You’ve probably heard someone use the saying, “the dog days of summer,” to talk about the hottest and most humid days of the year. But did you know that this phrase originated in Ancient Rome?
You see, the astronomers of the time noticed that the sweltering weather coincided with the period that the star Sirius, also called the “dog star,” was visible in the night sky. The astronomers thought that Sirius was adding its heat to the sun’s to make the days hotter. They started calling this period “the dog days of summer” after the dog star, and the nickname stuck.
Today, this phrase usually refers to a period from early July to early August, when temperatures tend to skyrocket in the Northern Hemisphere. And the heat doesn’t just bother humans. Our dogs are just as vulnerable — if not more so — because of their higher body temperatures and fur coats.
Sailrite customer and small-business owner Katrina Fairchild frequently ran into this problem in 2017 when taking her therapy dog, Harley, kayaking with her. A sweet Shih Tzu, Harley is the perfect size to sit on the bow of Katrina’s kayak and take in the sights and smells of the outdoors while Katrina paddles.
But while Katrina could paddle for hours under the hot sun thanks to hats, sunglasses and sunscreen, Harley didn’t have much fun on these excursions. Katrina told us more: “[Harley] and I are pretty much inseparable. [He] is with me in stores, hotels, in the car (unless it’s too hot), restaurants, hiking, biking and on the water. He’s very tolerant of most things except one: the sun.”
Sitting on the bow of Katrina’s kayak, Harley had nowhere to hide from direct sunlight or high temperatures. “Harley would display discomfort by constant agitation after just a short time on the water,” Katrina said. “He panted like he’d just run around in the sun. Even if I poured water on him or dipped him in the river, he still couldn’t relax.”
Harley’s discomfort was contagious. “This intolerance of getting too much sun and its reflection off the water while kayaking prevented me from enjoying my relaxing time paddling. I had to rush back to shore too soon,” Katrina said. “I also had to fix this problem.”
As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Katrina needed to make sure that Harley was safe so she could enjoy her time outdoors. She was proud to tell us that she did indeed fix the problem — with help from Sailrite® and the Ultrafeed® LS Sewing Machine.
Inventing the WoofShade®
So, how did Katrina address the issue of taking a dog kayaking in high heat? “[In 2017], I developed a prototype of what became [the] WoofShade.”
What’s a WoofShade? It’s Katrina’s invention to protect paddling pups like Harley from excessive heat and direct sunlight. It’s a portable, dog-sized shade — the first shade designed to attach to paddle-powered watercraft like kayaks.
Katrina told us more about developing the WoofShade. “I went through about three months and two prototypes of design and testing. Deciding on the shape was probably the most challenging.”
At the end of the prototyping, she had settled on a large-diameter circle with flexible internal wires that allow the shade to bend. When attached to the front of a kayak, canoe or paddleboard, the shade becomes a self-supporting tent that perfectly accommodates small- to medium-sized dogs without blocking the paddler’s view of the water in front of them.
But size wasn’t the only consideration. Katrina also had to find the perfect fabric. “I needed a high-quality, marine-grade, perforated mesh material that was see-through and provided ventilation for the dog,” she said. She didn’t have too far to look to find exactly what she wanted. “Once I saw a sample of the Phifertex® [Standard Vinyl Mesh Fabric], it was a no-brainer.”
The fabric, which has a 70% shade factor and good breathability, is ideal for applications that get heavy use outdoors. The fabric is also easy to sew — a helpful feature since Katrina hadn’t sewn for quite some time.
“I learned to sew in the ’70s as a child on my mother’s [home] sewing machine, which I still have,” she told us. “I was motivated by wanting more clothes for my Barbie® dolls.”
Once her dolls had full wardrobes, however, Katrina didn’t do much sewing until she started prototyping the WoofShade in 2017. In fact, she sewed the prototypes on the same machine her mother taught her to sew on years earlier.
