, Jim isn’t putting his sewing machine away anytime soon. He has plans to redo his patio furniture cushions that have seen better days. He also has an idea for a line of educational plush toys for children.

If you’d like to learn more about Jersey Girl and follow Jim’s adventures on the water, you can follow his Facebook page: Jersey Girl the Houseboat.

jersey girl on the water

Cat Claws Have Nothing on This DIYer

Patty Poncer Marks is no stranger to sewing. Whether making her own clothing or sewing custom slipcovers for her family, Patty has been honing her craft since she was 12 years old. Patty has applied her skills to everything from quilts, to bags, to banners and decorative pieces for her home. When her cat, Abby, took a liking to Patty’s favorite chair, a reupholstery job was next on Patty’s DIY docket. She turned to the experts at Sailrite® for guidance. With her sewing experience and Sailrite’s tools and know-how, Patty was able to tackle reupholstering her chair with confidence. Follow along to read what Patty has to say about her DIY and crafting lifestyle, plus how Sailrite played a key role in her reupholstery project.

Learning to Sew

My mother signed me up for sewing lessons with Mrs. Meyerose in Covington, Kentucky, when I was about 12 years old. She had taught my mom to sew years earlier, but I was the one who really took to the craft. Mrs. Meyerose had converted the first floor of her house to a sewing studio. The front room was filled with old Singer® treadle machines that had been converted to run on electricity. I still remember the sound and slow steady pace of those machines, just perfect for beginners. I was the only kid in the class, and Mrs. Meyerose seemed ancient at the time — probably about my age now. I continued my lessons for a couple of years, and by the time I took home economics in the seventh grade, I ended up teaching the sewing portion of my class.

Mrs. Meyerose insisted that her students take notes and somewhere I still have that little steno pad. There were rules about how to use our cutting shears properly, straighten the fabric, alter the patterns and operate the machines.  Before we ever made our first garment, we made samples of darts, gathers, sleeves, zippers, etc.  It wasn’t long before I was sewing most of my clothes. My first plaid projects included a fitted button-down blouse with a collar and a lined wool coat. I even made a tailored, lined sports jacket; a reversible vest; and ties for my dad. My dad said he knew when I was in my room sewing because the gauge on our electric meter was spinning wildly!

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It was during that time my mother bought me my first Singer sewing machine with a zigzag stitch.  That function opened up a whole new opportunity to make appliqué banners.  The early ones were pretty simple, but the later ones are also art.

I graduated from college with a degree in engineering math, followed by an MBA. My first purchase when I was hired as an Engineering Manager was a new Bernina® 801. I was so excited to have a semi-automatic buttonhole feature and blind stitch hem. I thoroughly enjoyed those days of making Halloween costumes, bridesmaids’ dresses, prom dresses and more over the years. 

Giving With Sewing

There is no end to sewing opportunities. Recovering cushions, making curtains and drapes and small upholstery jobs eventually led to reupholstering couches and chairs for me and my family. I enjoyed matching the stripes on a sleeper sofa for my daughter using the absolute minimum amount of fabric. This was done as a fitted slipcover.  We reinvented that piece several times over the years.  

Another new oportunity opened when I joined the Art and Environment committee at my church. That’s when the banner work really took off. I enjoyed making seasonal banners but hanging them on the pillars was a time-intensive, cumbersome task.  I built mounting boards that could be strapped to the eight pillars surrounding our worship space. The boards use Velcro® to accommodate three layers of banners that can be attached and decorated on our workroom table. Hanging then only involved handing the board up to be buckled in place. 

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I continued to do lots of appliqué but I began to see the opportunity for machine embroidery as well.  I upgraded to a Bernina® 750 QE with the embroidery unit and have finally passed my original Bernina on to my daughter. I love the variety of stitches and the ability to handle anything from thin, slippery fabric to thick rag rugs.

It’s hard to attend a craft show or see anything in fabric and not say, “I could do that!” A few of my creations include lightweight day packs, compression packing bags, grocery totes, laptop sleeves and aprons. I even made several braided rag rugs for my home. Last year for Christmas, I sorted through my silk scarves and made kimonos and tailored shirts for my family. When COVID-19 came along I happily made over 600 four-layer masks to give away to family, friends and institutions.  This year the Christmas sewing gift will be travel cosmetic bags and cell phone caddies.

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If I see it, I can make it — usually out of my stash! I have inherited stash fabrics, unfinished projects and supplies from family members.  I cherish finishing the items their hands started. Speaking of stash, anyone who saves scraps is eventually going to make a quilt. It can’t be helped. So, I finished a couple of theirs, and made several of my own baby quilts for family members.  It’s especially pleasing to combine quilting, embroidery and appliqué work.

Enter Sailrite

This brings me to the project that introduced me to Sailrite products. Several years ago, I inherited my mother’s cat. Abby immediately took a liking to my favorite red chair and decided it made a handy scratching post. No amount of coaxing, chasing, covering or spraying could deter her from eventually shredding the chair. It was time to reupholster! I had just enough fabric from my stash, but I would have to lay out the pieces very carefully to match the horizontal and vertical stripes.

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That’s when I discovered my new friend Cindy on YouTube and the How to Reupholster an Armchair video. I watched those Sailrite videos over and over, working in stages and making notes. I realized that with her expertise and her impressive tools, I could manage this project! That led me to Sailrite’s helpful website where I ordered the Sailrite® Long Nose Upholstery Staple Gun, tack strips and other supplies.

Just a few days into removing the old fabric, I had knee replacement surgery. This gave me lots more time to plan and consider my task. Cindy is right about the deconstruction taking much longer than the reconstruction. My husband put the chair on a table in the living room where I could eventually stand for short stints as my knee healed. He bought me a portable air compressor so that I could staple quickly when I was able to stand. When I eventually needed access to my sewing room to make the piping and cushion, I still couldn’t manage stairs; he used a golf cart to drive me up and down from the living room deck to the outside basement entry. 

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One of Cindy’s best tips was to use the old fabric as a pattern and to mark where the pieces join. I roughly laid out all the pieces to ensure they would fit my limited fabric, but only cut out one piece at a time. Then I pinned the new piece in place next to an old piece to mark where the pattern had to match vertically and horizontally. I continued this method as I worked my way around the chair. Working in the proper order was imperative to achieve a match all the way around as well as up and down.

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I am so pleased with the result and forever indebted to Cindy for sharing her expertise. Her calm and confident voice also helped me to be patient and enjoy the challenge. I even machine embroidered a “tag” to the fabric with my initials and date. Then I used the old red fabric from the chair to make a bed and recover a scratching post for the cat. Abby took to both with great enthusiasm which will hopefully prevent her from ruining my “new” chair.

cat bed
Abby loves her new bed!
cat tree
Recovering Abby’s cat tree was a clever way to reuse the old chair fabric.

Future DIYing

I still have a list of projects and plenty of fabric to explore. I’d like to try my hand at smocked pillows next. Having a well-stocked, sorted and labeled private workspace helps. I have the liberty to spend hours, make a mess and then close the door until I am refreshed and inspired to return — which these days is quite often. When I’m not sewing, I enjoy playing the piano, singing in the choir and writing Pysanky. Pysanky are Ukrainian Easter Eggs; decorating them is another seasonal hobby of mine. These are real, emptied eggs, dyed with a wax resist process and they last for years.  I’ve made hundreds and teach classes.

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Wow! We think that chair looks great, and we’re so glad Sailrite was able to help! With everything that Patty DIYs, we’re excited to see what she creates next. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

Ultrafeed® Adventures: Sewing a Winter Boat Cover

Dianne Smock learned to sew at a young age but never considered herself an experienced sewist. That is, until she tackled the project of a lifetime — a winter sailboat cover for her Bayfield 32, named Tilgata. For such a large-scale and heavy-duty project, she needed something tougher than her home sewing machine. There was no question about which machine to choose. Dianne purchased the Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LSZ-1, and the boat cover was the first project she made with it. In addition to the Ultrafeed, she also utilized Sailrite how-to content and the guidance and advice of our customer support staff to design and craft her massive, three-section winter cover.

