A Thoughtful Hobby: Leatherworking With Willie Sandry

When you find a way to combine your two favorite hobbies into one handcrafted piece of art, that’s the mark of a true craftsman. And that’s exactly what Willie Sandry did. Willie’s journey into leatherworking actually started with woodworking. Willie has been building wood furniture pieces for years. When his wife tasked him with building a set of eight dining room chairs complete with upholstery, he needed to tackle a new set of skills. Willie chose goat hide for his chair cushion covers, and it beautifully complemented the handcrafted white oak table that he had previously built.

dining table and chairs
Here’s the white oak dining table and chairs that Willie upholstered.

After the success of that initial upholstery project, Willie discovered a love for upholstery work — especially working with leather hides. He was soon ready to step up his upholstery skills and learn all he could about this new and exciting hobby. “I didn’t want to be limited to no-sew upholstery projects, so I took a leather upholstery class and started soaking up all the knowledge I could find.”

He’s been fortunate enough to turn his passions into a source of income. He is a freelance writer for woodworking magazines and a blogger for leather and woodworking websites. On his YouTube channel, The Thoughtful Woodworker/Upholsterer, he shares his knowledge of woodworking and upholstery with viewers. “I love sharing projects and posts with fellow crafters. I love teaching the craft, and I’m always learning.”

It’s through his upholstery projects that Willie discovered Sailrite and the Leatherwork Sewing Machine. We sat down to chat with Willie and find out more about his leather crafting journey. This talented DIYer had a lot to say about how his two passions — woodworking and leatherworking — have come together to produce some truly beautiful, handcrafted masterpieces.

magazine cover
This Ebon Oak Rocker that Willie built and upholstered graced the August 2021 cover of Popular Woodworking magazine.

Q. What sort of leather projects do you typically work on?

A. My main goal was to master leather seat cushions and backrest cushions so I could upholster Stickley Morris chairs and oversized Charles Limbert rockers. Whether they were genuine antiques, or reproductions from my woodshop, I was going to have a lot of chairs to upholster. Some have piping and some use single-felled topstitched seams, but all of the chairs highlight the natural materials front and center. They’re usually made with quarter-sawn white oak lumber and natural leather upholstery.

leather settle
Willie built a new seat frame for this L & JG Stickley antique settle and reupholstered it in a beautiful top grain cowhide.

Q. What’s your favorite type of leather to work with? And what’s your favorite kind of project to make?

A. Upholstery grade leather is almost always chrome tanned for a nice soft, workable feel. I like leathers in earth tones with very little sheen. If it looks like it belongs in a furniture catalog from 1906, then I’ll probably like it. Browns, greens and subtle red tones are my favorite. I try to source full hides that are 2-1/2 to 3 ounces thick. A 50 square foot hide will upholster a Morris chair with seat cushion, back cushion and a small ottoman.

Q. What do you love most about working with leather?

A. I pulled apart an antique chair cushion a couple years ago that had the original leather upholstery intact. That chair was over 110 years old. Sure, the leather showed its age, but it was still there. Still quietly doing its job, and somehow managing to look better with age. I love the smell of leather. I love getting “the big scissors” out and cutting leather on my large work surfaces in the shop. Rotary cutting strips, gluing layers for straps, sewing layers together stitch by stitch. Thinking and planning for each next step, carefully working with your head down until the final product is revealed. In this “throw away” world, it makes me smile inside to know that something I’ve had a hand in making might be around for someone to admire in 110 years or so.

rocking chair upholstery
Willie reupholstered this Stickley mission rocking chair for his YouTube channel.

Q. What made you interested in the Leatherwork Sewing Machine?

A. I like walking foot sewing machines, plain and simple. In fact, my second sewing machine was a walking foot, and I’ve been using one ever since. If you think about a standard sewing machine in terms of material feeding, they’re pretty basic. The feed dogs below are the only mechanism feeding the material into the machine. This unilateral feeding can lead to uneven top and bottom layers as you complete the seam. A walking foot adds two feet that move in unison to advance the material in a uniform way. When you’re working with leather, a walking foot is a necessity.

leatherwork with stools
On his YouTube channel, Willie teaches viewers how to reupholster these shop stools using his Leatherwork Sewing Machine.

Q. Having sewn on the Leatherwork, what are your impressions of the machine? We position the Leatherwork as an entry-level leather hobbyist machine. Would you agree with that assessment?

A. The difference between a basic portable and the Leatherwork is apparent right away. The Leatherwork comes loaded with a full-size variable speed servo motor, and Sailrite even found a way to shoehorn a speed reducer onto that compact table. The table is a little small, so I added a flip-up extension table to one side. That add-on helps me enjoy both the compact size and expandable work surface.

The Leatherwork is a unique package. The machine head may be entry level, but the added features of the table package probably put it in a mid-level category. I encourage crafters to “buy once and buy right.” Most people go shopping for a used sewing machine, and if it has the word “industrial” in the title, they assume it must be capable of sewing leather. Let me tell you, there are many full-sized industrial sewing machines that aren’t suited for leather projects. In fact, most industrial sewing machines don’t even have a walking foot. You have to research the models and determine what thickness of leather you intend to sew. Every sewing machine has limitations. Understanding and working within those limitations is the key to success.

willie with leatherwork
Here’s Willie with his Leatherwork Sewing Machine. You can see the extension table he built to give himself more room when sewing larger projects.

Q. Have there been leather “dos and don’ts” that you’ve experienced throughout your leather crafting journey? If so, could you share some of your wisdom with our readers?

A. Don’t run out of bobbin thread when sewing leather. Unlike that pillow cover you finished last week, leather is unforgiving. A machine with an empty bobbin will perforate your project like a sieve – and holes in leather are permanent. Keep your eyes open, and check your seam often as you work.

Q. What do you love about sewing and the DIY lifestyle?

A. Looking around my home, I get to say “I made that” a lot. But there is a deeper sense of satisfaction when you dry your own lumber, build your own furniture, and cap it off with your own custom leather upholstery. We are such specialists these days, but if you branch out just a little bit, you’ll be amazed what you can learn.

