Jessica Roush: Horses & Hobbies

With passion, patience and persistence, anything is possible. When it comes to the world of DIY sewing projects, this statement still rings just as true. Sailrite® customer Jessica Roush has blended her impressive sewing skills with her love of horses to create something special. With her industrial Sailrite® Fabricator® Sewing Machine in tow, Jessica has started her own small business selling custom bareback pads for avid horseback riders like herself. And she was kind enough to share her inspiring story with us!

As any animal lover knows, the fascination with furry friends begins early on. Jessica’s interest in horses began at age 4 when she begged her parents for a four-legged friend. It was around this same time that her fascination with sewing began, and the two hobbies would develop side by side in the years to come. At age 5, Jessica received a toy sewing machine for Christmas that sewed with glue instead of a needle and thread. But she wished for a pony and a real sewing machine every year.

At 11, she finally got one of her wishes: her very own pony! “His name was Tony and he was so good for me. I was able to escape life while I was with him, pretending to be a cowboy or an Indian while riding him. I soon became tired of saddling him up and learned to ride bareback [without a saddle].”

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Jessica and one of her previous horses, Seeker.

But riding a horse for hours without a saddle creates a lot of sweat on both the legs of the rider and on the parts of the horse’s back that are in direct contact with them. To remedy this, a bareback pad is often needed. This pad secures to the horse in a similar way as a saddle but is made of lightweight material (regular saddles can be quite heavy). These pads don’t always have stirrups, which are not necessary to ride a horse bareback.

Jessica began riding bareback so often that she was given a bareback pad for Christmas one year. “It did not take long for me to get super frustrated with the bareback pad moving back, so much so that it got the point that I was not sitting on it properly. The rigging was in the wrong location and there was no wither relief.” For those readers who aren’t equestrians, the withers on a horse are the highest part of a horse’s back, located at the base of the neck between the shoulder blades. If a saddle or bareback pad does not fit properly on this part of the horse, it can cause soreness for both horse and rider.

It was also around this time that Jessica started sewing for a home economics class, for which she had an immediate talent. Her teacher was so impressed with her skills that she asked Jessica to hem all of her class curtains, which Jessica did with great joy. This was only the beginning of her foray into sewing.

After high school, Jessica moved to Indiana and got a job at a factory sewing boat cushions and other boating necessities. Later, she moved on to sewing at several sewing shops, working on anything from canvas toppers for boats to bedspreads for RV factories. She moved once again to Sandpoint, Idaho, where she found a job sewing for a company that made everything from saddle pads to Kevlar® bulletproof vests.

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Jessica’s current horse, aptly named Silver.

Even during that busy time, her passion for horses was never extinguished. “Over the next 40 years, I owned horses. For most of those, I rode bareback, still not finding a well-designed bareback pad. When I did find a good bareback pad, the price was way out of my range starting at $350! I barely had two nickels to rub together and no money to spend on such a luxury.”

So Jessica did what any crafty DIYer would — she began to work on her own bareback pads! “My first supplies were purchased at a local store. That was all I needed to make my own bareback pads. To my surprise, it turned out very well, which had me thinking … why not make these for other people just like me? I knew there was a huge need.”

Being familiar with Sunbrella® canvas from her long sewing career was a huge help in the construction of these prototypes. “I still did not put together the idea of searching for marine canvas, but one day I went to an upholstery shop and saw the name Sailrite. I memorized it and that’s where it all really took off. Sailrite offered me most of the materials I needed to make my bareback pads. I was shocked and delighted! Since they also offered such excellent customer service and video tutorials, I was hooked. I make every effort to be loyal to Sailrite out of gratitude to them for what they offer. Sailrite is such a blessing and I don’t even think you know how grateful I am for them.”

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Jessica and “Batman” her trusty Fabricator.

Jessica went on to purchase the Sailrite Fabricator Sewing Machine, a full-size, straight stitch industrial sewing machine with incredible speed control and the ability to power through multiple layers of fabric. And although Sunbrella canvas was good for bareback pads, it also became clear that Jessica’s bareback pads needed fabric with a slight bit of stretch. So began the hunt for the perfect material! She tried several options and first settled on Naugahyde® Universal vinyl. She purchased many of the colors until she saw that Sailrite was offering Sunbrella® Horizon and EverSoft Indoor/Outdoor vinyl. Being intrigued, she ordered a sample of both and finally had an epiphany.

“My mind was totally blown when I saw and touched the EverSoft! This was it! That was what I’d been looking for!” This soft, supple, waterproof vinyl is fantastic for indoor and outdoor projects, making it well suited for Jessica’s bareback pads.

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After arduous work and numerous less-than-perfect attempts, Jessica finally discovered a sewing system and a bareback pad design that was ideal for her small business. Early on, it took her six hours to make one pad, but now she can easily make two in a day if the mood suits her. Since 2016, she’s sold hundreds of bareback pads with many, many return customers. “I work very, very hard to put out only the best work I can do and use only the best materials I can afford. These pads can have about 1200 miles put on them and still have life left!”

To make her bareback pads the best they can be, Jessica utilizes many high-quality products from Sailrite. Along with the Fabricator, these include the Sailrite® Edge Hotknife, YKK® zippers, stainless steel clips, D rings, webbing, binding, thread and more! And our comprehensive customer support is always a plus whenever she has questions or concerns.

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Rescue pony Kricket uses Jessica’s custom bareback pads to trek hundreds of miles. Photo courtesy of Jen Joines.

So what does Jessica think is the most rewarding part about sewing for her own business? Well, to fully appreciate the answer to that question, you’d also need to understand Jessica’s previous experiences sewing in a much less artistic realm. Her story is proof that there’s always a silver lining if you look for it.