The original cover that came with the boat was in rough shape and poorly designed. The massive cover was one piece and weighed about 60 pounds. The cover was assembled on a frame consisting of metal poles that snapped together across the hull. “It took half a day just to assemble the frame. Hauling the cover up and over the frame was a two-person job (or more). The hook-and-loop fasteners had long ago lost their ‘stickiness.’ In addition, it had been modified to fit the boat without the mast; we had to cut it to fit around the mast and then fill the gap with tarps.” Not only was the cover difficult to manage, it did not adequately protect the boat’s interior during harsh winter weather.

Even though Dianne bought the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 specifically for sewing the boat cover, she wasn’t going to let a machine like that go to waste! After she tackled the massive sailboat cover, she stitched up a grill cover, replaced her dodger windows with new Strataglass™ window material, and made slipcovers for her living room chairs.

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Keep reading to learn more about Dianne’s story and how she conquered the DIY of a lifetime with her new Ultrafeed, Sailrite how-to videos and help from the Sailrite customer support team.

Q. Can you tell me about the design process of creating your winter sailboat cover?

A. My main objective was to create something that my husband, Randy Anderson, and I could put on and take off by ourselves, so weight was a big deal. I started out with a five-piece design that evolved to the current three pieces, each of which weighs around 10 pounds. I worked it out on paper and sent the design to Sailrite for confirmation that it would work and that I had measured the fabric correctly. We turned our living/dining room into a factory and my husband made a production line to help with the long seams. The pieces zip together; the zippers are hidden under flaps that ensure weatherproof closure. All told there are 41 yards of fabric, eight zippers ranging from 16-96 inches, and the 20+ collars and boots are fastened with hook-and-loop closures. We finished it in October 2020 and Tilgata made it through the harsh northern Michigan winter clean and dry.

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Q. Why did you choose the Ultrafeed for your boat cover project?

A. Randy has known about Sailrite for years and subscribed to your catalog many years ago. We even still have a 1992 catalog! He had envisioned making his own sails at one time long ago. He bought what he thought was a “heavy duty” machine (not from Sailrite) but, as often happens, other priorities came about and the machine was stored in our basement unopened for nearly 20 years. When I decided to make a new cover, we got the machine out, and I saw immediately that it was not truly heavy duty, so we decided to do it right this time and get a Sailrite machine. I chose the Ultrafeed LSZ PLUS because I knew enough about sewing to know that I would someday need the zigzag feature, and I liked the PLUS package of accessories. I like that it can be used for regular sewing jobs as well as big jobs. I don’t think Randy will tackle sailmaking in the future, but he will likely try out the Ultrafeed on some leather projects.

sailrite catalog
Blast from the past! Randy’s copy of the 1992 Sailrite Catalog.

Q. You watched our Winter Sailboat Cover video as well as contacted Sailrite customer service with questions. Can you tell me a bit about what your experience was like working back and forth with our customer service team?

A. I must have watched portions of that video a dozen times! Whenever I got stuck on how to do something, I went back and watched the relevant section until I could replicate it. I developed several versions of the cover design before sending it to your customer service folks for confirmation that the cover would work with the fabric I had selected. I asked dozens of questions and got prompt responses from Bill Becker in Customer Support. Probably the most difficult part of the project for me was figuring out where to cut the slits for the stanchions, stays and shrouds. I was afraid I would ruin the whole thing if I made a mistake. Bill was very reassuring that it didn’t have to be perfect, and he was right — the collar and boot configuration was actually quite forgiving and left some “wiggle room” for an imperfect slit.

Q. How did you feel after you finally completed the cover and you put it on the boat the first time?

A. Relief! It fit! We made a couple of trips last winter to the boat just to make sure everything was intact. When we opened it up this spring, we found a clean and dry deck, which made me very happy. And putting it on this fall was a pleasure — it went on very quickly and easily.

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Q. What do you love about being on the water and the sailing lifestyle?

A. First and foremost, we love the majesty of the water and its endless challenges. Nothing beats the moment when the engine is turned off, and the wind fills the sails and propels us — often without care of where we are going — just the enjoyment of the movement. Second, we love the people we have met. Marinas are filled with interesting people and fascinating stories, and we have made friends with wonderful folks from all over.

Q. Where do you launch your boat? Do you do day sails or weekends?

A. Although we live in the Detroit area, we keep our boat in Cheboygan, Michigan, which is 15 miles east of the Straits of Mackinac on Lake Huron. There are many interesting ports and sailing options in the northern Great Lakes. I consider the boat my “up north” cottage; we spend as much time on the boat in the summers as our schedules allow. We do mostly day sails; our trips are usually just two to five days, although we would like to do longer trips … maybe next year.

Q. What do you love or relate to about the DIY lifestyle?

A. I have always been a “doer,” needing to be busy. For many years while I was working and raising kids, I didn’t have much time to devote to projects, although my husband and I have remodeled three houses, doing much of the work ourselves. Since retiring I have looked for new things to do. I have started refinishing old furniture, crocheting, baking and sewing. I’m currently working on restoring a century-old treadle sewing machine that belonged to Randy’s great-grandmother. I like the satisfaction of completing a task — although that feeling doesn’t last long, so I’m off to the next thing!

Dianne and Randy are all smiles after installing the new cover system. What an accomplishment!

What sewing projects are on the horizon for Dianne? This upcoming winter season she’ll be sewing new cockpit cushions for Tilgata. With the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 by her side and her newfound confidence in her sewing skills, we know she’ll tackle the job like a pro.

Dresses & Bags & … Boat Dodgers?! Oh My!

When the time came to replace the dodger on Ellen Bell-Irving’s 18-foot Maritime Skiff, she turned to her good friend of 30 years and fellow sewer, Pat Kane. Both women have a long history of sewing, but neither had tackled such a large marine project before. They put their heads together and put their trust in Sailrite® to provide them with the products, techniques and confidence to take on the boat dodger with an Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 and Sunbrella® Marine Grade fabric. Read on to learn how their first foray into marine sewing went!

Ellen and her family use their boat for sailing around Casco Bay in Maine.
Ellen and her family use their boat for sailing around Casco Bay in Maine.

Ellen’s center console boat, the “Alibelle,” is used for general transportation to and from the island where she and Pat met in the spring of 1988. The 30-acre island in Casco Bay, Maine was newly subdivided and they were building their summer homes at the same time. Their first homeowners’ association meeting was the beginning of a new friendship. When they learned that their permanent residences were just a few towns apart in Massachusetts, summer parties turned into skiing trips and winter get-togethers. Thirty years on, Pat and Ellen still enjoy spending time together for dinners and family occasions. And, of course, for sharing their love of sewing.

No stranger to sewing, Ellen felt comfortable repairing her old dodger. She learned to sew by taking a course in the 1970s. After learning the basics, she bought her first sewing machine: a Viking® she named Betty after her sewing teacher. “I made a few clothing items and made pinch pleat drapes for my house,” Ellen said of her sewing background. Over the years, Ellen also used her skills to sew costumes and clothing for her family. And when it had finally gotten to the point that a new dodger was needed, it was an easy choice to make it herself, noting, “it’s only seven pieces of material.” How hard could it be, right? 

Ellen is no stranger to sewing! Here she is looking at a zipper.
Ellen is no stranger to sewing! Here she is looking at a zipper.

Well, turns out it was more complicated than anticipated. Realizing she couldn’t do it alone, Ellen called on Pat for help. Pat, a professional seamstress, learned how to sew from her mother on a treadle sewing machine (“eons ago,” she said!). Her earliest sewing projects were clothes for her Barbie® doll. From there, Pat was hooked. “I have sewn ever since — costumes for high school plays, uniforms, clothing for others, clothing for myself and family.” Pat loves sewing so much, she made it her business. “I took classes in couture work…and started my business, Costumes and Custom Clothing, around 2000.” Pat’s business keeps her busy with custom theater costumes and bridal alterations; she even altered Ellen’s daughter’s wedding dress. 

A professional seamstress, Pat is comfortable behind a sewing machine.
A professional seamstress, Pat is comfortable behind a sewing machine.

