A Fabricator® + a Flock of Chickens = Un-egg-spected Success

Which came first, the chicken or the coop? For Genelle Hitchman, it was a flock of chickens — which led to a unique wagon-style coop that would change her life.

Genelle and her husband, Todd, are die-hard DIYers with a 10-acre homestead in Texas. Aptly named Hitchman Homestead, the land hosts not only the family’s home, but a thriving business building pioneer-style wagons tailored for different uses. Genelle sews the bonnets (fabric tops) for these wagons with her Fabricator® sewing machine and other Sailrite® materials.

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Such a unique business must be the result of thorough planning, right? Well, not quite. Genelle and Todd never intended to start a covered wagon business. Instead, it was a surprise that came from Genelle’s dream of owning chickens. 

“Growing up, my grandfather had a garden and chickens. I have happy memories of collecting fresh eggs from his small coop. I have always wanted a garden and chickens of my own, but it was always just out of reach.”

Before moving to Texas, the Hitchman family lived in a crowded California city. They weren’t able to build the self-sustaining lifestyle they wanted there. “When we bought our home together in California on a tiny lot (so little room for gardening), our city had many restrictions on ‘homesteading’ activities — so chickens … were a no-go,” Genelle remembered. 

In addition, the couple’s demanding jobs left them burned out. They didn’t get much free time to spend with each other or their seven children. After years of nonstop stress, they’d had enough. “We decided that we wanted to stop ‘living to work’ and start ‘working to live.’” 

Genelle and Todd knew they’d have to completely overhaul their lives to become homesteaders. But they were so ready for a change that they threw themselves into the prep with a will. “We started planning a year ahead of time,” Genelle said. “We wound down our careers in California. I learned homesteading skills. We had to find a suitable area and property.”

Their property search took them to the wide-open spaces of the Texas Hill Country over a long weekend. “We went with the intention of just getting an idea of the area, but found our dream homestead on day two of our trip. We were signing purchase contracts as we boarded the plane home!” Genelle told us.

After the perfect property fell into their laps, Genelle and Todd knew their move was meant to be. The family settled in Texas in 2018 and spent the next few years setting up their homestead. It now includes chickens and goats, a garden, a composting system, and much more. 

The Wagon Business Gets Rolling

The homestead’s chicken flock was the inspiration for the first wagon Genelle and Todd made. Genelle told us that she and Todd were watching the chickens one day when Todd said, “Boy, I sure do like having chickens, but it’s a shame their stuff is so ugly.” The store-bought coop and run the chickens had at the time didn’t fit with the homestead’s décor.

Todd decided to change that. “The next day, I awoke at [3 a.m.] to find him at his drafting table,” Genelle said. Todd showed her a sketch of a coop modeled after a covered wagon and asked, “Wouldn’t you rather see this in the yard?”

A wagon-style chicken coop.
The Cluck Wagon was the perfect coop upgrade for the Hitchman flock.

Why a covered wagon? Genelle told us that “Todd has always been a fan of Old West movies. He … often pauses shows to get a closer look at wagon details. Anytime we see an antique wagon, we stop and look. There’s a lot of wagon art in our house.” 

Genelle agreed that a wagon-style chicken coop would fit right in with the homestead. The “Cluck Wagon” came together over the next few weeks. Todd built the wagon while Genelle sewed a suitable bonnet from a hardware store drop cloth. 

Once the wagon was ready, the flock moved into its new home. “It was adorable,” Genelle gushed. “I took some pretty photos. … I shared my photos on Facebook in my chicken groups. Overnight, my photos went semi-viral. I woke up to about 6,000 likes and shares, and an inbox full of messages [like], ‘That is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, I want one!’”

From there, the unintentional business took off. “We built a few wagon-coops delivered more or less locally and then started getting requests. ‘I don’t have chickens, can you just do the wagon?’ ‘Can you make it a farmstand?’ ‘Can you make it into a kid’s bed?’ So we did!” Genelle said.

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Frontier Sewing With the Fabricator

The demand for custom wagons led Genelle to Sailrite in early 2023. At the same time, she realized that her home machine wasn’t strong enough to sew wagon bonnets. “We’ve been … progressively getting more elaborate and authentic with the bonnet canvas,” she told us. “Early this year, I had really been struggling … getting the heavy wagon bonnet canvas through [my small machine].”

But then, a customer asked for something even sturdier than the canvas Genelle was using. “We took on a build where the client … wanted a waterproof [marine grade] fabric, which I found on the Sailrite site. After ordering a sample, I concluded that my current machine was not suited for this fabric.”

Luckily, the solution wasn’t far away. “Sailrite … carried the industrial machines I would need to work at this level.” After comparing her options, Genelle decided on the Fabricator. When we asked for her thoughts on the machine, she described it in two words: “Game changer.”

The Fabricator has revolutionized Genelle’s work. “Going from a budget, old home sewing machine to a top-of-the-line industrial beast took some getting used to. … Now that I have a few projects under my belt — I LOVE IT. Using the Fabricator has cut my bonnet construction time in half. I am also very proud of the quality of my bonnets now, and I know they will hold up and look professional.” 

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Genelle has been back to Sailrite several times for other supplies and project help. “Sailrite has been amazing from the beginning,” she said. “It’s so much more than just a supplier. The videos and guides are wonderful tools for me to learn as I work with new materials and my new Fabricator machine.” 

Genelle’s Fabricator has allowed her to customize each bonnet to the wagon’s planned use. “Our wagons are not antique restorations. They are new builds, intended to look like an antique wagon but useful for modern purposes,” she explained. For example, many customers have ordered wagons as vendor stalls. However, the fully enclosed bonnets that authentic frontier wagons had wouldn’t work for this purpose.

True to her self-reliant nature, Genelle used her Fabricator to come up with a solution. “I have created our own stylized bonnets (with Sailrite fabric!) that … still look the part without being ‘authentic’ covers.” 

The Fabricator also gets to sew a huge range of other projects on the homestead. Genelle has been sewing since childhood. “My mother taught me the basics of sewing at about 10 years old,” she told us. “I was a very small child — and as a teen, when my fashion sense began to develop ahead of my growth, I loved that I could make fashionable clothing in my size.”

Her passion for the craft has only grown since then, and she has plenty of ideas for DIYs. “I still sew anything and everything. Recently, I have been repurposing our burlap green coffee bags into rustic farmhouse Christmas decorations … I alter clothing. I sew a lot of accessories for our wagon builds — wheel skirting, sink skirting, basket lining … anywhere there needs to be a ‘touch of textile’ to finish the look. My favorite projects have always been costumes.”

The freedom that drew her to homesteading is also one of her favorite things about sewing and her DIY lifestyle. “Our only limitation is our willingness to do anything,” she explained. “We can build, do and produce whatever we want with almost no restrictions.”

Advice for Building a DIY Business

The Hitchmans’ business is the true fulfillment of their years of dreaming. “As we were planning our move years ago, we had a conversation that went: ‘If you could do anything, what would you do?’” Genelle’s answer was raising chickens. Todd said he wanted to make art. As it turned out, their wagon- and coop-building business includes both of these passions.

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“When we came [to Texas], we didn’t anticipate the direction things would take! If you’d have told me six years ago, ‘Hey, you’re going to build pioneer wagons for a living,’ I’d have thought you [were] crazy. But here we are,” Genelle said. “It’s really awesome to see our hearts’ desire become tangible and to make a living doing something we both love.”

We asked Genelle what she would say to someone looking to quit a restrictive job and start a DIY business like she did. She gave this advice:

“Get out and get involved in your local farmers market or maker/crafter community. Even if you can’t get a booth [or] table yet, go look and learn. See what people are buying. What do they want? What are they not buying? What isn’t being offered? Look at price points. Displays. What would you want to see as a buyer? None of this costs anything.

“Then start small. Use what you have. Do a thing, sell a thing. … Listen to your customers. Improve the thing. Sell another thing. Repeat.”

Genelle and Todd have certainly proven that this process works. And with big plans for Hitchman Homestead’s future, we know that they’ll continue DIYing their dreams. If you’d like to check out more wagon builds and see what Genelle is making with her Fabricator, you can follow her on Instagram at @hitchmanhomestead.

Genelle, thank you for sharing your story and for your encouraging advice. We’re delighted that the Fabricator and other Sailrite products are helping you achieve such great success! We wish Hitchman Homestead nothing but the best in the future.

 

Who We Are

Sailrite is your one-stop DIY shop! We are a passionate crew of do-it-yourselfers who strive to equip you with the supplies and how-to knowledge you need to tackle your next project. Do you want to learn upholstery, leatherwork, canvaswork, hobby sewing, bag making or more? We have the fabric, tools, hardware, sewing machines and notions you need to master any DIY. And even if you’ve never sewn before, our tutorials and how-to videos are designed for beginners and experienced crafters alike.

