Planning for the Unexpected: A DIY Journey

A self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades, master of none, Joe McFarland has a well-rounded DIY skill set. From sewing canvas and upholstery, welding, woodworking and electrical skills to motorcycle repair, machining and mechanical engineering — the list goes on and on. Joe is a true thrill seeker and big kid at heart; he loves boating, motocross, RC cars, drones and planes. An engineer by trade, he spends his free time volunteering, sailing, writing, canning, beekeeping and has recently gotten into vinyl lettering.

One of his most enduring and favorite activities is sewing. Having learned from his mother, he uses his sewing skills to outfit his four boats and recently completed a Meyers Manx dune buggy overhaul. He completely refurbished the buggy and sewed the backseat upholstery using his well-invested Ultrafeed® LSZ-1. Keep reading to learn more about this energetic go-getter and his long list of DIY triumphs.

Joe (#82) and his friends mountain bike racing.

Learning to Sew

Joe and his brother learned to sew, both by hand and machine, when they were kids. They were raised by their mother, who is just as self-dependent as her sons, and she instilled them with important life skills at an early age. “I remember clearly being in summer camp and one of our group projects was to hand-sew torn clothing. The counselor asked me if he had the final lock stitch correct, and I showed him how I was taught — and that I still use to this day when hand sewing.” This upbringing made Joe the self-reliant and motivated person he is today. 

And just like his mom, Joe shares his skills and knowledge and enjoys helping others to grow and learn how to do things for themselves. “Knowledge can save a person’s life, especially on a sailboat, in a storm, on a lee shore, or with a failed motor due to water contamination in the fuel system (as I’ve experienced firsthand on my boat). Being able to fix things is important.” All of Joe’s boats have been fixer-uppers, and he takes as much joy from refurbishing and getting them seaworthy as he does from sailing and cruising.

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Joe with his Ultrafeed LSZ-1, ready to tackle his next project!

What does Joe love about sewing? “I really enjoy sewing. It’s relaxing and slows me down. Not so much as a hobby, but as a means to get things done and to save significant dollars.” He also enjoys the independence that sewing brings. Being able to make or fix something yourself and have it turn out exactly the way you’re envisioning is a sentiment all sewers can relate to and appreciate.

Boats, Sewing & DIY

Joe bought his first sailboat, a semi-derelict 1972 30-foot C&C named Wild Irish, in 2003. It needed a lot of work. Joe purchased the boat in the spring, and he spent several months sanding, polishing and sprucing up the boat while it was in dry dock storage. A few years after the initial refit, it was time to upgrade all of the canvaswork. “To save time and money, DIY was the only way the work that was needed was going to get done. Providing my own canvaswork was one, if not the biggest, cost savings.”

He needed a sewing machine that could handle the many canvas projects he had planned. “I knew I needed an industrial machine. After researching the options I chose the Ultrafeed LSZ-1, which best fit my needs. It’s portable and robust, can be hand cranked, and the support offered by Sailrite is important. I will have my machine on my boat for long distance sailing for sure.”

“I was getting ready to undertake my first major boat canvas project — bimini, dodger, side and rear enclosures, and shades. So while I was at the Annapolis Boat Show that year, I went to the Sailrite booth and started asking questions. [Vice President and Owner] Matt Grant assisted me one-on-one and from that point on I was hooked on Sailrite. Working for a customer-driven corporation, I know that customer support is key.”

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He has made numerous projects over the years, including canvas projects, covers, cushions, pillows and more. He relied on Sailrite’s how-to videos to help him through the hardest projects. “The only way I was able to tackle the canvas enclosure project was by living on YouTube and watching the Sailrite instructional videos over and over. I would test-sew small demo pieces of Strataglass™ to ensure I was doing it right before cutting into the large and costly rolls.”

For his dodger DIY, Joe took extensive photos of every step of the process. He did his patterning on the boat, and then took everything back to his sewing loft 127 miles away from the boatyard. Such diligent and careful planning paid off in the end. Joe’s dodger turned out beautifully and his hard work can be seen in the finished project. “The first fit was perfect and I was terribly thrilled. I plan on adding snaps in the summer when the canvas is hot, and then cut in the grab rails and running rigging holes.” Joe created a three-piece dodger, and all three panels can be removed or installed for weather conditions and comfort.