Q. Can you talk a bit about your YouTube channel — The Thoughtful Woodworker — and how that pertains to leather as well? What do you enjoy most about sharing your knowledge of woodworking and DIY with others?

A. The Thoughtful Woodworker YouTube channel is partly woodworking, but it also has a pseudonym – The Thoughtful Upholsterer. Small channels have to be careful not to spread themselves too thin, so I combined my passions into one platform. I started the upholstery content because there are so few sources to learn upholstery. Now, if you want to learn how to sew a pillow, there are plenty of videos out there. But if you want to learn leather upholstery, it’s a different story. You either know everything because you’ve been an upholstery pro for 30 years, or you know nothing. There didn’t seem to be any middle ground. That’s the goal of my channel: To give relative newcomers enough confidence to tackle one specific type of project. Maybe they won’t master all styles in the first year, but if they can do a really good job building or upholstering a classic rocker, then I have succeeded.

Here’s Willie’s barstool tutorial if you’d like to watch the Leatherwork Sewing Machine in action.

Jim Norman: Building a Houseboat of His Dreams

We’ve all heard the expression, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, that sentiment couldn’t be truer for New Jersey native and retired newspaperman Jim Norman. In 2009, Jim was unfortunately part of a round of layoffs at The New York Times, where he worked as an editor. He and his wife made the tough decision to sell their vacation home, and future retirement home, in Maine.

Jim vowed that he would somehow get a toehold in Maine again. Years later, his prediction would come true, just not in the way he originally thought. While researching the “tiny home” phenomenon in 2014, he stumbled upon the story of a man who, instead of building his dream tiny home, built a houseboat instead. Jim knew this was the path for him and a clever and inventive way to get back to Maine — or wherever he wanted to go. He knew wherever he and his wife vacationed it would be on the water. So why not live on the water? “The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Wherever I decided to vacation with it, we would be on waterfront property. And no real estate taxes! What could be better than that?”

jim with boat
Jim and his wife, Ginger, are all smiles taking Jersey Girl out on the Hackensack River in New Jersey.

To Build a Boat

Jim contacted the designer of the “tiny houseboat” and bought a set of digital plans. In May 2015, he started building his future vacation home on the water. At first, Jim worked on the boat in his spare time, as he was still working in the newspaper industry. By the spring of 2016, he found himself looking for another editing or writing job. He came to the conclusion the next year that, at the age of 74, he was past due for a happy and well-deserved retirement. From 2017 on, Jim was able to focus on the boat with his full attention and made it his retirement project.

Jim built the houseboat without any assistance from professionals. But that didn’t worry him. Jersey Girl is actually the ninth boat Jim has built! “The obsession started in 1995 when I built an 11-foot sailing/rowing dinghy. … Next came two cedar-strip kayaks, followed by kid-sized plywood kayaks for three grandsons and a full-sized plywood touring kayak for me.” And just as with the dinghy, Jim modified the plans of the houseboat and made it partially his own design, adding 3 extra feet of length to the boat’s original schematics and a hinged hatch opening to make it easier to climb aboard, among other modifications.

roof hatch
Jim shows how the hinged roof hatch allows for easy exit and entry.

Occasionally, friends and neighborhood kids asked to help out with Jersey Girl, and Jim was always willing to let others get involved in the fun. “Several times, just for the fun of it, I held ‘work parties,’ opportunities for friends and neighbors to come and help out. On one occasion, I invited folks over for the experience of gluing and screwing a bottom panel onto the upside-down frame structure. When it was done, they all signed their names with a Sharpie pen, and those names are still there, although covered with layers of fiberglass, epoxy and paint. A couple of times, neighbors asked me if I would let their kids do something. So I outfitted them with disposable gloves and old work shirts and let them do a few swipes of paint with a roller.”

What exactly does it take to build a wooden houseboat from the hull up? Here’s a brief rundown with photos of the boat’s construction and assembly from start to finish.

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In May of 2021, Jim launched Jersey Girl for the first time in the Hackensack River, near his home. He followed this up with outings in Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey’s largest lake, and in Maine’s Eggemoggin Reach and New Hampshire’s Squam Lake. In the six years it took to complete her, he learned a lot about building your own boat, perseverance and, most importantly, himself. We asked Jim some questions about his experience building a wooden houseboat, and all the ups and downs that come with such a daunting DIY project. He was happy to share more details about the build with us and offer his advice to anyone thinking of tackling a similar project.

Q. Is Jersey Girl for day trips or is she fit for liveaboard?

A. She’s not quite ready for overnighting, but I hope she will be by summer 2022. Plywood inserts fasten between the two settees on the port and starboard sides, and the seatback cushions are sized to exactly fill the gap to make a queen-sized bed. … Three projects planned for the spring are a slide-out shelf for a small refrigerator under the galley counter, a shower arrangement on the aft deck, and two solar panels on the roof to keep the batteries charged up when we’re not connected to shore power. So my hope is to make JG self-sufficient off-grid for a week or more at a time.

Q. How did you feel the first time you launched Jersey Girl?

A. I felt great! Because I had made so many modifications to the plan, and she wound up being almost three times her as-designed weight, I really did not know what to expect. Would I have a boat, or an interesting camper trailer? As it turned out, she not only floated, but she floated right side up, a major triumph right there. More than that, she floated exactly to where I estimated her waterline to be, with a draft of only about eight inches – meaning I can poke around in really shallow water without worry. Also, she’s incredibly well balanced, level in the water no matter where or how passengers like to sit or stand. She easily takes as many as 10 people at a time for day trips (only two for overnighters), and she’s beautifully behaved over the wakes of passing boats. I could not be more pleased.

