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.

From Corporate to Creative: A Sewing Journey of Self-Fulfillment

Heidi West’s creativity knows no bounds. From her modest start selling her handmade goods at weekend craft shows to launching a thriving online and brick-and-mortar store, Heidi has learned one valuable lesson: Success can go as far as your creativity and determination can take it. A crucial part of that success has been her Sailrite® Fabricator® Sewing Machine. Sailrite’s powerful, industrial machine keeps up with the relentless demand of her ever-growing business. Keep reading to learn more about this self-starter and creative entrepreneur and the amazing things she’s making with her Fabricator!

heidi with bag
Here’s Heidi showing off a bag sewn with the Fabricator.

The Spark of an Idea

It started with a simple curiosity. In 2015, Heidi bought a screen printing kit. She’d always been intrigued by screen printing and wanted to learn how it worked. After some trial and error, she successfully created her first print. Heidi then screen printed some fabric with a pattern of her own design and sewed some cosmetic bags for her friends. Screen printing was not an easy skill to learn, but Heidi was determined to master it. She took some classes, practiced in her free time and — most importantly — never gave up.

A short year later, Heidi opened an online store selling cosmetic bags, small zippered pouches, eyeglass cases, totes and more. All of her handmade goods are screen printed from her own charming designs and sewn by her as well. At that point, she was still working full time as a marketing project manager, but the demands of her marketing job and her growing business were taking a toll. “I was busy almost every minute of the day, while also raising two small kids, but I loved every minute of it. In 2018, I left my job to run my business full time. In 2019, I moved my sewing studio from my home into a commercial space, allowing me to set up a little retail shop, too.”

roses and cats bags
A Portland Rose patterned tote on the left and a fun Tuxedo Cat pattern on the right!

In just five years, Heidi went from picking up a screen printing kit for the first time to launching a successful, full-time business. Along the way, she realized that her home machine wouldn’t cut it anymore; she needed something bigger, stronger and tougher to take her small business — and the quality of her sewn goods — to the next level. “At first, I was using a home sewing machine, but when it couldn’t handle all the use, I upgraded to a mini-industrial machine. It worked well, but I was always concerned about quality. Because I use multiple layers of interfacing and fabric in my bags and pouches, I was concerned that standard thread wasn’t enough to hold all the layers together. It was clear that I needed an industrial sewing machine to ensure that my bags were built to last.”

Hunting for the Right Machine

Heidi began her search for an industrial machine by turning to fellow sewists and creatives, seeking their advice and experience. “I started talking to people within the sewing community and the Fabricator was highly recommended. I was able to try one out and fell in love with how it worked, as well has how beautiful it is. I considered buying one for several years and finally went for it in December 2020. Prior to my purchase, I watched all the marketing YouTube videos and memorized all the specifications. I was obsessed.”

Now that Heidi has been using her Fabricator to sew items for her business, Heidi West Designs, she knows she made the right choice in the Fabricator. “It’s an amazing sewing machine and I really love using it. When I was putting my Fabricator together, I must have watched the videos at least three or four times so I could put it together correctly. The videos were super helpful.”

Heidi sewing with fabricator
Heidi loves her Fabricator Deluxe Sewing Machine!

Sewing Beginnings & Creative Pursuits

Heidi learned to sew from her mother when she was 6 or 7 years old. By age 10, her mother had taught her how to read patterns, and Heidi was happily sewing clothes for her doll collection. “I didn’t sew too much in high school or college, but when I was pregnant with both of my kids, the sewing urge really hit me, so I started sewing simple things like bibs, swaddle blankets and hats. After that, I started really having fun making pouches. And then that grew into bags.”

Heidi is a DIYer at heart. The challenge of designing and constructing something of her unique vision and imagination is the mark of a creative spirit. The spark of creativity is something all DIYers have in common. “I love the challenge of trying to figure out how a particular bag or other item was made. I’m super fascinated by different construction methods in sewing. And there’s nothing better than having an idea pop into my head and then being able to create it.”

Heidi has a degree in fine arts with a focus in graphic design. These skills are evident in the quality and precision of her design work. “I also have a degree in interior design. I’ve always loved all parts of design, and I’ve always loved patterns. At the beginning of 2021, I started a year-long project that involves creating a new pattern each month for the 12 birth month flowers. It’s been such a valuable experience and has definitely pushed my design skills and style to a new level.”

flower of the month bags
Some of Heidi’s Flower of the Month collection. From top left: Violet (February), Lily of the Valley (May), Poppy (August) and Larkspur (July).

