Welcome to Sailrite’s "Meet Our Customers” page where we feature fascinating interviews and interest pieces submitted by our customers. This page enables us to spotlight our loyal and creative customers and tell their stories. From tales of complete canvas refits to testimonials about how Sailrite products and services have greatly enhanced and improved their DIY lifestyles, these stories are sure to inspire you as much as they inspire us.
It all started with an idea. Kitty Ellis’ son, Jeff Scheule, was renovating an old farmhouse and preparing for his soon-to-be wedding when he came to his mother with an idea. A big idea. What follows is the story of that idea and what would become a DIY bonding experience for mother and son.
Years earlier, Jeff had seen a giant ceiling fan that resembled fishing rods with fabric as the blades. He was awed and fascinated by this unique creation. He’d never seen anything like it. Kitty recalled her son marveling at the design: “It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, Mom! I bet we could make one of these!”
Time passed and Jeff moved on to other things, but that fishing rod fan was always there in the back of his mind, lying in wait. Fast forward to 2018 when Jeff is renovating his farmhouse. Suddenly, the big idea reemerged. One of the rooms in his farmhouse was very large with an 18-foot vaulted ceiling, and Jeff knew exactly how to fill that space.
So, right before Christmas 2018, Kitty received a call from her son. “Mom, when you come to Atlanta for Christmas, can you bring your sewing machine?” When she asked why, Jeff told her they were finally going to build the fan. Kitty loaded up her conveniently portable Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 and drove up from Florida to help her son construct his dream DIY.
“Jeff is very creative and is one of those people who makes things happen,” Kitty stated. “I had no doubt that Jeff would and could fabricate this thing.” He rebuilds and sells boats as the owner of Atomic Marine and Machine in Buford, Georgia, and his craftsman skills don’t end there. “He can tear down and rebuild a diesel or gas engine, rebuild any kind of car, engineer parts necessary for a project, and build additions to houses … he truly is an inspiration,” she proudly explained. So she knew a custom-built, giant ceiling fan would be no trouble for her handy son.
Kitty owns Halyards, a custom marine sewing business in Jensen Beach, Florida. She sews boat cushions, T-tops, repairs sails and the like. She learned to sew when she was 17 and hasn’t stopped since. Kitty is the sailor in the family while Jeff prefers powerboats. “I am the sailor who likes to let the wind take me to wonderful places,” she recalled. “Jeff needs to get where he’s going — fast!”
At Jeff’s farmhouse, mother and son sat down together to plan out how they would build the fan. Kitty had brought her Ultrafeed and the Dacron sailcloth, basting tape, marking pens and other sundries she’d ordered from Sailrite. Jeff had already purchased five fishing rods and a fan motor. “Attaching the rods to the fan motor needed Jeff’s good concept and innovation for the mounting system,” explained Kitty. “He had already worked on that, so all we had to do was figure out the ‘bend’ radius for the fishing rods and how to fit the sailcloth to the rods.”
This part took some trial and error. They cut the sailcloth to the length of the rods and then added holes in the cloth to match up with the eyes on the fishing rods. They fit the fabric to the holes and figured out fabric dimensions. Unfortunately, their first fan “sail” blade did not turn out, and they had to trash the materials and start over. That first sail had taken hours to build, and the team was spent. They called it a night.
The next day, with fresh eyes and full of energy, they tackled the project again. They were able to correctly build all five fan blades and, best of all, they looked great. Jeff hung the ceiling fan with excitement and enthusiasm. He’d finally built his fan. “We were looking up at our creation with total awe and amazement,” Kitty recounted. “It was high fives all around! A fan 13-1/2 feet in diameter with five beautiful sail blades — what a glorious sight to behold. We had done it!”
They were so proud of their accomplishment and ingenuity in creating this one-of-a-kind DIY masterpiece. Until that is, one of the grandkids asked them to turn the fan on so they could see the blades spin. “Jeff flipped the switch and the blades started turning, caught the air, and the ‘sails’ swelled up like huge, puffy marshmallows!”
Only slightly discouraged, they took the fan down, disassembled the entire thing, and sewed the eye holes in the sailcloth almost completely closed. That did the trick. Jeff reassembled the fan, remounted it to the ceiling, and the blades spun without the sailcloth billowing out as if the fan were about to set sail.