Q. What was the inspiration behind the name?

A. Well, I’m a Jersey Boy! I grew up in New Jersey and, although I have lived and worked in many different places, I really appreciate all that New Jersey has to offer. So, the name is in honor of all the Jersey Girls, who seem to share a sassy, bossy, somewhat lovingly entitled attitude. … And by coincidence, I keep running into Jersey Girl references: There’s a diner near Lake Hopatcong called the Jersey Girl Café, and a popular local craft brewery that sells cans of Jersey Girl beer.

Two of Jim’s grandchildren visit during the winter of 2018 and give their approval.

Q. What was the hardest part of building her? Did you run into any unforeseen complications or problems? If so, how did you solve them?

A. That’s a good question! Boatbuilding is nothing BUT a serial exercise in problem-solving. And because I made so many modifications in the existing plan, and developed so many methods for doing what I wanted to do, I turned out to be an expert in creating more problems for myself. In fact, I seem to have derived what I call Jim’s First Law of boatbuilding: Every solution begets a new problem. And so on.

One of the most persistent problems during construction was how to keep rainwater from filling the unsheltered hull before fully enclosing it with the decks and cabin. No matter how tightly tarped and covered the hull was, it seemed that rain always managed to find a way in. Ultimately the answer was that water accumulation was simply unavoidable, and I just had to budget time for bailing and mopping in my construction schedule.

Because I was doing so many of the things that I did for the first time in my life, I encountered problems that I just had to sit for a while and think about – and consider the future consequences – before going on.

Q. What do you like most about the do-it-yourself lifestyle?

A. Not only is it very satisfying to do things oneself, but it makes it possible to get things just the way you like them, without having to settle for some manufacturer’s or retailer’s idea of what you need. I’ve never been frightened of DIY, no matter what the field. I’ve learned to do carpentry, boatbuilding, mechanical work, electrical work, plumbing, brazing, welding… People often ask me, “Is there anything you can’t do?” I tell them I’ve never tried my hand at brain surgery, and that’s probably a good thing.

diy fabric projects
Top: Jim made protective deck covers using Softouch® fabric. Bottom: Roll-up window shades using Top Gun® and Protect-It™ fabric.

Q. What advice would you offer to someone interested in building a boat or tackling a big project like this?

A. I guess I’d say if you have a dream for something big, don’t put it off for as long as I did. Get started on it when you’re young. And if you do put it off as long as I did, don’t listen to the naysayers, even if they are the people you love and respect. Just find a way to get started; you’ll quickly pass the point of no return and then you won’t have any choice but to finish it.

Sewing for Jersey Girl

One of the final steps of the boat’s creation was the interior finishing. This is where Sailrite came in. Jim had never sewn prior to the projects he made for Jersey Girl. But as we’ve learned so far, that wasn’t going to stop him. “I bought the least expensive consumer-grade heavy-duty sewing machine I could find, watched a couple of online videos on how to use it, bought a remnant of heavy fabric from a nearby fabric store, practiced sewing in a straight line for a half hour, and that was it! The rest, as they say, is history. It turns out I like sewing, and one of these days I’ll probably find a way to justify one of Sailrite’s machines!”

Jim purchased Sunbrella® Canvas upholstery fabric, high density foam and the Sailrite® Blade Foam Saw and made cushions for the seats and seat backs (15 in total) that will double up as the mattress for sleeping. He turned to Sailrite’s popular 30-Minute Box Corner Cushion tutorial to help him make the cushions.

foam cutting
Measuring, plotting and cutting foam for the cushions.

He also sewed interior roll-up window shades that also attach to the outside to protect the windows when trailering the boat. He used Top Gun for the window shades with an inner layer of a soft protective lining fabric to protect the windows during transportation on the highway. Finally, he patterned and created exterior deck covers to help prevent rainwater and spray from seeping in through the hinged hatch covers.

Watching the 30-Minute Box Corner Cushion video is what convinced Jim that he could tackle these sewing projects, even though he’d never sewn before. While using Sailrite’s Fabric Calculator to help lay out the fabric for patterning and cutting, he contacted Sailrite customer service wanting to know if Sailrite also offered a Foam Calculator. We didn’t at the time, but Sailrite has always listened to customer suggestions and ideas. We now offer a Foam Calculator that shows DIYers how to nest foam pieces to get the most usage out of their foam sheet and to help save money.

cabin interior
The finished cabin interior. We think Jim did a fantastic job on the box corner cushions!

What’s Next for Jim & Jersey Girl?

Now that Jersey Girl is finished (mostly!), Jim is ready to get her on the water and enjoy his six years of hard work and determination. But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to slow down. Even though the bulk of his work on Jersey Girl is done, he’s not planning on slipping into a life of inactivity in front of the TV. “Now that I am retired, with all of my other interests, I often wonder where I ever found the time to work for a living. If you ever see Jersey Girl on a waterway near you, be sure to stop me to say hello!”

Jim will turn 80 in May 2022, and he says he’s probably through with big building projects. Instead, he’s putting his hands to work on a new venture — writing a book. The book will chronicle his adventure building Jersey Girl and all that came with the experience. “Now that most of the work is done, the chronicle will also be about the places we travel together, the things we see, and the people we meet along the way.” Jim plans on taking Jersey Girl up the Hudson River and possibly to Canada for a rendezvous with other boatbuilders, painting and photographing what he sees along the way, two other passions of his.

And even though Jersey Girl’s sewing projects are complete, Jim isn’t putting his sewing machine away anytime soon. He has plans to redo his patio furniture cushions that have seen better days. He also has an idea for a line of educational plush toys for children.

If you’d like to learn more about Jersey Girl and follow Jim’s adventures on the water, you can follow his Facebook page: Jersey Girl the Houseboat.

jersey girl on the water

Cat Claws Have Nothing on This DIYer

Patty Poncer Marks is no stranger to sewing. Whether making her own clothing or sewing custom slipcovers for her family, Patty has been honing her craft since she was 12 years old. Patty has applied her skills to everything from quilts, to bags, to banners and decorative pieces for her home. When her cat, Abby, took a liking to Patty’s favorite chair, a reupholstery job was next on Patty’s DIY docket. She turned to the experts at Sailrite® for guidance. With her sewing experience and Sailrite’s tools and know-how, Patty was able to tackle reupholstering her chair with confidence. Follow along to read what Patty has to say about her DIY and crafting lifestyle, plus how Sailrite played a key role in her reupholstery project.