Start your DIY journey today: www.sailrite.com

Lessons in Leather: Turning a Career Setback Into DIY Success

On Christmas Day in 2019, Chris Ferrie unwrapped a starter leather craft tool kit. He wanted to try leatherworking as a hobby, and he didn’t waste any time once the tools were in his hands. He started with a simple project in January 2020. “It was a small belt loop I had put on an already-made pouch. That was the first time I had ever sewn leather,” he said.

Despite the humble scale of his project, Chris couldn’t wait to show it off. “I showed [it to my dad] as soon as I made it! I was so proud,” he told us. His father was equally proud and saw Chris’ potential right away. “I remember showing him [the belt loop] — which was truly terrible — and all he said to me was, ‘You should start a business!’”

But Chris was just having fun learning. In his words, “I was addicted to my new set of leatherworking tools.” He looked around his house for another need that he could address with a leather item. He soon found the perfect candidate.

One of Chris' first leather projects was an axe sheath.
This axe sheath led the way for Chris’ later leather projects.

“I had an old axe that had its sheath fall apart, so I figured I’d just make another one. I got some terrible old couch leather that I cut with a penknife and punched the stitching holes with a fork and a [cheap] camping mallet. Needless to say, it definitely wasn’t my finest work, but from that moment on I was hooked.”

After this second project, Chris realized that his dad was right about starting a business. “I knew I had found my true calling and strived every day to be better and work as hard as I could to make my passion my career,” he said. He had no way of knowing that his little leather tool kit was about to become more valuable than he could ever guess — or that a Sailrite® sewing machine would help him achieve incredible success.

Switching Gears in His Career

After the holidays were over, Chris was still fired up about leather crafting — but he had a full-time job that he was equally excited to get back to.

The Scotland native worked as a folk musician — something he had been passionate about since childhood. “I started playing Scottish folk music when I was six,” he said. “Very quickly that became the foundation of my childhood. I would spend my weekends going to music schools and would spend my holidays at music tuition camps. I eventually studied Scottish folk music at university and went on to be a professional musician.”

He taught at local schools and performed onstage several times a year. But when the United Kingdom started going on lockdown because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in March 2020, Chris’ career abruptly ended.

Although devastated by the unexpected loss of the career he’d cherished for nearly a decade, Chris looked at his new free time as an opportunity to improve his leather crafting skills. It was time for him to test his resolve to start a business.

First, he had to learn more about the tools and techniques of the trade. For this self-starter, experience was definitely the best teacher. “I kind of just learned by doing,” he said. “You make one project, and you get the itch to go again and be better next time. I’d watch a lot of YouTube videos on how to work leather in general, sewing included.”

Once he had the basics down, Chris began designing pieces of his own. He started with wallets. “It took a while,” he said. “I remember my first wallets couldn’t even fit a credit card. But with time, my skills grew, and I finally had a product that I was proud of and felt was worthy of selling.”

With a few viable designs in hand, Chris officially launched a leatherworking business in June 2020 — just three months after saying farewell to his music career. His lineup of artisanal leather goods includes wallets, bags, belts, trays and other accessories.

Scottish Heritage in Leather Heirlooms

Chris named his business Orraman Leather. The title has a lot of significance for him: “Here in Scotland, we have three recognized national languages: English, Scots and Gaelic. ‘Orraman’ itself is a Scots word essentially meaning ‘handyman,’ ‘odd job man.’ [It’s] someone who could do more than one thing — a jack of all trades. I felt this name perfectly tied my previous life as a musician, my love for Scottish heritage … and my new passion in leather craft.”

Designing and hand-making leather goods turned out to be the perfect new direction for Chris’ work life. “[It] is by far the most fulfilling creative outlet I have ever come across,” he told us. “To have the raw materials of just leather and thread … that after a little time, passion and hard work become a tangible item that’s not only useful, but beautiful and heirloom quality, is incredible.”

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Other leather crafters can echo that sentiment. But what sets Chris’ work apart from the crowd is the deep cultural pride he infuses into every piece he makes. “Scottish heritage and culture have just been massive parts of my whole life. … I am very proud of being Scottish. As such it was important to me that, when you thought of Orraman, you thought of Scotland,” he said.

The business name isn’t the only way you’ll see Scotland in Chris’ work, however. Each leather piece represents the country in name, design and materials. “I use a lot of Scottish tartan in my work, and my products are named after places in Scotland that are special to me.”

Most sewers recognize tartan when they see it. The fabric’s pattern of crisscrossing bands is well-known in the textile world. But did you know that different tartans represent different clans (or families) and other notable groups? According to Chris, belonging to a clan is a major point of pride for many Scots.

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“I get a lot of requests to put an individual’s family tartan into their wallet. It is an incredible honor to get to work with tartan … a material that has such a rich history and will be truly valued by its owner.”

Scotland’s geography also plays a major role in Chris’ designs. He told us that he “wanted the angles and curves of [his] wallets to reflect the Scottish landscape.”

“That is probably best seen in my Clach wallet — a wallet I designed for my late father, who was a geologist,” Chris said. “He was my biggest fan and a big reason why Orraman exists today … The angles of the wallet reflect the vast mountain ranges of the Highlands of Scotland, where [my dad] was from, and the name ‘Clach’ means ‘rock’ in Gaelic.”

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Sadly, Chris’ father passed away shortly after Orraman Leather’s debut. The Clach wallet lives on as a testament to his belief in his son’s talent.

Designing his own leather goods was one of the major challenges that Chris faced when he became a business owner. Another big challenge was scaling the fledgling business — and he turned to Sailrite to accomplish this important task.

Growing With the Fabricator

Chris started out sewing all his leather goods by hand. But as he got the word out about his shop, orders started flooding in and he couldn’t keep up with demand. He realized he needed a reliable leather sewing machine — and fast.

His search for the perfect machine led him to Sailrite in late 2022. “I started asking my friends about sewing machines they recommended, and every single one of them said I should check out [Sailrite],” he said. “I then checked out reviews of [Sailrite] products on YouTube, and every single review I came across was 11 out of 10.”

Chris chose the Sailrite® Fabricator® Sewing Machine for its power and strength. “The Fabricator is an excellent machine, no question — a workhorse that just gets the job done professionally, time and again.” The Fabricator easily sews up to 20-ounce leather and can run all day, making it the ideal machine for a job shop like Orraman Leather.

Chris using his Fabricator to sew a zipper into a leather panel.
Sewing a zipper into leather is no problem for the Fabricator.

But the machine wasn’t the only thing that impressed Chris. What he calls “the genius of Sailrite” is the excellent customer support that all Sailrite products come with.

“Most leatherworkers start in the same way I did. You mess around with a small project and fall in love. … You start your business, but … your business gets away from you very quickly and you need to scale properly. An industrial sewing machine is great for this, but most of us have never used a sewing machine before.

“[Sailrite understands] that rookies might be using [their] machines to learn on, so [they] make in-depth YouTube videos for EVERYTHING! It’s incredible. … [Sailrite] made it as user-friendly as [they] possibly could to ensure that people can just get on with their jobs and their craft.”

Chris takes full advantage of Sailrite’s free video library, especially when it comes to his sewing machine. “I have watched pretty much every single video on the Fabricator and the parts of the Fabricator. It’s an incredible machine that I am very confident using now, thanks to Sailrite’s in-depth videos.”

As far as Chris is concerned, quality is Sailrite’s calling card. His excellent experience with the Fabricator encouraged him to shop Sailrite for his other supply needs. “I have bought a [ton] of hand tools as well as sewing machine parts and oil from Sailrite, and moving forward I will be buying a [ton] more tools and materials from Sailrite!” he said.

“What keeps me coming back? I work 100 hours a week, easy. Most of that time is spent crafting, and you absolutely don’t want to be messing around with poor-quality tools. … They have to be next-level quality, and Sailrite hit the nail on the head there.”

Advice for DIYers With a Dream

Although losing his job as a musician during the COVID-19 pandemic was a tough blow, Chris used it as an opportunity to branch out. Orraman Leather has become more rewarding than he ever imagined — especially since he added his Fabricator to his workshop.

He said, “I love working with my hands. Every day I get to do what I love, which is an incredible honor. Owning a small business is incredible too. To watch it grow after [my] hard work is incredibly fulfilling.”

The Fabricator and other quality Sailrite tools not only help Chris keep up with orders, but they have also cleared the way for exciting improvements in his business — including a recent partnership with master kilt maker MacGregor and MacDuff. Chris also shared that Orraman will soon be moving from his small home-based studio to a larger workspace to accommodate even more sales and inventory growth.