Transitioning from a corporate career to the freedom of a creative pursuit has been incredibly fulfilling for Heidi. “I absolutely love that I don’t have to attend pointless meetings anymore! Really though, when larger teams are involved, I feel like processes and policies can get in the way of delivering the customer what they really want in a timely manner. There have to be so many hoops to go through and since it’s just me in my business, I get to make superfast decisions and then execute them. I love it.”

Screen Printing: A Labor of Love

If you’re unfamiliar with the technique of screen printing a pattern onto fabric, you’re not alone. We asked Heidi the same question. Here’s how she describes her process from initial concept to finished printed fabric:

“The first part of my process is to draw a rough motif using my iPad and then finesse it and put it into a pattern using Adobe Illustrator on my Mac. After the pattern is created, I output transparencies to make the screens. The screen-making process took me several years to fine-tune, but now I have it down to a science. It involves coating the screens with emulsion in a darkroom and then exposing them to light using UV light table. Exact timing is crucial. I then wash them out with the perfect amount of water pressure. After the screens are made (one for each color in the pattern), I can start screen printing.”

screen printed fabrics
A close-up look at some of Heidi’s unique screen printed fabrics.

What Heidi loves most about the screen printing process is the depth to the craft. “It looks so much more handcrafted. I also just really love the process of making the screens and then getting the press all set up for printing. It definitely has serious challenges, but I guess that’s what keeps me coming back to it. Each new design I create requires me to think about how it’s going to work on press. I have to consider technicalities such as registration, how to minimize drying time between colors, and how I’m going to achieve the colors I want. Screen printing my own fabric really pushes me to use both sides of my brain and that’s what I love about it.” 

“Every day, I’m just so grateful to be able to use my creativity in my job. I spent over 20 years in jobs that weren’t fulfilling and didn’t inspire me. I just appreciate it so much now.” For all those DIYers and dreamers out there who are thinking of pursuing their own creative paths, Heidi has some advice to share: “Don’t wait until things are perfect to get started. Just start anywhere and refine and change things from there.”

If you’d like to see more of the unique goods Heidi is making with her Fabricator, you can follow her on Instagram at @heidiwestdesigns.

Heidi's store
Heidi’s store in her hometown of Portland, Oregon.

A Coat Above the Rest

What do a sheep farm in Pennsylvania, Sunbrella® binding and the Fabricator® Sewing Machine have in common? Heather Loomis. This creative DIYer uses her Fabricator machine to sew dog coats made from warm and protective wool felt. The wool comes from her very own sheep raised on her family farm. Learn more about Heather, her sheep, and how she got the idea to sew dog coats from their wool!

dog in coat
Heather’s dog, Fiat, is one happy and warm pup in her custom-made dog coat!

Down on the Farm

Heather and her husband, David, have owned, maintained and operated their farm, Bohlayer’s Orchards, for 16 years. They are the fifth generation to steward the land. Though there’s no such thing as a typical day in farm life, here’s what Heather shared with us regarding her daily routine: “Our days always begin and end with chores to feed and care for the animals.  The rest of our work is driven by the season and can include pruning the orchard, skirting wool fleeces, moving sheep to different pastures, making hay, harvesting fruit, packaging and shipping wool, and on and on!”

They harvest apples and pears and raise sheep on their 130-acre orchard and farm. “We have a flock of 70 Romeldale CVM sheep. The number can ebb and flow as we welcome new lambs each year and sell breeding stock or fiber sheep to other farms.” Romeldale CVM sheep are a breed of domestic sheep native to the United States. They are a very rare breed known for their unusual coloring.

heather with sheep
Here’s Heather with her Romeldale CVM sheep on her beautiful Pennsylvania farm.

The soft wool and unusual colors of the breed’s fleece are sought after by hand spinners to create high-quality wool yarn and roving. “They produce a soft (fine) wool in many different natural colors, including white, gray, brown and black.” Heather sells spun yarn and wool roving made from her sheep’s fleece. Turning the wool roving into water-resistant and insulated dog coats was a natural next step.

Dog Days of Winter

Where did Heather get the idea to sew dog coats from her sheep’s wool? “The idea for dog coats came out of a need to keep our own dogs warm and dry during cold and wet winter days. We knew the wool felt would be a perfect material for a dog coat. The wool would keep the dogs warm, and it naturally has some resistance to wet conditions.”

