The Cost of DIY: An Investment in Successful Sewing

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There’s no doubt that DIYing boat, home, automobile and outdoor sewing projects saves you money over time. Yet, within the world of DIY, there’s a spectrum of product quality and prices on everything from fabric and notions to sewing machines and other tools.

Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. You can reupholster your furniture or sew an awning with cheap materials that won’t last more than a few seasons. Or you can spend more money on higher-quality materials and create an item that will last much longer.

If you want high-quality projects that will look great for years, we think it’s worth choosing the more expensive, better-made product. You’ll avoid the added cost, time and annoyance of having to redo projects when the cheaper materials break down quickly. To illustrate our point, let’s take a look at some examples of professional-level products we sell here at Sailrite and their cheaper alternatives.

Sewing Thread: Lifetime vs. Polyester

Polyester thread is a great choice for outdoor sewing projects. Outdoor polyester thread is UV resistant and non-wicking, with good seam strength and stretch control. You can use it for a variety of summer items that you bring indoors or put in storage the rest of the year, such as patio cushions, furniture covers and sun shades. Removing your sewing projects from exposure to sun, weather and temperature extremes will prolong the life of the polyester thread.

However, for sewing projects that will be exposed to high levels of sunlight, pollution, cleaning agents, weather extremes and other demanding conditions, we strongly recommend investing in a lifetime thread. It’s made from PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) and is completely unaffected by sunlight and nature’s harshest elements. It’s guaranteed to outlast your fabric and comes with a lifetime manufacturer’s warranty.

Although it is more expensive than polyester outdoor thread, the benefits of lifetime thread outweigh the initial cost. Lifetime thread will never rot or lose its strength, even after years of sun exposure. We recommend it for biminis and dodgers, boat covers, awnings, sail covers, and outdoor equipment that will spend years in the sun.

The Cost of DIY 3A selection of the lifetime sewing threads we offer at Sailrite.

Typically, the weakest part of any canvas project is the thread, but that is not the case with our two brands of lifetime thread: Sailrite® (formerly Profilen®) and Tenara®. These threads can be left outside all year round in all weather conditions and they will still outlast the fabric in which they are sewn.

Tenara thread is resistant to UV rays, chemicals, pollution and more. It’s also colorfast and withstands extreme temperatures. This thread is lubricated with a small amount of silicone wax, which makes it a bit trickier to sew with. That’s why it can only be sewn with rotary hook sewing machines like the Sailrite® Fabricator®. The wax on the thread lubricates the machine and helps create quality stitches.

Sailrite Lifetime Thread, in addition to its UV, chemical and mildew resistance, has self-cleaning properties due to its dirt and water repellency. It’s also highly resistant to abrasion. This thread can be sewn with both rotary hook machines (such as the Fabricator) and oscillating hook machines (such as the Sailrite® Ultrafeed®). If you're not sure what kind of sewing machine you have, read our blog, "Rotary vs. Oscillating Hook Sewing Machines" (#300118XHT).

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Marine Canvas Fabric: Sattler® vs. Knockoff

When you buy Sattler Marine Grade fabric from Sailrite, you can rest assured that you’re getting the real thing. We are an authorized distributor of Sattler Corp., the makers of a hugely popular marine canvas. Sattler Marine Grade fabric is a top choice for boaters looking for a durable, fade-resistant and long-lasting fabric for biminis, dodgers, sail covers, awnings and more.

When shopping for Sattler Marine Grade, you might be surprised at the price range on the internet for what appears to be the same fabric. We caution you against selecting the cheapest option! Some retailers sell "fake marine grade," a knockoff canvas that looks like the real thing but is far from it. We frequently hear from customers who got upholstery grade fabric when they needed marine grade, which is heavier and much more water resistant. It’s important to purchase fabric from a source that can recommend the right Sattler product for your DIY.

The Cost of DIY 7Sattler Marine Grade fabric comes in a variety of vibrant colors.

The advantages of real Sattler fabric are numerous. Due to its revolutionary solution-dyed manufacturing process, the fabric is inherently resistant to fading and UV damage. It is water and mildew resistant and does not noticeably shrink or stretch. That’s only a handful of the amazing benefits that Sattler Marine Grade fabric offers!

And we can’t talk about this top-quality fabric without mentioning the outstanding manufacturer’s warranty. If the Sattler fabric you purchased shows significant signs of fading after a few years, and you purchased the fabric from an authorized reseller like Sailrite, you can be certain Sattler will process your claim quickly. Sattler shade and marine fabrics come with a 10-year limited warranty.

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Sewing Machines: Home Machine vs. Ultrafeed

Some customers ask us, "Can I sew a bimini using a home sewing machine?" And that’s just one example. Other customers ask whether they can sew leather, window material, vinyl and more using their home sewing machines. Our response is usually, "Yes, it can be done." And while that’s true, you might not get the polished, professional results you’re looking for from a home sewing machine.