Chris' leather workshop.
Orraman Leather is quickly outgrowing Chris’ small home workshop.

Chris has learned a lot about running a handmade leather business over the years. When we asked him about the most important lesson he’s learned, he said this: “Find the leather you like and want to work a lot of. All leathers are tanned differently, and as such, cut and work differently. I can’t stress enough how much better you become at your craft if you stick to one material and learn everything about it.”

That’s great advice for aspiring leatherworkers — and it wasn’t the only advice Chris had. “Remember why you craft in the first place,” he said. “You craft for the enjoyment of it. If you want to get into leather craft, go for it! Don’t wait, just get into it! If it turns into a business, amazing; if not and you just get a fun hobby out of it, also amazing!”

For those who would love to start or grow their own business, Chris explained what helped him start making sales: spreading the word about his work.

“I think the biggest challenge anyone will face when starting their business is getting the word out that you actually exist. I really struggled with that in the beginning, but social media is your friend here. Get your work everywhere you can. … People won’t know you exist unless you introduce yourself. The reality is you might message 50 people, and no one responds. But don’t get defeated because number 51 could change your life.”

He noted that the process isn’t instant, but it’s possible with persistence. “It’s just a matter of time. Just be patient, keep your head down and don’t let anyone outwork you. You got this.”

Chris, thank you for sharing how you used an obstacle as an opportunity to create your dream career. Your story will inspire other DIYers who are dealing with setbacks on the path to achieving their own dreams. Sailrite is proud to provide the tools and materials you need to share your leatherwork with people across the globe. Keep up the amazing work!

If you’d like to check out more of Chris’ leatherwork and see what else he’s making with his Fabricator, you can follow him on Instagram at @orramanleather.

 

Who We Are

Sailrite is your one-stop DIY shop! We are a passionate crew of do-it-yourselfers who strive to equip you with the supplies and how-to knowledge you need to tackle your next project. Do you want to learn upholstery, leatherwork, canvaswork, hobby sewing, bag making or more? We have the fabric, tools, hardware, sewing machines and notions you need to master any DIY. And even if you’ve never sewn before, our tutorials and how-to videos are designed for beginners and experienced crafters alike.

Start your DIY journey today: www.sailrite.com

Sailing Adventures: Making a Sailrite Sail Kit

Patrick Fiega is no stranger to the water. He spent his summers as a child at his grandparents’ cabin on an idyllic lake in Northern Wisconsin. It’s there where his grandmother taught him how to sail and sew — two life skills that have served him well. He has assembled three Sailrite® Sail Kits for his sailboat with help from the Ultrafeed® LSZ Sewing Machine. We chatted with Patrick to learn more about his sailing adventures, his love of DIY, and how Sailrite® has helped him along his sewing journey.

Patrick has owned many sailboats over the years but only recently started sewing his own sails. He purchased his current boat, a 1968 Cal 40 named “Wheee Dogggie,” in 2007. Relying on local sail lofts left much to be desired. “The local sail shops came up shy, didn’t respond or were outrageously priced. With the right sails, she can be very quick. I thought DIY could be a great option.”

As a jest, Patrick named his at-home sail shop Pants-Free Sails. He is his only client. “I get great service and support,” he joked with us.

Patrick’s first Sailrite Sail Kit — a staysail.

He has made several sails for his Cal 40. His first project, however, was not a sail. “I started my Sailrite adventure with a mainsail stack pack. I made my own design in AutoCAD, then ordered the Ultrafeed LSZ and all materials from Sailrite.” After that successful DIY, Patrick knew he was ready for more.

Next up was a 170-square-foot staysail — his first attempt at sailmaking. “I wanted to stay small and hope for the best. I was quite surprised at the ease of assembly. I planned for this sail to be used as a staysail or hanked onto the forestay as a storm sail.”

Sailrite Sail Kit
Patrick’s 125% genoa (right).

His next sail presented a new challenge that Patrick was eager to conquer: size. Patrick had to relocate his 800-square-foot asymmetrical spinnaker several times throughout the assembly and sewing process. He started building it on his boat, then quickly realized he needed more room. So he brought it home where the sail engulfed his living room, dining room, entryway and breakfast bar. Finally, he cleared out his garage and finished it there.

“This sail took me about three weeks to build, working when time allowed. When I started this build, I had one thought in mind — using it during the Harvest Moon Regatta from Galveston to Port Aransas, Texas. At about 5 a.m., 15 hours into the race, the winds switched direction and died. The Code 0 went up and gave us the ability to move forward in the fleet. I think it was due to this sail that we placed so well in our division — first across the finish line and second on corrected time.”

Spinnaker sail on sailboat

Keep reading to learn more about Patrick, his experiences with sailing and sewing, and his advice for DIYers interested in sewing their own sails.

Q. What do you love most about the sailing lifestyle?

A. I have always loved the water and long for blue water sailing. It is an amazing feeling to be able to use the wind and water for traveling to exotic destinations. The feeling of freedom when you untie the lines and start toward your next port of call.

Q. Do you live on the coast? How often do you get out on the water?

A. I live on the Texas coast. Kemah is a unique community, located on the west shore of Galveston Bay. I am on the water anytime I can manage it. In most cases, it is weekend sails or club racing on Galveston Bay. I have plans to take some longer, coastal sails soon, which is why I needed newer sails.

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Q. How did you first learn about Sailrite? 

A. Back in the early 2000s, I saw another sailor working on their canvas. They were using a Sailrite machine. I was impressed by its ability and the ease of stitching through many layers of heavy material.

Q. What made you choose the Ultrafeed LSZ? How has the machine performed for you and what is your impression of the WorkerB® Power Pack Motor System? 

A. I purchased it due to the strength of the machine and the ability to handle heavy sailcloth. The machine has been wonderful and very dependable. I have had “moments of learning,” those times when I did something wrong and caused additional problems. I did find tips on the website that helped me work through the problems and taught me what to do better the next time. The WorkerB made stitching thicker material much easier. Having the ability to press the pedal and know that the speed will stay at the speed needed for the thickness of the material is wonderful.

Ultrafeed sewing sailrite sail kit
The asymmetrical sail took up so much room that Patrick used dowels under the rolled up sail fabric when the weight of the assembly caused too much drag.

Q. What advice would you give someone thinking about sewing their own sails?

A. You need space! The basting tape [included in the Sail Kits] was a game changer for me, helping hold the panels together while I stitched them. It really isn’t hard; use the instructions and the lines plotted on the fabric. [Sailrite Sail Designer] Jeff Frank puts everything you need into the kit! Take one panel at a time and break the sail down into quadrants; this will make the project less daunting. Think about the stitching ahead and put together panels that can be easily rolled up and fit under the machine arm.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

A. I was raised with the mindset of, “If you don’t know how to do something, learn and figure it out.” This is where Sailrite came into my sailing life. I enjoy having the ability to do it myself. I also struggle with local sail lofts that do not respond, fail to make proper measurements and yet charge exorbitant amounts for sails. Doing it yourself puts all of this in your own hands. It gave me a feeling of pride that my DIY sails landed us top of the pack in our latest regattas.

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Patrick! The pride and sense of accomplishment that comes from mastering a new skill or technique is a universal feeling every DIYer can relate to. What’s next on Patrick’s DIY list? In addition to another sail project — a 100% jib — he’ll be working on a custom dodger attachment to his hardtop bimini, new cushion covers for his boat cabin and patio cushions for his home.

When you have the talent, creativity and determination to do it yourself, there’s no limit to what you can make!

Who We Are

Sailrite is your one-stop DIY shop! We are a passionate crew of do-it-yourselfers who strive to equip you with the supplies and how-to knowledge you need to tackle your next project. Do you want to learn sailmaking, upholstery, leatherwork, canvaswork, hobby sewing, bag making or more? We have the fabric, tools, hardware, sewing machines and notions you need to master any DIY. And even if you’ve never sewn before, our tutorials and how-to videos are designed for beginners and experienced crafters alike.

Start your DIY journey today: www.sailrite.com

DIY Sun Protection for Paddling Pooches

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.

A Shih Tzu dog looking at a river.
On or off the kayak, Harley loves exploring the outdoors.

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.

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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.

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“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.

A woman using a sewing machine.
The LS makes it easy for Katrina to sew Phifertex shade material.

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.

A painting of a bird accented with a real tree branch.
Katrina used real branches to give this bird painting a 3D effect.

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.

A young puppy.
Katrina’s adorable rescue puppy, Sky.

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!

