The Drive to Learn: One DIYer’s Roadmap to Sewing Mastery

Restoring well-worn or damaged items has become very popular in the last few years. Just look at the dozens of TV shows about home renovations, antiquing and swap meets as proof of this trend. Many people renovate to give historical items their shine back or to reduce waste — giving items with a story a new lease on life instead of letting them go to a landfill.

Sailrite® customer Jerry Bartlett is one such restorer. He’s interested in reducing waste and refreshing historical pieces too — but he’s not looking for retro clothing, antique furniture or old-school knickknacks.

Instead, Jerry often brings home vintage automobiles. This self-sufficient DIYer loves nothing more than getting his hands dirty restoring classic cars, and he frequently turns to Sailrite for project materials.

How does a sewing company like Sailrite come into the picture of car restorations? Upholstery, of course! Restoring a car isn’t just about what’s under the hood or how it looks on the outside. From the seats and door panels to the headliner and more, there are plenty of places for fabric and foam inside a car.

Jerry proved this by redoing the interior of a 1950 Plymouth Special Deluxe. He did all the upholstery work with a Sailrite® Fabricator® and other tools and materials from Sailrite.

A preview of the finished upholstery.
A preview of the finished upholstery.

This seat looks professionally done, right? From the outstanding results, you’d never guess that this car’s upholstery was Jerry’s first sewing project ever. In fact, Jerry taught himself to sew (with help from Sailrite) specifically to reupholster this unique Special Deluxe.

The Need & the Potential

This particular car is reminiscent of a County Highway Patrol cruiser used in New York in the early 1950s. A fan of the explosive innovation in the automobile industry in the 1950s and ’60s, Jerry was immediately drawn by the overall aesthetic and history behind the vintage cruiser when he saw it at a car show. As luck would have it, the car was for sale — and Jerry bought it right away.

“It spoke to me,” he said of the cruiser. “This thing had lots of potential, and with some work and creativity, it could be a historical piece.”

Seeing the potential in the car was a major first step to transforming it into the showpiece it is today. The car needed some mechanical work and a few touch-ups to the already restored exterior. But its interior was, in Jerry’s words, “in dire need of help.”

“The seats, door panels and sun visors were beyond hope. There was no headliner or bows, no carpet, and all the window channel liners were mostly gone.”

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He was already well acquainted with the mechanical portions of the refurbishment — an interest that began when he was a child. “I was the kid who always had the desire within my DNA to take things apart to find out what made them tick,” Jerry remembered.

During his high school years, Jerry took classes in auto body work at a local technical career center. After graduating high school, he spent four years as a mechanic in the U.S. Army. Then he spent 10 years working in auto body and fender repair before becoming a fleet mechanic.

Even while working on cars for a living, Jerry always had a “hobby” car that he restored on the side. It all started in 1990; that’s when he said he found “the car of [his] dreams: a 1959 Cadillac Coupe DeVille.”

Despite all his work experience, his first hobby project wasn’t easy. “[The DeVille] was a disaster. The only two good panels on it were the roof and trunk lid. It ran rather poorly, needed a windshield, interior and tons of TLC, but I was up to the challenge,” he said.

And since he didn’t go easy on himself for his first renovation project, you can bet that the many projects that followed weren’t cakewalks either. The long list of cars that Jerry has restored includes such notable models as a 1979 Pontiac Firebird, a 1961 Ford F-100 and a 1969 Pontiac Trans Am.

Learning to Sew With Sailrite

So, you can see that Jerry was more than equipped to take care of the patrol cruiser’s mechanical needs. But while he was eager to make the car look like new on the inside, he had some important research to do first.

“Reupholstering an auto interior [was] the last horizon in the automotive world for me,” Jerry said. Even sewing in general was completely new territory. While scouring the internet to learn about automotive upholstery, he found Sailrite’s classic car reupholstery project video series and decided to watch it.

“I was very impressed with Sailrite’s website from top to bottom. Everything was so well organized and easily accessible, I found myself actually wanting to return every time I had a question or idea,” he said.

Although first overwhelmed by how much he had to learn about sewing, Jerry soon found that Sailrite’s huge library of how-to videos told him everything he needed to know. “The learning process initially is a lot to digest since it’s not just operating a sewing machine,” he said.

“Once you’ve watched one or more of Sailrite’s well-produced, clear and concise videos, that [overwhelmed] feeling just kind of melts away, and it becomes quite easy to imagine yourself as the person in the video. This is what gave me confidence … to enter the exciting world of sewing!”

After nearly a year of thorough research and watching how-to videos, Jerry bought a Fabricator Sewing Machine for his project. It’s saying something that Sailrite’s largest machine won his vote. Space is at a premium in Jerry’s work area, and he couldn’t afford to give even an inch to a machine that wouldn’t make the cut.

He told us more about his workspace: “I’m working off the lid of a 36-inch by 28-inch chest-style refrigerator [and] a 60-inch by 30-inch section of kitchen floor, or plywood and sawhorses if the weather is good so a car in storage can go outside. The Fabricator occupies a small 6-foot by 8-foot area.”

Jerry sewing with his Fabricator machine.
The Fabricator helps Jerry make the most of his limited workspace.

The industrial machine had to be everything Jerry needed to justify taking up so much of his already tight workspace. “Through my research, there were common things that a sewing machine should have and be able to do regarding automotive upholstery. [The] Fabricator repeatedly checked off all those boxes,” he said.

But that wasn’t the only hurdle the Fabricator had to clear to win its spot in Jerry’s workshop. This DIY enthusiast’s home isn’t connected to the local power grid, so he generates his own electricity with solar panels and wind turbines. “Power usage for anything added to the system is always a concern,” he shared. Luckily, the Fabricator fell well within the usage limits of his self-reliant electrical system.

After getting all the tools and materials he needed for what he calls his “very first sewing adventure,” Jerry’s next step was to get some hands-on experience with the Fabricator. “I was a bit nervous having only seen [the Fabricator] on the web and reading user reviews about it,” he told us. “To my delight, setup wasn’t difficult, and it really helped for me to do this and learn about everything connected to the unit.”

Jerry’s favorite feature of the Fabricator is the programmable Workhorse® Servo Motor. While getting started, he found it helpful to lower the motor’s speed to sew one stitch at a time. “This feature is truly what allowed me the ability to learn as I went. … Regardless of speed, every stitch turned out as perfectly as the previous one. It’s a brute of a machine that can be as gentle as a kitten, so yes, you really can do this at a snail’s pace just like I did!”

Overcoming Project Roadblocks

Buoyed by his success setting up and testing the powerful machine, Jerry jumped right into the cruiser upholstery project. First, he had to disassemble and pattern the seats and door panels. That’s when things began to fall apart — literally.

“What was left of the original interior was mostly useless, as it fell apart on disassembly,” Jerry told us. The few useful-looking pieces he was able to salvage had unfortunately hosted rodents some time before he bought the car; he was forced to throw those pieces out for sanitary reasons and start completely from scratch.

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But like the rest of his sewing adventure, the unusable cushion material presented a learning opportunity. From the experience, Jerry learned to make patterns exactly how he wanted them, measure multiple times and cut once, and look for guidance from more experienced DIYers instead of trying to “reinvent the wheel.”

Although he did triumph in the end, Jerry told us that patterning from the ground up was the most challenging part of restoring the car’s interior — especially since he had a very specific vision for how it should look.

“The goal was to make the new patterns work with the curves of the roof and cagework, so the top of both front and rear seats would need a matching arch,” he said. “I also wanted great big pleats — something not available in a 1950 Plymouth Special Deluxe. … Overcoming these challenges required several reviews of Sailrite’s video series, and attention to detail with measuring and markings.”

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After hours of painstaking work creating patterns, cutting material pieces and sewing stitch by stitch on his Fabricator, Jerry finished the upholstery renovation with professional-looking results!

Driving Off Into the Sunset

Aside from the “feeling of self-satisfaction in taking on something [he’s] never done before,” Jerry’s favorite thing about the finished upholstery is getting to show it off. “The icing on the cake is when people, especially those who’ve been sewing for decades, say, ‘This is really nice. Where did you have this done?’” he said.

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A perfect example is a recent project Jerry did for his mother, whom he said has high standards and calls things like she sees them. After he sewed cushions for her four-chair outdoor table set, she “scrutinized [them] even more thoroughly than a jeweler would with diamonds. The final verdict was, ‘These are perfect.’”

Jerry’s mom isn’t the only person impressed by his newfound sewing skills. Earlier this year, he entered the patrol cruiser in the 2022 Adirondack Nationals car show, held in Lake George, New York. The show’s attendees loved the cruiser!

“I cannot even tell you how many compliments there were about the interior,” Jerry shared. “It’s now my belief that with all the ‘eye candy’ the car has to offer, the upholstery is the real showcase that ties everything together!”

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The show’s judges thought so too. The police cruiser won a big award at the show — appropriately, the Sheriff’s Pick award. Congratulations, Jerry!