All in all, it was a great time and a fun way for a mother and son to bond over their shared love of DIY and working with their hands. With Jeff’s mechanical and engineering background and Kitty’s sewing skills, they were the perfect dynamic duo to tackle this project. “The sheer amount of pleasure one gets when doing a project like this is mind-boggling. Projects themselves are not hard, but there is always a learning curve. Just like when we threw away that first sail. It had to be done. The materials were not expensive, but the satisfaction of achieving a goal is priceless.”
Sewing is a unique skill with the potential to take on any number of roles in one’s life. It can be practical, artistic, an occasional hobby or even a full-time profession. For Sailrite® customer Carol Gearheart, sewing has become much more than just a means to an end. It’s become a profession that has opened up a number of doors in the DIY universe … with surprising results!
Carol and her husband own and operate an embroidery business from their home, so creating fantastic projects is nothing short of commonplace for her. Through years of business operation, she’s become acquainted with a diverse array of people or groups who are in need of her sewing skills. One of these is the equestrian community around her home in Arlington, Washington. It all started when one customer needed a unique logo embroidered on her horse blankets and sheets. She was so pleased with the results that she spread the word of Carol’s great work to her friends and fellow horse owners.
“Our customer base grew rapidly! I can’t tell you how many blankets, sheets, stall bags and halter bags we’ve embroidered. Then they started asking, ‘Can you repair this stall bag, can you fix this banner, can you make us some curtains and table covers?’ And that’s where the Sailrite® Fabricator® Sewing Machine comes in.”
In the past, Carol had sewn several smaller projects using her household Bernina sewing machine but she found it couldn’t handle big assemblies very well. With a growing demand for a variety of sewing projects, Carol realized she was in need of a dependable industrial sewing machine. And it was especially important to have one that had the performance capabilities to tackle any project she might be tasked with completing for a customer. During her search for a new machine, she discovered a company called Sailrite.
“I had bought a very old Pfaff industrial machine, but it didn’t have a variable speed motor and it didn’t work very well. I was lucky I didn’t get hurt while using it! I did a lot of research online and contacted Tanner Grant at Sailrite. He was very helpful and aided me in choosing which machine would work best based on the type of projects I wanted to do. I selected the Fabricator and love that I can take one stitch at a time if I want to.”
Fabricator in tow, Carol completed one of her largest projects for a horse show client. She made an 8 x 8-foot curtain out of Cordura with a 96-inch zipper that zipped to a 5 x 5-foot door panel that also had a 96-inch zipper down the center for the opening. To get the zippers and zipper stops just right, Carol had help from her friend, a seamstress at the boat manufacturing plant where they had worked for over 20 years.
The process of sewing the curtain was challenging, but Carol persevered. She had to reverse engineer the client’s existing curtains and figure out the zippers they wanted instead of using the Velcro® that connected the panels on the other curtains she’d received from them. After a few days of watching Sailrite how-to videos on zipper installations, she finally felt as though she had the confidence to master her project. She went on to explain, “There is no way I could have done it without the videos and tutorials. I watched them over and over again until I got it right.”
Carol has continued to watch numerous Sailrite how-to videos to further expand on her sewing skills and to try out some fun new projects. “The videos helped me to improve my pillow-making skills and I learned how to make a box cushion for the front of my fireplace ledge. I plan to create many other projects. There is much more to learn!”
For now, Carol has been hard at work sewing a wide variety of projects for the folks in her community and receives new requests for work all the time (as seen above). She’s been using the stitch-by-stitch power of the Fabricator to sew embroidered patches on bulky police uniforms, biker jackets and even sailor’s hats. “I put on the zipper foot to give me better visibility for sewing close to the edge of the patch and to better follow its unique contours. I absolutely love the variable speed because I can sew one stitch at a time to maneuver around the contour of the patches.”
Carol’s DIY journey has grown tremendously and allowed her to connect with various members of her community, from her embroidery work to tackling new and exciting sewing projects with her Fabricator. She has opened up her horizons to the diverse world of handcrafted projects and the opportunities are as endless as her imagination.
You only live once. That was the motto and motivation for Jason and Karen Trautz when they embarked on a 10-year circumnavigation sailing adventure. Through it all they learned that the key to the liveaboard lifestyle is endurance, patience, kindness and having the right person by your side.
The Beginning of a Dream
“We never intended to circumnavigate; we just kept going,” Karen recounted. “I was happy to be in the Caribbean, and then we kept going west. Once we went through the canal we just kept going downwind. Pretty soon, you’re in another ocean, so you just keep going.”