Given their backgrounds, Pat and Ellen certainly had the skills required to sew a dodger. What they needed now was supplies. Ellen’s research on Sunbrella fabrics led her to the Sailrite website, and another friend recommended the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 to Pat: “I heard about Sailrite from a friend who sails a 42-foot sloop. She bought an LSZ-1 to make everything for the boat, and recommended it highly.” Together, Pat and Ellen decided to place an order for a new Ultrafeed, which they named Maxine, plus Sunbrella Marine Grade fabric, the Sailrite Edge Hotknife and all the notions they needed to make their dodger. The Ultrafeed came so highly recommended that once it was delivered, Pat immediately set it up and started sewing tote bags out of old sailcloth. She definitely understood the hype: “My home machine would not sew this material, but Maxine sewed through it like butter. So fun!” 

Over the course of the winter, Pat and Ellen set up folding tables and turned Ellen’s living room into a canvas workshop. Then they got to work.

The pair watched Sailrite videos to figure out where to start. “Your videos show how to create a pattern on the boat, but this was February 2021 and the boat was in storage in Maine,” Ellen said. So they fell back on Pat’s seamstress training. They took apart the existing dodger and used it to create a pattern. From there, they made a muslin mock-up and proceeded through a series of fittings. “We made a day trip to Maine to fit the mock-up. We marked it up, noting the positions of the snaps and other details,” Ellen explained. 

Pat and Ellen with the boat dodger
Pat and Ellen are all smiles in front of their completed boat dodger!

Using the muslin as a guide, they altered the pattern, cut out the dodger pieces using the hotknife and sewed them together. They relied heavily on Sailrite’s instructional videos for every step. Pat described their process: “We carefully watched the videos of dodger-making, especially the one about inserting a window into canvas. We paused the video, sewed, then restarted, watched the next step, paused and sewed. It worked!” 

Pat and Ellen took the finished dodger to the boatyard in Maine for a final fitting and borrowed a tool from the boatyard to install the snaps. It was a perfect fit! They weren’t the only ones impressed with their handiwork; “The boatyard owners wanted to know then and there if we wanted more work!” 

finished dodger
Here it is! The finished boat dodger.

They may not be ready for more dodgers, but these two friends aren’t done creating together. They’ve got more “couture canvas” projects they can’t wait to start. Up next is a console cover for the “Alibelle” and new cushions for the 25-foot Mako Ellen’s daughter and son-in-law have recently purchased. They’re also making bags out of Sunbrella fabric to give as Christmas gifts, which Pat will embroider. 

With so many projects on the docket, we’re so glad Pat and Ellen have an Ultrafeed on their side. We can’t wait to see what Pat, Ellen and Maxine the Ultrafeed make next! 

From Corporate to Creative: A Sewing Journey of Self-Fulfillment

Heidi West’s creativity knows no bounds. From her modest start selling her handmade goods at weekend craft shows to launching a thriving online and brick-and-mortar store, Heidi has learned one valuable lesson: Success can go as far as your creativity and determination can take it. A crucial part of that success has been her Sailrite® Fabricator® Sewing Machine. Sailrite’s powerful, industrial machine keeps up with the relentless demand of her ever-growing business. Keep reading to learn more about this self-starter and creative entrepreneur and the amazing things she’s making with her Fabricator!

heidi with bag
Here’s Heidi showing off a bag sewn with the Fabricator.

The Spark of an Idea

It started with a simple curiosity. In 2015, Heidi bought a screen printing kit. She’d always been intrigued by screen printing and wanted to learn how it worked. After some trial and error, she successfully created her first print. Heidi then screen printed some fabric with a pattern of her own design and sewed some cosmetic bags for her friends. Screen printing was not an easy skill to learn, but Heidi was determined to master it. She took some classes, practiced in her free time and — most importantly — never gave up.

A short year later, Heidi opened an online store selling cosmetic bags, small zippered pouches, eyeglass cases, totes and more. All of her handmade goods are screen printed from her own charming designs and sewn by her as well. At that point, she was still working full time as a marketing project manager, but the demands of her marketing job and her growing business were taking a toll. “I was busy almost every minute of the day, while also raising two small kids, but I loved every minute of it. In 2018, I left my job to run my business full time. In 2019, I moved my sewing studio from my home into a commercial space, allowing me to set up a little retail shop, too.”

roses and cats bags
A Portland Rose patterned tote on the left and a fun Tuxedo Cat pattern on the right!

In just five years, Heidi went from picking up a screen printing kit for the first time to launching a successful, full-time business. Along the way, she realized that her home machine wouldn’t cut it anymore; she needed something bigger, stronger and tougher to take her small business — and the quality of her sewn goods — to the next level. “At first, I was using a home sewing machine, but when it couldn’t handle all the use, I upgraded to a mini-industrial machine. It worked well, but I was always concerned about quality. Because I use multiple layers of interfacing and fabric in my bags and pouches, I was concerned that standard thread wasn’t enough to hold all the layers together. It was clear that I needed an industrial sewing machine to ensure that my bags were built to last.”

Hunting for the Right Machine

Heidi began her search for an industrial machine by turning to fellow sewists and creatives, seeking their advice and experience. “I started talking to people within the sewing community and the Fabricator was highly recommended. I was able to try one out and fell in love with how it worked, as well has how beautiful it is. I considered buying one for several years and finally went for it in December 2020. Prior to my purchase, I watched all the marketing YouTube videos and memorized all the specifications. I was obsessed.”

Now that Heidi has been using her Fabricator to sew items for her business, Heidi West Designs, she knows she made the right choice in the Fabricator. “It’s an amazing sewing machine and I really love using it. When I was putting my Fabricator together, I must have watched the videos at least three or four times so I could put it together correctly. The videos were super helpful.”

Heidi sewing with fabricator
Heidi loves her Fabricator Deluxe Sewing Machine!

Sewing Beginnings & Creative Pursuits

Heidi learned to sew from her mother when she was 6 or 7 years old. By age 10, her mother had taught her how to read patterns, and Heidi was happily sewing clothes for her doll collection. “I didn’t sew too much in high school or college, but when I was pregnant with both of my kids, the sewing urge really hit me, so I started sewing simple things like bibs, swaddle blankets and hats. After that, I started really having fun making pouches. And then that grew into bags.”

Heidi is a DIYer at heart. The challenge of designing and constructing something of her unique vision and imagination is the mark of a creative spirit. The spark of creativity is something all DIYers have in common. “I love the challenge of trying to figure out how a particular bag or other item was made. I’m super fascinated by different construction methods in sewing. And there’s nothing better than having an idea pop into my head and then being able to create it.”

Heidi has a degree in fine arts with a focus in graphic design. These skills are evident in the quality and precision of her design work. “I also have a degree in interior design. I’ve always loved all parts of design, and I’ve always loved patterns. At the beginning of 2021, I started a year-long project that involves creating a new pattern each month for the 12 birth month flowers. It’s been such a valuable experience and has definitely pushed my design skills and style to a new level.”

flower of the month bags
Some of Heidi’s Flower of the Month collection. From top left: Violet (February), Lily of the Valley (May), Poppy (August) and Larkspur (July).

Transitioning from a corporate career to the freedom of a creative pursuit has been incredibly fulfilling for Heidi. “I absolutely love that I don’t have to attend pointless meetings anymore! Really though, when larger teams are involved, I feel like processes and policies can get in the way of delivering the customer what they really want in a timely manner. There have to be so many hoops to go through and since it’s just me in my business, I get to make superfast decisions and then execute them. I love it.”

Screen Printing: A Labor of Love

If you’re unfamiliar with the technique of screen printing a pattern onto fabric, you’re not alone. We asked Heidi the same question. Here’s how she describes her process from initial concept to finished printed fabric:

“The first part of my process is to draw a rough motif using my iPad and then finesse it and put it into a pattern using Adobe Illustrator on my Mac. After the pattern is created, I output transparencies to make the screens. The screen-making process took me several years to fine-tune, but now I have it down to a science. It involves coating the screens with emulsion in a darkroom and then exposing them to light using UV light table. Exact timing is crucial. I then wash them out with the perfect amount of water pressure. After the screens are made (one for each color in the pattern), I can start screen printing.”

screen printed fabrics
A close-up look at some of Heidi’s unique screen printed fabrics.