“I love creating. I create in my dreams and wake up in the night with ideas. If I see colors, fabrics or notions, I will probably think of something to do with them. Figuring things out is my passion. That’s probably why I hated every job I ever worked at. They want you to put piece one and piece two together over and over again. It’s a miracle I survived that! I really thought there was something wrong with me. I could not hold down a job and I had horrible anxiety issues. Now I love what I do. I wake up excited to work.”

A Sailing Saga: Crafting the Perfect Sail

Bob Johnson is an avid and enthusiastic sailor. He built his own small planing scow years ago and enjoys taking it out during the summer where he lives in Oregon. One day, as he was trying to sail upstream in light wind, he had the idea to put a large spinnaker sail on his boat to catch the wind and really make it fly. After some trial and error, he realized that to get exactly what he wanted, he’d need to make it himself. Keep reading to find out how Bob put his sewing skills to use and invented his own sail design, which he rightfully named “Bob’s Sail.”

Originally, Bob’s 12-foot sailboat had two sails. The mainsail was 72 square feet and the jib was 16 square feet. Bob’s first attempt at upgrading his sail and speed potential was to rig a 100-square-foot spinnaker on the boat. The spinnaker is connected to the top of the mast and two places on the sides of the boat. “A spinnaker is a great big sail for sailing with the wind. All of the larger boats use them,” Bob explained.

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Bob sailing his planing scow on a lake in Oregon.

A Valiant First Attempt

When he tested out his new oversized spinnaker, he quickly realized a flaw in his plan. “I came to the conclusion that my planing scow would ‘submarine’ if the wind picked up. For you land lovers, a ‘planing scow’ is a nearly flat bottomed boat that is meant to sail in strong winds and to rise up out of the water and skim across the water like a speedboat does.” So, in effect, Bob’s idea would have the exact opposite effect he intended. Instead of his boat gracefully skimming across the water at high speeds, the spinnaker would cause the boat to nosedive bow first into the water!

The spinnaker was out, but that didn’t deter Bob. He put his thinking cap back on and came up with another idea. Bob’s solution to the spinnaker “submarine problem,” as he called it, was to make a sail that would pull the bow up and not down into the water like the spinnaker did. Bob’s plan was to make a large genoa sail to replace his 16-square-foot jib sail and sail wing on wing. “With a large genoa, I would be able to have the mainsail on one side and the genoa sail on the other (wing on wing). This would create a sail wall in front of my boat, just like a spinnaker would accomplish when sailing with the wind.”

Solving the Submarine Problem

“My thought was that the pressure on the genoa would help to lift the bow because of its angle on the jib stay.” A jib stay is a piece of standing rigging that keeps the mast from falling backward. But Bob’s creative juices didn’t stop there. “But wait!” he thought. “Why not make two genoa sails by making it just one big sail attached to the jib stay in the middle. This sail configuration would act, when fully open, as a spinnaker. I can also close both sails together to make it act like one genoa sail.”

With this new plan in hand, Bob set out to sew his clever sail design. “I used Sailrite’s sail material and sewed it on my sewing machine. I placed two super magnets, one on each side of the clew (the bottom rear corner), to aid in the closing of the two halves.” This unique sail design worked great, and Bob named it “Bob’s Sail.”

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Bob thought about patenting his sail idea, but others had the same idea a few years before him.

After two sailings with his new sail, Bob ran into another small issue. “I realized that when I had the Bob’s Sail fully opened I couldn’t see where I was going. I watched Sailrite’s instructional video on adding windows to a sail but decided I couldn’t do it on my machine.” Bob had two circular windows professionally installed. “The sail was made so that I can sail the boat with just this one sail or use it with the mainsail. Since it’s a furling genoa (‘furling’ means that I can roll this sail up around the jib stay), I can adjust the size to fit the wind conditions. I can use it fully open, partially closed or fully closed.”

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“My boat, when sailing at you, now looks like a big white monster with two round eyes!”

Sailing on Land

Bob doesn’t just enjoy sailing the Oregon lakes and rivers, he also sails on land. He owns several landsailers that he built himself from PVC piping. He also sewed the sails for his landsailers. “I have built several models and have tested them on blocked-off roads, vacant lots, the beach and one unused area at an airport.”

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A closer look at Bob’s two-seater PVC landsailer cab.

Land sailing, or land yachting, is a recreational activity that involves moving across land in a wheeled vehicle powered solely by the attached sail. “Sail wagons,” as they were called in the early 20th century, have been around for hundreds of years but have grown in popularity in recent times. There are even land yacht competitions around the world.

Designing a Landsailer

Over the years, Bob has drawn up multiple sets of plans, trying to design the perfect landsailer that met all his specifications. It’s been a trial and error process, but he’s determined to get it right. “Steering was a big problem,” he confessed. “I started out wanting to make the landsailer just like a sailboat with a tiller and mainsheet line. I found out that I needed one hand to hold the sail line and the other hand just to hang on, so then I had no steering control.” After that attempt, he developed a foot steering design, which was more successful.

Bob loves taking his landsailers for a spin on the beach. However, with no brakes on the vehicles it can turn into a potentially dangerous situation. “Our beaches usually have too many people on them, and I’m afraid of hitting someone. I have invented a spinnaker sail for one of my landsailers. It has a pull-down sock to close the sail with, but I haven’t tested it yet.” A spinnaker sock is a sleeve of material that is rigged to the spinnaker. Pulling a rope pulls the sleeve down, closing the sail and reducing your speed.

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Whether on land or water, Bob’s love of sailing knows no bounds. What does he love most about the sport? “Sailing is great because you can make only the wind move you without the noise of a motor. And DIY gives me the ability to make something that I can use on my boat.” Bob looks forward to many summers of enjoyment with his unique sail designs. We wish him fair winds and following seas.