Jason and Karen began their journey 12 years ago when they purchased a 42-foot PDQ Antares and christened her the S/V YOLO. “We launched from Charleston, North Carolina. That’s where we bought the boat,” said Jason. “‘YOLO’ — You Only Live Once. Go for it. People around us started dying, and we thought, ‘we gotta get out of here and enjoy life.’ Some of our fellow employees were passing away at young ages. You kind of get that vision of mortality.”
“People wait too long to do the things they want to do,” said Karen. “And then they can’t do them. So we decided we needed to get out there while we were still capable of doing the sailing routine. The cruising lifestyle was fabulous. He wanted to sail around the world and see all these old cultural places. I just wanted to live a Jimmy Buffet song.”
And so began a decade of life on the open sea. After selling their house, cars, condo and all the possessions they didn’t want to take on the boat, they set sail in 2007 and finished in late 2017. In that time they visited 88 countries, and, believe it or not, they insist it wasn’t enough time! “We went through three sets of passports with the maximum number of pages you can have,” Karen reminisced. “It’s a big world out there, and there’s a lot we missed. We saw so little of it.”
Sewing at Sea: The Good, the Bad & the Salty
Before Jason and Karen began their sailing adventure, they knew they would need a sewing machine strong and dependable enough to handle life at sea. They first learned about the Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 at the annual Annapolis Sailboat Show. “Some of our friends were talking about the machine,” Jason recounted, “and I bought our machine over the phone from Matt Grant [Sailrite Owner and Vice President]. We knew sails needed a zigzag stitch, and we knew the LSZ-1 was what we wanted. Before we began our trip, I talked to Eric [Grant] because we wouldn’t have access to any spare parts along the way. So he loaded me up with all the spare parts we’d likely need during our voyage. And it was obviously true. We ended up using all the parts Eric recommended. They obviously know their equipment.”
Once they had their Ultrafeed and all the accessories they’d need for their trip, all that was left to do was to learn how to sew. Both Jason’s and Karen’s mothers sewed, but neither one of them had ever practiced the skill. After getting the runaround from local places unwilling to teach him, Jason again turned to Sailrite. “Back then Sailrite had DVDs and books on sewing. And that’s how I learned. It was a lot of trial and error and ripping out stitches.”
After Jason finally learned to sew and practiced on his new Ultrafeed, they were one step closer to setting sail. They soon learned that sewing at sea is very different from sewing in your home. There are environmental factors you don’t have to consider on land. Not only that, but they quickly learned that procrastination is the enemy when it comes to sail repair.
“All that salt air is like living in a battery,” Jason remarked. “It’s a harsh environment living on the ocean. You either spend a huge amount of time and money on backup sails and canvases or you prepare to take care of them yourself. And proactively! You have to take care of issues when they’re small before a little thing becomes a big ordeal. Before your sail rips out in a gale. You just made a three-day project from what could have been four hours if you’d fixed it right away.”
The couple quickly learned that the sailing part was, surprisingly, not the hard part. Handling 80 lb. sails in such a small space is no small feat. Jason remarked that living on a boat is a giant logistics puzzle, and it helped having a portable machine like the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 that could fit in a small space yet still had power enough to breeze through sailcloth.
Sailing the Globe
Jason had learned to sail as a child in small sailboats and Hobie Cats, but Karen had never really sailed before the trip. A few years before they started their voyage, they took sailing classes to prepare themselves for their upcoming liveaboard lifestyle. “You don’t ever want to have your husband teach you to sail,” Karen warned, while Jason nodded along. “We went through the entire ASA [American Sailing Association] Sailing Courses in Florida. You have to learn to identify boats by their lights, learn how to use a sextant, learn offshore passage making, radios, communication … how to use single sideband radio, become ham radio operators … Email over the radio was our only form of communication during most of the trip.”
From the Caribbean to French Polynesia and Australia to Fiji, Jason and Karen sailed by the wind. They were constantly on the move, yet they were also never in a hurry to get anywhere. They simply enjoyed sailing from place to place and staying as long as they wanted. Weather dictated where they could go and how long they could stay in one place before moving on. “Who’s going to hang out in the Caribbean during hurricane season? We stuck to safety and comfort. Speed was our last concern,” Jason said.
The Tuamotu Islands in French Polynesia were one of Karen’s favorite places they visited. The Tuamotus form the largest chain of atolls in the world, and Karen said it was like living in a calendar picture. Not only was it a beautiful place to spend a few weeks, but the people there were generous and welcoming.