Joe now has four boats: the 30-foot Wild Irish, a 22-foot Catalina named Irish Rover, an 8-foot Zodiac Inflatable named Ulysses and a 20-foot Sea Ray called Irish Wake. He has sewn projects for all of his boats. “I have sailed my boats in all but one of the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Coast and the Bimini Bahamas.” This small fleet of sailing vessels is sure to keep Joe busy in his sewing loft for the foreseeable future.

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Irish Rover and Wild Irish at the marina

A Year on the Sea (Almost)

Joe, like a lot of people, had big plans for 2020. But as the John Lennon lyric goes: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Flashing back to 2015, Joe announced to friends, family and coworkers that he planned on taking a yearlong sabbatical in 2020 to sail the Atlantic and Caribbean on his 30-foot sailboat, Wild Irish. “It was my 50th birthday gift to myself and was supposed to start in February 2020. I worked diligently over the past five years refitting the boat for ocean sailing, including the last bits of canvaswork and interior upholstery. In April 2020, one year’s worth of provisions were ready to be loaded and the boat was scheduled for launch.” 

Joe meticulously planned and prepared for his yearlong voyage. He arranged the time off with his employer. He organized, he packed, he cooked and canned a year’s worth of meat and other provisions. He even made his own soap from the rendered beef fat! He installed solar panels on his bimini and added a new barrier coat and bottom paint to the hull specifically for saltwater. He was excited and ready to finally begin his sea voyage. And then … the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“Wild Irish will not launch this year. It pains me to see her alone on the hard. I was almost there and was ready to load the last bit of stores, which are all now in storage.” Ever the optimist, Joe didn’t let a year off work go to waste. “No worries on the postponed boat trip; everything is a blessing in disguise. I finished my buggy!”

Plan B: Project Dune Buggy

With a year off from work and no hopes for his sea voyage, Joe, was unwilling to while away a whole year. So he turned to another project to occupy his time. “The buggy is an original 1970 Meyers Manx and the project has a long history – 31 years to be exact.” Joe grew up in Southern California, and Pismo Beach was considered the dune buggy mecca. “At the time, my stepfather had several buggies, one of which was a one-piece fiberglass body dune buggy.”

At age 19, Joe was living in Ohio, and he traded in his motorcycle for a buggy. It was kept behind an old barn buried in weeds and heavily damaged from the elements. “That summer, I had completely stripped it down to pieces and readied it for the rebuild. After re-fiberglassing the many holes and damage from years past, a friend’s father owned an auto body shop where my buddy worked. I was able to barter the 1989 I-Roc Z metallic blue paint job for a car audio system, which I installed in his classic car. While the body was being painted, I continued work on the chassis. Then life got in the way. Between working several jobs and putting myself through college, the buggy sat in storage.” The project was started and stopped several times over the years. Until, finally, the 2020 pandemic offered the perfect opportunity to complete the rebuild. A serendipitous consolation prize for his canceled sailboat trip.

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In February 2019, Joe flew to California to meet Bruce Meyers, the creator of the Manx, for a group breakfast organized by the Manx Group. The Meyers Manx dune buggy was produced from 1964 to 1971 in California and was initially designed for desert racing. The recreational vehicle has the shortened chassis of a Volkswagen® Beetle and became the first-known street-legal fiberglass dune buggy. Meeting Bruce Meyers gave Joe the motivation he needed to restart his dune buggy project, and the pandemic gave him the opportunity.

And so, in early 2020, Joe began working on his buggy restoration project. He washed 30 years of dust off his buggy and got to work. “The restoration went as expected with few surprises. Fortunately, I had rebuilt the motor and transmission in 2019. I had restored the chassis pan in 1989. There was considerable time for disassembly, washing, cleaning, sandblasting, priming, painting and reassembly of all the subcomponents. There were also components that needed to be manufactured, including the rear engine cage frame, front seat frames, rear seats and more.”

Sailrite’s vinyl was a perfect match!

Joe’s dune buggy project was coming along nicely, but there was one more thing he needed. The yellow vinyl for the backseat needed to perfectly match the prefabricated front seats. Luckily, with time on his hands and Sailrite headquarters a short road trip away, the solution was clear. “I went to the Sailrite website and found several shades of yellow. I knew there was no way I was going to match the color online since the yellow I needed was a very off shade.” He contacted Sailrite and asked if he could bring a sample of the vinyl to the Sailrite office so they could find a vinyl in stock to match. One of Sailrite’s customer service reps worked with Joe personally to find an exact match to his yellow front seats. He returned home with the vinyl he needed and had the backseat upholstered the next day. After a few finishing touches, the buggy was complete and Joe took it out for its first drive in over 30 years — a happy ending to what could have been a wasted year.