 

Who We Are

Sailrite is your one-stop DIY shop! We are a passionate crew of do-it-yourselfers who strive to equip you with the supplies and how-to knowledge you need to tackle your next project. Do you want to learn upholstery, leatherwork, canvaswork, hobby sewing, bag making or more? We have the fabric, tools, hardware, sewing machines and notions you need to master any DIY. And even if you’ve never sewn before, our tutorials and how-to videos are designed for beginners and experienced crafters alike.

Start your DIY journey today: www.sailrite.com

A DIY Rooftop Transformation

It all started with an idea. How many of us have been frustrated or disappointed by store-bought patio cushions and other mass-produced furniture? Your store-bought cushions last a season or two on your patio, and then the fabric begins to fade. Or stains from birds and food spills don’t come out no matter how hard you scrub. 

Javier Guerrero Garcia felt the same way. He and his family have a lovely private rooftop terrace above their apartment in La Cala de Mijas, an Andalusian province in southern Spain. He purchased IKEA cushions for the terrace benches and was disappointed in their performance. They were smaller than what he wanted and kept slipping off the benches.

Custom-size cushions were available — but at astronomical prices. While searching on the internet one day, Javier found the Sailrite 30-Minute Box Cushion video tutorial. Then he watched another Sailrite cushion video. And another. Soon enough he thought to himself, “Well it doesn’t look that hard, right?” And so his DIY journey began. 

With video tutorials and materials from Sailrite, Javier transformed his rooftop terrace into a cozy oasis with custom-fit cushions and a fabric enclosure so his family could enjoy the view year-round. Keep reading to learn more about this industrious DIYer and how he went from someone who had never touched a sewing machine to the go-to DIY guy his neighbors and family turn to for their sewing needs.

diy box cushions
Here’s a look ahead at the box cushions and enclosure Javier made using Sailrite resources.

Learning to Sew

The cushions project was fairly straightforward for Javier and a great way to learn how to sew. He had never sewn before, but he was determined to make cushions that fit his patio benches perfectly. In addition to the 30-Minute Box Cushion video, Javier also used the Sailrite Fabric Calculator to help him determine how much fabric and other materials he would need for his cushion covers.

Because he had never sewn before, Javier relied on Sailrite how-to videos to tackle his rooftop projects. We asked him — as a sewing newbie — what he thought of the Sailrite videos and if they were easy to follow. Here’s what he told us:

Absolutely! The shots were clear (not easy when you watch many other “sewing” videos where you only see hands moving), explanations on the whys and hows were completely reasonable and understandable, and they covered every aspect and foreseeable problem (like the fabric shrink when sewing). [The Sailrite videos] were the one and only reason for me to think that I could learn to sew by myself and tackle the first cushion project. … Even my mother-in-law is still surprised about how it all finally came along.”

rooftop enclosure
Who wouldn’t want to enjoy this gorgeous seaside view year-round?

The cushions turned out great, and Javier was excited to tackle his next sewing project. This one would be much bigger and more involved: a four-sided enclosure with a zippered opening for his rooftop pergola. 

DIY Pergola Enclosure

The pergola enclosure consisted of four large squares of material — no curves or shaping. Javier first mocked up a sketch to figure out window placement, sizing and overall construction. Once he had the design figured out, he cleared out his living room to create enough flat space for measuring and patterning. 

“I cut the sides long so they could be trimmed later, assembled almost everything (including windows) using just your semi-flat felled seam tutorial, installed the LOXX® hardware, hung them for final trimming, added the Stayput™ fastener cords for windproofing, added the bottom Stayput tensioners to both the fabric and the wall, and that’s it!”

Two years later the enclosure still works great. And though the project was sometimes grueling and difficult, Javier learned a lot from the experience. He’s still very happy and proud of his accomplishment. “The vinyl windows stuck on every surface while pulling. I had bad luck with thread breaking and the process was time-consuming. … I sweated each and every one of the three-meter-long (approximately 10 feet) seams — and there are a few of them! Anyway, it was really fun and kind of a challenge to myself. I had a really good time and the results were fabulous and, most importantly, still are two years later.”

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After installing the four-sided enclosure and getting everything zipped and snapped in place, he added a final finishing touch: a small gas heater. That way, the rooftop could be enjoyed year-round. Javier finished the project in time for Christmas dinner, and the windproof enclosure kept everyone warm and comfortable all night. In fact, Javier’s daughters — 5 and 7 years old at the time — named the enclosure “Villa Calorcito,” which loosely translates to “Cozyville.”

Neighbors keep asking me where I bought the rooftop enclosure, and they can’t believe me when I tell them I did it myself (They think I don’t want to give them the name of the contractor!). I just point them to your website and videos.”

And speaking of neighbors, Javier has received several requests for pergola enclosures from friends and neighbors. He’s not against the idea. In fact, he’s already thinking of ways he could improve his original design. He’s considering using sewable keder rail awning track instead of fasteners as that would more evenly distribute tension and minimize wrinkles in the fabric panels. “The Loxx fasteners make the panels easy to remove with a few pulls when the weather is hot. I still have the desire to try to sew a rail awning someday. Maybe for version 2.0 for some of the neighbors!”

New DIY Adventures

With the success of his rooftop enclosure projects behind him, Javier is enjoying his new skill set and is sewing up a storm. “Once you start, you can’t stop! I made a few box cushions for several different spaces, a gigantic sunshade for the adjacent rooftop space, and I hacked an IKEA sofa to gain lots of storage space. When you just add your first zipper or button or any other fabric hardware to anything, providing some functionality to an otherwise static and boring piece of fabric, you can’t stop thinking about adding zippers to everything else!”

sofa storage hack
Javier’s IKEA sofa storage modification was named “Best Hack of the Year” by the website IKEA Hackers.

We asked Javier if he has advice for anyone thinking about learning to sew and tackling their first project. Here’s what he said:

Go for it! The basic techniques are quite easy to learn (mastering them is a totally different story). But even as a first-timer, the results will absolutely blow your mind! … Start small, make a few mistakes early in the project, analyze and understand what worked for you and what didn’t, and learn something every day. Just try, make some errors and adjust. But even with the ugliest seams (me!), the results look awesome and you will be the only one looking at how bad your seams are. No one else will notice a twisted seam, even if you point at it with your finger.”

“Just try” — what simple yet great advice. Isn’t trying at the heart of the DIY process? Make mistakes, learn from them and never give up. And don’t forget to be patient with yourself and let go of those small mishaps. As Javier said — no one will notice them but you. 

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Javier. We’re thrilled that Sailrite could be your introduction to the fun and exciting world of sewing. Good luck with all your future DIYs.

rooftop bar diy
What’s next for Javier? Updating the terrace’s bar area. This DIYer never slows down!

 

Who We Are

Sailrite is your one-stop DIY shop! We are a passionate crew of do-it-yourselfers who strive to equip you with the supplies and how-to knowledge you need to tackle your next project. Do you want to learn upholstery, leatherwork, canvaswork, hobby sewing, bag making or more? We have the fabric, tools, hardware, sewing machines and notions you need to master any DIY. And even if you’ve never sewn before, our tutorials and how-to videos are designed for beginners and experienced crafters alike.

Start your DIY journey today: www.sailrite.com

The Drive to Learn: One DIYer’s Roadmap to Sewing Mastery

Restoring well-worn or damaged items has become very popular in the last few years. Just look at the dozens of TV shows about home renovations, antiquing and swap meets as proof of this trend. Many people renovate to give historical items their shine back or to reduce waste — giving items with a story a new lease on life instead of letting them go to a landfill.

Sailrite® customer Jerry Bartlett is one such restorer. He’s interested in reducing waste and refreshing historical pieces too — but he’s not looking for retro clothing, antique furniture or old-school knickknacks.

Instead, Jerry often brings home vintage automobiles. This self-sufficient DIYer loves nothing more than getting his hands dirty restoring classic cars, and he frequently turns to Sailrite for project materials.

How does a sewing company like Sailrite come into the picture of car restorations? Upholstery, of course! Restoring a car isn’t just about what’s under the hood or how it looks on the outside. From the seats and door panels to the headliner and more, there are plenty of places for fabric and foam inside a car.

Jerry proved this by redoing the interior of a 1950 Plymouth Special Deluxe. He did all the upholstery work with a Sailrite® Fabricator® and other tools and materials from Sailrite.

A preview of the finished upholstery.
A preview of the finished upholstery.

This seat looks professionally done, right? From the outstanding results, you’d never guess that this car’s upholstery was Jerry’s first sewing project ever. In fact, Jerry taught himself to sew (with help from Sailrite) specifically to reupholster this unique Special Deluxe.