Learning to Sew

My mother signed me up for sewing lessons with Mrs. Meyerose in Covington, Kentucky, when I was about 12 years old. She had taught my mom to sew years earlier, but I was the one who really took to the craft. Mrs. Meyerose had converted the first floor of her house to a sewing studio. The front room was filled with old Singer® treadle machines that had been converted to run on electricity. I still remember the sound and slow steady pace of those machines, just perfect for beginners. I was the only kid in the class, and Mrs. Meyerose seemed ancient at the time — probably about my age now. I continued my lessons for a couple of years, and by the time I took home economics in the seventh grade, I ended up teaching the sewing portion of my class.

Mrs. Meyerose insisted that her students take notes and somewhere I still have that little steno pad. There were rules about how to use our cutting shears properly, straighten the fabric, alter the patterns and operate the machines.  Before we ever made our first garment, we made samples of darts, gathers, sleeves, zippers, etc.  It wasn’t long before I was sewing most of my clothes. My first plaid projects included a fitted button-down blouse with a collar and a lined wool coat. I even made a tailored, lined sports jacket; a reversible vest; and ties for my dad. My dad said he knew when I was in my room sewing because the gauge on our electric meter was spinning wildly!

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It was during that time my mother bought me my first Singer sewing machine with a zigzag stitch.  That function opened up a whole new opportunity to make appliqué banners.  The early ones were pretty simple, but the later ones are also art.

I graduated from college with a degree in engineering math, followed by an MBA. My first purchase when I was hired as an Engineering Manager was a new Bernina® 801. I was so excited to have a semi-automatic buttonhole feature and blind stitch hem. I thoroughly enjoyed those days of making Halloween costumes, bridesmaids’ dresses, prom dresses and more over the years. 

Giving With Sewing

There is no end to sewing opportunities. Recovering cushions, making curtains and drapes and small upholstery jobs eventually led to reupholstering couches and chairs for me and my family. I enjoyed matching the stripes on a sleeper sofa for my daughter using the absolute minimum amount of fabric. This was done as a fitted slipcover.  We reinvented that piece several times over the years.  

Another new oportunity opened when I joined the Art and Environment committee at my church. That’s when the banner work really took off. I enjoyed making seasonal banners but hanging them on the pillars was a time-intensive, cumbersome task.  I built mounting boards that could be strapped to the eight pillars surrounding our worship space. The boards use Velcro® to accommodate three layers of banners that can be attached and decorated on our workroom table. Hanging then only involved handing the board up to be buckled in place. 

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I continued to do lots of appliqué but I began to see the opportunity for machine embroidery as well.  I upgraded to a Bernina® 750 QE with the embroidery unit and have finally passed my original Bernina on to my daughter. I love the variety of stitches and the ability to handle anything from thin, slippery fabric to thick rag rugs.

It’s hard to attend a craft show or see anything in fabric and not say, “I could do that!” A few of my creations include lightweight day packs, compression packing bags, grocery totes, laptop sleeves and aprons. I even made several braided rag rugs for my home. Last year for Christmas, I sorted through my silk scarves and made kimonos and tailored shirts for my family. When COVID-19 came along I happily made over 600 four-layer masks to give away to family, friends and institutions.  This year the Christmas sewing gift will be travel cosmetic bags and cell phone caddies.

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If I see it, I can make it — usually out of my stash! I have inherited stash fabrics, unfinished projects and supplies from family members.  I cherish finishing the items their hands started. Speaking of stash, anyone who saves scraps is eventually going to make a quilt. It can’t be helped. So, I finished a couple of theirs, and made several of my own baby quilts for family members.  It’s especially pleasing to combine quilting, embroidery and appliqué work.

Enter Sailrite

This brings me to the project that introduced me to Sailrite products. Several years ago, I inherited my mother’s cat. Abby immediately took a liking to my favorite red chair and decided it made a handy scratching post. No amount of coaxing, chasing, covering or spraying could deter her from eventually shredding the chair. It was time to reupholster! I had just enough fabric from my stash, but I would have to lay out the pieces very carefully to match the horizontal and vertical stripes.

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That’s when I discovered my new friend Cindy on YouTube and the How to Reupholster an Armchair video. I watched those Sailrite videos over and over, working in stages and making notes. I realized that with her expertise and her impressive tools, I could manage this project! That led me to Sailrite’s helpful website where I ordered the Sailrite® Long Nose Upholstery Staple Gun, tack strips and other supplies.

Just a few days into removing the old fabric, I had knee replacement surgery. This gave me lots more time to plan and consider my task. Cindy is right about the deconstruction taking much longer than the reconstruction. My husband put the chair on a table in the living room where I could eventually stand for short stints as my knee healed. He bought me a portable air compressor so that I could staple quickly when I was able to stand. When I eventually needed access to my sewing room to make the piping and cushion, I still couldn’t manage stairs; he used a golf cart to drive me up and down from the living room deck to the outside basement entry. 

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One of Cindy’s best tips was to use the old fabric as a pattern and to mark where the pieces join. I roughly laid out all the pieces to ensure they would fit my limited fabric, but only cut out one piece at a time. Then I pinned the new piece in place next to an old piece to mark where the pattern had to match vertically and horizontally. I continued this method as I worked my way around the chair. Working in the proper order was imperative to achieve a match all the way around as well as up and down.

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I am so pleased with the result and forever indebted to Cindy for sharing her expertise. Her calm and confident voice also helped me to be patient and enjoy the challenge. I even machine embroidered a “tag” to the fabric with my initials and date. Then I used the old red fabric from the chair to make a bed and recover a scratching post for the cat. Abby took to both with great enthusiasm which will hopefully prevent her from ruining my “new” chair.

cat bed
Abby loves her new bed!
cat tree
Recovering Abby’s cat tree was a clever way to reuse the old chair fabric.

