Sewing for Man’s Best Friend

Who doesn’t love our four-legged furry friends!? Not only do pets provide much-needed companionship and cuddle-time, but it’s been proven that owning a pet can help you live longer and have a healthier lifestyle. If you’re a sewer and dog owner, have you ever considered sewing dog toys? Bruce and Joan Calendrillo recently adopted Toby, an adorable terrier mix, from their local animal shelter. After Toby destroyed a store-bought toy in a matter of days, Bruce put his sewing skills to work creating better-made, more durable toys for his new pup. Read on to find out how Bruce uses supplies and how-to videos from Sailrite® to further his sewing talents and keep busy during his “semiretirement.”

toby collage
Meet Toby! He enjoys walks, playing with his toys, and annoying Mona the cat.

Old Dog, New Tricks

Bruce didn’t discover a love of sewing until later in life. Following a long and prestigious career in the medical field, his career took a sharp left turn when he bought a dry cleaning business. He took every opportunity to learn as much as he could — and that included learning how to sew. He dutifully watched his seamstress repair people’s clothes. “I honed my skills with practice, practice, practice. I learned new techniques through videos and books.” After Bruce closed the store, he took a job as a tailor at another local dry cleaning business and put his sewing skills to good use. “One year later that dry cleaner’s closed. I purchased all of their equipment and supplies and moved it all into my basement. I bought a sign and put it in my yard.”

Bruce is now semiretired and runs his own tailoring and clothes repair business from his basement. He’s only been sewing for about 10 years, but he has already amassed quite a reputation. “Tailoring is the perfect retirement job. I do as much work as I want while putting a few dollars in my pocket. A side benefit is that instead of working all day long away from home, I now get to meet all of my neighbors who quickly turn from customers to friends.”

His tailoring business allows him to keep busy and stay active while doing something he enjoys. “I love learning new things. Sewing lends itself to that passion in that there are always different techniques to learn and projects to explore.” Bruce’s sewing skills aren’t limited to just clothing repair and tailoring. He has made huge dock covers, reupholstered furniture, redesigned gowns and more.

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Through all his career changes, Bruce’s wife, Joan, has been the steadfast one. Joan is recently retired from a lifelong career as a preschool director and program developer. “She wonders how I can always be looking for such a dramatic change, while I will never understand how she could spend more than one day with a room full of 4- and 5-year-olds.”

Bruce first learned about Sailrite through a customer. The customer wanted a new bimini top for his boat. While doing some online research, Bruce found Sailrite. “I am a boat owner as well. As this was something that I had never done, and something I wanted to do for my own boat, I took on the job. When sewing canvas projects for customers, I always refer them to the Sailrite website. I have them choose and purchase their own material, always recommending Sunbrella®.” Bruce used the Sailrite bimini top video tutorial to guide him through the fabrication process for both the customer’s bimini and his own.

Bruce has also used Sailrite’s free video resources to sew new patio cushions for a friend of the family. “A close friend of my wife’s asked me to make new cushion covers for her patio set — about 20 cushions. This was a perfect winter job that I did last year and completed by the spring.” Bruce referred to Sailrite’s “How to Make a French Mattress Style Cushion” video to complete the mammoth undertaking. “I purchased Silk Film from Sailrite and, following the tutorial, I was able to easily stuff the foam back into each cover.”

Dog Days of Sewing

Bruce and Joan recently adopted a rescue dog, and that opened Bruce up to new sewing projects he hadn’t previously attempted. “My wife and I have taken on the challenge of adopting a terrier mix from our local shelter. When I am not walking or training Toby to sit and roll over, I am in the basement making him stuffed toys.” When they first adopted Toby, the Calendrillos immediately went to a local pet supply store and stocked up on food, treats and a stuffed toy. Two days later, the store-bought toy was ripped to shreds.