The Need & the Potential

This particular car is reminiscent of a County Highway Patrol cruiser used in New York in the early 1950s. A fan of the explosive innovation in the automobile industry in the 1950s and ’60s, Jerry was immediately drawn by the overall aesthetic and history behind the vintage cruiser when he saw it at a car show. As luck would have it, the car was for sale — and Jerry bought it right away.

“It spoke to me,” he said of the cruiser. “This thing had lots of potential, and with some work and creativity, it could be a historical piece.”

Seeing the potential in the car was a major first step to transforming it into the showpiece it is today. The car needed some mechanical work and a few touch-ups to the already restored exterior. But its interior was, in Jerry’s words, “in dire need of help.”

“The seats, door panels and sun visors were beyond hope. There was no headliner or bows, no carpet, and all the window channel liners were mostly gone.”

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He was already well acquainted with the mechanical portions of the refurbishment — an interest that began when he was a child. “I was the kid who always had the desire within my DNA to take things apart to find out what made them tick,” Jerry remembered.

During his high school years, Jerry took classes in auto body work at a local technical career center. After graduating high school, he spent four years as a mechanic in the U.S. Army. Then he spent 10 years working in auto body and fender repair before becoming a fleet mechanic.

Even while working on cars for a living, Jerry always had a “hobby” car that he restored on the side. It all started in 1990; that’s when he said he found “the car of [his] dreams: a 1959 Cadillac Coupe DeVille.”

Despite all his work experience, his first hobby project wasn’t easy. “[The DeVille] was a disaster. The only two good panels on it were the roof and trunk lid. It ran rather poorly, needed a windshield, interior and tons of TLC, but I was up to the challenge,” he said.

And since he didn’t go easy on himself for his first renovation project, you can bet that the many projects that followed weren’t cakewalks either. The long list of cars that Jerry has restored includes such notable models as a 1979 Pontiac Firebird, a 1961 Ford F-100 and a 1969 Pontiac Trans Am.

Learning to Sew With Sailrite

So, you can see that Jerry was more than equipped to take care of the patrol cruiser’s mechanical needs. But while he was eager to make the car look like new on the inside, he had some important research to do first.

“Reupholstering an auto interior [was] the last horizon in the automotive world for me,” Jerry said. Even sewing in general was completely new territory. While scouring the internet to learn about automotive upholstery, he found Sailrite’s classic car reupholstery project video series and decided to watch it.

“I was very impressed with Sailrite’s website from top to bottom. Everything was so well organized and easily accessible, I found myself actually wanting to return every time I had a question or idea,” he said.

Although first overwhelmed by how much he had to learn about sewing, Jerry soon found that Sailrite’s huge library of how-to videos told him everything he needed to know. “The learning process initially is a lot to digest since it’s not just operating a sewing machine,” he said.

“Once you’ve watched one or more of Sailrite’s well-produced, clear and concise videos, that [overwhelmed] feeling just kind of melts away, and it becomes quite easy to imagine yourself as the person in the video. This is what gave me confidence … to enter the exciting world of sewing!”

After nearly a year of thorough research and watching how-to videos, Jerry bought a Fabricator Sewing Machine for his project. It’s saying something that Sailrite’s largest machine won his vote. Space is at a premium in Jerry’s work area, and he couldn’t afford to give even an inch to a machine that wouldn’t make the cut.

He told us more about his workspace: “I’m working off the lid of a 36-inch by 28-inch chest-style refrigerator [and] a 60-inch by 30-inch section of kitchen floor, or plywood and sawhorses if the weather is good so a car in storage can go outside. The Fabricator occupies a small 6-foot by 8-foot area.”

Jerry sewing with his Fabricator machine.
The Fabricator helps Jerry make the most of his limited workspace.

The industrial machine had to be everything Jerry needed to justify taking up so much of his already tight workspace. “Through my research, there were common things that a sewing machine should have and be able to do regarding automotive upholstery. [The] Fabricator repeatedly checked off all those boxes,” he said.

But that wasn’t the only hurdle the Fabricator had to clear to win its spot in Jerry’s workshop. This DIY enthusiast’s home isn’t connected to the local power grid, so he generates his own electricity with solar panels and wind turbines. “Power usage for anything added to the system is always a concern,” he shared. Luckily, the Fabricator fell well within the usage limits of his self-reliant electrical system.

After getting all the tools and materials he needed for what he calls his “very first sewing adventure,” Jerry’s next step was to get some hands-on experience with the Fabricator. “I was a bit nervous having only seen [the Fabricator] on the web and reading user reviews about it,” he told us. “To my delight, setup wasn’t difficult, and it really helped for me to do this and learn about everything connected to the unit.”

Jerry’s favorite feature of the Fabricator is the programmable Workhorse® Servo Motor. While getting started, he found it helpful to lower the motor’s speed to sew one stitch at a time. “This feature is truly what allowed me the ability to learn as I went. … Regardless of speed, every stitch turned out as perfectly as the previous one. It’s a brute of a machine that can be as gentle as a kitten, so yes, you really can do this at a snail’s pace just like I did!”

Overcoming Project Roadblocks

Buoyed by his success setting up and testing the powerful machine, Jerry jumped right into the cruiser upholstery project. First, he had to disassemble and pattern the seats and door panels. That’s when things began to fall apart — literally.

“What was left of the original interior was mostly useless, as it fell apart on disassembly,” Jerry told us. The few useful-looking pieces he was able to salvage had unfortunately hosted rodents some time before he bought the car; he was forced to throw those pieces out for sanitary reasons and start completely from scratch.

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But like the rest of his sewing adventure, the unusable cushion material presented a learning opportunity. From the experience, Jerry learned to make patterns exactly how he wanted them, measure multiple times and cut once, and look for guidance from more experienced DIYers instead of trying to “reinvent the wheel.”

Although he did triumph in the end, Jerry told us that patterning from the ground up was the most challenging part of restoring the car’s interior — especially since he had a very specific vision for how it should look.

“The goal was to make the new patterns work with the curves of the roof and cagework, so the top of both front and rear seats would need a matching arch,” he said. “I also wanted great big pleats — something not available in a 1950 Plymouth Special Deluxe. … Overcoming these challenges required several reviews of Sailrite’s video series, and attention to detail with measuring and markings.”

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After hours of painstaking work creating patterns, cutting material pieces and sewing stitch by stitch on his Fabricator, Jerry finished the upholstery renovation with professional-looking results!

Driving Off Into the Sunset

Aside from the “feeling of self-satisfaction in taking on something [he’s] never done before,” Jerry’s favorite thing about the finished upholstery is getting to show it off. “The icing on the cake is when people, especially those who’ve been sewing for decades, say, ‘This is really nice. Where did you have this done?’” he said.

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A perfect example is a recent project Jerry did for his mother, whom he said has high standards and calls things like she sees them. After he sewed cushions for her four-chair outdoor table set, she “scrutinized [them] even more thoroughly than a jeweler would with diamonds. The final verdict was, ‘These are perfect.’”

Jerry’s mom isn’t the only person impressed by his newfound sewing skills. Earlier this year, he entered the patrol cruiser in the 2022 Adirondack Nationals car show, held in Lake George, New York. The show’s attendees loved the cruiser!

“I cannot even tell you how many compliments there were about the interior,” Jerry shared. “It’s now my belief that with all the ‘eye candy’ the car has to offer, the upholstery is the real showcase that ties everything together!”

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The show’s judges thought so too. The police cruiser won a big award at the show — appropriately, the Sheriff’s Pick award. Congratulations, Jerry!

More Projects Down the Road

We asked Jerry what he plans to do now that the cruiser restoration is done. “Are these ever really done?” he laughed. “So far this has been an off-and-on project for the last two and a half years. Out of all the extensive work completed, the interior revamp has been the biggest chunk and the most rewarding by a long shot.”

For now, Jerry is taking a break from the cruiser to do a couple of other upholstery projects. He’s partially completed one: “I have a 1953 Pontiac Chieftain that’s essentially the equivalent of a ‘shop truck’ that goes everywhere. The seats were terrible in that one too but are now reupholstered — again using everything obtained from Sailrite.”

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Jerry plans to restore the Chieftain’s side panels, door pads and headliner, but he’s put those on the backburner for now to work on something even more exciting.

“The next project is an interior (mainly the four bucket seats) of a 1961 Chrysler 300G. These cars may have had the most incredible factory interior ever … I will need to really think this one through and make it as good as the original or better. These are high-profile cars, and the sharpest critics tend to seek them out. Challenge accepted — and armed with the Fabricator, it’s game on!”

