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!

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.

Rowing the Chesapeake Bay

The world is full of dreamers and doers. Those who think big and shoot for the moon. Go-getters who make a plan, put in the time, sweat and dedication, and create something truly spectacular. Shawn Moyer has a dream. He wants to row the length of the Chesapeake Bay. But not just that. He wanted to row the Chesapeake in a boat he built himself.

With limited woodworking skills, some help and a lot of hard work, he built his own rowboat using the Angus RowCruiser kit and instructions. But one thing was missing. He needed a well-made, durable cover to protect his beautiful creation. That’s where Sailrite® came in. With Sailrite materials, how-to videos and the incomparable Ultrafeed® Sewing Machine, Shawn crafted a cover worthy of his wooden masterpiece. Get ready to reach for the DIY stars with this inspiring story!

Shawn chose Sunbrella® Marine Grade for his boat cover. He looks eager to get sewing!

Building a Rowboat

Several years ago, Shawn had the idea of rowing the length of the Chesapeake Bay. He lives in south-central Pennsylvania — less than an hour from the northern end of the Chesapeake. The bay is the largest estuary (a body of water where fresh and saltwater mix) in the United States. It is approximately 200 miles long, stretches from Maryland to Virginia, and empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

Shawn worked for months building the rowboat whenever he had time in his schedule. He had very little building experience, and limited woodworking skills, prior to constructing the rowboat, but he didn’t let that stop him! And not only that, he had absolutely zero rowing experience!

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He was looking for a specific model rowboat, and that’s when he learned about Angus Rowboats. He chose the RowCruiser design because it met his functional and aesthetic needs. The 19-foot boat features a one-person sleeping cabin, which Shawn will use for sleeping and to get out of the rain when he attempts to row the Chesapeake.

To build the rowboat, Shawn had to learn some new skills. “I learned how to lay fiberglass, how to apply epoxy, and how to do some woodworking. The RowCruiser kit is well put together, but there were several hurdles to overcome. I thought the process of building the boat would be fun. My buddy Tom is an experienced woodworker, and he kept me out of trouble. I wouldn’t have finished the boat without him.”

Taking the boat for a test-drive before the final paint and polish.

Sewing a Boat Cover

After building his rowboat, Shawn decided that he needed a cover to keep the boat protected when not in use. A sailing friend introduced him to Sailrite, and he knew Sailrite was the right place to find the materials for his boat cover. “I bought the Ultrafeed in order to sew the cover for the rowboat. The cost of buying the machine and materials was close to the cost of buying a custom-made cover.” And with the investment of such a versatile, heavy-duty machine, Shawn will be able to sew a variety of projects for years to come.

Before sewing the boat cover, Shawn practiced his sewing skills by making a grill cover. “I thought it would be a smaller but similar project to the boat cover. I was pleased with how the grill cover turned out using a similar Sunbrella fabric, and I used all of the techniques I learned to sew the boat cover.” To prepare for the cover, Shawn educated himself by watching several of Sailrite’s free tutorial and project videos. “I have watched hours and hours of Sailrite videos. They are fantastic! Frequently there is a trick to finishing a sewing project, and your videos give you the confidence to try it.”

Shawn works on his boat cover with his new Ultrafeed.

And how did it go navigating his new sewing machine? “The Ultrafeed is an easy machine to learn. I was up and sewing the first day. I learned new techniques and ripped a lot of seams until I got it down.”

More Stitching on the Horizon

Now that Shawn successfully completed the boat cover, what other projects has he tackled? “I have made tool rolls and I’ve repaired some jackets and done some leather horse tack repair. And I made a dog blanket — all with my Ultrafeed. I have had a lot of fun with it. I can always count on Sailrite to answer my questions.”

In addition to his new rowboat, Shawn also owns a Bayfield 29 sailboat. “Sailing is a new hobby. I’ve been sailing for two years and I keep the boat in the Chesapeake.” He has taken full advantage of his Ultrafeed and new sewing skills to stitch projects for his sailboat. “I have sewn winch covers, a tiller cover, and I’m working on a mainsail cover right now. I’m also working on reupholstering my salon cushions.”

The finished cover! Water-resistant Sunbrella Marine Grade keeps the interior protected from the elements.

To get ready for his big rowing excursion, Shawn has taken the boat out several times to practice rowing on local lakes. “My goal is to row the Chesapeake in the fall of 2021 to raise money for the Children’s Organ Transplant Association.” Shawn is a physician specializing in Family Medicine and the organization is very close to his heart. COTA is a premier nonprofit organization providing fundraising assistance to transplant families across the United States.

If you have a dream and you make a plan, you can truly achieve anything! Look how far Shawn has come in his dream to row the Chesapeake Bay. If Shawn’s success in building his rowboat and teaching himself how to sew is any indication, his rowboat expedition this fall will be nothing short of a triumph. Good luck, Shawn. We’re rooting for you!

Shawn looks ready to conquer the Chesapeake!