More Projects Down the Road

We asked Jerry what he plans to do now that the cruiser restoration is done. “Are these ever really done?” he laughed. “So far this has been an off-and-on project for the last two and a half years. Out of all the extensive work completed, the interior revamp has been the biggest chunk and the most rewarding by a long shot.”

For now, Jerry is taking a break from the cruiser to do a couple of other upholstery projects. He’s partially completed one: “I have a 1953 Pontiac Chieftain that’s essentially the equivalent of a ‘shop truck’ that goes everywhere. The seats were terrible in that one too but are now reupholstered — again using everything obtained from Sailrite.”

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Jerry plans to restore the Chieftain’s side panels, door pads and headliner, but he’s put those on the backburner for now to work on something even more exciting.

“The next project is an interior (mainly the four bucket seats) of a 1961 Chrysler 300G. These cars may have had the most incredible factory interior ever … I will need to really think this one through and make it as good as the original or better. These are high-profile cars, and the sharpest critics tend to seek them out. Challenge accepted — and armed with the Fabricator, it’s game on!”

If there’s anything we’ve learned about Jerry, it’s that he’s no stranger to a challenge. We’re sure that the restored Chrysler will draw nothing but praise from critics and car show judges alike.

Before we wrapped up our interview, we asked Jerry what he would say to someone else who has a big project in mind but needs to learn to sew first. He had a checklist of advice ready:

“Educate yourself on the topic. That may involve getting together with someone close to you that has experience in this field. … Think of things you would like to make for yourself or others. This will give a project some context that’s relevant to you. Once you’ve read, watched and learned as much as you want, imagine yourself actually creating and sewing that item. And lastly, be persistent! Like anything one wishes to become good at … a skill will come with time and experience.”

Jerry, you’ve certainly proved that patience and dedication can help a person accomplish just about any goal they set. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story to encourage your fellow DIYers. We can’t wait to see what you make next!

The Art of Sewing: A Lesson in Self-Expression & Community

When you think about art, does fabric come to mind? For Jackson Martin, it absolutely does. Jackson is an associate professor of sculpture at the University of North Carolina in Asheville. Since art school, he has used fabric in his sculpture and installation pieces with great effect. His most recent sculpture, Room in the Sky, incorporated sailcloth from Sailrite and the use of his Ultrafeed® LSZ Sewing Machine. Let’s find out more about Jackson, his passion for art, and how Sailrite could be a small part of his creative expression.

Jackson Martin Moving Mountains
Moving Mountains was a project Jackson created during his artist residency in South Korea. It was installed on Jarasum Island in Gapyeong County, South Korea.

Art + Sewing

Art and sewing have been integral parts of Jackson’s life for decades. His mother taught him to sew when he was young. In his teens, he would buy clothes from thrift stores and, often, jeans and pants were too long. “My mom taught me how to sew hems on a vintage Singer 347 from the 1960s that her mom had given her.” Jackson still has that classic Singer, and he’s even modified it with a custom aluminum pulley to keep it running smoothly.

Jackson’s two interests collided during his undergraduate studies where he found a unique way to incorporate sewing into his sculpture work. “I was very interested in juxtaposing plants and soil with industrial materials like steel and wood. I made a conical-shaped hanging structure for a cypress tree and used burlap for the first time in my work. The piece was titled Separation. Since that project, I have used countless fabrics in my work, including several different types of burlap, tarp, canvas, denim, nylon, vinyl, cotton duck, moving blankets, quilted insulation fabric and an old trampoline!” 

rooted II installation
Jackson created this piece, Rooted II, for the exhibition “Sculpture by the Sea” in Aarhus, Denmark, during his residency there.

Jackson is passionate about not only making art but teaching art to students. He has taught at several institutions since obtaining his Master of Fine Arts degree in 2007. He also participates in international artist residencies and has created sculptures in South Korea and Denmark, both of which incorporated fabric and sewing into the projects.

Upgrading to an Ultrafeed

Jackson was using his mother’s Singer for his fabric sculptures and installations, but he soon realized he needed a more powerful machine. He first tried an old industrial walking foot Singer, but there was no way to slow it down for detail work. An internet search for industrial walking foot sewing machines led him to Sailrite and the Ultrafeed LSZ. “I still occasionally use my vintage Singers, but 99% of the time I go for my Ultrafeed for my projects.”

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In fact, Jackson has ordered two Ultrafeed LSZ machines — one for personal use and one for the sculpture department at UNC Asheville. The LSZ was one of the first purchases he made when he became an associate professor nine years ago. “We’ve had that machine now for over eight years and it’s still going strong.” It’s been put to great use by art students throughout the years.

Transforming Fabric Into Art

For Jackson’s most recent installation, Room in the Sky, he turned to Sailrite for the materials he’d need. Jackson’s piece was chosen, among other artists, as a temporary installation following the removal of the Vance Monument in downtown Asheville. The theme of the installation series was “social equity and inclusion” to replace the statue of former North Carolina governor, confederate and enslaver Zebulon Vance. The intention of the installation series was to spark conversation about inclusivity in public spaces.

“I chose an overall form that directly relates to the old monument base, but also one that represents both healing and inclusivity.” The structure’s framework is shaped like a plus sign or medical cross with Dacron® sailcloth flags representing groups that experience discrimination. “Many of my students, closest friends and family members have been affected by discrimination and prejudice in this country, and I am honored to stand as an ally in the fight for equality. The title is intended as a double meaning: There is room in the sky for all flags to fly, but the structure is also an actual room for visitors to walk into and enjoy physically.”

room in the sky
Room in the Sky was one of 11 projects selected for the Asheville, North Carolina, public art initiative called “Art in the Heart,” created as a way to unite, heal and strengthen the community.

Let’s hear more about Jackson’s artistic journey and creative process in his own words.

Q. Have you always been artistic? When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in the arts?

A. For as long as I can remember, I have always had an inclination towards art. My dad is an artist, so that sort of mentality was always in our household. I remember being assigned projects in grade school, and then going above and beyond the guidelines and spending way too much time on them. These projects were always two-dimensional art projects, though — drawings, paintings, even collages — I never really got into three-dimensional art until much later. When I first started college, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the arts, but at the time I had no idea what I wanted to do. I ended up floundering around quite a bit, not only trying my hand at different art mediums, but other areas altogether, like printmaking, graphic design, and even philosophy and religion. 

Q. Would you say fabric/sewing is your main medium, or do you prefer to work with another medium?

A. Early on in my undergraduate studies, I realized I loved mixed-media art. And even though I’ve gone through phases of using particular materials and processes, one of the characteristics I pride myself on accomplishing is the ability to do just about everything. Sewing and fabric work in general, however, is one of my go-to mediums/processes. Another go-to is steel, and I love the mixture of fabric and steel, sewing and welding. Although they are obviously different and in some ways polar opposites, there are similarities that I love. If I have stitched together fabric pieces with my sewing machine and stitched together metal pieces with my welder, then I consider that a great day in the studio! 

fabric art installation
This installation, Ascent II, incorporated steel, grommets, cable and Phifertex® vinyl mesh fabric and represents the life cycle of one juniper tree.

Q. What do you love most about sewing and/or the creative process as an artist?

A. With sewing I love the quiet, contemplative space at the machine. I am completely aware and focused on what I’m doing but zoned out and sort of in a meditative state, as well. I suppose that’s what I love about the creative process in general. These two seemingly disparate ways of existing in the world can occur simultaneously.  

Q. Do you sew for yourself or your home, or just for artistic reasons? 

A. I definitely sew for myself or, more specifically, for my family. I’m the household resident tailor, always getting roped into making and fixing things for the home. Hemming pants, fixing holes in sweaters, custom curtains, etc. I actually taught both my wife and now my daughter how to sew! 

phifertex vinyl mesh fabric art
40-Hour Workweek is one of Jackson’s favorite pieces. He hand cut 300 pieces of Phifertex vinyl mesh to recreate the dimensions of a traditional cinder block. It required exactly 40 hours of work and the layers are held together by gravity — no thread or glue is used in the piece.

Jackson’s fabric sculptures and installations are thought-provoking and impactful. But you don’t need a master’s degree in art to be creative and make a statement. Every sewer experiences the same sense of accomplishment when they transform fabric into something three-dimensional and purposeful. It’s a joy and skill that connects all makers — whether you’re an internationally recognized artist or a parent sewing homemade Halloween costumes. 

The creative spirit is at the heart of the DIY community. It’s a thread that binds all makers, reminding us that there is more we have in common than what sets us apart. Sculptor, DIYer, artist, sewer — we all use our hands to create something that makes us happy and, perhaps, makes a difference in someone’s life. What could be better than that?

For more information on Jackson’s work, you can visit his website at www.jacksonmartin.com. 

Recipe for DIY Success: Determination & a Sailrite® Sewing Machine

“Nothing is impossible.”

That’s the motto of Linda Butters-Freund, a dedicated sewer and co-owner of Florida-based small business Offshore & More Custom Canvas LLC. Given her impressive 63 years of sewing experience, it’s safe to say that there’s no project she can’t tackle.

“There has never been a project too big for me,” Linda said when we asked her about the largest project she’s ever done. That project? A huge shade panel for the U.S. Open Pickleball Stadium’s championship arena, completed in early 2021.