If there’s anything we’ve learned about Jerry, it’s that he’s no stranger to a challenge. We’re sure that the restored Chrysler will draw nothing but praise from critics and car show judges alike.

Before we wrapped up our interview, we asked Jerry what he would say to someone else who has a big project in mind but needs to learn to sew first. He had a checklist of advice ready:

“Educate yourself on the topic. That may involve getting together with someone close to you that has experience in this field. … Think of things you would like to make for yourself or others. This will give a project some context that’s relevant to you. Once you’ve read, watched and learned as much as you want, imagine yourself actually creating and sewing that item. And lastly, be persistent! Like anything one wishes to become good at … a skill will come with time and experience.”

Jerry, you’ve certainly proved that patience and dedication can help a person accomplish just about any goal they set. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story to encourage your fellow DIYers. We can’t wait to see what you make next!

 

Who We Are

Sailrite is your one-stop DIY shop! We are a passionate crew of do-it-yourselfers who strive to equip you with the supplies and how-to knowledge you need to tackle your next project. Do you want to learn upholstery, leatherwork, canvaswork, hobby sewing, bag making or more? We have the fabric, tools, hardware, sewing machines and notions you need to master any DIY. And even if you’ve never sewn before, our tutorials and how-to videos are designed for beginners and experienced crafters alike.

Start your DIY journey today: www.sailrite.com

The Art of Sewing: A Lesson in Self-Expression & Community

When you think about art, does fabric come to mind? For Jackson Martin, it absolutely does. Jackson is an associate professor of sculpture at the University of North Carolina in Asheville. Since art school, he has used fabric in his sculpture and installation pieces with great effect. His most recent sculpture, Room in the Sky, incorporated sailcloth from Sailrite and the use of his Ultrafeed® LSZ Sewing Machine. Let’s find out more about Jackson, his passion for art, and how Sailrite could be a small part of his creative expression.

Jackson Martin Moving Mountains
Moving Mountains was a project Jackson created during his artist residency in South Korea. It was installed on Jarasum Island in Gapyeong County, South Korea.

Art + Sewing

Art and sewing have been integral parts of Jackson’s life for decades. His mother taught him to sew when he was young. In his teens, he would buy clothes from thrift stores and, often, jeans and pants were too long. “My mom taught me how to sew hems on a vintage Singer 347 from the 1960s that her mom had given her.” Jackson still has that classic Singer, and he’s even modified it with a custom aluminum pulley to keep it running smoothly.

Jackson’s two interests collided during his undergraduate studies where he found a unique way to incorporate sewing into his sculpture work. “I was very interested in juxtaposing plants and soil with industrial materials like steel and wood. I made a conical-shaped hanging structure for a cypress tree and used burlap for the first time in my work. The piece was titled Separation. Since that project, I have used countless fabrics in my work, including several different types of burlap, tarp, canvas, denim, nylon, vinyl, cotton duck, moving blankets, quilted insulation fabric and an old trampoline!” 

rooted II installation
Jackson created this piece, Rooted II, for the exhibition “Sculpture by the Sea” in Aarhus, Denmark, during his residency there.

Jackson is passionate about not only making art but teaching art to students. He has taught at several institutions since obtaining his Master of Fine Arts degree in 2007. He also participates in international artist residencies and has created sculptures in South Korea and Denmark, both of which incorporated fabric and sewing into the projects.

Upgrading to an Ultrafeed

Jackson was using his mother’s Singer for his fabric sculptures and installations, but he soon realized he needed a more powerful machine. He first tried an old industrial walking foot Singer, but there was no way to slow it down for detail work. An internet search for industrial walking foot sewing machines led him to Sailrite and the Ultrafeed LSZ. “I still occasionally use my vintage Singers, but 99% of the time I go for my Ultrafeed for my projects.”

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In fact, Jackson has ordered two Ultrafeed LSZ machines — one for personal use and one for the sculpture department at UNC Asheville. The LSZ was one of the first purchases he made when he became an associate professor nine years ago. “We’ve had that machine now for over eight years and it’s still going strong.” It’s been put to great use by art students throughout the years.

Transforming Fabric Into Art

For Jackson’s most recent installation, Room in the Sky, he turned to Sailrite for the materials he’d need. Jackson’s piece was chosen, among other artists, as a temporary installation following the removal of the Vance Monument in downtown Asheville. The theme of the installation series was “social equity and inclusion” to replace the statue of former North Carolina governor, confederate and enslaver Zebulon Vance. The intention of the installation series was to spark conversation about inclusivity in public spaces.

“I chose an overall form that directly relates to the old monument base, but also one that represents both healing and inclusivity.” The structure’s framework is shaped like a plus sign or medical cross with Dacron® sailcloth flags representing groups that experience discrimination. “Many of my students, closest friends and family members have been affected by discrimination and prejudice in this country, and I am honored to stand as an ally in the fight for equality. The title is intended as a double meaning: There is room in the sky for all flags to fly, but the structure is also an actual room for visitors to walk into and enjoy physically.”

room in the sky
Room in the Sky was one of 11 projects selected for the Asheville, North Carolina, public art initiative called “Art in the Heart,” created as a way to unite, heal and strengthen the community.

Let’s hear more about Jackson’s artistic journey and creative process in his own words.

Q. Have you always been artistic? When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in the arts?

A. For as long as I can remember, I have always had an inclination towards art. My dad is an artist, so that sort of mentality was always in our household. I remember being assigned projects in grade school, and then going above and beyond the guidelines and spending way too much time on them. These projects were always two-dimensional art projects, though — drawings, paintings, even collages — I never really got into three-dimensional art until much later. When I first started college, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the arts, but at the time I had no idea what I wanted to do. I ended up floundering around quite a bit, not only trying my hand at different art mediums, but other areas altogether, like printmaking, graphic design, and even philosophy and religion. 

Q. Would you say fabric/sewing is your main medium, or do you prefer to work with another medium?

A. Early on in my undergraduate studies, I realized I loved mixed-media art. And even though I’ve gone through phases of using particular materials and processes, one of the characteristics I pride myself on accomplishing is the ability to do just about everything. Sewing and fabric work in general, however, is one of my go-to mediums/processes. Another go-to is steel, and I love the mixture of fabric and steel, sewing and welding. Although they are obviously different and in some ways polar opposites, there are similarities that I love. If I have stitched together fabric pieces with my sewing machine and stitched together metal pieces with my welder, then I consider that a great day in the studio! 

fabric art installation
This installation, Ascent II, incorporated steel, grommets, cable and Phifertex® vinyl mesh fabric and represents the life cycle of one juniper tree.

Q. What do you love most about sewing and/or the creative process as an artist?

A. With sewing I love the quiet, contemplative space at the machine. I am completely aware and focused on what I’m doing but zoned out and sort of in a meditative state, as well. I suppose that’s what I love about the creative process in general. These two seemingly disparate ways of existing in the world can occur simultaneously.  

Q. Do you sew for yourself or your home, or just for artistic reasons? 

A. I definitely sew for myself or, more specifically, for my family. I’m the household resident tailor, always getting roped into making and fixing things for the home. Hemming pants, fixing holes in sweaters, custom curtains, etc. I actually taught both my wife and now my daughter how to sew! 

phifertex vinyl mesh fabric art
40-Hour Workweek is one of Jackson’s favorite pieces. He hand cut 300 pieces of Phifertex vinyl mesh to recreate the dimensions of a traditional cinder block. It required exactly 40 hours of work and the layers are held together by gravity — no thread or glue is used in the piece.

Jackson’s fabric sculptures and installations are thought-provoking and impactful. But you don’t need a master’s degree in art to be creative and make a statement. Every sewer experiences the same sense of accomplishment when they transform fabric into something three-dimensional and purposeful. It’s a joy and skill that connects all makers — whether you’re an internationally recognized artist or a parent sewing homemade Halloween costumes. 

The creative spirit is at the heart of the DIY community. It’s a thread that binds all makers, reminding us that there is more we have in common than what sets us apart. Sculptor, DIYer, artist, sewer — we all use our hands to create something that makes us happy and, perhaps, makes a difference in someone’s life. What could be better than that?

For more information on Jackson’s work, you can visit his website at www.jacksonmartin.com. 

 

Who We Are

Sailrite is your one-stop DIY shop! We are a passionate crew of do-it-yourselfers who strive to equip you with the supplies and how-to knowledge you need to tackle your next project. Do you want to learn upholstery, leatherwork, canvaswork, hobby sewing, bag making or more? We have the fabric, tools, hardware, sewing machines and notions you need to master any DIY. And even if you’ve never sewn before, our tutorials and how-to videos are designed for beginners and experienced crafters alike.