Future DIYing

I still have a list of projects and plenty of fabric to explore. I’d like to try my hand at smocked pillows next. Having a well-stocked, sorted and labeled private workspace helps. I have the liberty to spend hours, make a mess and then close the door until I am refreshed and inspired to return — which these days is quite often. When I’m not sewing, I enjoy playing the piano, singing in the choir and writing Pysanky. Pysanky are Ukrainian Easter Eggs; decorating them is another seasonal hobby of mine. These are real, emptied eggs, dyed with a wax resist process and they last for years.  I’ve made hundreds and teach classes.

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Wow! We think that chair looks great, and we’re so glad Sailrite was able to help! With everything that Patty DIYs, we’re excited to see what she creates next. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

A Total Powerboat Transformation

Sometimes the perfect project comes along that lets you put all your DIY skills to use. That’s what happened to Ronnie Miller. This talented DIYer found a powerboat for sale online that needed A LOT of work — a complete overhaul. He bought the boat in February 2019, for only $1,000 and worked hard to get it water-ready by June. Keep reading to learn more about this powerboat transformation and how Sailrite® supplies and project videos helped Ronnie tackle this massive DIY endeavor.

Like a lot of DIYers, Ronnie learned the ropes as a young boy. “My grandmother taught me to hand sew when I was 5 years old. My uncle was a tailor and he gave me swatches to work with.” From those humble beginnings, his talent grew and grew.

boat collage
Keep scrolling to see the “before” photos!

In addition to sewing, Ronnie enjoys a variety of other hands-on hobbies. “Projects are my hobby. I have always been good with my hands, fixing and rebuilding things.” Ronnie recently moved into a condominium, and he has been enjoying remodeling it himself and turning it into a proper home. “I’ve been working on carpentry and woodworking projects. I laid the vinyl floor, painted and fixed sheetrock. I have installed a mosquito mister at the house, a new metal fence to see the lake, a new wood fence, and I installed an entire sprinkler system for the front yard and back.”

Let’s learn more about the big powerboat project! “I always wanted a boat. This was the first one I ever owned, towed, worked on and completed in just three months.” What an accomplishment! So, exactly how much work went into the powerboat transformation? We’ll let Ronnie explain in his own words.

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“I found the boat on a for-sale website and thought if I failed, I couldn’t lose too much considering I only paid $1,000 for it. I later put in an additional $6,000 including the engine, materials and tools, which I am always using now. I didn’t realize I had to replace the engine, floor or dashboard with all-new electronics until I started tearing it apart.”

After all the hard gutting and rebuilding work, Ronnie was ready to tackle the upholstery. That’s where Sailrite came in. “I needed vinyl to cover the seats and I found Sailrite online.” He chose a striking combination of white, silver and black Morbern® vinyl fabrics. He also ordered Medium Density Polyurethane Antimicrobial Foam from Sailrite — a great choice for powerboat upholstery.

boat in progress
In-progress photos.

The project went fairly smoothly, and Ronnie only hit a few minor snags along the way. “Once I got started, I wanted everything to look new. I had the trailer sandblasted and had to replace parts there. I needed a new gas tank float and a new dashboard with new Bluetooth® radio. I replaced the old carpet with gray-and-black striped flooring, and I installed lights on the front for boating at night.”

Before his recent move, he lived just five short minutes from Lake Houston, a reservoir on the San Jacinto River northeast of Houston, Texas. Ronnie took the boat out almost every week. After enjoying the water and the boat for a while, he decided to sell it and made a whopping $5,000 profit! He credits the eye-catching upholstery work for garnering such a big profit. True to his DIY nature and need to keep busy, Ronnie bought and restored a second boat and made $6,000 on that sale!

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So, what’s he working on now? “Since completing the boat I have now started a wall covering of large fabric-covered squares behind my bed. It’s still a work in progress, but I should be finished soon.” Ronnie is using the Sailrite how-to video “How to Make Upholstered Wall Panels” to help complete the project.

“I find that working on a project is great for the mind; it gives you time to think alone. I also get great satisfaction by looking at it and saying, ‘Hey, I did that!’” Way to go, Ronnie! We love your positive attitude and can-do spirit. Good luck on all of your future DIYs. We’re sure they’re going to be huge successes.

Regina Fuller: A DIY Success Story

To DIY or not to DIY — is that even a question!? Not for enthusiastic sewer Regina Fuller. Though she’s new to sewing, she’s full of that can-do spirit that lives and thrives in all sewers and makers. Regina and her husband, Jacob, purchased a fixer-upper NorSea 27 sailboat. The boat needed major restoration, from helm to hull and everything in between. Regina knew it was going to be a big project, and while her husband did the brunt of the work, she wanted to contribute to the boat’s revamp in a tangible way. She decided to sew new cushions for the interior cabin and exterior cockpit, even though she’d never done upholstery work before. With the help of Sailrite’s supplies and how-to videos, she was able to successfully complete her cushion projects with great results.

Regina learned to sew at a young age, but she never really caught the sewing bug. “My mom taught me the basics of sewing when I was a kid, but I never really took to it. As an adult, I could mend clothes and made a bed skirt once, but that was about the extent of my sewing experience.” Even with such minimal practice, and not having touched a sewing machine in years, Regina was ready to take on her first upholstery project. First up were the cushions for the boat’s cabin. She used a home sewing machine for the project and followed Sailrite’s “How to Make V-Berth Cushions” how-to video. Though she had a couple of small struggles, she completed the cushions and was thrilled with the end product.

Jake and Regina on boat
Jacob and Regina Fuller enjoying some much-deserved time on the water.