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What a masterpiece!

What’s next for this adventurous DIYer? Well, he’s still on sabbatical for the rest of the year. He’s currently working on refurbishing a 1958 chopper that he purchased in 1998. Joe plans on relaunching his Wild Irish trip in 2021. Until then, we’re confident this hardworking sewer will find plenty of projects to occupy his time. We wish you all the best, Joe, and hope that when you do finally launch your yearlong sailing voyage that it’s truly the trip of a lifetime. You’ve earned it!

“Glamping” With Jean Buchanan

For Jean Buchanan, sewing is not just a hobby and career, but it also may very well be her destiny. She’s been sewing for over 50 years and comes from a long line of sewists. Her great-grandmother was a tailor of men’s suits, and her grandmothers, aunts and mother have all sewn and quilted through the years. Jean first learned to sew from her mother-in-law, and she’s never looked back. With a little help from Sailrite®, Jean’s taken her talent to the next level and made a name for herself in the process.

After five decades of sewing children’s clothes and stuffed animals, plus clothing for herself and her husband, Jean encountered a project that she had never attempted before and one she never thought she would stumble upon in her lifetime. But always being an adventurous sewist open to new ideas and experiences, she took a cue from her daughter to try out a different kind of DIY, which would lead her to her largest project yet. 

“One day my daughter brought me a southwestern printed tarp and asked me to make her a visor for her T@B 320 trailer. It took many more tarps and three attempts to get the patterns tweaked — it fit the T@B pretty well.” 

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One of Jean’s latest sunshade designs on a TAB camper.

If you’re not familiar, T@B (or TAB) is a brand of trailerable camper with a sleek teardrop design. These charming, pint-sized campers blend European design with Ohio Amish craftsmanship for cozy living on-the-go. After Jean finished her daughter’s project, she found that these campers were perfectly complemented by her custom sunshades with their petite, visor-like design. Not only was her first sunshade good-looking, but it also functioned as a way to protect the camper’s occupants from the sun and rain while maintaining convenient portability for those looking to get up and go.

Spurred by her first success, Jean decided she enjoyed the work and wanted to continue the process. The next step was to make efforts to reach a larger customer base and make sure she could streamline her sunshades for more efficient sewing. She first began by creating a shop on Etsy (an e-commerce site focused on handmade or vintage items), based out of North Olmsted, Ohio. She later launched her own website and enlisted the help of a professional engineer to create a dependable design for the T@B 400 trailer — and success! A small business was born.

But when your business revolves around sewing, you need a dependable sewing machine to carry you through your toughest assemblies. So with this new business resting in her capable hands, Jean decided that none of her work could be completed without a heavy-duty industrial sewing machine to sew through multiple layers of fabric. The hunt for such a machine was what led Jean to Sailrite in the first place.

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Fabricator in tow, Jean is ready to tackle any project.

She explained, “I chose the Fabricator® Sewing Machine after looking at many industrial machines because it was advertised as a small awning shop machine. I read reviews that were positive concerning the machine and watched videos. Based on what I read and what I watched, I decided it was the right one and I have not been disappointed.” 

With her husband, Clyde, by her side, Jean has expanded her creations and has now launched her own website to showcase and sell her unique camper sunshades worldwide. With a customer base reaching as far as Spain, Germany, Poland, Switzerland and Canada, it’s hard to deny the growing popularity of these adorable additions. Not only are these unique sunshades a way for campers to express their creativity, but they’re also a way for Jean to utilize her adept sewing skills for a practical cause.

She was happy to explain the painstaking steps that go into the creation of the TAB sunshades, as they’re tailored to the requests of each customer. First, each piece of fabric and webbing is cut with the Sailrite® Edge Hotknife, then a convenient carrying bag is sewn, followed by a reinforcement of webbing to the places where the visor pole begins and ends. Next comes the construction of the sleeve for the pole followed by the main fabric assembly. Each part of the process that requires sewing is done using the Fabricator Sewing Machine — and the results speak for themselves.

Here at Sailrite, it gives us great joy to be there every step of the way to help make things a little easier. “Not only do I use the Fabricator Sewing Machine and the Sailrite Edge Hotknife, but I just started using some of Sailrite’s 300 denier polyester outdoor fabric [Odyssey]. The quality and support are outstanding! One could not go wrong using any of their products. I especially love the magnetic sewing guide and zipper feet for sewing keder rope!”

