The {Bike} Path Less Traveled: One Man’s Creative Journey

Creativity is the common denominator that exists in all crafters regardless of their preferred medium. Whether it’s the need to feel productive, to channel restless energy, or to unwind and relax after a stressful day, having a creative outlet is good for the soul. Having a hobby, especially a craft such as sewing in which you make something with your hands, engages the mind, promotes wellness and is a great way to connect with like-minded people in your community. It’s the perfect remedy for the overwhelming dominance of our technology-dependent lives.

Brett Walker has searched for a creative outlet his entire life. A hobbyist at heart, he describes himself as a “DIY type of person” who enjoys learning how to do things himself. He learned how to sew about eight years ago by watching videos online. He wanted to get into puppet design and stop-motion filmmaking, but when this idea didn’t work out, he switched to live-action filmmaking to channel his creativity.

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Brett saw a need for well-made, custom bicycle bags for storing essentials.

“I always try to find hobbies to keep myself busy and have an artistic outlet. I’ve done a lot of drawing and painting, then filmmaking, and now cycling and bag making.”

It’s his cycling hobby that propelled his desire to get back into sewing. “After cycling for a while and more than a few flat tires, I realized I needed a bag to carry my flat tire repair kit with me. The custom ones I wanted kept selling out, so I figured I could just make my own. I had also started to hear about bike camping and wanted to buy panniers (a pair of bags or containers attached to the sides of a bicycle for storage), but found out that they are pretty pricey, so that led me to want to make my own as well.”

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Some panniers that Brett made for bike camping to carry all his supplies.

Ready to pick up his sewing hobby again, he needed to test the waters and find out if he still had his sewing skills. It had been a few years since Brett had sewn anything, so his best friend’s wife let him borrow her machine to see if he could relearn how to sew; he practiced making a few bags and instantly fell back in love with the craft. With his hobby firmly reestablished, he began sewing his own bags to carry things on his cycling adventures.

Enjoying making bags for himself and his cycling excursions wasn’t enough. He recognized a need in his cycling community for locally made, custom bags and decided to turn his sewing hobby into a small side business. He named his business Canal Workshop, inspired by the canal located next to his apartment in Phoenix, Arizona, which provides miles of traffic-free bike paths. It’s this canal that spurred Brett to get back into cycling as an adult, which he’d dropped after outgrowing his childhood BMX bike.

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A sampling of the bicycle bags Brett custom designs through his business, Canal Workshop.

For about a year and a half, he’d been sewing bags with a Singer Heavy Duty sewing machine, but he found that it wasn’t handling the workload as well as he needed. So he began his search for a more powerful and dependable machine that could handle the thick Cordura canvas, packcloth and nylon webbing he uses for his bags. “I was talking to a cyclist friend of mine and he told me about Sailrite®. He mentioned that their machines were more economical and could just as easily get the job done [compared to more expensive heavy duty machines on the market].”

Brett initially looked at the Ultrafeed®, but Sailrite happened to be running a sale on the Fabricator® Sewing Machine, so he decided to take a look at an industrial sewing machine instead. “I figured that an industrial machine was more suited for the work I was doing. I liked that it had a classic steel look, was all black, and the name of the machine spoke to the type of work I was doing. When it went on sale, I thought this was a no-brainer.”

He’s been sewing with his new Fabricator for about six months and has no regrets about his choice of machine. “It’s strong, straightforward, and when I see it, I just want to sit down and work. The machine hums along and causes me no real issues. I love that it’s inset into the table that it came with and that you can wind the bobbins while you work. It works like a charm.”

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Brett sewing a bag with his Fabricator set in its industrial sewing table.

The sewing process has been a bit of trial and error for Brett, as it is with most hobbies, and he’s learned some valuable lessons along the way about how to sew with skill and professional results. “One of the most important things I’ve learned is to take my time. Like in filmmaking, the more time and effort you put into preproduction (planning, pattern making and cutting), the faster and more efficient the production (sewing) is. I like to make one panel of a bag at a time, then put them all together. When I first started I was so eager to see the final product that I often left off important parts like a handle or my label.”

“It’s such a timesaver to take your time with a project. Planning out the process and then executing it correctly the first time means spending way less time with a seam ripper. One thing I’ve learned, and am still trying to perfect, is setting the tension properly. I had a hard time sewing certain lightweight materials before I learned to dial back the tension.”

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Brett’s bags are truly unique, like this custom-fit frame bag.

When asked what he enjoys most about the sewing experience, Brett mentioned the sense of accomplishment he feels when making something himself and how his sewing hobby has led to new friendships. “I enjoy that I can make something for myself that is exactly the style, size and quality that I look for in a bike bag. I also really enjoy that I can provide that same service to the cycling community in Phoenix. What I love most is I’ve made a ton of new friends; a lot of my customers have gone on to become close friends because we’re all into cycling so much.”

While the majority of his sewing projects are for his bike bag business, Brett has put his Fabricator to other uses. “I’ll hem some pants or make some pillowcases for my girlfriend. I did recently make a regular backpack. I’ve also got an order for a bike bag with leather accents, which will be new territory for me. I did some research on that through the Sailrite website and am putting in an order for diamond tip needles from Sailrite for that project.” 

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Where will your sewing adventure take you?