For the cockpit cushions, she knew her home sewing machine wouldn’t be able to handle the thickness of the vinyl and piping. So Regina turned to Sailrite again. After thorough research and consideration, she invested in the Ultrafeed® LSZ-1. Her delight and excitement at how the cockpit cushions turned out speak volumes. The right tools and supplies make all the difference. What’s Regina’s favorite part about sewing and DIY? “The end product! There is a lot of satisfaction in knowing that you made something that you and your family get to enjoy for years.” 

Join us as we learn more about this determined DIYer, her family’s sailing lifestyle, and what she’s learned from her sewing experiences so far.

Q. When and how did you learn to sail?

A. My husband is a skilled sailor and has been sailing since he was a kid. He took me sailing on our second date and I fell in love with him and sailing! We live in Humboldt County, California, so we sail primarily in Humboldt Bay. When we have vacation time, we like to trailer our sailboat to the San Juan Islands in Washington or Clearlake, California.  

Q. What do you love about sailing? 

A. Everything! The wind, the fresh air and the wildlife you see in the bay. Our boat is a mini floating home and we often stay the weekend on it. I love being confined to the boat where you aren’t distracted by house chores and other worries of the world. The soft lull of the sea is so relaxing. We have two teenage boys ages 13 and 16. At this age, they just want to be with their friends or on electronics. We love stealing them away from all of that and getting them on the boat. There is nothing better than being hunkered down inside playing Yahtzee and drinking hot chocolate or sailing in 15+ knot winds using all their skills to have a successful sail. I have so many amazing moments and memories over the past 20 years on one of our sailboats. 

The Nor’Sea 27 fixer-upper. Just wait till you see the “after” photos!

Q. Can you tell us what all was involved in your big Nor’Sea restoration project?  

A. My husband has always wanted a Nor’Sea 27. We’ve had two other monohulls over the years, and some Hobie Cats and daysailers, but never a Nor’Sea. It’s a seaworthy classic sailboat that can be put on a trailer and taken to any sailing grounds you want. Over the years he has seen them for sale, but not at a price point we could afford and usually located states away. Five years ago, one came up for sale only 45 minutes away from our home. He took me to see it and I thought he was crazy. Yes, it was only $5,000, but the amount of work it needed was more than I had a vision for. We have renovated two homes and built a third, so I knew he had the skills and determination to see it through. But this time I didn’t see how it would be possible that I’d ever want to stay a night on this boat. Five years later he proved me wrong and all I want to do every weekend is go to the boat. We named the boat “Zephyr” and launched her for the first time in June 2020. 

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Almost everything had to be done. He had a new gas tank made and he installed it. He put in a newer diesel engine and redid the plumbing and electrical. He renovated the hanging locker on the port side in order to install a propane heater. He gutted the galley and installed all new appliances and customized the galley to maximize the space and fit my dishes. He gutted the starboard side navigation station and turned it into shelving and settee — painted, sanded and restored woodwork. On the outside, he sanded and painted, built the bowsprit, and installed some new rigging and lifelines.  

Right now he is restoring the trailer and I’m planning to make a bimini. We plan to pull the boat back out in the winter for a few more improvements. Given all the blood, sweat and tears that he put into this renovation, I was determined to make a contribution by making the cushions. We thought about paying someone to do it, but I really wanted to be able to say that I put some time, energy and skill into our dream boat as well. The cushions were the sprinkles on the cake to make his beautiful restoration look complete.  

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Q. What made you decide on an Ultrafeed Sewing Machine? What specific qualities were you looking for in a sewing machine?

A. I used a “heavy duty” inexpensive Singer sewing machine for the inside cabin cushions. I was afraid to invest in a quality upholstery machine when I didn’t know if I would even be able to successfully make the cushions. I broke several needles pushing through that project. After successfully making those cushions and realizing that I had enough skill to really do this, I knew I had to invest in a quality machine if I planned to make the cockpit cushions with piping and vinyl. There was no way my other machine would do it. I needed it to be able to easily go through several layers of heavy-duty canvas or vinyl. 

I looked at several heavy duty upholstery machines. Sailrite had a quality product for a very reasonable price. I ultimately decided to purchase the Ultrafeed because my experience to date with Sailrite has been exceptional. I love all the how-to videos and online tools to help me decide on the best materials for my projects. The Ultrafeed sewed the vinyl and piping like it was cutting through butter. I couldn’t be happier with it. I have really appreciated the short tutorials to help me understand how to thread the machine, wind the bobbin, and provide general care for the machine. All the Ultrafeed videos have been really thorough and helpful.

cockpit cushions
Cockpit cushions before and after.

Q. Now that you’ve been practicing and have sewn a few projects, have you learned any sewing tips along the way that you’d like to share?

A. I do have an important tip to share from my experience. When using the seam ripper on the zipper plate, use the plastic tip side down to rip after you get it started. I accidentally ripped my fabric when I continued to use the sharp side down — it’s a real bummer to rip it for so many reasons.

Here are all my take-aways from my vinyl cockpit cushion project: 

1) Definitely use the basting tape to help keep the vinyl from puckering when attaching it to the piping. It will make it SO much easier to line everything up nicely when sewing the plaque on. Your how-to video recommends it, but I tried the first panel without it and wished I had listened to your recommendations. I used the basting tape on everything after that. 

2) If using the YKK® AquaGuard® Water Repellent Zipper, don’t forget to sew it into the zipper plaque the opposite way you would for a regular zipper. I totally forgot about this and sewed it in wrong and threaded the pull on like you would a normal zipper. Of course it wouldn’t zip closed and didn’t work. I thought the zipper was a joke. I went back to the Sailrite website and found a video tutorial about this zipper, and that’s when I realized I did it all wrong. Once I got it sewed correctly it worked like a dream! 