Multiple layers of fabric or specialty materials like vinyl are sometimes too much for home machines to handle. Most home machines don’t have a walking foot to climb varying material thicknesses. They also sew shorter stitch lengths, which can lead to fabric puckering and uneven feeding. Skipped stitches may also result if you are maxing out your machine’s presser foot lift.

That’s why we strongly recommend upgrading to a machine that’s built to handle the tough or thick materials that go into marine, home, outdoor and automotive projects. The Ultrafeed LS and LSZ Sewing Machines deliver the highest-quality stitch definition and sewing precision in heavy-duty yet portable machines.

The Cost of DIY 4The portable, heavy-duty Ultrafeed Sewing Machine will take your sewing to the next level.

You’ll never have to worry about being able to sew through multiple layers of fabric. The Ultrafeed has an impressive 3/8-inch presser foot lift that can handle extremely thick assemblies with ease. And Sailrite’s patented Posi-Pin® Safety Shear is designed to break when you hit something you shouldn’t while sewing. This stops your machine and saves it from potential internal damage and retiming issues.

Whether you sew marine canvaswork, home upholstery projects, auto and RV projects, or awnings and patio DIYs, having the power of the Ultrafeed is crucial to a successful and stress-free sewing experience.

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Staples: Galvanized vs. Stainless Steel

Every upholsterer knows staples are an essential part of re-covering furniture. Galvanized zinc staples are standard in home upholstery work and other indoor-only projects that won’t be exposed to moisture. However, if you’re branching out into marine upholstery or other outdoor projects, we can’t emphasize enough the need to invest in stainless steel staples. They provide a higher level of durability and corrosion resistance and will last longer in demanding outdoor and marine environments. They are more expensive than galvanized staples, but they won’t rust and will still look great after years of exposure to rain and saltwater.

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Vinyl Window Material: Rolled vs. Press-Polished

When choosing a clear vinyl window material for your dodger, flybridge enclosure, bimini enclosure or other marine application, it can be tempting to choose an inexpensive option. After all, all 30-gauge window vinyl is the same, right? Well, that’s not entirely true. At Sailrite, we sell two varieties of vinyl window material: rolled and press-polished. Let’s take a look at why press-polished — the more expensive option — is a better choice for marine applications.

There’s a difference in the manufacturing process between rolled goods and sheet goods (aka pressed and polished vinyl). A combination of heat and pressure weld the sheets of press-polished vinyl together, resulting in a sheet of clear window material with a consistent thickness and great optical clarity.

The Cost of DIY 5The windows in this dodger are made from 40-gauge Strataglass window material.

On the other hand, rolled vinyl is made by heating and extruding vinyl material through a series of roller presses. This method produces a lot of vinyl quickly and for a lower price, but the resulting material picks up scratches and imperfections easily. Its optical clarity also won’t last as long as a press-polished vinyl.

Optical clarity is a crucial factor when you’re on a boat. You want to get years of use out of your window material. That means choosing a brand like Strataglass™ or O’Sea®, which are known for their superior optical clarity and a proprietary coating that gives them better scratch and chemical resistance. This coating extends the longevity of the window material.

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Foam Cutting: Electric Kitchen Knife vs. Foam Saw

When it comes to cutting foam for upholstery pieces, there’s a vast difference in the tools available to get the job done. If you are cutting straight, easy lines with minimal shaping — or if you only need to cut a small amount of foam — an electric kitchen knife may do well enough. Your lines might not look the cleanest, but usually the results will be adequate for your purposes.

However, if you own a small upholstery shop, do a lot of personal upholstery work or want the convenience and quality of fast, precise cuts, it’s wise to invest in a foam saw. A well-made foam saw is indispensable in an upholsterer’s workshop. It creates precise, accurate cuts for a great-looking finished product.

The Cost of DIY 6The Sailrite Blade Foam Saw cuts through thick, firm foam with ease.

The Sailrite® Blade Foam Saw features two blades for the smoothest possible cuts, even through firm foam. One stationary blade grabs the foam while the moving blade expertly saws. This dual-blade system creates less bounce than single-blade cutters and cuts through every type of seating and sleeping foam on the market. We highly recommend this valuable tool for serious DIYers and small upholstery shops.

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We hope our examples have shown you why it’s worth investing a little more money upfront for quality tools and supplies. By choosing professional-grade, high-quality materials, you save yourself time, frustration and additional costs down the road. You won’t have to redo your projects as often if you use products like lifetime thread, press-polished window material and stainless steel upholstery staples. And you won’t be disappointed by amateur-looking results if you use the best tools for the job, like the Sailrite Blade Foam Saw and an Ultrafeed Sewing Machine.

Let us know if you have any questions about choosing the right tool or supply for your DIY. We’re always happy to help you in all your sewing endeavors!


This blog was updated in February 2023 to reflect changes in fabric brand offerings and Ultrafeed naming conventions.