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.

Jim Norman: Building a Houseboat of His Dreams

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

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

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

To Build a Boat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. What was the inspiration behind the name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sewing for Jersey Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Next for Jim & Jersey Girl?

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

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

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

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

jersey girl on the water

Cat Claws Have Nothing on This DIYer

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

Learning to Sew

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

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

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

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

Giving With Sewing

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Sailrite

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future DIYing

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

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

Ultrafeed® Adventures: Sewing a Winter Boat Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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