What Heidi loves most about the screen printing process is the depth to the craft. “It looks so much more handcrafted. I also just really love the process of making the screens and then getting the press all set up for printing. It definitely has serious challenges, but I guess that’s what keeps me coming back to it. Each new design I create requires me to think about how it’s going to work on press. I have to consider technicalities such as registration, how to minimize drying time between colors, and how I’m going to achieve the colors I want. Screen printing my own fabric really pushes me to use both sides of my brain and that’s what I love about it.” 

“Every day, I’m just so grateful to be able to use my creativity in my job. I spent over 20 years in jobs that weren’t fulfilling and didn’t inspire me. I just appreciate it so much now.” For all those DIYers and dreamers out there who are thinking of pursuing their own creative paths, Heidi has some advice to share: “Don’t wait until things are perfect to get started. Just start anywhere and refine and change things from there.”

If you’d like to see more of the unique goods Heidi is making with her Fabricator, you can follow her on Instagram at @heidiwestdesigns.

Heidi's store
Heidi’s store in her hometown of Portland, Oregon.

Marina Sewing Adventures With Lynn Ringseis

What do you do when a global pandemic halts your international travel plans and you’re forced to remain stateside? You tackle the sewing project of your DIY career, of course! That’s exactly what Lynn Ringseis did. She spent summer 2020 on a friend’s Westsail 42-foot sailboat in Poulsbo, Washington, riding out the COVID-19 quarantine. Not one to let a change of plans damper her spirit, Lynn offered to tackle several sewing projects for her friend, one of which was designing and sewing a full enclosure for the cockpit attached to the hardtop bimini. Learn how she conquered this difficult project using a borrowed Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 Sewing Machine and Sailrite supplies and free video content.

2020 was supposed to be a fresh start for Lynn. When her captain and husband, John, passed away, she decided that she needed a change of scenery and a new adventure. She found renters for her house and planned a global expedition, visiting the vast network of worldwide nautical friends she and John had made over the years. Lynn has spent most of her adult life traveling the world, working on sailboats, and discovering a passion for ocean conservancy and wildlife protection.

It was March 12, 2020, and Lynn was just hours away from boarding her flight from San Francisco to Fiji. “As the pandemic news grew more alarming, I pulled the plug on my trip as I didn’t want to take any chances of unwittingly spreading a virus to my dear Fijian friends. Time for a pandemic pivot.” Having already rented her house, Lynn needed a place to stay. Luckily, a fellow sailing friend asked her to “boat sit” for him for the summer and she happily accepted.

Lynn Ringseis on boat
Lynn is all smiles at the helm of her friend’s boat!

On the water is Lynn’s favorite place to be, so she didn’t see the temporary delay in her travel plans as too much of an inconvenience. The marina had every amenity she could need — laundry, showers, a grocery store and carry out dining. “It wasn’t exactly the tropical waters I had planned, but I became enamored with the wildlife and the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.”

She arrived in Washington eager to help out her friend, Christian — who was away most of the summer working as an aerial firefighter — and tackle some needed boat projects, the first of which was the daunting cockpit enclosure. The wet, temperate climate of the Pacific Northwest meant Lynn was in desperate need of a dry cockpit to ride out her stay. Lynn had never attempted such a complicated project, so she first checked local canvas shops to commission a cockpit enclosure. All of the shops were booked for months out.

Luckily, Christian is a Sailrite customer and had an Ultrafeed LSZ-1 on board. With time on her hands and an Ultrafeed at her disposal, Lynn set out to tackle the project herself. “This was by far my largest and most complicated sewing project, with unusual angles, curves and geometry to figure out. But, to me, that was more fun than straight lines! I pushed myself to accomplish something beyond what I perceived as my ability. I sourced materials through Sailrite and began receiving shipments at the marina.”

Keep reading to learn more about Lynn, her sailing career and how she conquered her list of quarantine projects.

cockpit enclosure
A look at the daunting full cockpit enclosure Lynn tacked on her friend’s sailboat.

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Q. Do you have a sailboat currently?

A. Currently, I do not own a sailboat, but I am a fortunate member of the OPB (Other People’s Boats) Yacht Club! I do enjoy puttering with friends on my Duffy electric boat. She is named “Bootlegger” and she acts as our speakeasy with her quiet, electric engine.

Captain John and I owned a Catalina 30 that we cruised in Mexico in the early 1990s. She was a sweet and relatively simple boat and didn’t require major projects. We cruised from the Sea of Cortez as far south as Acapulco and gunkholed everywhere in between. We then got a job working on crewed sailing yachts in the Eastern Caribbean.

Over many years, we hosted guests on Beneteau sailboats, Jeanneau yachts and a brand-new Leopard 45 catamaran. We loved working on and sailing the catamaran so much that we decided to buy a Lagoon 41. We commissioned her in the fall of 2003, named her “Moonshine,” and sailed across the Atlantic to the French West Indies and eventually to the British Virgin Islands to start our own charter operation.

Q. When did you learn how to sail and who taught you?

A. I was living and working in Africa with my then boyfriend, Tom, in 1984, and our French friends offered us a crewing position to cross the Atlantic to Martinique. We met our French Captain Daniel in Marseille, France, that fall. My only prior sailing experience was on Mission Bay, San Diego, on little Sabots. Neither of us spoke French, but that didn’t stop us from jumping on this adventure!

We met our ride, a 33-foot Gibsea and our assortment of crewmates: a fellow hitchhiker from the U.S. and three French crew who spoke little English. Our language barrier helped us all get along tremendously. At the dinner table, we would all talk about each other and laugh as no one understood anything! I tried very hard to learn about sailing from Captain Daniel, as he was a superb skipper.

This was long before GPS, and Daniel would shoot the sun and stars with a sextant. I was fascinated, especially when we pulled into Fort-de-France, Martinique, after 24 days, spot on from the Cape Verde islands, situated at the westernmost point of the African continent. I was hooked on sailing!

forward view of sailboat

Q. What do you love about sailing?

A. I have a lifelong passion for being on the ocean. Being a San Diego native, I would visit the beach at every opportunity. Sailboats bring you closer and quieter to the environment that I love. I enjoy the challenge of sailing and there is no sweeter place to be than on a beam reach with soft, tropical trade winds kissing your sails as you scour the sea for whales and wildlife. One of the most invigorating things for me is to arrive at a new port after being at sea on a long journey as all your senses come alive at navigating toward land and an unfamiliar harbor or anchorage.

Q. Can you describe the various canvas projects you completed when quarantined on your friend’s boat in summer 2020?

A. The full enclosure started with installing two parallel Flex-A-Rail awning tracks on the ceiling of the hardtop, as I wanted sliding doors for ease of entry. I used a heat gun to shape the track to fit the vertical curves on the outside as an anchor for the first panels. I used Dura-Skrim® Patterning Material and cut and taped each panel. My measuring tape became my constant companion.

This was the first time I had worked with awning track and Keder awning rope products. I integrated Phifertex® into the top of the aft panels for ventilation. Working with O’Sea 40 gauge window material was easier than I expected. I marked the outline with a yellow grease marking pencil. Cutting and sewing to Sunbrella® was a breeze, especially with the help of Seamstick basting tape. I chose Cadet Grey V-92 Bonded Polyester 4 oz. Thread, and my color choice of Sunbrella Marine Grade fabric is officially named Basil, but I called it “Margarita,” as it just sounded more fun!

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I referenced several of Sailrite’s how-to videos to help me with the boat projects. I watched videos on how to make winch covers, how to bend and install Flex-A-Rail and how to make an aft curtain. Many thanks for the great videos and support from the Sailrite team!

I continued to craft unusual projects for the boat, such as fender holders I fashioned from Sunbrella and Phifertex, which I designed to go over the aft railing like saddlebags. The bags held the fenders on the outside with an inner bag for lines and other equipment.

Q. Was sewing these projects for your friend’s boat the first time you used the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 Sewing Machine? What are your impressions of the machine after using it for a handful of projects?

A. Yes, it was my first time getting acquainted with the LSZ-1. I think of her as the Jeep of sewing machines and super tough. I got to know her most intimately. With the detailed instructions Sailrite provides, I was able to make all necessary adjustments and the ease of accessing the machine for applying oil was remarkable. She is a well-built, sturdy tool.