The shade panel covers the open front of the championship stadium, which is in Naples, Florida. During pickleball tournaments, it provides players and spectators alike with much-needed relief from high heat and constant sun exposure. It’s a new and improved version of the original shade panel, which was made in 2017.

As a longtime Sailrite fan, Linda knew just where to turn for her project materials. She purchased enough spur grommets and webbing from Sailrite to complete the hanging shade panel — with some to spare.

The panel’s massive scale made a large sewing machine a necessity. Luckily, Linda already owned a Sailrite® Professional Long Arm Sewing Machine when this project came around. With its extra-large throat, the Professional was the natural choice to sew the shade panel. “I honestly don’t think it would have been possible to use any other machine!” Linda said.

Introduction to Pickleball

Linda was already well acquainted with pickleball when she started working with the Naples stadium. She discovered the sport in 2012 while living on Florida’s Marco Island.

“I played tennis at the YMCA three times a week,” she explained. “I saw a flyer on the check-in counter announcing a clinic for pickleball. I signed up, started playing and realized that it was a much friendlier game … When I moved to Naples, I was fortunate to find a location nearby with lots of players.”

If you guessed that this “location nearby” was the U.S. Open Pickleball Stadium complex, you’re right on the money.

The stadium, which hosted the inaugural U.S. Open Pickleball Championships in 2016, consists of several open-air pickleball courts. Additionally, the championship court is covered by a large metal structure with fabric shade panels on the top and front. Linda started playing there before the original shade structure was built in 2017.

The Florida heat kept spectator numbers very low at the 2016 championships. Some shade, the stadium managers reasoned, would encourage more people to watch the tournament live in the future. They had the shade structure built soon after.

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Although it greatly boosted attendance at the 2017 tournament, the structure had a major flaw. “[The] sunshades [were] made from a material that did not hold up to the elements,” Linda said. “[They] were fraying and the grommets were ripping out.”

The complex’s management needed someone to repair the shade panels — and they didn’t have far to look. Jim, the man in charge of the courts, soon learned about Linda’s sewing skills.

“[Jim] had seen some of my work from a player … I made personalized pickleball paddle covers. He asked [the player] for my name and contacted me,” Linda said. “I met with him, looked at the panels and said I would figure out a way to make repairs.”

Linda had never worked on such a large project before. But it’s never been in her nature to back down from a challenge. This tenacity and resourcefulness have served her well — starting when she learned to sew at 8 years old.

A Lifetime of Sewing Success

“I always watched my mother sewing clothes for my siblings and myself,” Linda said of her childhood. “I decided I would like to try my hand at it … I had some dolls that needed clothes! At that point everything I made was stitched by hand.”

It wasn’t long before Linda graduated from hand sewing to using a machine — after her search for just the right fabric for a project got a little out of hand.

“I decided to make a wedding dress for my Barbie® doll … I used my Easter dress slip/petticoat for the fabric. The ‘gown’ was beautiful! My mother was really impressed with my creativity until she realized what I had used to make it with!” Linda laughed.

Although upset that the dress slip was ruined, Linda’s mother saw that her daughter was serious about sewing. “[My mother] showed me the basics for using a sewing machine, gave me a box with extra fabrics and thread, and told me to have fun,” Linda remembered. “My world opened up and I knew sewing would always be a part of my life.”

In fact, sewing was Linda’s job long before she co-founded Offshore & More, and before she moved to Florida from the New England region.

In addition to teaching sewing classes, Linda has owned a dressmaking business (and in a humorous callback to her introduction to sewing, she made numerous wedding gowns). She also designed and sold canvas handbags at home showings similar to Tupperware® parties. The Massachusetts native had such success with her handbags that Yankee Magazine featured her in its small business section!

Linda was featured in Yankee Magazine.
Linda’s canvas handbags, as seen in Yankee Magazine.

Later, Linda started her own marine canvas business after overhauling her family’s 40-foot yawl (a two-masted sailboat) with new upholstery and custom covers. Other than a short stint sewing for interior designers, she’s been entrenched in the marine sewing world ever since.

As an unstoppable entrepreneur, Linda has learned a lot about running a small business. When we asked what she would tell other aspiring business owners, she said this: “The most important advice I would give to someone who wants to start their own sewing business: LOVE what you’re doing! Every time I open the door from the house to my workshop, I look forward to working on projects.”

Sunshine, Shade Panels & Sailrite

Linda spent most of her life in the northern part of the East Coast — but by 2010, she was ready for a change of scenery. She decided to trade in bitter New England winters for the sandy beaches and ample boating opportunities of South Florida.

Around that time, she turned to Sailrite to bolster her marine sewing career. “I needed a company that would be able to supply all the tools and products required for my numerous projects. After hours of research, I came to the conclusion that Sailrite was my No. 1 choice!”

Linda’s familiarity with Sailrite was a big help when it came time to repair the pickleball stadium shade panels in Naples. She already owned an Ultrafeed® LS, but the large panels were often too bulky to fit through the compact machine’s throat. “I decided I needed a machine with a longer arm when I did repairs on the old shade panels,” she told us.

For this dedicated Sailrite fan, the perfect machine wasn’t hard to find. “Whenever a new project comes my way, I always do my research for supplies on the Sailrite website,” she said. “[It] is my go-to place to shop!”

That’s how Linda discovered the Professional Long Arm (now discontinued) and decided it was the upgrade she needed to repair the shade panel. “The added room under the arm made the ease of pushing 110-inch-wide material a breeze,” she said. “And being able to zigzag the rips really made the job easy!”

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Thanks to this upgrade, Linda became the pickleball stadium’s go-to project person. She kept up with repairs on the original shade structure until 2020, when something happened that was too big to fix.

“A windstorm came through Naples and shredded the original stadium,” Linda said. “[It] had to be replaced due to hurricane-force winds.” There was no denying it — the shade panels on top of the original stadium were done for.

The 2017 stadium after a bad windstorm.
The windstorm did a lot of damage to the original shade structure.

Somehow, the branded shade panel on the front of the stadium survived the storm. But its reign didn’t last much longer.

A new metal structure and shade panels were in place by the end of 2020. That’s when “[the stadium’s management] decided that the old shade panels [for the front] … needed to be replaced. They contacted the stadium company to inquire about purchasing material to match the [new] structure.”

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Jim, the stadium’s manager, turned to Linda for help making the raw fabric into a single shade panel to cover the stadium’s front. It would be Linda’s largest project ever, but she was determined to face the challenge head-on.

The Making of a Shade Panel

Armed with the new shade fabric, her Professional Long Arm and the materials she purchased from Sailrite, Linda got to work on the front panel in January 2021. She didn’t have much time — that year’s Pickleball Championship tournament was scheduled for April. Fortunately, she also wasn’t alone.

You see, Linda’s son Michael and his family also live in Florida. Linda had taught him how to sew when he was growing up in Massachusetts, and he’d helped with some of her previous projects. Just like his mom, he’d caught the sewing fever.

“[Michael] wanted to get back into the canvas business,” Linda told us. “He asked me if I would like to make my boat canvas official. He wanted to have something to do when he wasn’t working his ‘real’ job.” Linda liked the idea, and Offshore & More Custom Canvas was born.

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When Michael isn’t at his full-time job, he pitches in on Offshore & More’s projects, including the shade panel. Good thing, too — the shade panel called for large-scale measurements that would be difficult for one person to manage. Linda gave us the details:

“The shade panel was made up of seven individual panels [and] measured 125 feet across the lower edge and 19 feet [tall] in the center.” The oversized panels required more space than Linda’s garage workshop could provide.

“Fortunately, we have a very large driveway,” she said. “I was able to place the three [center] panels on my driveway, line up the sides and mark for grommet placement. Since the top of the shade panel was arched, I had to roll part of the painted [center] panels to the side to mark and measure for the other four panels needed to complete the project.”

Linda used her driveway as a worktable.
One panel screen-printed and ready for sewing!

After measuring and cutting the panels, Linda turned to her trusty Professional Long Arm to sew them together. Then, it was time to install the grommets — which was when having a helper became indispensable.

Due to a hand injury, Linda couldn’t use a hammer to install the incredible 650 spur grommets that the project called for. Instead, “Michael was enlisted to mark and install the grommets,” she told us. “He saved the day.”

Besides the 650 grommets, the mother-son team went through 110 yards of shade cloth and nearly 800 feet of webbing. Including a three-week screen-printing process — which required Linda to ship the giant panels to a printer on a pallet — the whole project took two months of hard work. Linda and Michael finished the shade panel in March 2021, just in time for the U.S. Open tournament the following month.

The Creativity Continues

Although the shade panel has been done for over a year, Linda still checks in on it now and again — and she feels as proud of it today as she was the day it was completed. “I love opening up a pickleball magazine and seeing the finished project in full color,” she told us.

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In fact, that sense of accomplishment is one of the things Linda loves most about her DIY lifestyle. “I can take a simple piece of material and create something unique,” she said. “Once the project is completed, I’m left with the feeling, ‘Yes, I made that!’”