Although she had to relearn how to sew after decades and her home machine wasn’t quite strong enough for the job, Katrina’s determination to keep Harley safe kept her going. She eventually finished a usable prototype and wasted no time seeing if Harley liked it.
“As soon as I used my first prototype, [Harley] was able to relax enough to sleep for almost the entire duration of the kayak trip. This, in turn, made my paddling much more enjoyable because I knew Harley was comfortable and safe,” Katrina shared. Now, “he is eager to get in the boat and gets situated quickly in his usual position under the shade.”
Manufacturing WoofShades With the Ultrafeed LS
Thanks to Katrina, Harley isn’t the only lucky dog to have a personal shade. “Once I realized how many other paddlers are accompanied by their dogs, I then decided to market [the WoofShade].” She built a website and an Etsy shop to share her pup-protecting product with the world. Other dog-owning paddlers loved the idea, and Katrina started receiving orders right away.
But filling those orders wasn’t an easy task. Her home machine didn’t have the power to consistently sew the tough materials that the WoofShade called for.
“For the first few years I battled with my [home sewing machine] to make her work for high-demanding, thick material, but she kept fighting back and won. … I was wasting too much time and churning out too many expletives,” Katrina laughed. “I knew I had to get the right machine for the job.”
The right machine turned out to be the Sailrite Ultrafeed LS. Katrina discovered Sailrite while researching her options for heavy-duty machines.
“Sailrite kept popping up as I looked at different companies and products,” she said. Her research and testimonials from other Ultrafeed owners convinced her that the LS was the best machine for her needs.
“I trusted Sailrite to sell the right, high-quality, semi-heavy-duty machine that I noticed a lot of hobbyists and small business owners were using. And it wasn’t too expensive,” Katrina told us. She purchased her LS in 2020 and has been happily using it to run her small business ever since.
The Ultrafeed turned out to be a wise investment. “[My LS] has elevated my sewing abilities and skills. It never lets me down — it’s a workhorse,” Katrina said.
She’s also found Sailrite to be a reliable supplier of the Phifertex shade material she uses, and a few Sailrite tools have made their way into her sewing room. But while it’s “fun and inspiring to look at all the supplies and parts that Sailrite sells” and pick out a new tool now and again, deep inventory isn’t the only thing that keeps Katrina coming back.
When we asked what Katrina likes so much about Sailrite, she said this: “Quality and excellent customer service. Over the years I’ve needed help … Sailrite has yet to let me down.”
In particular, Katrina mentioned that she loved Sailrite’s videos on setting up and using an Ultrafeed. “Not only is there a video for just about everything I needed to know, but each is well done and informative,” she said.
More Time for Outdoor Exploration
After Katrina purchased her LS and watched several Sailrite videos to get up and running, making the WoofShade not only became easier, but quicker too — which was exactly what she wanted.
“I run this company part time,” she told us. “[The WoofShade] has proven to be a seasonal product, which I don’t mind because I enjoy doing so many other things.”
As we’ve already seen, Katrina especially loves being outdoors. Her goal is to get outside every day. “Anything in nature is my happy place,” she said.
Among her other outdoor hobbies are “hiking, biking [and] walking.” She also told us that crafts and painting make her happy, especially when she can incorporate interesting natural items into her artwork.
In addition to land-based outdoor activities, Katrina has experience with other types of boating besides kayaking. She’s dabbled in waterskiing and using powered watercraft, but those didn’t catch her attention as much as using paddle-powered boats.
“Paddling has become my absolute favorite because the boats are quiet, easily transportable and allow me to connect with the feel of water that I love,” she shared. “Kayaks are especially my favorite because I’m closer and more a part of the water than in a canoe.”
Her preference for kayaks over canoes has a humorous origin. “My first experience with paddling was 32 years ago when my then-boyfriend rented a two-person canoe to paddle the Buffalo River in Arkansas. We dumped with the first Class II rapids, cursed at each other, got married and then bought separate kayaks,” Katrina laughed.