The Ultrafeed LSZ-1 sure kept me company while I was on the boat for months. I named her Tiburón, for my love of sharks. She and I spent a lot of time together.

Q. Since the full boat enclosure for your friend, have you sewed any other big projects that challenged your sewing skills?

A. The next project I tackled was side panels and windows for my little Duffy electric 18-foot boat in California. I was there for a quick trip and took lots of photos and measurements and proceeded to tackle that project back onboard in Poulsbo. Mind you, I had the machine set up on the Sailrite Ultrafeed Collapsible Table in the lower salon area, which measures 5 feet by 8 feet. Working in a relatively small space was all part of the fun challenge! I chose Sunbrella Marine Grade in Aruba. When I got back to California, I installed the windows and they fit like a charm, but they make the surrey top look a little sad. I just may be learning how to make a surrey top next!

Lynn's electric Duffy boat
Here’s Lynn’s Duffy boat with the new side panels and windows.

Q. Can you tell us what’s next for your DIY sewing adventures?

A. During quarantine, I became acquainted with some of the livaboards at the marina, which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “A tourist remains an outsider throughout his visit; but a sailor is part of the local scene from the moment he arrives.” (Anne Davison) The sailing community has always felt like my “tribe.”

After seeing the enclosure, one of my sailboat neighbors at the marina asked me to create some mesh shade screens for his side windows. I used Phifertex Plus vinyl mesh, Sunbrella frames and Stamoid™ bias binding tape to finish the edges. I still feel new enough not to charge money, so we are making a swap for some of his expert woodworking skills in the galley. The pandemic may have been the catalyst for my newfound “Covid Career.”

Q. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you, your love of sailing or your DIY lifestyle?

A. The cockpit has been transformed into a protected sunroom or, as I like to call it, the lanai — almost as warm as Fiji.

I also have been through a transformation of life, blessed to find seafaring mates to continue living a nautical journey. You may be wondering, how did my client, Christian, like my custom cockpit enclosure? Well, the enclosure received an enthusiastic two thumbs up. I am still onboard, and we are planning voyages, adventures and ocean environmental projects. Perhaps I’ll get my trip to Fiji after all, this time on a gorgeous sailboat! A happy ending to my sewing story.

My deep devotion to the sea prompted me to volunteer for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a nonprofit marine conservation organization, aboard one of their vessels. I spent three months crewing on their former Coast Guard Cutter named “MV John Paul Dejoria,” engaging in several campaigns in the Sea of Cortez to Peru, with a brief stop in the Galapagos Islands. Christian shares the same passion and he has also served aboard Sea Shepherd vessels.

Sea Shepherd’s mission is to partner with governments around the world to assist them with the detection and capture of criminal enterprises that are engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing operations.

sunset at marina
Lynn captured a stunning sunset during her stay at the marina.

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Lynn. We’re thrilled that Sailrite could be part of your DIY journey. Good luck with your future travels, and we hope you make it to Fiji soon!

If you’d like to tag along with Lynn on her oceanic adventures and other travels, you can follow her personal blog: www.bootleggerbay.com.

Restoring Antique Cars & Learning to Sew

Ted Levitt lives according to two main principles: service and quality. He grew up watching his parents run a very successful diner, and he credits them for his success in business and his drive to succeed in everything he does. What does all this have to do with DIY? Keep reading to learn more about Ted, his fascinating life’s story, and his passion for car restoration and how it lead him to Sailrite® and the Ultrafeed® LS-1 Sewing Machine.

Growing up in his parents’ diner — Chick and Ruth’s Delly in Annapolis, Maryland — instilled in Ted an appreciation for and belief in honesty and hard work. “I loved working with my parents starting at 8 years old. I worked every weekend and after school. I guess I thought it was fun being with them; I didn’t really think of it as work.” The lessons learned in his parents’ diner would prepare Ted for a life of success in the hospitality and food service industry.

Ted graduated high school a year early, and he intended to work at the diner full-time. His parents, however, had other plans. “They told me to get a college degree and that the business would be waiting for me after I graduated.” He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America with a degree in culinary arts. He then went on to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in hotel and restaurant management from Florida International University.

Ted sews piping for a car upholstery project.

He returned to Annapolis and took over his parents’ business at the age of 24. In addition to managing the family diner, Ted opened a 10-room bed-and-breakfast and started a very successful vending machine company. The diner was known for its hand-rolled fresh-baked soft pretzels. Ted was asked to sell his soft pretzels at Camden Yards, the Major League Baseball ballpark home to the Baltimore Orioles. His pretzels were so popular he eventually opened 33 other locations in the area.

For most of his life, Ted has had a passion for car restoration. It’s a pursuit that started when he was a teenager and has grown and flourished through the years. Work and raising a family stalled this incredibly detailed and time-consuming pastime. So when Ted retired in 2017, it finally gave him the time to dedicate to his car restorations.

More Than a Hobby

When did Ted’s love of antique car restoration begin? It’s a fascinating story. “When I was 17 years old and in high school, I found a 1933 Dodge Brothers car in the woods on the side of a road. I found the person who owned the property and asked to buy it for $75 — even with a tree growing up through the roof! Later, I found out that it was the same model of car my parents owned for five years back in 1947. I restored it over the next few years not really knowing what I was doing. But it turned out OK and I still own it today.”

Ted’s completed 1928 Rolls Royce Phantom. What a beauty!

What is it about car restoration that Ted enjoys so much? “I always liked working with my hands, and I’ve always loved learning new things. After I played with the 1933 Dodge Brothers as a teenager, I wanted to learn how to properly restore cars.” It’s not just car restoration where Ted applies his hands-on, do-it-yourself mentality. When he took over his parents’ diner, he did most of the electric, plumbing and repair work himself. “I took a heating and air conditioning class at a local community college and I took welding classes in the evenings. Most everything else I’ve learned by reading or asking people and learning on my own. I’m not afraid to try anything. My dad taught me I could do anything I put my mind to and I believed him.”

1928 rolls royce phantom
View of the upholstered rumble seat and trunk.

Like many DIYers, Ted is fascinated by the magic of experiencing something evolve from nothing. Where does Ted find all these vintage cars in need of restoration work? He finds them all over the country searching through magazines and online forums, or even through word of mouth. “I always drive to pick up the car myself so I can meet the owner and hear the car’s history firsthand.”

“As with everything else involved in restoring a car, I want to say I did it all. Over the years I’ve learned to work on engines, learned to weld, took English Wheel metal shaping classes to learn how to make fenders and body parts, and learned how to use a mill and lathe. Everything I’ve learned has been through classes, reading books, watching YouTube videos, and with a lot of help from knowledgeable friends. I guess I am a jack of all and master of none. My work is not the best but I think it turns out OK. But most importantly, I know I did it myself and learned something new every day.”

Ted put his Ultrafeed in a custom table so he’d have plenty of room to work on projects.

Learning to Sew

Being a deep-rooted DIY guy and wanting to be involved in every aspect of his car restorations, Ted wanted to do his own upholstery work. Never having sewn before, Ted didn’t know where to get started. Luckily, he had a friend who was well acquainted with Sailrite. “I had never sewn before I bought the Ultrafeed. My friend told me about Sailrite, and there was a location in Annapolis just a few minutes from my home.” Ted bought his Ultrafeed LS-1 in 2009 at Sailrite’s Annapolis, Maryland, retail store location (we have since closed our retail stores).

Through his friend’s recommendation, Ted explored the Sailrite website and knew the Ultrafeed was the right machine for his antique car upholstery work. Before he jumped right in with upholstery sewing, he knew he needed to practice and familiarize him with the machine and basic sewing skills. Again, he turned to Sailrite for help. Ted used Sailrite’s free how-to videos, and other resources on the internet, to teach him how to sew. “The Sailrite videos are amazing. I have also called in a few times and spoken to your DIY guys. The service is amazing. It made it so easy for me to learn how to sew.”

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One of his most impressive restoration projects was working on a 1928 Rolls Royce Phantom. He converted the car into a rumble seat body style and did the entire restoration himself. He used the sewing skills he learned over the years to sew the upholstery for the new rumble seat and car interior seating. After years of sewing car upholstery with his Ultrafeed, Ted is still happy with his machine. “It has worked amazingly. And if there were any problems, it was the lack of knowledge from me, the user. But when I called for assistance, your staff talked me through the problem or sent me videos to walk me through it.”