Heather learned to sew at a young age from her mother, a skilled seamstress and quilter. With her sewing background, she felt comfortable designing and creating the dog coats. “I spent time developing a pattern. As this project came together, [my husband and I] realized others were interested in having a coat made for their dog. I created prototypes in different sizes using our friends’ dogs as models to get the right fit and shape.” After months of designing, patterning and sewing, the dog coats were officially ready. Heather named her new side business A Woof In Sheep’s Clothing and began selling the dog coats seasonally at their farm store, at local festivals and on their farm’s website.

dog coats
No two dog coats are exactly the same, making these special coats truly one of a kind!

When Heather started prototyping and sewing early versions of the dog coats, she realized her home sewing machine wasn’t going to cut it. “Due to the thickness of the wool felt, a typical sewing machine struggled to handle the material. I began asking others for ideas and doing internet searches. Someone told me about Sailrite and I began to research the company’s website.”

Testing the Fabricator

Heather liked the look and features of the Fabricator, but she wasn’t certain it would sew through the thickness of the wool. Luckily, she used the Live Chat feature on the Sailrite website to message a customer service representative who had the perfect solution. “They suggested I send a sample of my material. I mailed a sample of the wool felt to Sailrite headquarters in Indiana. They quickly responded with videos of the Fabricator easily sewing through multiple layers of the felt. Their prompt customer service and quality products meant that I did not need to look any further!”

Heather has owned her Fabricator for a few years now and is just as happy with it as she was on day one. “The Fabricator has given me the opportunity to expand my product line on my own terms. Anything I can think of to sew is possible with the Fabricator, the accessories and the how-to videos. This machine has been worth every penny.”

fabricator
The Fabricator handles the thick wool felt and binding material beautifully.

The wool felt from her flock has inspired a lot of project ideas. In addition to dog coats, Heather also makes felt accessory bags, coasters, felt knitting project bags, hot water bottle covers, teapot cozies and cold drink koozies. The Fabricator has enabled Heather to increase her productivity and boost sales. “I can produce a complete coat in approximately an hour. If someone has a dog that doesn’t match one of our established sizes, I make a custom-sized coat for their dog.”

To give the dog coats a beautiful, professional look, Heather uses Sunbrella binding to finish the edges. And the coats attach with easy-to-position hook-and-loop tape (also known as Velcro®). Heather purchases all of the supplies needed to make the dog coats from Sailrite. “I searched Sailrite’s how-to videos to see how I could attach the binding. Any time I have a question about the Fabricator or its accessories (like the binder), I go directly to the video library and find what I am looking for. I always learn something and sometimes get new ideas! And any time I have a question about a product, I use the chat feature on the website and get a prompt and helpful response.”

The reaction from customers has been nothing but positive. “We have received rave reviews from customers and their pups! Customers are thrilled to finally have a coat that fits their dog well. Some told us that their otherwise anxious dog seems to enjoy the warm fit and often does not want the coat removed when they come back inside. Others express appreciation for their dogs staying dry in the snow and cold rains of winter as well as for the fact that the coats dry quickly.”

dog wearing coat

Producing wool products from her flock’s fleece serves more than just one purpose. “Part of what can help to save rare breeds is to find jobs for them to fulfill. Creating a demand for the wool of this beautiful, personable breed is important for their survival. We love to share with customers that their purchase of a rare breed wool product from our small family farm makes a difference.”

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Heather! We’re thrilled that Sailrite is part of your DIY journey and that your one-of-a-kind dog coats are bringing awareness to rare-breed sheep and helping with conservation efforts.

Leather Crafting With the Fabricator®

This is a story of changing circumstances, making the best of a bad situation, and venturing out in a new direction. It’s a story of finding your own path while paying tribute to where you came from and honoring those who taught you life’s greatest lessons. It’s also a story that’s becoming increasingly well-known and relatable to many.

Caleb Arthur was laid off from his job at a sheet metal factory in early 2020 due to circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. With time on his hands, he decided to revisit a dormant interest in leather crafting. Months after the layoff and with no call back to work, he decided to get serious about his leather crafting hobby and see if he could turn his leatherwork into a source of income.