With a thriving business to attend to, what lies ahead for crafty creator Jean? She explained, “I plan to go back to regular sewing when I can no longer physically sew these sunshades. But who knows, I’m always ready for a challenge. My daughter is full of ideas for me.” And although her daughter does not share her passion for sewing, she helps with the business as a public relations assistant and is always ready to bring Jean more ideas to practice her sewing on. 

At this point in time, Jean’s future is wide open, but regardless, she is confident that she and the Fabricator can tackle anything that may come. We can’t wait to see what she creates next!

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Jean’s ingenious designs make “glamping” possible.

Driven to Sew: A Lifelong Hobby

The DIY spirit can take any number of forms — there’s no end to what you can create with the right supplies, a good idea and a little extra time on your hands. That’s exactly the same mindset held by Sailrite® customer and long-time crafter Louis Cossey. Following his retirement in 2016, Louis realized he had more opportunities than ever to start exploring the things he was really passionate about: creating custom projects of all shapes and sizes.

Louis has always been a car guy. Since high school, he’s successfully rebuilt eight cars, taking charge of the metal fabrication, welding, fiberglass, bodywork and paint all by himself to create a one-of-a-kind labor of love. Upon retiring, he started work on his 1923 Ford T-Bucket, a hot rod based Model T. As a pillar of American history, the Model T was built by the Ford Motor Company between 1908 and 1927. The T-Bucket still retains many of its classic features but also has a more modern engine. Louis was determined to make this car just as immaculate as all his others, perhaps even more so given that he could now devote his full attention to it.

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Louis had his work cut out for him with the T-Bucket.

After getting past much of the bodywork, Louis began the process of sewing the interior upholstery but quickly ran into unforeseen problems. He had no real prior sewing experience before starting on this particular endeavor. Back in the ’70s, he’d taken a 15-hour auto upholstery class but explained that he’d never had the time or proper equipment to try any serious sewing projects on his own.

“The first mistake I made was to try and sew with an old sewing machine with no walking foot and use cheap interior material. It just didn’t work.” In search of a new sewing machine, he visited a local sewing supply store. There he was told to look into a company called Sailrite, as these would be the best kinds of sewing machines for the type of work he wanted to do.

“Of course I found Sailrite online and couldn’t stop watching the YouTube videos. I think I watched all of them several times and eventually bought the Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LS-1 machine. It instantly made me think I could sew!”

While the Ultrafeed had made the interior car upholstery sewing easier, there were still a few roadblocks in the way. Louis originally tried using an off-brand of faux leather, but after sewing three separate assemblies, he still couldn’t get things to lay down properly. He realized this was due to the poor quality of the material, not his sewing skills, and instead opted to try some Naugahyde® All American Black fabric. Voilà! The high-quality, abrasion-resistant vinyl made for the perfect car upholstery.

“I learned the hard way that I couldn’t practice with less expensive materials because it doesn’t act or react the same way that higher quality fabric does. After getting the Naugahyde, the project totally came together.”

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With help from the Ultrafeed, Louis began to gain confidence in his sewing abilities and could finally visualize just how the T-Bucket would turn out. It also helped to have support from his wife, as she aided in lining up seams and helping pull the material so it could be stapled down with his Sailrite® Long Nose Upholstery Staple Gun. After weeks of toiling, Louis’s first big retirement project was finally in its full splendor! Both the seats and the top of the T-Bucket looked amazing and it was time to start thinking of potential projects to sew with the Ultrafeed.

So what’s next on the agenda? Louis plans to stay true to his car obsession, as he’s got his eye on reupholstering the interior of his 1971 El Camino. Plus with more time for fishing, he also plans to sew a completely new bimini and cover for his old fishing boat. “Although working with old cars is my passion, I really enjoy making things with the Ultrafeed. It’s both extremely satisfying and a little aggravating! I’m getting all kinds of people wanting me to sew little projects for them. And between the quality of the Ultrafeed, the fabric and the staple gun, Sailrite is the only place I will purchase products from here on out.”

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The fully restored T-Bucket — ready to ride.

No matter where your DIY journey takes you, or at what point in your life, it’s never too late to start on that project you’ve been dreaming about. When you really love the type of work you’re doing, sewing becomes more of a hobby and less of a chore. Whether you’re young, or just young at heart, expressing your creativity can have impressive results.