What’s Next

As if he wasn’t busy enough in his retirement, car restoration isn’t Ted’s only hobby. When Ted’s not bringing classic cars back to pristine condition, you can find him working on his impressive model train collection. “I’ve been building an HO scale train layout for many years. I build everything from scratch.” Ted also enjoys woodworking. He builds beautiful wood furniture and music boxes for friends and family.

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Ted finished his full Phantom restoration project in January 2021 after countless hours of work. Never one to remain idle for too long, he’s already moved on to his next project. “Now I am working on a 1928 Dodge Brothers Victory Six 5 Window Coupe. I just painted the body and the chassis is done. I hope to have the body on in a couple of months and then I will start on the interior of that car.”

Ted now owns 11 antique cars originating from 1915 to 1933 and he has restored them all. “Some of them were in pretty good shape and some should have been stripped for parts. But I wanted to bring them back to life, and I enjoyed the restoration process on all of them.” With no plans to sell, he enjoys driving them around town and sharing the history of the cars with others.

1928 dodge brothers
Progress on Ted’s latest project, a 1928 Dodge Brothers Coupe.

Stitching Pieces of the Past: Quilt Artist Kathleen McVeigh

What do you see when you look at a quilt? An old-fashioned bedspread? Something your mother or grandmother used to sew? Most of us only see what’s in front of us: cotton, batting and thread. We don’t look past what it is to envision what it could become. That’s what sets Kathleen McVeigh apart. She doesn’t see just a quilt. She sees a coat, a dress, a top, a bag — she sees endless possibility and potential. With care, thoughtfulness and great consideration, Kathleen transforms handmade vintage quilts into one-of-a-kind garments and accessories. With the help of her Ultrafeed® LS-1 Sewing Machine, she is bridging the past to the present and creating something truly unique.

quilted coat
One of Kathleen’s unique quilted coat designs.

Transformation. It’s the core of all DIY. To take something and turn it into something else. Breathing new life into heirloom quilts is Kathleen’s calling. With a background in fine art, she has used her creative talents and eye for design to transform these forgotten treasures into beautiful coats, dresses and bags for a new generation to fall in love with and cherish all over again.

Kathleen’s love of quilting runs deep. She grew up watching her grandmother quilt and, later, taught herself to quilt as an adult. “My grandmother taught me to sew when I was 4 or 5. I would go over to her house for visits or sleepovers and she would give me some of the triangle pieces she was quilting to sew together while we watched movies. I have really good memories of sewing with my grandmother and learning about the different fabrics we were using, mostly from old family clothes, linens, sheets or curtains.”

You can imagine that a great deal of consideration goes into cutting apart quilts and piecing them together, creating something completely new yet that retains the beauty and personality of the original quilt. Considering how much time goes into making a quilt — vintage quilts took anywhere from several months or even years to complete — you can tell that Kathleen has the utmost respect and appreciation for the original quilter, and she reflects that in the care and attention she puts into creating her coats and other quilted goods.

Kathleen started her business, Kitty Badhands, in 2016. At the time, she focused solely on handcrafting minimalist modern quilts and custom, made-to-order quilts. Due to time limitations, it was a part-time hobby. In 2020, she relocated her sewing studio to her apartment and space became a major issue. So, she decided to make a quilted coat because it was a project that she could work on in her dining room. What she intended as a personal side project turned into the future of her business and brand. “The response from friends also wanting a coat was overwhelming, and it grew from there into a full-time job fairly quickly.”

We sat down with Kathleen to learn more about her DIY inspiration, her history with sewing and quilting, and why she chose the Sailrite Ultrafeed to help her turn quilts into unique and wearable works of art.

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Q. Do you consider yourself a creative person?

A. I do. I think almost everyone is creative in their own way, and my creativity manifests itself visually. I love dreaming up forms in my head and being able to create those forms with my hands. Whether that’s making a coat, a sketch, the way I decorate a room, or cook a meal, I think creativity is a huge part of what makes everyday life interesting and exciting.

Q. What do you love about the DIY and creative lifestyle?

A. The DIY/creative lifestyle, in my case, has been about creating and building the Kitty Badhands brand. There is so much to love about running my own business. I get to do what I love every day, on my terms, and I get to be my own boss. I worked in the service and restaurant industry for 12 years. Every day, when I would go to work, I would think: “This isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing. This isn’t a good use of my energy and it doesn’t make me happy.” Having a creative and DIY lifestyle for me means living on my own terms and being responsible for my own happiness and survival. It’s a dream.

A handful of Kathleen’s stunning creations!

Q. How did you get the idea to turn vintage quilts into one-of-a-kind coats?

A. I had a beloved wool coat that was passed down to me by a friend. The cut of it was very unique and it was beginning to fall apart. I tried to mend it, and when that didn’t work, I decided to cut the coat apart and try to use the pieces as a pattern to recreate the same coat from a new material. I think I naturally gravitated toward remaking the coat out of a quilt because I felt very comfortable working with quilts (I had already been quilting for several years), and the quilt I had in mind to use was a similar weight and thickness to the wool from the coat. This was just a personal side project for me, but friends were really interested in the coat I made and wanted one of their own. So I started making them for friends and, eventually, folks I had never met started asking for their own quilt coats.

Q. Can you describe the process of turning a quilt into a coat?

A. I first spend a lot of time looking at the quilt and thinking about how I will cut it up. I only ever cut into vintage quilts that are damaged in some way and in need of new life (stains, rips, holes, etc.). If I find an heirloom quilt in pristine condition, I leave it alone, as it would be wrong to cut into something like that. Once I have an idea of how I want the coat to look, I lay my coat pattern pieces over the quilt, making sure I have enough quilt to work with (sometimes I find out that I don’t and then I have to rethink the placement and design), and then trace them with a chalk marker. I cut all of the pieces and now I’m ready to sew.

First, I work on lining up and attaching pockets first. Next I sew up the sleeves. Lastly, I attach the front panels to the back panels. Then I serge all of the seams together before attaching the sleeves to the body of the coat. I use a mannequin to pin and adjust as I work. After serging the armholes, I work on either a collar or a hood and attach it to the neckline of the coat. The last part of the sewing process is all of the topstitching to keep seams folded and to give it a more professional finish. I use antique brass snaps for my coats, and I measure and mark where the snaps will go so that the coat will come together evenly when snapped. I either use a snap fastener or a hammer, depending on how thick the quilt I’m working with is. My final step is sewing in my tags; it feels like I’m “signing” the work and deciding that it’s finished.

From quilt to coat!

Q. How do you acquire the quilts and where do they come from?

A. They come from all over. When I started, I had a small collection of handmade quilts that I had collected from thrift stores and estate sales throughout the years, but those ran out very quickly. Right now, because of COVID, I am mostly finding my quilts on websites that do online auction and estate sales. I am excited that in-person estate sales and antique shops are beginning to open back up in my area. A nice surprise has been that as my business has grown, folks have begun to reach out to me with quilts that they want to sell, or local people will tip me off to a quilt that is for sale in one of the thrift/antique stores in town. Searching for and finding old quilts that speak to me is one of my favorite parts of the job.

Q. What made you decide on an Ultrafeed Sewing Machine?

A. What first caught my eye was the design and look of the machine itself: I think it’s quite beautiful and stylish. What made me decide to pull the trigger on purchasing one was that Sailrite seems to be a very involved company that cares about its customers. There were lots of glowing reviews, lots of troubleshooting videos on YouTube, and I heard that the manual was very easy to follow (super important for me). I’m a visual person, so I used the Sailrite videos almost exclusively instead of the guidebook to set up my machine, learn how to thread the machine, and how to wind the bobbin. They were super clear and helpful.

sewing with ultrafeed
Kathleen works on a quilted project with her Ultrafeed LS-1.

Q. How has the machine performed for you?

A. It’s been a business-saver. It has been able to sew through many thick layers of heavy quilts. I have a stack of thick quilts that have just been sitting on my shelves because my other sewing machine could not handle them. So far, the Ultrafeed hasn’t encountered a single quilt that it can’t sew through.