As a beginner, he was hand stitching his leather goods. He quickly realized he needed something more efficient and productive if he was going to pursue leatherwork as a business. He needed a leather sewing machine. That’s when Caleb discovered Sailrite® and the Fabricator® Sewing Machine. With the quiet, energy-saving Workhorse® Servo Motor and the ability to sew one stitch at a time, the Fabricator delivered the precision and control Caleb was looking for. “I was attracted to the Fabricator’s wider throat for fitting larger projects through. I knew it was a heavy, solid machine and I had to have it.”

Caleb with Fabricator
Caleb with his Fabricator in his sewing studio. Photography by Marc Montes

With the addition of the Fabricator to his sewing studio, Caleb has been able to tackle bigger leather projects and dramatically speed up his productivity — a huge upgrade in more ways than one for a new business getting its feet off the ground. “What is so exciting to me now is the ability to take on projects that I never would have if I were solely hand stitching.” When he was hand stitching, small items like bifold wallets, skillet handle covers and passport holders could take hours to pattern and stitch. With the Fabricator, Caleb has added items like leather and waxed canvas tote bags to his product offerings. “I can now assemble the body of a tote in minutes as opposed to hours. The ability to dial in my stitch length and distance with the material guide keeps my stitches looking uniform.”

We sat down with Caleb to discuss his sewing roots, what DIY means to him, his leather crafting business and much more. Join us as we get to know this creative old soul and find out how the Fabricator has allowed him to greatly increase his productivity and stitch quality. When COVID-19 closed the door on his career, he found a window. And that window is even better than he could have imagined. Here’s Caleb’s story, in his own words.

Q. When and how did you learn to sew? Are you self-taught?

A. Since I was a baby, I have always been surrounded by sewing and the DIY lifestyle. I was co-raised by my grandparents, and my grandma always had her own separate sewing room where I spent a lot of my time. My grandma worked for a tiny little company called Eddie Bauer back when they still made their goods here in the United States. She was a seamstress for them and also repaired sailboat sails for a short period. The majority of my clothes were handmade by her as a kid. I never took an interest in sewing myself until recently. My grandpa had a workshop in the garage where I found more interest at the time. He built and fixed most things around the house, so I adapted that from him. I have always kind of lived by the motto of, “What would Grandpa do?”

Caleb with grandma sewing
Caleb keeps his grandmother company in her sewing room.

I would like to give a ton of credit and thanks to Ryan over at “Little King Goods.” I came across his videos and company via YouTube, and it is safe to say that I have learned so much about sewing and leather craft through his amazing videos. I don’t think I would have made the full plunge into leatherwork if it weren’t for his motivational and inspirational videos. He really made me feel like it was attainable for me. Super nice guy too. Thanks, Ryan! So, I’m self-taught but with great mentors.

Q. What type of leather goods do you make? 

A. Right now, I am focusing on making the best classic, functional leather goods I possibly can. Wallets are my most popular item, and I recently dove into the world of tote bags and guitar straps. I make field note covers and clutches for the ladies and gents. I’m really open to just challenging myself and trying a bit of everything. If I think it’s a good fit for my permanent catalog on my website, then I put it up. My theme or logo for my branding is that of the great outdoors, as I have a huge respect for nature. I feel so gifted and lucky to have spent most of my life in the state of Washington. While, yes, it is true about the constant rain, it just makes those clear sunny days even more special. We really know how to take advantage. Mount Rainier overlooks our amazing city of Tacoma and is a constant reminder of the power of Mother Nature. 

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Q. How did you get started in leatherwork?

A. My first dive into leatherwork was around five or six years ago when I was working as a merchant mariner. My wife (girlfriend at the time) had bought me a really nice leatherworking kit that included everything I needed to make a few very basic leather items — wallet, keychain, coin pouch. In my downtime on the ship, I would head down to the workshop and tinker away at making those items. I found much enjoyment from dying the leather and learning the basics of stamping and tooling. It was a nice way to pass the time as we would sail back and forth from California to Alaska, but it was a hobby I would not revisit until 2020.