Sewing is her first love, but it isn’t Linda’s only DIY hobby. She told us she also enjoys watercolor painting and gardening. “The weather in Florida has proven to be a challenge though,” she said of gardening. “If you forget to water one day, the plants are toast!”

But remember, Linda isn’t the type to give up when things get tough. Whether it’s gardening in the Florida weather, digging up repair manuals to fix an old lawnmower or using Sailrite’s free how-to videos to learn a new sewing project, Linda embodies the go-getter spirit of a true DIYer. “I’m happy as long as I’m doing something creative,” she said.

We certainly understand that, Linda! Thank you for sharing your story — we know that your creativity and tenacity will inspire your fellow DIYers to make great things. Best of luck on all your future projects!

Searching for a Leather Sewing Machine

Bill Mowbray is an accomplished leatherworker. For over 40 years, he’s been handcrafting bespoke leather goods. He’s made everything from wide-brim hats and women’s bags to shoes, belts, holsters and more. Bill was hand sewing all of his leather goods but came to the realization a few years ago that, in order to grow his side business and speed up production and productivity, he would need a leather sewing machine. 

But which one to choose? After some internet sleuthing, he found the Sailrite® Fabricator® Sewing Machine. With this important upgrade to his home leather shop, Bill has been able to streamline the assembly process and increase the production of his leather goods without compromising on quality and good looks. Bill shares his story with us and offer advice to other DIYers curious about leather crafting and the world of handmade leather goods.

Every DIY Journey Starts With the First Project

Bill’s journey into leatherworking started when he was just 15 years old. His parents purchased a set of craft encyclopedias filled with DIY activities. One of the books had a pair of suede moccasins on the front cover. Bill instantly loved the shoes and knew he had to make a pair for himself. “My local Tandy Leather retail store had all the supplies I needed, and my parents took me there one Saturday to purchase some simple tools and the thick suede. My first pair came out great and I was hooked on making leather items from that day on.”

Bill’s childhood job as a paper delivery boy led to an unexpected supply connection for the budding leather crafter. “One of my customers was making belts for his store, and I was able to get tooling leather from a new source in the Boston area every time he took the trip from Rhode Island up that way. All I had to do was hand him the money and he would get me these great double shoulders for belts, so that was a whole new beginning into stamping and carving belt leather. I still use the same stamping and edge tools I bought back in the late 1970s.” 

leather bags
Two of Bill’s many leather creations.

From Hand to Machine: Upgrading His Sewing Career

For almost his entire leather crafting career, Bill had been sewing his leather goods by hand. That is until he decided a few years ago to invest in a quality leather sewing machine. “I’ve always loved the look of hand-sewn threads on handbags and wallets, but I’ve always wanted to make my work look a little more ‘polished’ and save some time while I’m at it. I found it was just too time-consuming to stitch everything by hand. The addition of a sewing machine seemed like the only variable I could change.” 

So Bill began researching leather sewing machines on the internet. It was then that he discovered Sailrite and the Fabricator. “I found the Sailrite website by accident, to be honest. I was given the names of some very expensive machines from my local sewing machine dealer. While I was searching online about 5 years ago, the Sailrite name came up. So I did some homework and watched some of the online content on the Sailrite website and made up my mind to go with the Fabricator.”

Bill with Fabricator
Bill is all smiles with his Sailrite Fabricator Sewing Machine in his leather workshop.

Bill knows he made the right choice with the Fabricator. The machine has performed dutifully for him over the years, and he has never had an issue or complaint. “The Fabricator is an incredible machine. Self-lubricating, easy to use and literally about as maintenance-free as you can get. Just keep loading new thread and bobbins in and the machine never lets me down. At this point in my leather-making career, I can’t see myself living without the Fabricator, and now I’m considering buying a smaller portable unit like the Ultrafeed® to help out as well.”

Let’s hear more about Bill’s leatherworking lifestyle and his advice to beginner leather crafters.

Q. What do you love about working with leather? Do you have a favorite type of leather?

A: I love the smell and feel of all leather. I always have to smell the leather on any new pair of shoes I buy. I used to work mainly with vegetable tanned leather for years and years. But I love to make handbags, women’s clutches and wallets out of the newer chrome tanned varieties available today — anything I find that is a “bargain.” It helps me keep my prices relatively low, but I have no favorite leather type. As long as it’s leather I’m good to roll something new out the door.

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Q. What advice would you give someone looking to get into leatherwork?

A. Don’t go too crazy with fancy or high-priced tools to get yourself started. Common tools made for everyday use will typically suffice. And if at all possible, go to a local place to find some leather to touch and feel so you understand what you’re buying. Or at least find out if your supplier offers samples to touch and feel before spending big money on a whole side or hide. You will make mistakes no matter what your skill level is, but most of the time you can make something else from that piece of leather you thought you just ruined. Be patient and get creative.

Q. What are your favorite, must-have leather tools that you would recommend to a beginner?

A. Must-have tools are your utility knife and a good square or straightedge, preferably both. Most utility knives now have a quick change function for the blade since you will change blades often. The mating component of cutting on any work surface is a cutting pad that can be found in just about any big box store or fabric store. If you want to make belts, also invest in a strap cutter and some edge bevelers. A couple of stitching chisels and at least an ice pick are also going to be needed as well. At some point, you will need some snap and rivet setters but this may come in time if you find yourself really enjoying this craft. Good luck and have fun.

belts and bags

Bill and his wife, Susan, live in southern New Hampshire with their two dogs and are the owners of a small hobby business, One Oak Leather. They have a small online store and can also be found on Instagram. So far, almost all of their work has been custom ordered since they both work full time. For now, the leather shop is still just a labor of love. Susan has been sewing clothing for over 45 years and was the one who talked Bill into buying a sewing machine powerful enough to handle thick leather as well as being able to teach the “ins and outs” of sewing with a machine.

As they slowly near their golden years, the couple plan to focus on their leather shop once they retire. They both live by the old adage that “if you enjoy what you are doing, then you will never work a day in your life.”

Wise words to live by, Bill! Thank you so much for chatting with us and sharing your knowledge of leather crafting with our readers. Good luck in all your future leather endeavors.

If you’d like to see more of Bill’s leather creations, you can follow him on Instagram at @oneoakleathernh

Shock & Awning: Re-Covering After a Hurricane

How many yards of fabric does it take to sew an awning for a commercial building? It depends on the size of the building, of course. But for Sailrite® customer Rick Smith, the answer is nearly 90 yards. Put another way, that’s over 1,000 square feet of fabric!

How did he get the opportunity to sew such a massive project? Ironically, by taking his couch to an upholstery shop.

Rick and his wife live in a coastal Alabama town that is often hit by hurricanes. It can take years to remedy all the damage in the town after a serious storm. When Rick visited the town’s most popular upholstery shop in early 2022, he got a firsthand look at some of the lingering damage from a 2020 hurricane.

“Their awning had been destroyed by Hurricane Sally,” Rick said of the shop. “I asked them about replacing it, and they hired me on the spot.”

This popular upholstery shop had been so busy with orders for customers that no one who worked there had the time to repair the 136-foot by 8-foot awning. The project promised to be a huge undertaking, but it wasn’t the first awning Rick had ever sewn. It wasn’t even his first time sewing professionally.

Rick already had a strategy for sewing awnings before he started working on the upholstery shop's project.
One of Rick’s prior awning projects.

Now retired from a career in marketing and communications — including running his own advertising agency for 18 years — Rick does projects for his small sewing business.

He learned how to sew growing up, and was fortunate to have not just one, but five teachers. “I grew up in a big family of sewers. I’m the youngest of nine kids, and my mom and four sisters sewed professionally,” he told us. “[They sewed] everything from wedding dresses to industrial upholstery and factory garment jobs.”

Despite his early start in the hobby, Rick didn’t do much sewing for nearly 40 years. Instead, he sailed competitively in his spare time — a pastime that began during his college days. Rick has owned more than 11 sailboats in his life, including a Beneteau 423 sailboat he and his wife purchased in 2012.

Unlike the other sailboats, the Beneteau was not for racing. Instead, the couple dreamed of becoming liveaboards. This sailboat would be their new home.

Preparing for Life on the Water

For a successful liveaboard life, however, Rick would need to dust off his sewing skills and get a sewing machine that could handle marine environments. Enter the Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 Sewing Machine.

Rick often admired the marine-friendly machine in the pages of boating magazines. “I liked that the LSZ was ruggedized for such an environment, was a serious heavy industrial machine, had a walking foot, was portable and capable of using without power,” he said.

It was the perfect machine for the nautical life that the couple envisioned. But looking at something in a magazine isn’t the same as seeing it in person, and Rick was hesitant to make a purchase without seeing the LSZ firsthand.

Luckily, two of his friends decided to go to the United States Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland. Sailrite sets up a booth at the show every year to meet fellow boating enthusiasts, answer questions and demonstrate Sailrite products.

Rick’s friends brought him sewing machine brochures from the show and told him their impressions of the LSZ. Convinced that the machine was quality, Rick bought an LSZ of his own in 2014.