Bruce knew he could do better. He immediately set to work sewing dog toys from higher quality materials that could stand up to Toby’s canines. Using leftover Sunbrella from a recent sewing project, he got to work. “I felt that the toughness of the fabric would lend itself to the biting and pulling of the animal.” Bruce adapted the same French seam technique he learned from the Sailrite cushion video and applied it to the dog toy. He took two circles of Sunbrella and sewed them together with a French seam, stuffing the toy with fiberfill and a squeaker. “I have made several of these toys for family and friends with dogs. The French seam adds extra durability, and Toby has yet to get a tooth through the Sunbrella.”

toby with frisbee
So many handmade toys to choose from!

He next adapted this simple design to make a Frisbee®-type toy. He added another circular stitch 1-1/2 inches in from the edge of the fabric disk once it was completed, making a flatter, more disk-shaped toy. “It flies much farther than the first toy. And since it’s only cloth and fiberfill, I can throw it in the house without breaking anything (so far).” Bruce challenged himself yet again when he designed “Toby’s Big Ball” — a pentagonal-shaped toy similar to a soccer ball. “The ball is half as big as Toby, but since it is so soft and light he can easily grab and carry it around. And he looks absolutely silly doing it.” Bruce added a small rope loop when closing the toy that he backstitched over several times to secure it. The rope makes it easier for Bruce to throw the ball and turns it into a pull toy also.

Not stopping at toys, Bruce has also made dog and cat beds from leftover fleece and fiberfill. “I am always looking to hone my skills and learn different sewing techniques.” Bruce shared that he plans on making a PVC-style elevated dog bed soon using the Sailrite video tutorial. Toby sounds like one lucky pup to be spoiled with all these handmade goodies!

toby bed
A cozy dog bed made from fleece and fiberfill.

What does Bruce do when he’s not busy with his sewing business or making toys for the newest member of the family? “When I am not working on hemming pants, shortening curtains, taking in dresses or letting out men’s pants that ‘must have shrunk in the dryer,’ I am putting my scrap material to good use.” With all the projects he’s done for customers and his own sewing, Bruce has amassed a large amount of scrap fabric. “Too much to throw away but too little to use on a major project,” as he put it. He sews eye pillows and sachets for his daughter’s farm store that she fills with organic herbs. He makes doll clothes for his granddaughter’s and great-nieces’ American Girl® dolls. “I volunteer at my granddaughter’s 2nd grade class and made Christmas presents for each of her classmates — wallets for the boys and wristlets for the girls.”

With no signs of slowing down in sight, Bruce will keep putting his sewing skills to great use. Whether he’s sewing canvas, hemming pants and tailoring clothes, or sewing more toys and dog beds for Toby, he’s doing it his own way and on his own schedule. Semiretirement isn’t slowing Bruce down one bit, and Toby is sure to keep him in stitches for a long time to come.

11 thoughts on “Sewing for Man’s Best Friend”

  1. I came to heavy-duty sewing late in life. We all learned to sew on a button by hand and do a seam or two on a sewing machine back in Junior High School, in a _required_ Home Economics class, the girls and the boys as well. All the kids learned how to cook a few things, change a tire, iron a shirt or blouse, use a washing machine… valuable life lessons for some. I finally purchased an Ultrafeed Plus package this December, and am already making new custom leashes for the dog and cats and some light horse harness repairs for my equestrian wife. What a great sewing machine.

  2. Dear Bruce,
    Your story was very inspiring and gave me some new ideas. I have a 6 month old puppy who is hard on toys, and destroyed her store-bought bed the first time we went out for a few hours. I have a Sailrite LSZ-1 and leftover Sunbrella scraps so thank you for the ideas!
    Many Thanks,
    Anita

  3. Wonderful story. It is heart warming to see Bruce growing and directing his skills into other areas. I have started quilting again after many years at my age. Sometimes I ask myself “why do I do this?”
    My answer To myself is “it so rewarding and such a creative outlet”
    I love seeing others enjoying sewing and creating in my age group .

  4. This story was “sew” delightful! My goodness he has accomplished so much in his semiretirement. I’m very inspired. Thank you for sharing.

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