Q. What do you love about leather crafting?

A. For me, leatherwork has become a form of stress relief. I find so much pleasure in creating and turning nothing into something. The entire process of working with leather — from the texture, the smell (OH THAT SMELL!), to the way you can form it into anything imaginable. I’m a bit of an old soul and I love the fact that leatherwork has been around for ages and has stood the test of time. I love the way that people are drawn to a classic, well-crafted leather good. To me it carries a bit of respect and class, and I believe that we should treat it as such. I always hold onto even the tiniest of scraps as I always find another purpose for them in a future project.

making a tote
Caleb patterns, cuts and assembles a tote bag using DuraWax™ Waxed Canvas from Sailrite. Photography by Marc Montes

Q. Do you consider yourself a creative person? 

A. I have always felt that I had a creative side to me but more so a strong desire to create. I’ve always wanted to make things with my hands, to be able to show something/anything to the world that I was proud of. With leather crafting, I fill that desire to create and share with the world. Creating my Etsy page and personal website was a huge moment for me, allowing the entire world to have access to my craft. I have received great feedback and the support has been amazing thus far. I would like to thank my customers for their support as I grow and improve.

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

DIY is pretty much my motto for most things. I learned from my seven years in the U.S. Navy that if you want something done right, it’s best to do it yourself. At home, my wife and I rarely hire outside work if we think it’s something we can take on, or at least learn ourselves. For one, it saves a ton of money; two, we get to learn and educate ourselves in the process; and, thirdly, there’s nothing like the sense of pride you get from taking on a project that you did yourself.  

Photography by Marc Montes

Q. What would you say is your design aesthetic with your leather goods?

A. I spent a lot of my childhood with my grandparents and I think it’s safe to say that I was taking mental notes of what my Grandpa Clyde had around and what he depended on, from his beat-up old Redwing work boots to his tool-stamped leather wallet to his belts. I try to make the best durable, made-to-last goods that I can that have a classic, old-fashioned look to them. Simple design, classic colors and built to last. I’m a big fan of natural earth tones.

Q. Is there a special meaning or significance to your business name, CAMP Leather Goods?

A. Yes! So my company, CAMP, has a few things going on — one being my obvious passion for camping and nature and wanting to make goods geared toward outdoor use. But it started off with me wanting to incorporate my initials, CA (Caleb Arthur), into the name. While I was driving around town one day, I was thinking of my Grandpa Clyde who passed away a couple years ago. He was really my greatest mentor and I observed him build and create my whole life; he was truly an exceptional man. My Grandpa never once called me by my birth name but instead chose “Mutty” for my name. He gave all of us grandkids a sort of nickname, so I became “Mutt,” or “Mutty” or “Old Man Mutt.” As I feel that I am still striving to make him proud, I created an acronym for CAMP that has a more personal meaning for me, and that is the “Clyde And Mutty Project.” It’s my way of keeping his spirit alive with every product I put out.

caleb sewing waxed canvas
Photography by Marc Montes

Q. Is there anything you’d like our readers to know about you, your business or your DIY philosophy?

A. While at the end of the day I am a crafter/leatherworker, I hope to inspire anyone who may feel like they are struggling to find their drive or passion. I have spent a lot of time waiting for the answers to land in my lap, and I can tell you that has been wasted time. If you want something, or you want to be something, study the craft, make those mistakes — make big ones! That is the only way we are going to learn and improve. Ask questions; ask for help! Adapt the notion that failure or giving up simply is not an option. Don’t be held back with the idea of, “What if this doesn’t succeed?” Instead, take on the action of, “What do I need to do now to make this succeed?” Define what success is and what it looks like to you.

One last thing: I would like to thank my beautiful wife, Katie, and the recent mother of our newborn, Lincoln. Without her support, I would be working a job that I couldn’t stand, always wanting something else. She motivates me and supports me in doing what makes me happy and I absolutely adore her for that. When the busy holiday rush of orders hit, she was right next to me cutting leather staying caught up. I really hit the jackpot with her!

Caleb and Katie
Caleb and Katie at their home in Tacoma, Washington. Photography by Marc Montes

Congratulations on turning your dream into a reality, Caleb! We’re so thrilled that Sailrite and the Fabricator could be part of your DIY journey. Keep on creating!

If you’d like to follow Caleb on Instagram and see what he’s making with his Fabricator, you can follow him at @campleathergoods.

One Stitch at a Time

In recent years, the market for handcrafted projects has skyrocketed and so has the support for the crafter community. Because we’re a small business as well as a one-stop shop for all things sewing, we know this community well. Jo Yee Yap is a budding professional sewist brimming with creativity and a can-do spirit. Although she hasn’t been sewing for long, she’s already created a number of impressive projects and caught our attention. Together with her Sailrite® Fabricator® Sewing Machine, Jo is proof that anybody with an eye for ingenuity can become a maker. 