With his new machine, Rick made a few updates to the Beneteau sailboat. “The bimini was the first replacement, and I added the dodger and side curtains.” After those projects were done, Rick and his wife planned to get their life on the water underway.

Rick made a custom bimini and dodger for his Beneteau 423 sailboat.
The Beneteau 423 sporting its custom canvaswork.

“At the time I first purchased the LSZ, I fully expected to pack the machine in the lazarette of my 43-foot sailboat and live a life in the Caribbean, doing needed repairs and projects for myself plus picking up occasional repair jobs along the way,” Rick told us.

But the best-laid plans don’t always pan out. Unfortunately, health issues forced the couple to rethink their arrangements. They sold the Beneteau in 2018 and instead decided to make a favorite vacation spot in coastal Alabama their home.

Although they sold their sailboat, the couple kept their Ultrafeed. That turned out to be the right call. They quickly discovered that there was no shortage of paid sewing work up for grabs in their new hometown.

“I live on the Gulf Coast near the Florida panhandle. Storms and extreme sun cause lots of damage, so there’s lots of demand for repairs and overstitching. Many fabricators don’t want to do repairs, so I seem to stay fairly busy,” Rick said.

In addition to these small repair jobs, Rick has also made biminis, dodgers and covers for others’ boats, as well as repairing sails. And he’s no stranger to creating custom cushions and enclosures for outdoor spaces.

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Thanks to the easy availability of sewing work in his area, Rick can create a totally custom schedule. In fact, that’s what he likes most about his small DIY business. “I get to pick the jobs. … If the job isn’t a good fit for me, I can turn it down. Without having a storefront or a formal business, I can do jobs at a price that leaves [me and my customers] both happy.”

Tackling the Awning Project

It was this freedom and flexibility that led Rick to the awning project at the upholstery shop in early 2022. Although it was a huge project that required dozens of yards of Sunbrella® awning fabric, he was prepared. The couple’s garage pulls double duty as a spacious sewing studio, which Rick has optimized for large projects.

“I have 12 30-inch by 72-inch poly folding tables, plus my machine and two smaller tables, that allow me to set up a sewing surface that runs 32 feet from one end of my garage to the other. I can move out my truck and assemble the tables in 10 to 15 minutes. My sewing table is on wheels, so I can roll it to the tables at whatever point I need it.

“When finished, I can remove and fold [the tables] and repark my truck in the garage in less than another half hour. I have 12 4-foot LED shop lights in that section of my garage, so it gets lit like a science lab when I sew.”

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Having a great workshop like Rick’s certainly helps. But every sewing project has its challenges — and this awning was no different. Rick had to fit multiple yards of heavy awning fabric through the throat of his LSZ every time he needed to sew a seam. “I was very careful and methodical on how I staged the assembly,” he said. “I had the smaller panels of every seam to the inside of the machine.”

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Before starting work, Rick estimated that the whole project would take about 48 hours. “Actual hours were more like 50 hours to complete through assembly and took four people a total of six hours to install,” Rick said. “The total time in days and weeks was one week in prep, two weeks in cutting and assembly, and a day for installation.”

Although Rick did all the patterning, cutting and sewing by himself, installation wasn’t a one-person job. He had to call in some help. “Luckily, my helpers to install were all friends who were happy to work for lunch and beer,” he laughed.

The blue-and-white striped awning matches the shop's sign perfectly.
The awning temporarily installed on the upholstery shop.

Once the awning was installed, though, the friends discovered a problem with the E-Z Lace that held the awning to its frame.

Rick gave us some background on the issue. “This is the fourth awning I’ve done using E-Z Lace. Each one was one I could pattern myself and had no issues using just the lace without adding fabric for a lace pocket. This one was different. … The [frame] tubing was 1-1/2-inch square aluminum. With just 2-1/2 inches of fabric on the E-Z Lace, measurement proved to be too critical for a good fit.”

Unfortunately, that meant the awning needed to come down for repairs. But Rick was more than up to the challenge of adding a fabric pocket and moving the lace up by 2 inches. And since he had the awning back in his garage studio, he decided to make it even better by adding topstitching.

Upgrading the Sewing Studio

But topstitching would call for a sewing machine size upgrade. “I simply did not have room in the LSZ throat to do topstitches on that many rolled panels,” Rick explained. That conundrum turned out to be the reason he’d been looking for to splurge on a Sailrite® Fabricator® Sewing Machine.

Rick also put his Fabricator sewing table on wheels.
Topstitching is a breeze with the Fabricator!

Rick ordered his Fabricator only a few days before we reached out to interview him for this blog. Since then, he’s been hard at work with his new machine. “Now that I have the freedom and room in the machine, I’m adding topstitching over all 38 panels to sleep well at night when the eventual hurricane blows through,” he told us. “My customer didn’t ask me to do this, but they have been so good to me, and I feel blessed to give them a project they are proud to brag about.”

From what Rick has told us about his hard work on the project, we’re not surprised that the folks at the upholstery shop love the new awning! And they’re paying their gratitude forward: “The upholstery shop is weekly sending me business for jobs in canvas they choose not to do,” Rick said.

Between these paid projects and his personal to-do list — which he said includes “two smaller awnings, a long list of re-covering jobs my wife has been patiently waiting for me to start, then some patio enclosures to be finished by year-end” — Rick will never be without a job for long. Now that his workshop is outfitted with an Ultrafeed and a Fabricator, he’s prepared for every project that comes his way.

Thanks for sharing your story, Rick! We’re excited to see what you make next, and we wish you all the best for your future projects.

A DIY a Day Keeps Boredom at Bay

What happens when an avid sailor tears his Achilles tendon and is looking at six months of recovery time? If you’re James Craig — you learn how to sew! Not letting his injury set him back, he devoted his downtime to sewing a new dodger for his 1983 Catalina 30 sailboat. With a new-to-him Ultrafeed® LSZ-1, plus Sailrite® materials and how-to videos, he embarked on his latest adventure. Let’s learn more about this enterprising DIYer and how Sailrite helped him successfully complete his boat projects.

James’s father was an avid sailor, and he taught his young son to sail when he was four years old. Fifty years later, he’s just as excited about the sport as he was back then. “I learned to sail in Manitoba. We then moved to Nova Scotia where we were surrounded by water. I loved it, and I kept up sailing. I got my family into sailing (sneakily) by saying it was like camping on the water.” It must have worked because James’s son has the same passion for sailing as his father and grandfather before him.

James was an engineering officer in the Canadian Navy, and his engineering skills have come in handy in his sailing life. “As an engineer, I like to figure things out. Sailing is about figuring out the wind, how to sail, when to sail, how to keep people safe, and maintaining and adding to the boat. I have learned every system on the boat with the exception of sewing, until now.”

James on boat
Here James enjoys time on his sailboat.

Since James had never sewn before — and he needed to get to know his Ultrafeed — he eased into his dodger project. “My first actual sewing project was a cover for my binnacle. I wanted to test my Sailrite machine (learn how to tension, how to thread the machine, etc.) and learn how to pattern and actually sew my first project with Sunbrella® Marine Grade material.” 

James also watched a variety of Sailrite project and tutorial videos to get to know his machine and practice the basics of sewing. “I went through all the ‘Learning to Sew’ videos and tried each of the things in each video: threading a machine, types of thread, zippers, piping. And yes, I made a pillow. I’m proud of that pillow, too. I then went on to the ‘Build a Dodger’ video series followed by the ‘Make Your Own Dodger’ playlist. It was so rewarding to see it come together — leather, zippers, snaps, windows, piping, seams — so many things to learn. Again, the videos were indispensable in learning each thing I was doing.”

Q. What was the motivation behind wanting to sew your own dodger?

A. As an engineer, it bugged me that I couldn’t sew. I had just lost my dad and thought it would also bring me closer to my mom, who has sewn for over 60 years but never thought to teach me. I tore my Achilles tendon and had to stay off of my feet so it seemed like a great thing to do. After learning and practicing with the binnacle cover, I then did my dodger. Wow, that was such a daunting project, but the engineer in me watched the Sailrite dodger video many, many, many times. I then patterned the dodger (it was coming to winter so was windy) on my frame. I focused on the easier panels first and then figured out how to bring it all together. Again, so many Sailrite videos were so helpful in how to do everything. I would watch a video for a few hours and sew for one hour. I have a tablet and I would play the video as a reference while I sewed. And thinking back, I actually practiced on other fabric prior to using the Sunbrella, so I almost built two dodgers. I figured that I better practice and learn using less expensive material than Sunbrella Marine Grade. 

dodger blueprint pattern
James sketched out a design for his dodger, then relied on Sailrite how-to videos to help him tackle the project.

Q. Did you run into any roadblocks or issues while working on the dodger? If so, what were they and how did you work through them?

A. Where to start. The biggest issue was assembling the panels together, especially as I was using my own design and it was different enough from the dodger design in the Sailrite video. I just put my engineering hat on and figured it out. But the video helped, too. I started sewing the easier panels and then finished with the harder ones. The entire dodger took me over 100 hours to complete (and about 200 hours of videos) but it was worth it! In hindsight, I probably should have started with my second sewing project, my sail cover, as it was easier. But I now know how to sew! Bring on more boat and home projects! 