3) I used closed cell foam for the cockpit cushions for its flotation. Closed cell foam is very different to work with than the interior foam I used for the cabin cushions. When cutting out the fabric and foam, I used the same allowance for my seams and compressing the foam that I did for the interior cushions. When I finished the first one and put the foam inside, I was so disappointed. It was extremely loose. The correct fix would have been to cut the foam out larger; however, I had already cut the foam for two of the cushions and there was really no way to easily add another 1/2 inch of foam to all sides. So I ended up tearing apart the cushion cover, cutting it down, and re-sewing.  Although it ended up being 1 inch shorter than my original pattern, you wouldn’t be able to tell. It still looks nice in the cockpit. I had a few other cushions to make that I hadn’t cut the foam for yet, so those turned out nice and exactly to pattern.

boat restoration
The beautiful Zephyr fully restored and ready for launch.

Q. What advice would you give to a brand-new sewer or someone thinking about getting into sewing? 

A. You can do it. The Sailrite videos teach you everything you need to be successful. If you know you want to complete upholstery projects, then invest in a quality machine from the start. By having a quality machine, your very first project will be easier, which will help build your confidence.  

Q. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about your sewing, sailing lifestyle or yourself in general?

A. My motivation in entering to be a featured customer was to hopefully inspire others. I had only basic/limited sewing skills and I’m so proud of what I have accomplished with my first few projects. I hope others see this story and take the plunge in trying something new. My success was truly due to the excellent tutorials, materials and equipment offered by Sailrite. 

Now that Regina has conquered the boat cushions, she’s ready to put her new skills and her new machine to work again. Next up, she plans on sewing a bimini for their newly restored boat. She also wants to learn how to do sail repair (perfect for the Ultrafeed LSZ-1) and wants to sew duffle bags from used sailcloth — a great way to reuse and upcycle used sails! With an ever-growing project list, we’re thrilled that we could be a part of Regina’s sewing and DIY journey. Good luck with all your future sewing projects, Regina! We know you’ll do great!

Regina and family
The whole family (from left: Ethan, Regina, Buster, Hunter, Jacob and Joshua) playing Yahtzee aboard Zephyr.

Building a Custom Wooden Boat

Somehow in the spring of 2007, Jeff Cobb ended up on Glen-L Marine’s email marketing list. Glen-L Marine sells wooden boat plans. “Week after week as the email appeared in my inbox, I’d have feelings of eagerness and disgust at the same time,” Jeff recalled. “Eager to see all the pictures of new wooden boats people around the world were building from Glen-L plans, and disgusted knowing that if I opened this email, I could kiss my productive workday goodbye because for the next two hours I’d be consumed by daydreams of the wooden boat I might build.” Jeff was particularly enamored with building a small sporty two-seat runabout model called the Glen-L Squirt.

While woodworking had never been his main hobby, Jeff had had the good fortune of growing up across the street from a cabinet builder and general jack-of-all-trades, Mr. Deedee, who built cabinets in his backyard shop. Mr. Deedee and Ms. Joy’s house is where all the kids hung out, playing basketball, ping pong and backyard football. While Jeff never did much work with Mr. Deedee, just from being around the shop as a kid he had gained a lot of woodworking knowledge. Enough so that he was confident he could build a good wooden boat, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted to make the commitment. But by the end of the summer he finally caved, ordered the Squirt plans, and began building.

squirt 1
“I just had to build this boat. I bought the plans, and built my first boat — a Glen-L Squirt.”

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

After completing the Glen-L Squirt in May 2009, Jeff and his wife, Melanie, began to assimilate into the wooden boat community in southern Louisiana and beyond. “We enjoyed the Squirt, but its use is very limited being that the boat is only 11 feet long. We were enjoying the people in the wooden boat community and the boating experiences,” Jeff stated, “but we wanted a bigger boat so that we could bring friends along. We also needed to go faster and handle rough chop in order to run with the big dogs.”

So, in 2012, Jeff started designing and building his second boat, the Pretty Girl Too. It’s a 22-foot runabout that comfortably seats six adults. Jeff had very specific features and design qualities in mind for this second boat. Essentially, he wanted the boat to be like a modern luxury runabout in every way but built out of wood with the general appearance of a classic wooden boat. He built the hull from a set of Clarkcraft Mariner plans that he modified substantially. He also incorporated design aspects and borrowed inspiration from several different boats, including the Riva Aquariva, Pegiva Convertible, and numerous Chris Craft models and Glen-L builds.

Building a Masterpiece

“It took me five years of nights and weekends to build the Pretty Girl Too,” Jeff recalled. “I’d say at least a year or so of that time was spent not so much in building the boat, but in thinking through the design. I don’t draw well nor do I know how to use CAD software, so the method of design consisted of building lots of mock-ups, which is quite time-consuming.”

constructing the hull
Clockwise from top left: Various stages of constructing the hull.

After building and modifying the hull frame to the shape Jeff was looking for, he double planked the boat with a 1/4-inch inner plywood layer and 1/4-inch outer Sapele veneer layer. Next came lots and lots of sanding and fairing. Fairing is the process of creating a pleasant fair curve as you look down the side of the boat. Too little sanding and fairing result in a profile that resembles a wrecked car that was poorly repaired at a subpar body shop.

He painted the boat bottom green and applied clear gloss above the waterline using numerous coats of SystemThree marine polyurethane for both. The finish was sanded to 5000 grit and polished to a high glossy shine. Finally, the hull was complete. Several friends and neighbors pitched in to help gently roll the boat onto some old mattresses and then lift it onto its trailer. A very happy celebration with beer and pizza followed.

flipping boat
Flipping the boat so it could be loaded onto a trailer to work on the interior.

Upholstering the Rear Seating Area

Designing the finished interior presented several challenges, but none bigger than the U-shaped seating area. Several mock-ups were built before finally settling on the final design. In the end, all that hard work and planning were worth it; the rear seating area emerged as a part of the boat that Jeff was most pleased with.

Once Jeff completed the woodwork, he thought his portion of the work was finished. He was excited to see the finished project and ready to write a check to an upholsterer and get it done. But his excitement was soon quelled when he discovered that very few upholstery shops do marine upholstery, and none of them had an appetite for all the custom work needed for his boat.

before upholstery
The rear U-shaped seating area before upholstery.