While her home state of South Carolina offers waterways to paddle, Katrina prefers to travel a bit farther for kayaking adventures. “I … go out of state because I don’t find that South Carolina offers enough of the kind of paddling I like, which is quiet lakes or Class I rivers. I go to North Carolina quite a lot, but recently went all the way up to the Adirondacks in New York.”
Of course, Harley goes with Katrina and her husband on these out-of-state adventures. And a new addition to their little family will soon be going with them. “I have recently adopted a rescue puppy that is half German Shepherd,” she told us.
The puppy, appropriately named Sky by her nature-loving parents, has some skills to master before she’ll be ready for long outdoor excursions. “We’re working on the proper hiking etiquette,” Katrina said. “As soon as [Sky] learns to behave, I’ll be teaching her to trot alongside my bike.”
Sky will also have to learn how to be on the water before she can go paddling. “I need to get her on a boat sooner than later. The rocking motion is probably the scariest to overcome,” Katrina said.
Sky will be much larger than a Shih Tzu when fully grown, so a sit-on-top kayak won’t be the best option for her. Katrina will have to expand her fleet of watercraft to accommodate Sky. “Yes, I will be buying a canoe,” she laughed.
Having a larger dog will mean a larger boat for Katrina … but could it also mean a larger WoofShade? Many other paddlers have requested a shade that can cover large dogs, and Katrina says that is the biggest challenge she’s faced with her invention to date.
“I’ve tried to accommodate the large-dog-breed owners’ request for a taller WoofShade. However, a taller shade … will impede the line of sight of the paddler,” she shared. “After a multitude of prototypes, we have found that the best way to take your large or tall dog paddling is in a canoe, in which case our current single-size WoofShade will provide the dog coverage without obstructing the paddler’s view.”
This makes sense. Large dogs will have plenty of space under the shade if they sit down inside of a canoe rather than on top of a kayak. Still, we have a feeling that Katrina’s love of innovation will lead her to a kayak-friendly shade for large dogs eventually.
Katrina’s Parting Advice for DIYers
After all, Katrina loves coming up with new ideas. She told us that the “constant challenge to [her] mind” is her favorite part of her DIY lifestyle. “I hate being bored, so I’m always coming up with small and large projects to keep me motivated and stimulated,” she said. Whether it’s painting, sewing or collecting eye-catching nature finds, Katrina always has a project going — and plenty of inspiration for her next one.
She had a lot to say about ideas, including how to make an idea like the WoofShade into a real product. It’s great advice for any DIYer who isn’t sure where to start making their own product concept come to life.
“I’ve had many ideas over the years, but they were just that — ideas. It wasn’t until I did an actual prototype, which I used many times, that the idea became reality.” That’s a great roadmap for creating a new product. Start with a prototype of your idea, test it thoroughly and work out problems in the design along the way.
Once you’re ready to share your design with the world, what then? Katrina had advice on launching a small business too. “Like many other small-business owners will say, start small and think big. At first, keep it small and manageable. Keep your day job. If it’s still fun, or at least pleasing to do, then consider growing it.”
Katrina has hit on a fundamental aspect of a successful DIY lifestyle or career: If you enjoy what you’re doing and you feel the level of work is manageable, you’ll be able to enjoy your creative hobby or business over the long run. Katrina would know: She’s been happily running her small business part time since 2017.
“It’s sometimes hard to believe that I’m still making WoofShades after almost six years,” she said. “At one point I temporarily closed my shop, but the demand kept coming so I reopened it. I continue to make them because of this: If there are still dog owners who care enough to protect their paddling pets, then I will continue to help and sell WoofShades.”
We love that sentiment, Katrina, and we’re happy that your small business fits into your active lifestyle so well! Sailrite is proud to provide you with the tools and materials you need to help keep dogs like Harley and Sky safe and comfortable outdoors. We wish you all the best for many more years of DIY innovation and outdoor adventure!
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