Kudos to the guidance in the videos as the hints and tips were indispensable in learning to sew and also gave great perspectives on understanding how things would go together, allowances to make (such as seams) and the tools that would make life much easier for sewing. I feel I could sit down with Eric and Matt and have a great conversation! They explained things so well and were saviors for doing something so complex, along with many other Sailrite stars in the videos.

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Q. What did you love most about the DIY and sewing experience?

A. The biggest joy I had was having something that my mom and I could share a passion for, seeing as we didn’t have my dad around anymore — he passed away two years ago. He and I loved sailboats, woodworking and dogs. It has filled a gap between my mom and me. Additionally, I love the fact that I can sew! I think more about how something is put together, and the DIYer in me looks to see if it’s something that I could make. And DIY sewing makes one proud to show off what they put the time and effort into completing.

james woodworking table
Here’s James sitting at a wooden table he built for his boat.

Q. What advice would you give to someone tackling their first major sewing project?

A. Break the project down into small pieces and learn how everything comes together. Don’t worry about not knowing everything; it is a learning process. Plus, you have Sailrite videos to teach you, online forums and many other resources. The outcome is SO satisfying! You will feel like you climbed your own mountain. And tackling the first project successfully will give you the confidence for doing other projects in the future.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your DIY experiences?

A. I think it is so nice to have skills that are ageless. We live in a disposable world right now where we will spend hours buying that perfect thing. It’s so much more rewarding to create that perfect thing, with some little flaws, that only you will know about. Take a leap of faith, regardless of your age, and try something new — I never knew sewing could be so rewarding.

sailboat dodger

Thank you for sharing your story with us, James! We’re thrilled that Sailrite materials and videos were able to help you learn how to sew and conquer your first successful and impressive marine project. We can’t wait to see what you make next.

Boldly Sewing: Adjusting an LSZ-1 for Home Projects

In episodes of the classic sci-fi show Star Trek, landing parties exploring uncharted planets needed three pieces of equipment: a communicator to contact the crew still on the Enterprise starship, a phaser for defense and a multiuse device called a tricorder. Self-proclaimed Trekkie and Sailrite® customer Adrienne Killey would add one more crucial piece of equipment to that list — a Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 Sewing Machine.

Adrienne purchased an Ultrafeed LSZ-1 in early 2021. A little over a year later, she set a goal to make custom Star Trek cosplay outfits in time for a convention in early 2022 — but she had to overcome some challenges with her machine first. Luckily, her experience sewing began long before she purchased an Ultrafeed.

Adrienne started out sewing décor items and clothes on a home sewing machine that her mother gave her in 2002. Her mother’s other gift to her — the love of sewing — came during Adrienne’s childhood. She grew up seeing her mother sewing nearly every weekend. “In watching her, I learned how helpful knowing a skill like sewing could be,” Adrienne said. “Sewing gave her, and now me, an outlet for creativity.”

She has sewed a variety of projects, including clothing, a quilted wall hanging and crossbody water bottle caddies. Her home machine was fine for those projects — but when Adrienne set her sights on a more ambitious DIY, she realized she needed a more powerful machine to match.

Discovering the Ultrafeed LSZ-1

During the 2020 boating season, Adrienne and her family were able to spend some time on their Four Winns Vista 268 cruiser powerboat. That’s when Adrienne decided that the boat’s existing canvas enclosure needed an upgrade to fit her family’s preferences.

“A full set of canvas with Strataglass™ came with the boat. When anchored, we would hang towels from the bimini to provide shade, but that blocked the view. That was the inspiration to create new canvases on both the starboard and port sides that would provide shade, but also allow air to move through the boat.”

Knowing that her domestic sewing machine wouldn’t be able to handle marine-grade material, Adrienne and her husband began shopping for a heavy-duty machine. Their search was quick and easy. The couple had seen the Ultrafeed in several sailing videos they’d watched on YouTube — and when they did more research on the machine, they liked what they saw.

The machine’s sturdy construction and zigzag stitch capability were definite pluses. But Sailrite’s vast library of free educational content was the biggest draw for Adrienne.

“I also liked that Sailrite produces very detailed how-to videos to share sewing knowledge and advice,” Adrienne said about choosing a Sailrite machine. “The huge number of videos gave me the sense that Sailrite is not only a manufacturer of sewing machines, but they also care enough about their customers to try to give them all the information they need to have a positive project outcome.”

As it turned out, the videos became even more important as Adrienne began using her Ultrafeed.

sewing on Ultrafeed LSZ-1
It took some practice, but now Adrienne is a pro at sewing home projects on her Ultrafeed.

When the LSZ-1 arrived, Adrienne tried a test project to see what the machine could do. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out how she hoped…

“My first project on my Sailrite was a tank-style dress using cotton jersey fabric. I watched the ‘Home Sewing with a Sailrite Ultrafeed Sewing Machine’ video and read the Guidebook. When I sat down to my LSZ-1 for the first time, I assumed I didn’t need to check or adjust the timing because the machine was brand-new directly from Sailrite, and they set the timing before sending it out the door.”

Adrienne was right that her Ultrafeed was perfectly timed. The problem was that the machine wasn’t timed for the light home fabric she picked out for her dress.

You see, Sailrite’s expert technicians tune and tension LSZ-1 machines to sew thick marine-grade fabrics right out of the box. That’s because most people who buy an LSZ-1 sew for their boats, and they need the machine to be ready for sailcloth, marine canvas and vinyl right away. The Ultrafeed can easily handle thinner home fabrics and thread after some adjustments — but Adrienne’s machine wasn’t adjusted yet, so she couldn’t finish the dress.

“The problems I had with that project were newbie user error and not an incompatibility of the stretchy fabric and the machine,” Adrienne said. “For the first couple of projects, I treated the machine as I would my [home sewing machine] and only adjusted the [upper thread] tension.”

It would take a few more tweaks to complete a home sewing project. But for the moment, Adrienne turned her attention to the reason she bought an Ultrafeed in the first place: the canvas enclosure for the family’s powerboat. Before getting started, Adrienne dove into the how-to videos on Sailrite’s YouTube channel.

“The videos on the Sailrite YouTube channel have been an indispensable resource for me,” she told us. “For example, when I made my canvases, I watched ‘How to Make an Enclosure Aft Curtain,’ ‘Double Sided Tape for Sewing – Seamstick Basting Tape for Canvas,’ and many others related to making canvases before I even bought the materials. I often referenced the videos throughout my project.”

The videos helped Adrienne get comfortable with the new machine, and she completed the enclosure in time for the 2021 boating season:

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Although the Killey family is still new to boating, having purchased their Four Winns Vista in 2018, they find great joy in the hobby. “We enjoy the serenity on the water and the time to spend as a family,” Adrienne said. “When we’re on the boat, we’re exploring, swimming, relaxing, having fun and making memories. We find the time on the water to be rejuvenating.”

The family likes taking weekly dinner cruises and weekend excursions on Lake Michigan. This summer, they hope to cruise some different waterways in their home state of Wisconsin.

Voyages of the Ultrafeed LSZ-1

Adrienne’s success with the canvaswork gave her the confidence to try another complex DIY: cosplay costumes that she, her daughter and her dad could wear to a Star Trek convention. It would be her second attempt at a home sewing project on her Ultrafeed, and she was determined to make themost of it.

“After some initial home sewing disappointments, I learned I cannot be timid about making adjustments to my LSZ-1,” Adrienne said. “When I decided I wanted to create the Star Trek cosplay costumes, I deliberately used the project as a way to really get to know my LSZ-1 and figure out how to adjust the machine correctly for home sewing. I just knew that it could handle it and my challenges in the past were user error, not the machine.”

To do that, Adrienne rewatched the Ultrafeed home sewing video, as well as a video on machine timing. She also checked the Guidebook again. Armed with this research, she tried several adjustments on her machine.

In addition to installing a #10 home sewing needle, “I also adjusted the upper tension, bobbin tension and pressure-regulating thumbscrew appropriately for light fabric and thread,” Adrienne told us. She then went above and beyond what’s required for sewing home fabric by tweaking the shuttle gib hook’s rotation and position — in other words, adjusting the machine’s timing.

The adjustments were a complete success! Adrienne and her family had a great time showing off their finished cosplay uniforms at the Star Trek: Mission Chicago convention in April 2022.

“The uniforms came out great,” Adrienne said. We couldn’t agree more:

Kayla, George and Adrienne showing off their custom uniforms at the Mission Chicago convention.

Adrienne’s daughter, Kayla, wore an Ensign Mariner’s uniform from the new animated show, Star Trek: Lower Decks. Her dad, George, dressed in a Captain’s uniform from Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. And Adrienne herself went in a stylized version of the uniforms worn by members of a covert organization called Section 31, which has appeared in multiple Star Trek shows and novels.

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The Mission Continues

Now that Adrienne has boldly sewn where few have sewn before, what’s next for her? We’re happy to share that she has plans to remake a beloved backpack purse using marine vinyl from Sailrite.

