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.

Boat Bengal: Andrew, Jazz & Captain

We all love our pets, and we often wish we could take them everywhere. But can you imagine taking them along to circumnavigate the open ocean? Andrew and Jazz might seem like your average sailing couple, but they have a unique sailing companion — their Bengal cat, Captain! The two have been happily sailing on their boat, Villa Veritas, for some time now. We wanted to know what it’s like to sail with a furry companion and see if this enterprising crew had any advice to offer new sailors or budding DIYers.

Humble Beginnings 

The couple that sails together, stays together! Jazz first experienced sailing as a child on her uncle’s monohull in the Canadian San Juan Islands. In high school, as an exchange student on the coast of Spain, she joined a local sailing team and learned to handle small boats. Once in college, she made friends at the yacht club and went out for races when she could. In her adult life, Jazz went on to travel through Asia, helping crew a handmade 32-foot boat from Bali through Borneo and Singapore. 

Andrew had gone sailing a few times as a kid, and then he took classes with the American Sailing Association in San Francisco when he married Jazz. Together the two crew a 1993 Prout Snowgoose Elite 37 named Villa Veritas after their last name. It’s the first boat that either of them has owned and the first catamaran that they’ve sailed, not counting vacation ride-alongs. The two moved onto their boat full time in October 2018, and have been blissfully sailing the open ocean ever since. They’ve traveled from the southern United States, through the Bahamas and the Caribbean, and even to locations like Saint Kitts and Saint Vincent. They’ve even documented the ins and outs of their journey on their sailing blog.

Villa Veritas, a floating home!

So how did Captain, the beautiful Bengal cat, join the crew? “We met Captain in Savannah, Georgia. He joined us full time in November when he reached three months old. We’d waited to get a cat until we had the boat because, supposedly, kittens will always adapt to a boat while older cats may never get over seasickness. Captain doesn’t always like it when the boat moves, especially when the engine is on. But aside from the death glares, he doesn’t seem to have any other problems, and he’s good about staying inside when we’re underway. At anchor he keeps a good watch, often from the top of the boom. One time a pelican (bigger than he is) landed on the front of the starboard bow, and after chasing it off, Captain now patrols that spot daily.”

Sewing & Sailing

If you’re familiar with the sailing world, you also know that it pays to be a sewist in order to make much-needed repairs and other marine DIY projects. Much like sailing, Jazz’s sewing experience began at a young age. She received needles and thread in daycare and crafted new outfits for the resident dolls. Her mother and grandmother also sewed, encouraging her craftsmanship. For Andrew, things were a bit different. When Jazz started a cockpit enclosure project but got sick halfway through, it was up to him to learn the ropes. So he began watching Sailrite® videos and kept charge of their sewing machine — the Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LSZ-1.

But how exactly did these intrepid travelers hear about Sailrite? Andrew was kind enough to share. “We learned about Sailrite from another devoted fan and sailor who insisted that a sewing machine was a necessary piece of offshore safety gear. After breaking a borrowed home sewing machine on a relatively minor project, we decided that a more expensive but dependable machine actually had a pretty short payback period. We went with the LSZ-1 because we wanted to work on sails. Actually, we justified the purchase when we priced out a new asymmetrical spinnaker versus a machine and a custom spinnaker kit from Sailrite.”

The Ultrafeed — loved by sailors and cats alike!

When it comes to sewing with the Ultrafeed LSZ-1, a circumnavigator’s work is almost never done. Not only that, but the majority of the repair work on a boat must be completed right away if one wants to continue sailing. Andrew and Jazz have completed their fair share of projects using the machine, with Captain’s help of course. One of their largest projects, and one that they are most proud of, is their spinnaker. Before the crew left the United States, they purchased a Sailrite spinnaker kit that they would later sew themselves. Captain had a part to play as entertainment and moral support. Since acquiring their Ultrafeed, they’ve crafted many projects including:

  • Cockpit Enclosure
  • Mainsail repair
  • Reflective/insulated covers for the boat windows
  • Winch covers
  • Outdoor bags
  • Grill cover

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But the Sailrite supplies don’t stop there! Andrew explained, “After borrowing two different friends’ hotknives for embarrassingly long times ‘because we’re almost done with projects,’ we finally got our own Edge Hotknife. It has a bit of a learning curve to cut cleanly…but we use it all the time, and even our friend’s 12-year-old was able to figure it out without any scorch marks. Everything else has been materials — Sunbrella® fabric, awning rope, zippers and a shockingly large number of snaps.” 

The projects on a liveaboard usually always continue as the time and nautical miles go by, so we were curious what Andrew and Jazz planned to sew in the future. 

Andrew: “There are so many more projects — replacing some covers that just weren’t made to sit in the sun, replacing the failing zipper on our stack pack (actually, replacing failing zippers has been a pretty regular project), adding some patches and chafe guards to the high-wear areas of our dinghy chaps, a more robust, water-resistant bag for our spinnaker so we can store it outside, and adding stainless steel seizing wire to the nose area of all the masks we’ve bought for the COVID era so they’ll fit properly without steaming up sunglasses and still be washable.”

Jazz: “It’s just a slow process of replacing everything on the boat with Sunbrella.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sage Advice

There’s no doubt that Andrew, Jazz and Captain have a treasure trove of sailing experience. But what do they think is the most rewarding (and most difficult) part of the sailing and DIY lifestyle? “The most rewarding is when you make things yourself. When you know how it was done, why all the hard decisions were made, and just how trustworthy the work is. The biggest surprise about sailing has been how difficult it has been to pay for work to be done to our DIY standards. We do almost all of our own work because we can be sure of the results, even if it takes us a couple of tries. When we needed to run from hurricane Gonzalo, we hadn’t fixed our tack yet, so we had to sail with a reef in. But our neighbor boat was waiting for their sails to be finished by a shop, which had closed for the weekend, and so they had no choice but to tie down and stay put. In this sense, having this machine aboard is a huge boon for our safety — we never have to take the sails off our boat and depend on someone else’s timeline.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This crew of accomplished voyagers was kind enough to offer advice to anyone who wants to start sailing and sewing. “Just start. You can do this for literally any amount of money, only your comfort level changes. Your projects aren’t going to be perfect the first time, but the only way to get it right is to start trying and see what goes wrong. Just about every successful project on our boat is version two or version three.” 

Andrew and Jazz are proof that the liveaboard lifestyle is always within reach — it simply requires a little tenacity, imagination and ingenuity. We can’t wait to see what other adventures this colorful crew will embark on in the future. And we’re honored that Sailrite could be part of their DIY journey as well. If you’d like to keep up with the Veritas family, you can check out their blog at andrewandjazz.com. Happy sailing!