Jan West: A Seasoned Sewist

With a little help from Sailrite® and the Ultrafeed® Sewing Machine, Jan West felt like she could tackle just about any project. As an experienced sewist, she was no stranger to the world of DIY projects, and she was kind enough to share with us her most recent sewing successes. She is proof that there’s always a plethora of creative projects to create if you have just a little time, patience and determination.

Q: What’s your story? How’d you start sewing?

A: I started sewing when I was a young girl, probably 8 or 9 years old. Both of my grandmothers had a big impact on my love for sewing and crafting. I spent a lot of time with both of them, and they taught me to hand sew and allowed me to sew on their machines or work on crafts. As I grew older, my career and family didn’t allow me much time to sew, but recently, I’ve had free time again and gained inspiration to sew and work on different craft projects.

Q: What’s your most recent sewing accomplishment?

A: A few weeks ago, I decided to order fabric to re-cover my patio chair cushions. I had re-covered some a few years earlier and knew that I could tackle the job, but I wanted to refresh my memory by watching some YouTube videos. While watching these, I ran across the Sailrite video instructions on how to reupholster golf cart seats. The video was so easy to follow and understand and, knowing that I had sons that needed their seats reupholstered, I was convinced that I could do this. 

I immediately started to search Sailrite’s website for the vinyl fabric that I would need. I was concerned that I didn’t have a walking foot upholstery sewing machine like Sailrite showed in their videos, but I did have an older metal machine with a walking foot. With the Sailrite video at my disposal, I was able to sew the vinyl on my old machine and the golf cart seats turned out very well. 

At the same time, I knew that my stitching was not as perfect as it could have been due to having to coax the fabric through at times. Soon I realized that if I was going to continue these kinds of projects, I would need a Sailrite machine. It would take my next projects from looking good to looking great! Plus it would make the project so much easier to sew. By this time, I had already watched almost all of Sailrite’s videos and had convinced myself that I could re-cover an armchair, a bimini and much more.

I actually looked at different machines online, but after reading reviews, I always came back to the Sailrite website. I purchased the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 BASIC and am currently sewing new covers for some wicker patio furniture. If you’re accustomed to a regular home sewing machine, it might take a little getting used to the walking foot on the Ultrafeed, but I have been very pleased with it so far. No more coaxing the fabric through the machine and no more inconsistent stitches! I can’t wait to reupholster the next golf cart seat. I have my Morbern® vinyl from Sailrite ready and waiting!

Jan West

Q: Can you tell me a little bit more about your golf cart project?

A: My golf cart seat project went right along with your how-to video series. Luckily, the seats on my golf cart were exactly like the ones that you upholstered in your video. I started by removing the seat backs. I measured the lengths, widths and edges of them and also marked where I wanted the coordinating fabric to be centered on the backs. I used these measurements, along with the seat cushion measurements, to diagram out on paper how I would lay the pattern pieces out on 54-inch wide vinyl fabric. Then I decided how much fabric I would need to order from Sailrite.

I added a 1/2-inch seam allowance to all the measurements except the boxing pieces, marking the end boxing pieces as described in the video. Then I removed the staples holding the existing vinyl on and cut out the end boxing piece to be used as my pattern. With measurements from the plywood backing, I cut out the vinyl pieces for the front of the back cushion, including the coordinating fabric and allowed about 3 inches in length on each piece to wrap around and staple to the plywood back. I sewed the fabric strips together with a 1/2-inch seam and top stitched a flat-felled seam. I then stitched the boxing to each end and top stitched again, by watching your exceptional video. 

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My husband helped me by replacing the rusted tee nuts in the plywood and I used contact cement to reattach the foam to the plywood. I had purchased a pneumatic staple gun and my husband helped me to staple the vinyl to the plywood seat backs. I’m not very strong in my hands, so having someone to help you staple and stretch the vinyl is great. We attached the newly covered back cushions to the golf cart and transferred where I wanted the coordinating fabric to match up on the seat bottom and marked the old vinyl with a sharpie marker. I basically did the same process with the seat cushion as with the backs. 

Overall, I enjoyed my experience with this project. It was much easier than I expected because of your instructional video tutorials that I kept referring to. The biggest setback was having to cut off the old screws and replace the tee nuts without damaging the plywood. Even though I used fabric from Sailrite, at this time I didn’t have my Ultrafeed and I really wish I did. It would’ve turned out much better.

Q: In your opinion, what’s the most rewarding part about sewing your own DIY projects?

A: I think that the most rewarding part of sewing my own projects is the self-satisfaction of knowing that you can accomplish something that you’ve never done before, along with saving the money that you would have paid someone else to do it for you. And I can use my talent to help save my family money too!

Now that I have the Sailrite machine, I am already using it to sew some new patio cushions. I am thrilled with it, and I can’t wait to finish this project and use the machine on the next golf cart seat waiting in the wings. I even have plans to re-cover an armchair when I decide on the fabric I want. I’ve been so inspired by your video tutorials and I truly believe: “I can do that!”  

Please keep the videos coming!