Jo and one of her custom creations.

Jo’s introduction into the world of custom leather crafting began with a simple project. She explained that she first had the urge to learn how to make a canvas tote bag and signed up for a local sewing class. After the class, she was inspired to see what else she could create. She then began attending regular sewing classes, watching sewing videos on YouTube, and reading books on beginner sewing techniques. “I am inspired by the countless designs of bag styles, and I believe that your own bag has the power to define and describe your personality. This led to a desire to create my own timeless designs out of durable goods and further develop my sewing skills.”

But how did this crafting curiosity lead her to Sailrite? Well, that, too, started with a simple sewing class. “At a sewing class I attended at the Klum House in Portland, Oregon, I had the opportunity to test out sewing leather on a Sailrite Fabricator versus a Juki industrial machine. The main reason why the Sailrite Fabricator stood out to me as the clear winner was because of the great slow speed control. After that class, I decided to research more about the Fabricator and made the investment. As I’m relatively new to sewing, I was nervous about setting up the machine. However, Sailrite had clear, easy and concise steps, and the variety of video tutorials on their YouTube page really served as an added bonus.”

The stitch-by-stitch power of the Fabricator makes it ideal for sewing bags.

“I have been able to create such unique projects with the Sailrite Fabricator! The stitch-by-stitch power is something that should not be underestimated. Sailrite also offers a unique leather foot to ensure that your leather is protected from any marks that could be caused during sewing. What I love most about Sailrite as a company is that they always prioritize customers first. The customer service is as great as it gets. I’ve always had my questions answered, and I’ve always received guidance on my troubleshooting issues on my machine almost immediately by members of the Sailrite team.”

“Currently I sew projects for myself, friends and family. Some of my most recent projects include a leather tote bag and a wallet. I hope to one day launch my own business and join the dynamic community of local makers in the greater Seattle area. I look forward to continuing my journey in leathercraft and defining my voice in the makerspace. I look forward to introducing new bag designs in the near future.”

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But with all these projects on the horizon, we wanted to know what Jo enjoyed most about the makers’ lifestyle and what factors she considered to be the most difficult. “My favorite part of this unique lifestyle is the endless possibilities and designs you can create. Innovation is a fundamental concept for us as creators, and it is what gets me excited to continue to build upon my skills in the realm of leather crafting.”

It’s no secret that the DIY process is rife with trial and error until you achieve the perfect project, and it’s always beneficial for crafters to share their experiences with one another. When asked about what advice she would give to the budding DIYer, Jo had some thoughts to share with us. “Take risks and have the drive to always learn. For one successful bag design comes many trial prototypes and errors. Passion and perseverance are two key skills for emerging crafters. I also recommend cultivating a network of local crafters so you can learn from one another.” 

All you need is a little imagination and a great sewing machine!

If we learned one thing from Jo, it’s that the DIY spirit doesn’t have a time limit. If you have the desire to create, there’s no time like the present to embark on that dream project. It doesn’t matter if you dream of sewing your first stitch or you’ve been sewing for years, Sailrite is here to help you every step of the way. With our support behind you and the support of crafters in the DIY community, the only limit to your success is your imagination! 

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The Art of Working With Leather

Few people start a business in their retirement, but that’s exactly what Sailrite® customer Varoujean Tilbian did. After a lifelong career in photography, graphic design and digital printing, he turned his creative eye toward leatherwork as a way to remember his father, a lifelong leather craftsman. In his retirement he’s busier than ever sewing handmade leather goods, running his own small business, and passing his family’s leather legacy onto his grandson. This is a story of family, fortitude and the power of perseverance.

A Family History of Leathercrafting

The art of leatherworking is ancient and storied. For Varoujean, leather’s significance is woven throughout his family history and played an important role in his upbringing. “I grew up under my father’s tutelage. From the age of 4 until I was 16, every day after school I went to his shop where he taught me everything I now know about leatherwork. Over time, I observed his dexterity and skill, but it never occurred to me that, someday, I would put those skills to use.” Originally from Armenia, both Varoujean’s father and grandfather had leathercrafting businesses. His grandfather had a small shoemaking shop in Western Armenia, which is today known as Turkey. 