Q. Where does your design inspiration come from?

A. When I first started out, I didn’t really “design” the coat at all. I would just start cutting and the finished pattern was a surprise (sometimes good and sometimes not so good). It was by doing this and seeing the different results that I started to understand how the different pieces of the quilted coat would come together. Now, I can look at a quilt and the coat jumps out at me. I can visualize how different parts of the quilt would lend themselves to a sleeve or a pocket, or where the patterns will come together at the seams of the back and front. It’s very important to me that the pattern flows seamlessly throughout the coat to create one cohesive piece and that there is a balance of different colors and shapes throughout. The most exciting, and also excruciating, part of the design process is that I can often see many different ways a quilt could be cut to make a coat. Each option would create something that looks entirely different, but there is only one quilt and one opportunity to make the coat. Deciding which direction to go can be difficult.

Recently, Kathleen has expanded her quilted offerings to include dresses, tops, totes and clutches. With the weather getting warmer, she wasn’t sure customers would be interested in purchasing coats during the summer months. Adding warm-weather wearables was a natural next step in her new and growing online business. Her quilted totes incorporate a waxed canvas base and strap, adding a modern look and finish to her classic quilted style. Kathleen relies on her Ultrafeed to handle the thickness of the combined waxed canvas and quilt layers.

It takes a special person to appreciate the artistry and dedication that goes into cutting, piecing, sewing and binding a quilt. Kathleen gives these once-loved quilts the care and attention they deserve. They are in good hands with Kathleen. Someone’s beloved heirloom is no longer lost to history. She gives these family treasures a new life as they find their way into the hands of someone who will cherish them as much as their original creators.

If you’d like to see more of Kathleen’s quilted creations, you can follow her on Instagram at @kittybadhands.

A Coat Above the Rest

What do a sheep farm in Pennsylvania, Sunbrella® binding and the Fabricator® Sewing Machine have in common? Heather Loomis. This creative DIYer uses her Fabricator machine to sew dog coats made from warm and protective wool felt. The wool comes from her very own sheep raised on her family farm. Learn more about Heather, her sheep, and how she got the idea to sew dog coats from their wool!

dog in coat
Heather’s dog, Fiat, is one happy and warm pup in her custom-made dog coat!

Down on the Farm

Heather and her husband, David, have owned, maintained and operated their farm, Bohlayer’s Orchards, for 16 years. They are the fifth generation to steward the land. Though there’s no such thing as a typical day in farm life, here’s what Heather shared with us regarding her daily routine: “Our days always begin and end with chores to feed and care for the animals.  The rest of our work is driven by the season and can include pruning the orchard, skirting wool fleeces, moving sheep to different pastures, making hay, harvesting fruit, packaging and shipping wool, and on and on!”

They harvest apples and pears and raise sheep on their 130-acre orchard and farm. “We have a flock of 70 Romeldale CVM sheep. The number can ebb and flow as we welcome new lambs each year and sell breeding stock or fiber sheep to other farms.” Romeldale CVM sheep are a breed of domestic sheep native to the United States. They are a very rare breed known for their unusual coloring.

heather with sheep
Here’s Heather with her Romeldale CVM sheep on her beautiful Pennsylvania farm.

The soft wool and unusual colors of the breed’s fleece are sought after by hand spinners to create high-quality wool yarn and roving. “They produce a soft (fine) wool in many different natural colors, including white, gray, brown and black.” Heather sells spun yarn and wool roving made from her sheep’s fleece. Turning the wool roving into water-resistant and insulated dog coats was a natural next step.

Dog Days of Winter

Where did Heather get the idea to sew dog coats from her sheep’s wool? “The idea for dog coats came out of a need to keep our own dogs warm and dry during cold and wet winter days. We knew the wool felt would be a perfect material for a dog coat. The wool would keep the dogs warm, and it naturally has some resistance to wet conditions.”

Heather learned to sew at a young age from her mother, a skilled seamstress and quilter. With her sewing background, she felt comfortable designing and creating the dog coats. “I spent time developing a pattern. As this project came together, [my husband and I] realized others were interested in having a coat made for their dog. I created prototypes in different sizes using our friends’ dogs as models to get the right fit and shape.” After months of designing, patterning and sewing, the dog coats were officially ready. Heather named her new side business A Woof In Sheep’s Clothing and began selling the dog coats seasonally at their farm store, at local festivals and on their farm’s website.

dog coats
No two dog coats are exactly the same, making these special coats truly one of a kind!

When Heather started prototyping and sewing early versions of the dog coats, she realized her home sewing machine wasn’t going to cut it. “Due to the thickness of the wool felt, a typical sewing machine struggled to handle the material. I began asking others for ideas and doing internet searches. Someone told me about Sailrite and I began to research the company’s website.”

Testing the Fabricator

Heather liked the look and features of the Fabricator, but she wasn’t certain it would sew through the thickness of the wool. Luckily, she used the Live Chat feature on the Sailrite website to message a customer service representative who had the perfect solution. “They suggested I send a sample of my material. I mailed a sample of the wool felt to Sailrite headquarters in Indiana. They quickly responded with videos of the Fabricator easily sewing through multiple layers of the felt. Their prompt customer service and quality products meant that I did not need to look any further!”

Heather has owned her Fabricator for a few years now and is just as happy with it as she was on day one. “The Fabricator has given me the opportunity to expand my product line on my own terms. Anything I can think of to sew is possible with the Fabricator, the accessories and the how-to videos. This machine has been worth every penny.”

fabricator
The Fabricator handles the thick wool felt and binding material beautifully.

The wool felt from her flock has inspired a lot of project ideas. In addition to dog coats, Heather also makes felt accessory bags, coasters, felt knitting project bags, hot water bottle covers, teapot cozies and cold drink koozies. The Fabricator has enabled Heather to increase her productivity and boost sales. “I can produce a complete coat in approximately an hour. If someone has a dog that doesn’t match one of our established sizes, I make a custom-sized coat for their dog.”

To give the dog coats a beautiful, professional look, Heather uses Sunbrella binding to finish the edges. And the coats attach with easy-to-position hook-and-loop tape (also known as Velcro®). Heather purchases all of the supplies needed to make the dog coats from Sailrite. “I searched Sailrite’s how-to videos to see how I could attach the binding. Any time I have a question about the Fabricator or its accessories (like the binder), I go directly to the video library and find what I am looking for. I always learn something and sometimes get new ideas! And any time I have a question about a product, I use the chat feature on the website and get a prompt and helpful response.”

The reaction from customers has been nothing but positive. “We have received rave reviews from customers and their pups! Customers are thrilled to finally have a coat that fits their dog well. Some told us that their otherwise anxious dog seems to enjoy the warm fit and often does not want the coat removed when they come back inside. Others express appreciation for their dogs staying dry in the snow and cold rains of winter as well as for the fact that the coats dry quickly.”

dog wearing coat

Producing wool products from her flock’s fleece serves more than just one purpose. “Part of what can help to save rare breeds is to find jobs for them to fulfill. Creating a demand for the wool of this beautiful, personable breed is important for their survival. We love to share with customers that their purchase of a rare breed wool product from our small family farm makes a difference.”

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Heather! We’re thrilled that Sailrite is part of your DIY journey and that your one-of-a-kind dog coats are bringing awareness to rare-breed sheep and helping with conservation efforts.

Leather Crafting With the Fabricator®

This is a story of changing circumstances, making the best of a bad situation, and venturing out in a new direction. It’s a story of finding your own path while paying tribute to where you came from and honoring those who taught you life’s greatest lessons. It’s also a story that’s becoming increasingly well-known and relatable to many.

Caleb Arthur was laid off from his job at a sheet metal factory in early 2020 due to circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. With time on his hands, he decided to revisit a dormant interest in leather crafting. Months after the layoff and with no call back to work, he decided to get serious about his leather crafting hobby and see if he could turn his leatherwork into a source of income.