Start your DIY journey today: www.sailrite.com

Recipe for DIY Success: Determination & a Sailrite® Sewing Machine

“Nothing is impossible.”

That’s the motto of Linda Butters-Freund, a dedicated sewer and co-owner of Florida-based small business Offshore & More Custom Canvas LLC. Given her impressive 63 years of sewing experience, it’s safe to say that there’s no project she can’t tackle.

“There has never been a project too big for me,” Linda said when we asked her about the largest project she’s ever done. That project? A huge shade panel for the U.S. Open Pickleball Stadium’s championship arena, completed in early 2021.

The shade panel covers the open front of the championship stadium, which is in Naples, Florida. During pickleball tournaments, it provides players and spectators alike with much-needed relief from high heat and constant sun exposure. It’s a new and improved version of the original shade panel, which was made in 2017.

As a longtime Sailrite fan, Linda knew just where to turn for her project materials. She purchased enough spur grommets and webbing from Sailrite to complete the hanging shade panel — with some to spare.

The panel’s massive scale made a large sewing machine a necessity. Luckily, Linda already owned a Sailrite® Professional Long Arm Sewing Machine when this project came around. With its extra-large throat, the Professional was the natural choice to sew the shade panel. “I honestly don’t think it would have been possible to use any other machine!” Linda said.

Introduction to Pickleball

Linda was already well acquainted with pickleball when she started working with the Naples stadium. She discovered the sport in 2012 while living on Florida’s Marco Island.

“I played tennis at the YMCA three times a week,” she explained. “I saw a flyer on the check-in counter announcing a clinic for pickleball. I signed up, started playing and realized that it was a much friendlier game … When I moved to Naples, I was fortunate to find a location nearby with lots of players.”

If you guessed that this “location nearby” was the U.S. Open Pickleball Stadium complex, you’re right on the money.

The stadium, which hosted the inaugural U.S. Open Pickleball Championships in 2016, consists of several open-air pickleball courts. Additionally, the championship court is covered by a large metal structure with fabric shade panels on the top and front. Linda started playing there before the original shade structure was built in 2017.

The Florida heat kept spectator numbers very low at the 2016 championships. Some shade, the stadium managers reasoned, would encourage more people to watch the tournament live in the future. They had the shade structure built soon after.

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Although it greatly boosted attendance at the 2017 tournament, the structure had a major flaw. “[The] sunshades [were] made from a material that did not hold up to the elements,” Linda said. “[They] were fraying and the grommets were ripping out.”

The complex’s management needed someone to repair the shade panels — and they didn’t have far to look. Jim, the man in charge of the courts, soon learned about Linda’s sewing skills.

“[Jim] had seen some of my work from a player … I made personalized pickleball paddle covers. He asked [the player] for my name and contacted me,” Linda said. “I met with him, looked at the panels and said I would figure out a way to make repairs.”

Linda had never worked on such a large project before. But it’s never been in her nature to back down from a challenge. This tenacity and resourcefulness have served her well — starting when she learned to sew at 8 years old.

A Lifetime of Sewing Success

“I always watched my mother sewing clothes for my siblings and myself,” Linda said of her childhood. “I decided I would like to try my hand at it … I had some dolls that needed clothes! At that point everything I made was stitched by hand.”

It wasn’t long before Linda graduated from hand sewing to using a machine — after her search for just the right fabric for a project got a little out of hand.

“I decided to make a wedding dress for my Barbie® doll … I used my Easter dress slip/petticoat for the fabric. The ‘gown’ was beautiful! My mother was really impressed with my creativity until she realized what I had used to make it with!” Linda laughed.

Although upset that the dress slip was ruined, Linda’s mother saw that her daughter was serious about sewing. “[My mother] showed me the basics for using a sewing machine, gave me a box with extra fabrics and thread, and told me to have fun,” Linda remembered. “My world opened up and I knew sewing would always be a part of my life.”

In fact, sewing was Linda’s job long before she co-founded Offshore & More, and before she moved to Florida from the New England region.

In addition to teaching sewing classes, Linda has owned a dressmaking business (and in a humorous callback to her introduction to sewing, she made numerous wedding gowns). She also designed and sold canvas handbags at home showings similar to Tupperware® parties. The Massachusetts native had such success with her handbags that Yankee Magazine featured her in its small business section!

Linda was featured in Yankee Magazine.
Linda’s canvas handbags, as seen in Yankee Magazine.

Later, Linda started her own marine canvas business after overhauling her family’s 40-foot yawl (a two-masted sailboat) with new upholstery and custom covers. Other than a short stint sewing for interior designers, she’s been entrenched in the marine sewing world ever since.

As an unstoppable entrepreneur, Linda has learned a lot about running a small business. When we asked what she would tell other aspiring business owners, she said this: “The most important advice I would give to someone who wants to start their own sewing business: LOVE what you’re doing! Every time I open the door from the house to my workshop, I look forward to working on projects.”

Sunshine, Shade Panels & Sailrite

Linda spent most of her life in the northern part of the East Coast — but by 2010, she was ready for a change of scenery. She decided to trade in bitter New England winters for the sandy beaches and ample boating opportunities of South Florida.

Around that time, she turned to Sailrite to bolster her marine sewing career. “I needed a company that would be able to supply all the tools and products required for my numerous projects. After hours of research, I came to the conclusion that Sailrite was my No. 1 choice!”

Linda’s familiarity with Sailrite was a big help when it came time to repair the pickleball stadium shade panels in Naples. She already owned an Ultrafeed® LS, but the large panels were often too bulky to fit through the compact machine’s throat. “I decided I needed a machine with a longer arm when I did repairs on the old shade panels,” she told us.

For this dedicated Sailrite fan, the perfect machine wasn’t hard to find. “Whenever a new project comes my way, I always do my research for supplies on the Sailrite website,” she said. “[It] is my go-to place to shop!”

That’s how Linda discovered the Professional Long Arm (now discontinued) and decided it was the upgrade she needed to repair the shade panel. “The added room under the arm made the ease of pushing 110-inch-wide material a breeze,” she said. “And being able to zigzag the rips really made the job easy!”

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Thanks to this upgrade, Linda became the pickleball stadium’s go-to project person. She kept up with repairs on the original shade structure until 2020, when something happened that was too big to fix.

“A windstorm came through Naples and shredded the original stadium,” Linda said. “[It] had to be replaced due to hurricane-force winds.” There was no denying it — the shade panels on top of the original stadium were done for.

The 2017 stadium after a bad windstorm.
The windstorm did a lot of damage to the original shade structure.

Somehow, the branded shade panel on the front of the stadium survived the storm. But its reign didn’t last much longer.

A new metal structure and shade panels were in place by the end of 2020. That’s when “[the stadium’s management] decided that the old shade panels [for the front] … needed to be replaced. They contacted the stadium company to inquire about purchasing material to match the [new] structure.”

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Jim, the stadium’s manager, turned to Linda for help making the raw fabric into a single shade panel to cover the stadium’s front. It would be Linda’s largest project ever, but she was determined to face the challenge head-on.

The Making of a Shade Panel

Armed with the new shade fabric, her Professional Long Arm and the materials she purchased from Sailrite, Linda got to work on the front panel in January 2021. She didn’t have much time — that year’s Pickleball Championship tournament was scheduled for April. Fortunately, she also wasn’t alone.

You see, Linda’s son Michael and his family also live in Florida. Linda had taught him how to sew when he was growing up in Massachusetts, and he’d helped with some of her previous projects. Just like his mom, he’d caught the sewing fever.

“[Michael] wanted to get back into the canvas business,” Linda told us. “He asked me if I would like to make my boat canvas official. He wanted to have something to do when he wasn’t working his ‘real’ job.” Linda liked the idea, and Offshore & More Custom Canvas was born.

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When Michael isn’t at his full-time job, he pitches in on Offshore & More’s projects, including the shade panel. Good thing, too — the shade panel called for large-scale measurements that would be difficult for one person to manage. Linda gave us the details:

“The shade panel was made up of seven individual panels [and] measured 125 feet across the lower edge and 19 feet [tall] in the center.” The oversized panels required more space than Linda’s garage workshop could provide.

“Fortunately, we have a very large driveway,” she said. “I was able to place the three [center] panels on my driveway, line up the sides and mark for grommet placement. Since the top of the shade panel was arched, I had to roll part of the painted [center] panels to the side to mark and measure for the other four panels needed to complete the project.”

Linda used her driveway as a worktable.
One panel screen-printed and ready for sewing!

After measuring and cutting the panels, Linda turned to her trusty Professional Long Arm to sew them together. Then, it was time to install the grommets — which was when having a helper became indispensable.