Varoujean Tilbian
Varoujean Tilbian

Varoujean’s father, Avedis, eventually settled in Ethiopia where the family experienced both highs and lows but persevered through it all. At 27, Varoujean’s father started making leather shoes and established his own factory where he manufactured handmade shoes for men and women. When the Italian fascist regime infiltrated Ethiopia, the family fled to Somaliland. Once it was safe to return, Avedis opened a leather shoemaking factory where he specialized in high-end women’s footwear. 

When Varoujean was 10, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. To cover the medical expenses, Avedis sold his business and all his assets. His wife recovered, but the family was completely bankrupt. Not one to give up, Avedis went to a flea market and bought an old, dilapidated English riding saddle. “He took it apart to study how it was made,” Varoujean recalled. “Since it did not require machinery and a big investment, he started making saddles and anything else you can imagine with leather.”

Although Varoujean chose a different career path than his father and grandfather, he remained a hardworking provider for his family. He got into photography at a young age thanks to his love of nature and animals. In Ethiopia, he worked for a printing company in the photo reproduction department to support his parents. Varoujean says his father was not upset that he didn’t follow in his footsteps. “My father and mother were the kind of people that let us choose our own path. My father always said, ‘Learn a skill or a craft. You will never be rich, but you will never be hungry.’”

Leather goods
Purses, wallets and other leather goods, and a look at Varoujean’s workshop.

Continuing a Legacy

Leathercrafting is more than a hobby or a way to keep busy post-retirement. For Varoujean, working with leather is the bridge that connects him to his father and his childhood. In fact, it seems as if he was always destined to be a leathercrafter — like it was stitched into his DNA. “As I work with leather in my workshop, I feel as if my father is next to me, watching my work and smiling. There are times when I am cutting leather, I look at my hands and fingers and realize they look just like his hands. After all these years, I am delighted to be reconnected with him at this age and period of my life”

His first leather project was to recreate a decades-old gun holster. His father-in-law was a naval aircraft carrier pilot during World War II, flying 28 missions in the Pacific theater. During his missions, he carried a military-issued 38 special pistol with a fitted gun holster. “On his 94th birthday, my wife and I went to celebrate with him. It was on this occasion that I found out how worn-out his beautiful gun holster had become. As I began to work on the holster, I was astonished how — after six decades — I remembered how to work with leather. I remembered the many meaningful hours I spent with my father in his shop.”

leather gun holster
The new gun holster that Varoujean made for his father-in-law’s WWII pistol.

The Search for the Perfect Sewing Machine

To sew beautiful leather goods with care and precision, Varoujean knew he would need a sewing machine that was up to the challenge. On a leatherworker’s online forum, he received advice from other leatherworkers who emphasized the need for a walking foot sewing machine. While on the hunt for the right one, he found the Sailrite website. “With the help of your videos and blogs, I was convinced that the Fabricator® was the right machine. Added to its great functionality, the price was perfect and less than other comparable ones.”

fabricator
Varoujean’s Fabricator set up in his leather workshop and ready for some sewing.

His Fabricator Sewing Machine has helped him reinforce the quality and beauty of his handmade leather goods. He uses the machine to sew everything from wallets and belts to tote bags, holsters and more. When asked what he enjoys most about working with leather, he had this to say: “What I love best is that from just a flat hide I create something of beauty, and that gives me great joy.” Varoujean has started teaching his grandson the art of leatherworking. He also goes to local elementary schools to introduce the students to the time-honored trade. 

Over a year and a half later, he’s still happy with his choice of sewing machine. “The Fabricator is an amazing machine. At first, when I had some issues, the calls I made were very helpful, which proved you stand behind your machine with service.” Recently, Varoujean started offering customizable tote bags where shoppers can select their own Sunbrella® fabric, purchased from Sailrite, and then choose their leather trim color and number of pockets.

sunbrella totes with leather trim
A selection of custom Sunbrella tote bags with leather trim.

 After three years on this path, he’s still enjoying his new pursuit and the memories it brings him. Varoujean named his business after his father as a way of honoring him and thanking him for teaching his young son the art of leathercrafting. “Avedis means ‘Good News’ in Armenian,” he explained. “It’s a name traditionally given to boys born on January 6, the day the Three Kings traveled to witness the birth of Jesus and receive the ‘good news.’” Varoujean will always carry a part of his father with him, whether through the leather he works with, the name of his business, or in the blood that runs through his veins. Remembering the past, finding solace and gratitude in the teachings of our fathers — that is good news, indeed.