Adrienne also told us that she hasn’t forgotten about the tank dress project, and she plans to take another stab at it soon. Since she first tried that project, she’s learned so much about adjusting her machine for home sewing.

“Learning how to properly master the LSZ-1 is a journey. Making adjustments to the entire machine is necessary at the beginning of a project — and maybe even during the project.

“My journey has taught me to always have a screwdriver nearby; to not skip making timing adjustments; to be patient when dialing in the right tension and timing; and to have scrap fabric handy during the adjustment process. Taking the time in the beginning to properly adjust the LSZ-1 for every aspect of the project will save you from seam ripping later.”

We wrapped up our interview by asking Adrienne if she had any words of wisdom for other new or prospective LSZ-1 owners. Here’s what she said:

“I love my LSZ-1, and I look forward to completing more projects on it. For those considering purchasing an LSZ-1, it is a very versatile machine and well worth the cost. For new owners, read through the manual and watch all the videos in the ‘Sailrite Ultrafeed Set-Up, Use & Maintenance’ playlist on the Sailrite YouTube channel. Also, before starting a project, search for and watch any videos on the Sailrite YouTube channel that are similar or related to the project you’re starting.”

Thank you for your kind words and thoughtful advice, Adrienne! We wish you success in all your future projects on your Ultrafeed, and we can’t wait to see what you make next. Sew on and prosper!

DIY Days: The Boating & Sewing Lifestyle

The couple who DIYs together, well … does everything together! Kim and Steve Holmes have been happily married for 29 years. They own a 57-foot houseboat that is their home away from home as often as possible. In addition to the houseboat, they also have a 21-foot runabout powerboat and a Sea-Doo. The couple loves the boating lifestyle, but the Utah sun is punishing and relentless, and they were replacing their canvaswork regularly. In the beginning, they were paying a canvas shop to sew pieces for their houseboat. But Steve knew that if they invested in the Ultrafeed®, they would save considerable money by sewing their own covers, umbrellas, bimini and more. Once he convinced Kim that the machine would quickly pay for itself in canvas repair and new projects, they began tackling sewing projects for their boats. Keep reading to learn more about this industrious DIY couple.

houseboat in water
The couple’s houseboat and runabout anchored in a scenic cove in Utah.

Kim learned to sew as a young teen participating in her local 4-H organization. She hadn’t sat down at a sewing machine since that time, so the Ultrafeed was her reentry into the world of sewing. Luckily, Sailrite was there to help. “Sailrite’s excellent videos are a huge help in planning and executing projects. We’ve also referred to Sailrite’s troubleshooting videos when working through adjustments to the machine. I’ve used the online chat for advice from Sailrite staff when I have a question.”

Their first project with the Ultrafeed was sewing new canvas wraps for the houseboat’s many deck railings. Kim and Steve reworked the existing design to make the wraps removable. “We changed the canvas from lacing onto the railings to snaps for attachment to the railings. This gave a custom look and enabled efficient removal of the canvas during the off-season, substantially extending the life of the Sunbrella® fabric. We learned as we sewed and were able to get professional-looking results.”

Here are some of the projects Kim has sewn for the couple’s boats since purchasing their Ultrafeed:

  • canvas railing wraps
  • curtains with padded valances
  • placemats and pillow covers (using leftover curtain fabric)
  • fender covers
  • propane tank cover
  • window shade screens
  • sling chair fabric replacements
  • flybridge cover
  • cockpit cover, aft sunshade and trailer tire covers (for the runabout)

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Their most ambitious and largest project to date was a new bimini top. In 2020, with plenty of time on her hands, Kim set out to tackle this sewing project. The bimini top — 15 feet by 18 feet — was for their houseboat’s upper deck. Kim finished the bimini in the fall of 2020 and was thrilled with how it turned out. “Now it has a beautiful snap-on installation and fits better than any previous shade tops that we paid for in the past. It’s quick to put up and take down for the off-season.” 

Though she hit a couple of snags along the way, she didn’t let that deter her from finishing: “While sewing our bimini, we got low on pacific blue thread, so we did some inside seams with green thread. We changed back to blue for the topstitching that would be visible. We came up short on the Royal Blue Tweed SeaMark® fabric, so had to patch in some leftover material from other projects. We were motivated to finish the project!”

Kim sewing bimini
Here’s Kim diligently sewing the bimini top. Look at all that canvas!

Here’s a bit more about the couple and their love of sewing and DIY, in their own words:

Q. What do you love about sewing and DIY?

A. We are dedicated DIYers because of the cost savings and the care and customization we can put into projects. Our current bimini shade top on the upper deck of the houseboat, which we worked on in 2020, fits better than any previous commercial version (for which we paid lots of money). With our DIY sewing skills, we create functional and good-looking fabric projects. We find that a vessel’s fabrics greatly contribute to its comfort and character. We love the quality materials available from Sailrite. We’ve worked with many fabrics — Sunbrella Marine Grade (including SeaMark with waterproof backing), Sunbrella® upholstery fabric, Phifertex®, Top Gun® and boat blanket material. 

Q. How do you tackle projects as a couple? Do you do the sewing and does Steve help in other ways?

A. My husband and I work as a team on big projects. He helps plan the project and assists in feeding fabric through the Ultrafeed, an important contribution for long fabric runs. Our bimini shade top project was our largest to date. Steve handles all the snap installation with the Pres-N-Snap tool and snap fasteners. Over the years we have created many useful and attractive projects. The Ultrafeed has paid for itself over and over. We are developing skills that we hope to transfer to a sailing life in the future.

bimini top
Here’s a closeup of the snap fasteners on the bimini. Using snaps makes for quick installation and removal.

We feel best around the water and enjoy waterskiing, swimming and using the water slide on the aft of our houseboat. The boating lifestyle offers the opportunity for self-reliance and the application of do-it-yourself skills. In addition to sewing projects, Steve takes on the maintenance of all our marine engines and systems. We are a nautical couple who are happiest barefoot.

Q. What advice would you offer someone who wants to try sewing and DIY for the first time?

A. For someone trying a first-time marine sewing project, if you have a “pattern” — meaning an old version of the fabric — go ahead and give it a try. We were impressed with our results. Be patient with yourself and take breaks. We often joke that there is swearing involved; it’s just part of the process. We’ve pulled out plenty of stitching along the way.

Q. Are there any valuable lessons you’ve learned making projects for your boat over the years?

A. A lesson we’ve learned is to make sure you have enough basting tape for your project. Add some to your cart as you order materials for your project. We like both the thin 1/4-inch and wider 3/8-inch tapes. Check your supplies to confirm you have enough thread, needles and fabric so you don’t come up short. Each time we put together an order, we add a couple of replacement parts for the Ultrafeed, just in case a piece rolls into the water by mistake. We travel about five hours to our houseboat, so it’s essential to have spares.

What’s next for Kim and Steve? Now that they have a new and improved bimini for their houseboat, the bulk of their boat projects are complete. They’re focusing on sprucing things up closer to home. “We’re looking at Chilewich flooring material. We’re planning on binding it and replacing some area rugs in our house. I’ve already watched the Sailrite tips video on how to bind curves on flooring material.” No matter what comes next for this intrepid couple, Sailrite will always be part of their DIY journey. 

Steve and Kim Holmes
The happy couple!

Creative Quarantine DIYs With the Ultrafeed®

David Thiesmeyer isn’t new to the DIY world. He tackled his first big sewing project — a mainsail cover for his sailboat — well over 10 years ago. He considers himself a “DIY type of person” and takes pride in sewing great projects. His most unique creation was not sailing-related and happened during the first year of the pandemic. 

With Sailrite® fabric, supplies and his Ultrafeed® LSZ-1, David designed, sewed and installed a patio enclosure that connected to the underside of his daughter’s elevated deck. With a well-made enclosure, she was able to use her patio into the fall and winter and have friends over for ventilated, socially distanced hangouts. Let’s learn more about David’s DIY background and how he transformed his daughter’s patio into a year-round entertaining hot spot.

Sewing, Sailing & Sailrite

In 2008, David bought his first sailboat. The MacGregor Venture 21 was over 30 years old and in major need of sail repair and new sail covers. David has always been the DIY type, so he decided to tackle the sail cover repairs himself. “I bought a mainsail cover kit from Sailrite. I reviewed the very well-done video instructions and sewed it on my wife’s home machine.”

David's sailboat with mainsail kit from Sailrite
Here’s David’s sailboat featuring the Sailrite mainsail cover he sewed himself.

It’s after that mainsail cover project that David realized he needed a heavy-duty machine. “I had overloaded my wife’s sewing machine and thought I’d ruined it. Luckily, I had just knocked it out of adjustment and was able to fix it. That is when I decided to get a real sewing machine and bought the Ultrafeed LSZ-1.”

Over the years, David has sewn many projects for his sailboat. He’s made a new mainsail from a Sailrite Sail Kit, a genoa sail bag, cushion covers, lifeline covers, winch covers, sail bags and more. He credits his Ultrafeed with his productivity and quality results: “I like the Ultrafeed because I have never found a job that it could not complete. I added the Workhorse® Servo Motor and Ultrafeed Industrial Table and have never been happier. This upgrade really added to my sewing enjoyment and quality of my finished projects.”