Due to a hand injury, Linda couldn’t use a hammer to install the incredible 650 spur grommets that the project called for. Instead, “Michael was enlisted to mark and install the grommets,” she told us. “He saved the day.”

Besides the 650 grommets, the mother-son team went through 110 yards of shade cloth and nearly 800 feet of webbing. Including a three-week screen-printing process — which required Linda to ship the giant panels to a printer on a pallet — the whole project took two months of hard work. Linda and Michael finished the shade panel in March 2021, just in time for the U.S. Open tournament the following month.

The Creativity Continues

Although the shade panel has been done for over a year, Linda still checks in on it now and again — and she feels as proud of it today as she was the day it was completed. “I love opening up a pickleball magazine and seeing the finished project in full color,” she told us.

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In fact, that sense of accomplishment is one of the things Linda loves most about her DIY lifestyle. “I can take a simple piece of material and create something unique,” she said. “Once the project is completed, I’m left with the feeling, ‘Yes, I made that!’”

Sewing is her first love, but it isn’t Linda’s only DIY hobby. She told us she also enjoys watercolor painting and gardening. “The weather in Florida has proven to be a challenge though,” she said of gardening. “If you forget to water one day, the plants are toast!”

But remember, Linda isn’t the type to give up when things get tough. Whether it’s gardening in the Florida weather, digging up repair manuals to fix an old lawnmower or using Sailrite’s free how-to videos to learn a new sewing project, Linda embodies the go-getter spirit of a true DIYer. “I’m happy as long as I’m doing something creative,” she said.

We certainly understand that, Linda! Thank you for sharing your story — we know that your creativity and tenacity will inspire your fellow DIYers to make great things. Best of luck on all your future projects!

 

Who We Are

Sailrite is your one-stop DIY shop! We are a passionate crew of do-it-yourselfers who strive to equip you with the supplies and how-to knowledge you need to tackle your next project. Do you want to learn upholstery, leatherwork, canvaswork, hobby sewing, bag making or more? We have the fabric, tools, hardware, sewing machines and notions you need to master any DIY. And even if you’ve never sewn before, our tutorials and how-to videos are designed for beginners and experienced crafters alike.

Start your DIY journey today: www.sailrite.com

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 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.

 

Who We Are

Sailrite is your one-stop DIY shop! We are a passionate crew of do-it-yourselfers who strive to equip you with the supplies and how-to knowledge you need to tackle your next project. Do you want to learn upholstery, leatherwork, canvaswork, hobby sewing, bag making or more? We have the fabric, tools, hardware, sewing machines and notions you need to master any DIY. And even if you’ve never sewn before, our tutorials and how-to videos are designed for beginners and experienced crafters alike.

Start your DIY journey today: www.sailrite.com

A DIY a Day Keeps Boredom at Bay

What happens when an avid sailor tears his Achilles tendon and is looking at six months of recovery time? If you’re James Craig — you learn how to sew! Not letting his injury set him back, he devoted his downtime to sewing a new dodger for his 1983 Catalina 30 sailboat. With a new-to-him Ultrafeed® LSZ, plus Sailrite® materials and how-to videos, he embarked on his latest adventure. Let’s learn more about this enterprising DIYer and how Sailrite helped him successfully complete his boat projects.

James’s father was an avid sailor, and he taught his young son to sail when he was four years old. Fifty years later, he’s just as excited about the sport as he was back then. “I learned to sail in Manitoba. We then moved to Nova Scotia where we were surrounded by water. I loved it, and I kept up sailing. I got my family into sailing (sneakily) by saying it was like camping on the water.” It must have worked because James’s son has the same passion for sailing as his father and grandfather before him.

James was an engineering officer in the Canadian Navy, and his engineering skills have come in handy in his sailing life. “As an engineer, I like to figure things out. Sailing is about figuring out the wind, how to sail, when to sail, how to keep people safe, and maintaining and adding to the boat. I have learned every system on the boat with the exception of sewing, until now.”

James on boat
Here James enjoys time on his sailboat.

Since James had never sewn before — and he needed to get to know his Ultrafeed — he eased into his dodger project. “My first actual sewing project was a cover for my binnacle. I wanted to test my Sailrite machine (learn how to tension, how to thread the machine, etc.) and learn how to pattern and actually sew my first project with Sunbrella® Marine Grade material.” 

James also watched a variety of Sailrite project and tutorial videos to get to know his machine and practice the basics of sewing. “I went through all the ‘Learning to Sew’ videos and tried each of the things in each video: threading a machine, types of thread, zippers, piping. And yes, I made a pillow. I’m proud of that pillow, too. I then went on to the ‘Build a Dodger’ video series followed by the ‘Make Your Own Dodger’ playlist. It was so rewarding to see it come together — leather, zippers, snaps, windows, piping, seams — so many things to learn. Again, the videos were indispensable in learning each thing I was doing.”

Q. What was the motivation behind wanting to sew your own dodger?

A. As an engineer, it bugged me that I couldn’t sew. I had just lost my dad and thought it would also bring me closer to my mom, who has sewn for over 60 years but never thought to teach me. I tore my Achilles tendon and had to stay off of my feet so it seemed like a great thing to do. After learning and practicing with the binnacle cover, I then did my dodger. Wow, that was such a daunting project, but the engineer in me watched the Sailrite dodger video many, many, many times. I then patterned the dodger (it was coming to winter so was windy) on my frame. I focused on the easier panels first and then figured out how to bring it all together. Again, so many Sailrite videos were so helpful in how to do everything. I would watch a video for a few hours and sew for one hour. I have a tablet and I would play the video as a reference while I sewed. And thinking back, I actually practiced on other fabric prior to using the Sunbrella, so I almost built two dodgers. I figured that I better practice and learn using less expensive material than Sunbrella Marine Grade. 

dodger blueprint pattern
James sketched out a design for his dodger, then relied on Sailrite how-to videos to help him tackle the project.

Q. Did you run into any roadblocks or issues while working on the dodger? If so, what were they and how did you work through them?

A. Where to start. The biggest issue was assembling the panels together, especially as I was using my own design and it was different enough from the dodger design in the Sailrite video. I just put my engineering hat on and figured it out. But the video helped, too. I started sewing the easier panels and then finished with the harder ones. The entire dodger took me over 100 hours to complete (and about 200 hours of videos) but it was worth it! In hindsight, I probably should have started with my second sewing project, my sail cover, as it was easier. But I now know how to sew! Bring on more boat and home projects! 

Kudos to the guidance in the videos as the hints and tips were indispensable in learning to sew and also gave great perspectives on understanding how things would go together, allowances to make (such as seams) and the tools that would make life much easier for sewing. I feel I could sit down with Eric and Matt and have a great conversation! They explained things so well and were saviors for doing something so complex, along with many other Sailrite stars in the videos.

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Q. What did you love most about the DIY and sewing experience?

A. The biggest joy I had was having something that my mom and I could share a passion for, seeing as we didn’t have my dad around anymore — he passed away two years ago. He and I loved sailboats, woodworking and dogs. It has filled a gap between my mom and me. Additionally, I love the fact that I can sew! I think more about how something is put together, and the DIYer in me looks to see if it’s something that I could make. And DIY sewing makes one proud to show off what they put the time and effort into completing.

james woodworking table
Here’s James sitting at a wooden table he built for his boat.

Q. What advice would you give to someone tackling their first major sewing project?

A. Break the project down into small pieces and learn how everything comes together. Don’t worry about not knowing everything; it is a learning process. Plus, you have Sailrite videos to teach you, online forums and many other resources. The outcome is SO satisfying! You will feel like you climbed your own mountain. And tackling the first project successfully will give you the confidence for doing other projects in the future.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your DIY experiences?

A. I think it is so nice to have skills that are ageless. We live in a disposable world right now where we will spend hours buying that perfect thing. It’s so much more rewarding to create that perfect thing, with some little flaws, that only you will know about. Take a leap of faith, regardless of your age, and try something new — I never knew sewing could be so rewarding.

sailboat dodger

Thank you for sharing your story with us, James! We’re thrilled that Sailrite materials and videos were able to help you learn how to sew and conquer your first successful and impressive marine project. We can’t wait to see what you make next.

 

Who We Are

Sailrite is your one-stop DIY shop! We are a passionate crew of do-it-yourselfers who strive to equip you with the supplies and how-to knowledge you need to tackle your next project. Do you want to learn upholstery, leatherwork, canvaswork, hobby sewing, bag making or more? We have the fabric, tools, hardware, sewing machines and notions you need to master any DIY. And even if you’ve never sewn before, our tutorials and how-to videos are designed for beginners and experienced crafters alike.

Start your DIY journey today: www.sailrite.com