With a restless, creative spirit, Brett is constantly searching for the next project to tackle and a new skill to learn. “I’m always looking for ways to grow and add to my skill set. I recently learned that custom bags for off-road vehicles is a thing, so I’m going to try that out. My buddy actually put a bug in my ear about making some bags to organize his new truck. Another project I’ve got on deck is blackout window coverings for a van.”

The creative vein through it all is Brett’s need to channel his artistry into something tangible. Whether you’re a sewer, woodworker, painter or knitter, the pure joy of creating something with your hands is the thread that ties us all together. 

The Second Life of Sails: Crafting a better future for the next generation

Life is full of discarded items. Things that have already served their purpose now sit, useless and used up, to be thrown away, recycled or forgotten. The beauty of sewing is that you have the opportunity to give new life to something that has already served its original purpose. Barbara Wetherington is this kind of sewer. She gives new life and special meaning to retired sailcloth by creating tote bags from the fabric. In doing so, she has also found a way to serve her Boston-area community and donate her time and talents to a worthy nonprofit organization.

Barbara has had an off-and-on relationship with sewing over the years. She learned to sew in Home Economics class in 7th grade, but wasn’t particularly passionate about the craft. In her mid-20s, a roommate who worked at a fabric store rekindled Barbara’s interest in sewing. She learned to make useful things like pillows, window treatments and bags. When she moved to a smaller apartment, she had to put away her sewing supplies and moved on to other hobbies. A few years ago, she came across her sewing machine tucked away in a closet and realized she hadn’t used it in almost 20 years. When she remembered how much she enjoyed sewing and making practical items like tote bags, she was determined to start up again. And she knew just how to do it. Enter, World Ocean School.

World Ocean School is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help underserved children by providing educational programs that challenge them academically, physically and emotionally. The school offers an alternative to traditional education methods, believing that involving kids in hands-on programs will combat apathy and disengagement in students of all ages to decrease dropout rates, substance abuse, crime and unemployment. In fact, 74 percent of the 2,200 students who participate in World Ocean School each year are from low-income households, the highest demographic for student dropout rates.

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World Ocean School students learning the ropes as they embark on an educational adventure.

The kids set sail aboard the historic schooner Roseway, a registered U.S. National Historic Landmark that splits its time between Boston, Massachusetts, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Roseway is one of only three original Grand Banks schooners left in operation today. The experiential programs offered aboard Roseway are as diverse as the students themselves, ranging from half-day programs to multi-week expeditions. The students are empowered to reach their full potential through sail training, team building, communication and leadership skills. Hands-on programs give the students the opportunity to participate in a richly rewarding learning atmosphere. They’re engaged and challenged in a way that traditional classrooms can’t offer.

When Barbara heard about World Ocean School’s mission, she was eager to lend a hand. She began volunteering on Roseway in 2006 doing whatever was needed, including painting, whipping lines and raising sails. She spent one summer as the onboard cook while the ship was docked in Boston Harbor and loved every minute of it. But her desire to help only grew.

A few years ago, she purchased a tote bag that a crew member had made using the Roseway’s old sails. And that sparked an idea. After receiving permission from the executive director of World Ocean School, she began sewing tote bags made from the Roseway’s distinctive tanbark sails, once they’re retired, of course, as a way to raise money for the school’s educational programs. She was looking to get back into sewing, and this cause was just the inspiration she needed.

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Barbara’s tote bags made from Roseway’s retired tanbark sails.

Barbara sews the tote bags with her Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 using V-92 thread, which she says gives the bags an industrial look that adds to the beauty of the sailcloth. She also has an embroidery sewing machine, which she uses to embroider the World Ocean School logo onto the front of the bags. She turned her sewing hobby into a way to serve her community and help at-risk youth, and that’s something we can all be inspired by.

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Barbara works on a tote bag for World Ocean School using her Ultrafeed® LSZ-1.

Here’s what Barbara had to say about her work with the organization: “I wholeheartedly back the mission of World Ocean School. As a small nonprofit, they run fairly lean in many aspects, except when it comes to programming for the kids. When I read the “Ship’s Logs” that are posted on the website, I’m so amazed at what the kids say about their experiences. You can see that it’s truly life-changing for them in a positive way. Many of the kids, both in Boston and St. Croix, live near the ocean but often don’t have any connection to it and its place in our world. The programming of World Ocean School makes that connection.”

In addition to the educational programs scheduled throughout the year, the Roseway is open to the public for special sailing trips and other events. These public events provide an opportunity for the school to spread public awareness of their mission and to raise money to keep the school going. It’s during these public events that Barbara’s unique tote bags are sold, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to World Ocean School’s ongoing educational programs.

Barbara has stayed connected to World Ocean School for 12 years now, helping out however she can, whether that’s sewing the tote bags, grocery shopping or standing in as a cook. She even served on a committee to organize a successful fundraiser called Walk the Plank. Through it all, she remains steadfast in her belief that World Ocean School changes kids’ lives for the better, opening them up to opportunities and experiences they would never have otherwise, and she’s grateful for the dedicated staff of employees and volunteers who keep the program alive.

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An educator aboard Roseway teaches a student about the inner workings of the ship.

“It is awe-inspiring to me how hard the crew works to keep the ship running, while at the same time acting as educators for these kids. I’m inspired by how World Ocean School touches the lives of so many young people, and I’m thrilled that I’m able to contribute, in a unique way, to their mission by making these bags for them to sell.”

 

If you’d like to learn more about World Ocean School, please visit www.worldoceanschool.org.