The COVID “Quaran-Tiki” Project

At the height of social distancing, when year-round outdoor entertaining spiked in 2020, David’s daughter asked him to make an enclosure with ventilation that would attach to the underside of her elevated deck. She had built a tiki bar from pallet wood and wanted to extend the use of her patio during the fall and winter seasons. David eagerly accepted the project request. “I was excited to do a new sewing project as sailing season had just ended. I decided that it should be removable and made use of the Sailrite awning track around the bottom of the upper deck and along the walls of the house.”

The enclosure project David made for his daughter's deck using Sailrite supplies.
A job well done!

To sew the enclosure, he ordered Sunbrella® Marine Grade fabric, 30 gauge Plastipane window material, aluminum awning track and awning rope, YKK zippers and Shelter-Rite fabric — all from Sailrite. The Quaran-Tiki was David’s second enclosure project. He used the skills he learned while designing and sewing his first enclosure — an attachment for a travel trailer to keep mosquitoes at bay while enjoying the attached deck — to help make the enclosure.

And what did David’s daughter think of the Quaran-Tiki? “Sara was elated with how the project turned out, as were all her friends and neighbors who are always coming over to enjoy Quaran-Tiki. I am very satisfied with how it turned out.” The side panels roll up to let a breeze through in the summer, and Sara equipped the patio with two propane heaters for the colder months. 

 

David's daughter and friends enjoying the enclosure he made form Sailrite supplies.
Sara’s friends are all smiles enjoying the Quaran-Tiki!

After well over a year, the enclosure is still in great shape and getting plenty of use. As for David, he’s still enjoying his Ultrafeed as much as the first day he purchased it. “Most of my sewing projects have been boat-related, although I have been known to repair anything made of canvas or in need of a heavy-duty sewing machine.” 

We’re thrilled David has enjoyed his Ultrafeed for over 10 years now and that Sailrite could be part of his creative journey. Good luck with all of your future projects, David. Here’s to more sewing, sailing and DIY adventures.

A Thoughtful Hobby: Leatherworking With Willie Sandry

When you find a way to combine your two favorite hobbies into one handcrafted piece of art, that’s the mark of a true craftsman. And that’s exactly what Willie Sandry did. Willie’s journey into leatherworking actually started with woodworking. Willie has been building wood furniture pieces for years. When his wife tasked him with building a set of eight dining room chairs complete with upholstery, he needed to tackle a new set of skills. Willie chose goat hide for his chair cushion covers, and it beautifully complemented the handcrafted white oak table that he had previously built.

dining table and chairs
Here’s the white oak dining table and chairs that Willie upholstered.

After the success of that initial upholstery project, Willie discovered a love for upholstery work — especially working with leather hides. He was soon ready to step up his upholstery skills and learn all he could about this new and exciting hobby. “I didn’t want to be limited to no-sew upholstery projects, so I took a leather upholstery class and started soaking up all the knowledge I could find.”

He’s been fortunate enough to turn his passions into a source of income. He is a freelance writer for woodworking magazines and a blogger for leather and woodworking websites. On his YouTube channel, The Thoughtful Woodworker/Upholsterer, he shares his knowledge of woodworking and upholstery with viewers. “I love sharing projects and posts with fellow crafters. I love teaching the craft, and I’m always learning.”

It’s through his upholstery projects that Willie discovered Sailrite and the Leatherwork Sewing Machine. We sat down to chat with Willie and find out more about his leather crafting journey. This talented DIYer had a lot to say about how his two passions — woodworking and leatherworking — have come together to produce some truly beautiful, handcrafted masterpieces.

magazine cover
This Ebon Oak Rocker that Willie built and upholstered graced the August 2021 cover of Popular Woodworking magazine.

Q. What sort of leather projects do you typically work on?

A. My main goal was to master leather seat cushions and backrest cushions so I could upholster Stickley Morris chairs and oversized Charles Limbert rockers. Whether they were genuine antiques, or reproductions from my woodshop, I was going to have a lot of chairs to upholster. Some have piping and some use single-felled topstitched seams, but all of the chairs highlight the natural materials front and center. They’re usually made with quarter-sawn white oak lumber and natural leather upholstery.

leather settle
Willie built a new seat frame for this L & JG Stickley antique settle and reupholstered it in a beautiful top grain cowhide.

Q. What’s your favorite type of leather to work with? And what’s your favorite kind of project to make?

A. Upholstery grade leather is almost always chrome tanned for a nice soft, workable feel. I like leathers in earth tones with very little sheen. If it looks like it belongs in a furniture catalog from 1906, then I’ll probably like it. Browns, greens and subtle red tones are my favorite. I try to source full hides that are 2-1/2 to 3 ounces thick. A 50 square foot hide will upholster a Morris chair with seat cushion, back cushion and a small ottoman.

Q. What do you love most about working with leather?

A. I pulled apart an antique chair cushion a couple years ago that had the original leather upholstery intact. That chair was over 110 years old. Sure, the leather showed its age, but it was still there. Still quietly doing its job, and somehow managing to look better with age. I love the smell of leather. I love getting “the big scissors” out and cutting leather on my large work surfaces in the shop. Rotary cutting strips, gluing layers for straps, sewing layers together stitch by stitch. Thinking and planning for each next step, carefully working with your head down until the final product is revealed. In this “throw away” world, it makes me smile inside to know that something I’ve had a hand in making might be around for someone to admire in 110 years or so.

rocking chair upholstery
Willie reupholstered this Stickley mission rocking chair for his YouTube channel.

Q. What made you interested in the Leatherwork Sewing Machine?

A. I like walking foot sewing machines, plain and simple. In fact, my second sewing machine was a walking foot, and I’ve been using one ever since. If you think about a standard sewing machine in terms of material feeding, they’re pretty basic. The feed dogs below are the only mechanism feeding the material into the machine. This unilateral feeding can lead to uneven top and bottom layers as you complete the seam. A walking foot adds two feet that move in unison to advance the material in a uniform way. When you’re working with leather, a walking foot is a necessity.

leatherwork with stools
On his YouTube channel, Willie teaches viewers how to reupholster these shop stools using his Leatherwork Sewing Machine.

Q. Having sewn on the Leatherwork, what are your impressions of the machine? We position the Leatherwork as an entry-level leather hobbyist machine. Would you agree with that assessment?

A. The difference between a basic portable and the Leatherwork is apparent right away. The Leatherwork comes loaded with a full-size variable speed servo motor, and Sailrite even found a way to shoehorn a speed reducer onto that compact table. The table is a little small, so I added a flip-up extension table to one side. That add-on helps me enjoy both the compact size and expandable work surface.

The Leatherwork is a unique package. The machine head may be entry level, but the added features of the table package probably put it in a mid-level category. I encourage crafters to “buy once and buy right.” Most people go shopping for a used sewing machine, and if it has the word “industrial” in the title, they assume it must be capable of sewing leather. Let me tell you, there are many full-sized industrial sewing machines that aren’t suited for leather projects. In fact, most industrial sewing machines don’t even have a walking foot. You have to research the models and determine what thickness of leather you intend to sew. Every sewing machine has limitations. Understanding and working within those limitations is the key to success.

willie with leatherwork
Here’s Willie with his Leatherwork Sewing Machine. You can see the extension table he built to give himself more room when sewing larger projects.

Q. Have there been leather “dos and don’ts” that you’ve experienced throughout your leather crafting journey? If so, could you share some of your wisdom with our readers?

A. Don’t run out of bobbin thread when sewing leather. Unlike that pillow cover you finished last week, leather is unforgiving. A machine with an empty bobbin will perforate your project like a sieve – and holes in leather are permanent. Keep your eyes open, and check your seam often as you work.

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

A. Looking around my home, I get to say “I made that” a lot. But there is a deeper sense of satisfaction when you dry your own lumber, build your own furniture, and cap it off with your own custom leather upholstery. We are such specialists these days, but if you branch out just a little bit, you’ll be amazed what you can learn.

Q. Can you talk a bit about your YouTube channel — The Thoughtful Woodworker — and how that pertains to leather as well? What do you enjoy most about sharing your knowledge of woodworking and DIY with others?

A. The Thoughtful Woodworker YouTube channel is partly woodworking, but it also has a pseudonym – The Thoughtful Upholsterer. Small channels have to be careful not to spread themselves too thin, so I combined my passions into one platform. I started the upholstery content because there are so few sources to learn upholstery. Now, if you want to learn how to sew a pillow, there are plenty of videos out there. But if you want to learn leather upholstery, it’s a different story. You either know everything because you’ve been an upholstery pro for 30 years, or you know nothing. There didn’t seem to be any middle ground. That’s the goal of my channel: To give relative newcomers enough confidence to tackle one specific type of project. Maybe they won’t master all styles in the first year, but if they can do a really good job building or upholstering a classic rocker, then I have succeeded.

Here’s Willie’s barstool tutorial if you’d like to watch the Leatherwork Sewing Machine in action.