As a beginner, he was hand stitching his leather goods. He quickly realized he needed something more efficient and productive if he was going to pursue leatherwork as a business. He needed a leather sewing machine. That’s when Caleb discovered Sailrite® and the Fabricator® Sewing Machine. With the quiet, energy-saving Workhorse® Servo Motor and the ability to sew one stitch at a time, the Fabricator delivered the precision and control Caleb was looking for. “I was attracted to the Fabricator’s wider throat for fitting larger projects through. I knew it was a heavy, solid machine and I had to have it.”

Caleb with Fabricator
Caleb with his Fabricator in his sewing studio. Photography by Marc Montes

With the addition of the Fabricator to his sewing studio, Caleb has been able to tackle bigger leather projects and dramatically speed up his productivity — a huge upgrade in more ways than one for a new business getting its feet off the ground. “What is so exciting to me now is the ability to take on projects that I never would have if I were solely hand stitching.” When he was hand stitching, small items like bifold wallets, skillet handle covers and passport holders could take hours to pattern and stitch. With the Fabricator, Caleb has added items like leather and waxed canvas tote bags to his product offerings. “I can now assemble the body of a tote in minutes as opposed to hours. The ability to dial in my stitch length and distance with the material guide keeps my stitches looking uniform.”

We sat down with Caleb to discuss his sewing roots, what DIY means to him, his leather crafting business and much more. Join us as we get to know this creative old soul and find out how the Fabricator has allowed him to greatly increase his productivity and stitch quality. When COVID-19 closed the door on his career, he found a window. And that window is even better than he could have imagined. Here’s Caleb’s story, in his own words.

Q. When and how did you learn to sew? Are you self-taught?

A. Since I was a baby, I have always been surrounded by sewing and the DIY lifestyle. I was co-raised by my grandparents, and my grandma always had her own separate sewing room where I spent a lot of my time. My grandma worked for a tiny little company called Eddie Bauer back when they still made their goods here in the United States. She was a seamstress for them and also repaired sailboat sails for a short period. The majority of my clothes were handmade by her as a kid. I never took an interest in sewing myself until recently. My grandpa had a workshop in the garage where I found more interest at the time. He built and fixed most things around the house, so I adapted that from him. I have always kind of lived by the motto of, “What would Grandpa do?”

Caleb with grandma sewing
Caleb keeps his grandmother company in her sewing room.

I would like to give a ton of credit and thanks to Ryan over at “Little King Goods.” I came across his videos and company via YouTube, and it is safe to say that I have learned so much about sewing and leather craft through his amazing videos. I don’t think I would have made the full plunge into leatherwork if it weren’t for his motivational and inspirational videos. He really made me feel like it was attainable for me. Super nice guy too. Thanks, Ryan! So, I’m self-taught but with great mentors.

Q. What type of leather goods do you make? 

A. Right now, I am focusing on making the best classic, functional leather goods I possibly can. Wallets are my most popular item, and I recently dove into the world of tote bags and guitar straps. I make field note covers and clutches for the ladies and gents. I’m really open to just challenging myself and trying a bit of everything. If I think it’s a good fit for my permanent catalog on my website, then I put it up. My theme or logo for my branding is that of the great outdoors, as I have a huge respect for nature. I feel so gifted and lucky to have spent most of my life in the state of Washington. While, yes, it is true about the constant rain, it just makes those clear sunny days even more special. We really know how to take advantage. Mount Rainier overlooks our amazing city of Tacoma and is a constant reminder of the power of Mother Nature. 

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Q. How did you get started in leatherwork?

A. My first dive into leatherwork was around five or six years ago when I was working as a merchant mariner. My wife (girlfriend at the time) had bought me a really nice leatherworking kit that included everything I needed to make a few very basic leather items — wallet, keychain, coin pouch. In my downtime on the ship, I would head down to the workshop and tinker away at making those items. I found much enjoyment from dying the leather and learning the basics of stamping and tooling. It was a nice way to pass the time as we would sail back and forth from California to Alaska, but it was a hobby I would not revisit until 2020.

Q. What do you love about leather crafting?

A. For me, leatherwork has become a form of stress relief. I find so much pleasure in creating and turning nothing into something. The entire process of working with leather — from the texture, the smell (OH THAT SMELL!), to the way you can form it into anything imaginable. I’m a bit of an old soul and I love the fact that leatherwork has been around for ages and has stood the test of time. I love the way that people are drawn to a classic, well-crafted leather good. To me it carries a bit of respect and class, and I believe that we should treat it as such. I always hold onto even the tiniest of scraps as I always find another purpose for them in a future project.

making a tote
Caleb patterns, cuts and assembles a tote bag using DuraWax™ Waxed Canvas from Sailrite. Photography by Marc Montes

Q. Do you consider yourself a creative person? 

A. I have always felt that I had a creative side to me but more so a strong desire to create. I’ve always wanted to make things with my hands, to be able to show something/anything to the world that I was proud of. With leather crafting, I fill that desire to create and share with the world. Creating my Etsy page and personal website was a huge moment for me, allowing the entire world to have access to my craft. I have received great feedback and the support has been amazing thus far. I would like to thank my customers for their support as I grow and improve.

Q. What do you love or relate to about the DIY/handcrafting lifestyle?

DIY is pretty much my motto for most things. I learned from my seven years in the U.S. Navy that if you want something done right, it’s best to do it yourself. At home, my wife and I rarely hire outside work if we think it’s something we can take on, or at least learn ourselves. For one, it saves a ton of money; two, we get to learn and educate ourselves in the process; and, thirdly, there’s nothing like the sense of pride you get from taking on a project that you did yourself.  

Photography by Marc Montes

Q. What would you say is your design aesthetic with your leather goods?

A. I spent a lot of my childhood with my grandparents and I think it’s safe to say that I was taking mental notes of what my Grandpa Clyde had around and what he depended on, from his beat-up old Redwing work boots to his tool-stamped leather wallet to his belts. I try to make the best durable, made-to-last goods that I can that have a classic, old-fashioned look to them. Simple design, classic colors and built to last. I’m a big fan of natural earth tones.

Q. Is there a special meaning or significance to your business name, CAMP Leather Goods?

A. Yes! So my company, CAMP, has a few things going on — one being my obvious passion for camping and nature and wanting to make goods geared toward outdoor use. But it started off with me wanting to incorporate my initials, CA (Caleb Arthur), into the name. While I was driving around town one day, I was thinking of my Grandpa Clyde who passed away a couple years ago. He was really my greatest mentor and I observed him build and create my whole life; he was truly an exceptional man. My Grandpa never once called me by my birth name but instead chose “Mutty” for my name. He gave all of us grandkids a sort of nickname, so I became “Mutt,” or “Mutty” or “Old Man Mutt.” As I feel that I am still striving to make him proud, I created an acronym for CAMP that has a more personal meaning for me, and that is the “Clyde And Mutty Project.” It’s my way of keeping his spirit alive with every product I put out.

caleb sewing waxed canvas
Photography by Marc Montes

Q. Is there anything you’d like our readers to know about you, your business or your DIY philosophy?

A. While at the end of the day I am a crafter/leatherworker, I hope to inspire anyone who may feel like they are struggling to find their drive or passion. I have spent a lot of time waiting for the answers to land in my lap, and I can tell you that has been wasted time. If you want something, or you want to be something, study the craft, make those mistakes — make big ones! That is the only way we are going to learn and improve. Ask questions; ask for help! Adapt the notion that failure or giving up simply is not an option. Don’t be held back with the idea of, “What if this doesn’t succeed?” Instead, take on the action of, “What do I need to do now to make this succeed?” Define what success is and what it looks like to you.

One last thing: I would like to thank my beautiful wife, Katie, and the recent mother of our newborn, Lincoln. Without her support, I would be working a job that I couldn’t stand, always wanting something else. She motivates me and supports me in doing what makes me happy and I absolutely adore her for that. When the busy holiday rush of orders hit, she was right next to me cutting leather staying caught up. I really hit the jackpot with her!

Caleb and Katie
Caleb and Katie at their home in Tacoma, Washington. Photography by Marc Montes

Congratulations on turning your dream into a reality, Caleb! We’re so thrilled that Sailrite and the Fabricator could be part of your DIY journey. Keep on creating!

If you’d like to follow Caleb on Instagram and see what he’s making with his Fabricator, you can follow him at @campleathergoods.