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Sewing & the Mainsail: One Man’s Passion Project

Marc Weiner has always been the creative type. Born in New York, his mother gave him her sewing machine when he was around 23 years old. From there, his love of sewing and creativity took off. Over the years and throughout his different career paths, Marc has used sewing in unique and interesting ways. Now, he’s using it for the greater good. Marc volunteers for the Clearwater Sloop, a nonprofit environmental organization based in Beacon, New York, dedicated to cleaning up the pollution in the Hudson River and educating their community about conservation and environmentalism. Read the inspiring story of how one man is making a world of difference in his community through his passion for sewing.

hudson river sloop clearwater
The Sloop Clearwater sailing on the Hudson River, New York. Photo courtesy of the Clearwater Sloop Facebook page.

A History of Creativity

Sewing is just one of the many ways Marc shares his creativity with the world. He’s had a fascinating career over the years, working as an actor and puppeteer. He started out as a street performer clown and puppeteer. Then he later joined a street theater group and made the puppets and all their clothing. He’s even done some voice work for the movie and television industry. You might recognize him as the voice of Map and Swiper on the kid’s show “Dora the Explorer.” He joined Saturday Night Live in 1980 and performed on the show with his puppets.

“When I first moved to New York City, I would ‘dumpster dive’ in the garment district, and I would find lots of great scraps of colorful fabric. I loved sewing them together and making pillows. The idea of taking a piece of flat fabric and making it something that is 3D — making puppet clothing is a perfect example of this.”

“I started sewing my puppets’ clothing for my night club act. When I performed my puppets on Saturday Night Live, their amazing costume department made my puppets’ clothing. They did a much better job than I ever could. After SNL, I continued making puppet clothing for all of my puppet projects until 1992 when I got my own show on Nickelodeon called ‘Weinerville.'” On his Nickelodeon show, there was an entire crew sewing the clothing for his puppets, but that didn’t deter Marc from finding other avenues to continue his sewing pursuits.

clearwater sloop mainsail bags
Marc washes the Clearwater’s mainsail in preparation for sewing bags.

Sailing & Sewing

Growing up, Marc’s parents had a 12-foot sailboat on Lake Mahopac, New York. “My father taught me how to sail on that boat,” he recalled. The family also owned a 15-foot powerboat. Marc enjoyed a childhood of time spent on the water, enjoying the peacefulness and quiet of sailing or zipping around on the high-speed powerboat. Years later, his parents bought a 41-foot Morgan yacht. “They lived on the Morgan down in the Bahamas for 12 years. I would visit them and go sailing.”

Now, Marc owns his own sailboat and enjoys sewing projects for it. Five years ago, he bought a 34-foot Beneteau and jumped right into DIY work. “When I was working on projects for my boat, my home machine was struggling when I was making my cabin cushions. I found Sailrite on the internet, and I knew I would need the Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 for my next project — restitching my bimini and dodger.”

Marc named his boat the MelAdele in honor of his parents and their shared love of sailing and enjoying life on the water. Marc was excited to get to work sewing for his new boat. “I found Sailrite’s amazing DIY videos and started sewing new cabin cushions, winch covers and cockpit seat cushions. I made new curtains, restitched the bimini and dodger, made a companionway cover, made side window panels for the bimini, repaired the sail cover and so many other projects.”

clearwater sloop education programs
Educational programs are a fundamental part of the Clearwater’s mission. Here, children participate in a “Sailing Classroom” which promotes hands-on engagement learning.

Sewing for a Cause

Marc has been volunteering for the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater organization since 1973. “I crewed for one week, and then became the weekend cook for a month. They then took me on as the permanent cook, which lasted for two years. I was a vegetarian cook, and the captain loved eating meat. He couldn’t put up with my cooking any longer and made me the first mate during my third year on board.”

He has had various other roles during his many years with the nonprofit. He’s worked in the front office, worked on the boat, and helps out with the annual folk festival. Most recently, Marc has been sewing bags and totes from the Clearwater’s retired sailcloth as a way to raise funds for the organization.

“For our 2020 Clearwater restoration fundraising campaign, I made almost 100 assorted bags that we sold to raise money.” Clearwater’s mission is to protect the Hudson River and the surrounding wetlands and waterways through public education and environmental advocacy. Clearwater’s award-winning programs have grown consistently over the years. In 2004, the Clearwater was named to the National Register of Historic Places for its groundbreaking role in the environmental movement.

clearwater sloop fundraiser
Marc’s mainsail bags on display at the Clearwater Fundraiser. Photo © Bruce N Murray 2020

Environmental protection is a cause close to Marc’s heart. “When I went to college, I became more aware about the need for environmental advocacy. My years of service on the Clearwater Sloop have reinforced this belief. Air and water pollution, global warming, smog, acid rain, deforestation and wildfires — these are just a few of the environmental issues we are facing right now. It’s everyone’s responsibility to take care of our precious and beautiful planet and make it a safe and wonderful place to live.”

Recently, Marc mentioned taking a trip into New York City. He was walking down the street with one of his Clearwater mainsail bags slung across his shoulder with the ship’s original reefing lines acting as straps. A sudden gust of wind struck, and the bag said to him, “I think we should reef.” Marc felt the reefing lines tighten across his torso. In that moment, the spirit of the Clearwater mainsail was reawakened after being retired for six years.

Once a sail, always a sail.

clearwater sloop mainsail bag

If you’d like to learn more about the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater organization and its mission, please visit https://www.clearwater.org/the-sloop/.