He first tried hiring an upholsterer in December 2016. Yet, by June of 2017, the boat was still not upholstered. He’d been strung along for months by a couple different shops telling him they’d get to it in two to three weeks, but never actually committing to the job. Frustrated by the runaround, he decided he would do the upholstery himself. He’d watched numerous Sailrite® how-to videos and borrowed an old Thompson Mini Walker — the precursor to the Sailrite Ultrafeed® — from his brother, Carl.

While Jeff was determined to get started on the upholstery work, there was a lot of apprehension. This was a major project for someone who’d never really sewn anything, and the upholstery is so prominent in an open-air runabout that there’s no place to hide mistakes. It really needed to be done right and professionally, and Jeff had grave concerns whether he was capable of sewing the upholstery to his high standards.

Then suddenly, a hero appeared! Jill, a friend of Jeff and Melanie’s, offered to do the sewing if he did all the foam fitting. This was a fantastic break! Not only did Jill have upholstery sewing experience, but she also had an Ultrafeed LSZ-1 Sewing Machine. Much to her husband, David’s, dismay, she even put their sailboat dodger project on hold while she worked on Jeff’s upholstery. She professionally patterned the curved and irregular surfaces with Dura-Skrim® Patterning Material so everything fit tightly and sewed with Profilen® Lifetime Thread. The results were spectacular: “All too often I’m asked by people looking at the boat, ‘Who did your upholstery?’ They are always shocked to learn that it was done by a couple of enthusiastic amateurs. Jill really came to the rescue and did a fantastic job.”

pjimage
The completed upholstery work on the Pretty Girl Too.

A Snapless Cockpit Cover

With the upholstery completed, Jeff’s attention turned to another issue. He knew that in showing and using the boat it would spend many nights tied up to dock, and so he needed a cockpit cover to keep the interior clean, dry and protected during these overnight stays. While he appreciated Jill’s help on the upholstery, he was determined to do this project all on his own. This would be the project where he’d put all the hours spent watching Sailrite videos and his brother’s old Thompson Mini Walker to use. He ordered Top Notch® 9 fabric, grommets, Boat Blanket material and patterning fabric — all from Sailrite — and was ready to get to work.

However, there was one concern in making a cockpit cover that kept gnawing at Jeff. After hours and hours spent sanding and polishing the decking to a high-gloss mirror shine, he couldn’t bear the thought of marring his beautiful woodwork with snaps for attaching the cover to the boat. He came up with a clever alternative. Instead of using the traditional snaps to attach the cover, he tethered it to each of the four docking cleats. Then he added pockets to the cover that hold collapsible fiberglass tent poles to keep the cover taut. Jeff admitted, “It’s certainly a little different looking, but it’s a breeze to put on and works wonderfully, even in fairly high winds.”

snapless cover 1
The cockpit cover Jeff designed that cleverly uses tent poles so he didn’t have to add snap fasteners to his woodwork.

After completing the cockpit cover, Jeff put his newfound sewing skill into action by making fender covers with help from Sailrite’s project video. He also sewed some tote bags and did some canvas mending for a local sailing club. While finding satisfaction in the items he was producing, the actual act of sewing on the old Thompson was more often than not tedious and frustrating. The machine lacked the power to go through multiple layers of fabric and the stitch length adjustment would not hold in place. The final straw came when the tensioner broke. You can no longer find replacement parts for the machine, so Jeff rigged a homemade tensioner, but it didn’t work so well.

He then found a local sewing machine repair mechanic who installed a tensioner from a different model machine. “It worked OK, but not great,” Jeff explained. “I’d entertained the thought of getting a Sailrite machine early in the process while watching the videos but questioned whether it would be worthwhile just for doing the few projects I was working on. But once I realized how much I enjoyed sewing and began to envision all of the neat custom items I’d be able to make, I vowed that the next time Sailrite offered a 10 percent discount on the machine I was buying one — and I did.”

What made Jeff decide on an Ultrafeed? Following many other boatbuilders on the Glen-L forum who did their own upholstery, he noticed that most used the Sailrite machines and all of them spoke highly of their machines. Jill also loved her Ultrafeed and recommended it. “I’ve yet to read anything negative about Sailrite or their machines; it’s all glowing reviews. So, for me, buying the Sailrite machine was a no-brainer.”

pretty girl too
Jeff worked nights and weekends for five years building the Pretty Girl Too.

Smooth Sewing Ahead

Although Jeff hasn’t owned his Ultrafeed for very long, he’s enthusiastic about all the projects he’ll make with it. Having a heavy-duty sewing machine opens up a realm of new project possibilities. Jeff admits that he has more ideas than he’ll ever have time to sew, but he’s excited about the ones he will get to. He has plans to re-cover his outdoor patio cushions in LSU purple and gold for their gameday watch parties and has a desire to build curved wood mahogany captain’s chairs with custom upholstery for the Pretty Girl Too.

Another thing Jeff is looking forward to is loaning his Ultrafeed out to his brother. “Carl doesn’t sew too often, but the next time he does, I know he’ll enjoy the power and smoothness of the Utlrafeed over his old Thompson. When taking on any complex DIY project such as a boat, it’s always nice to have an “ace in the hole.” Carl’s my ace. He’s an extremely experienced craftsman in many areas and always available to provide advice and a helping hand. He’s also one of those guys who has every tool imaginable and has generously let me borrow them. It’s not often I have the opportunity to lend him any tool because he has them all, and so I’m excited about him benefitting from my Ultrafeed in the sewing projects he pursues.”

Oh, and how did Jeff come up with the name Pretty Girl Too for his second boat? “‘Pretty Girl’ is my wife, Melanie’s, pet name. She’s been so supportive of my boatbuilding hobby. The amount of support and encouragement she’s provided are immeasurable, and so I proudly named the boat after her. Thus the name, ‘Pretty Girl Too.’”

PG and Me at Madisonville
Jeff and Melanie are all smiles aboard the Pretty Girl Too.