“The people were so friendly,” Karen reminisced. “We helped a guy hold a roof up while he was leveling and repairing it. The chainsaw he was using had no oil for it. The instructions were in English and they didn’t know how to use the chainsaw correctly. A few days earlier, we had found an old oil can floating in the waters of the Marquesas. So we went back to our boat and retrieved it. When we got back he wasn’t at his house anymore, so we left the oil can nearby hoping he would find it. We went walking around, exploring the area, and when we came back this little boy came running up to us motioning for us to wait. He went inside and came running back out with his fists full. In one fist was a matchbook stuffed full of pearls of all different shapes, sizes and colors. In his other fist was a handful of pearls as well. That was their way of saying thank you for the oil can.”
The generosity and kindness of the locals was something that Jason and Karen found truly remarkable “In another island we invited the kids to swim out and jump off the front of our boat for fun. They brought me this handmade mother-of-pearl fan that had been made with the fine weaving of the Cook Islands. They also left a handful of pearls as a thank you for letting the kids play on the boat.” Karen added, “We’ve been invited to weddings, funerals, birthday celebrations, even into people’s homes to stay. If we happened to be there, they invited us in.”
“We try to immerse ourselves in the local culture of wherever we’re visiting,” Jason explained. “The goal is to understand their culture and how they do things. Sometimes we’d go into their schools and help with their English classes. The books they’re using are 30 years old. They can’t practice English because they only have a book. In many places the equipment that’s been donated has become useless. It worked for a month in the beginning but no one there understands the instructions because they’re in English. So it’s easy for me to help with their construction projects.”
Needing a Tune-Up
After 10 years at sea and thousands of miles traveled, their beloved Ultrafeed was in need of a tune-up. They’d reached a point of frustration where they could no longer use the machine. Luckily, Jason and Karen happened to be near our Sailrite facility in northeast Indiana and asked to stop in and have their machine looked at. Their Ultrafeed LSZ-1 is over 12 years old, and even though their circumnavigation has ended and they’ve sold the S/V YOLO, they still plan on using the machine to sew projects for their home and other smaller boats they own.
After a couple hours of maintenance, their machine was good as new and ready to tackle another sewing project. It turns out it wasn’t just the tension that was off, which is what they suspected, there was a burr on the hook that was shredding thread every time they tried to sew something. “Matt Borden [Chief Technical Advisor] is a miracle worker,” said Jason. “He got our machine fixed and running like new again. It sounds better; it’s moving better. It takes the frustration out of the equation to have a skilled technician fix it and get it running properly.”
Jason had nothing but positive things to say about Sailrite’s level of expertise and customer support. “Matt Grant, his brother, Eric, everybody I’ve ever talked to on the phone or via email or met at shows — you guys are doing it right. In most parts of the world, follow-up support and service has gone drastically downhill. You guys can diagnose something over the phone or by email. You know your stuff and are willing to help. It’s such a relief to have someone on the other end who’s actually engaged and glad to work with you and stick with you until your issue gets resolved so we can use our machine again.”
Advice From a Liveaboard
Ten years of sailing around the world with only your spouse for company — not to mention that the cabin on a sailboat is no bigger than a bedroom — could be enough to end some marriages. Luckily, Jason and Karen found a way to stay sane and grounded during the voyage. They had books, music, playing cards and DVDs to keep them entertained, but the biggest obstacle was how to handle arguments.
“The biggest challenge that anybody’s going to face is compatibility,” Jason explained. “Where are you going to get away when you need to be alone? The biggest struggle is space. A boat cabin is not that big. Probably way over 50 percent of people who buy a boat sell it within 18 months because they can’t coexist in harmony.”
“We developed the ‘Five Minute Rule,’” Karen added. “If you’re upset with somebody — your partner — you get five minutes to vent, rant, rave, do whatever you need to do to get it out. But after five minutes you need to let it go because I need you back in my corner helping man the ship, trim the sails, do whatever. I can’t have you holding a grudge when a squall is coming through. You have to get over it and let it go. And I think that’s a good skill to have in any marriage or partnership, but it was extremely important on a boat.”
“It is a nice lifestyle,” she said. “If you don’t like where you are just pick up and move. You get to visit one nice place after another. But it is a lot of work. We kept our boat well maintained and in great working order so that when we dropped anchor at a new location we could go into town and explore the area instead of doing hours of maintenance work.”
“The thing is,” added Jason, “there aren’t a lot of people that make it very far. They just can’t live with each other that long, 24/7. And it’s a lot of work — every day. It’s the same chores day in and day out, and the list never gets smaller.”
It turns out sailing the globe isn’t exactly like living a Jimmy Buffet song after all, but it sounds like they don’t regret a single second of it.