Peace, Love & Handbags

Sometimes you get an idea for something and it takes off. That’s what happened to Laurie Carty. One day, she was looking online for purses and stumbled upon a crocheted fat bottom bag. She instantly fell in love with the classic hippie-style purse and thought the design and shape of the bag would look great in denim. Unable to find her dream bag in stores or online, Laurie set out to sew her own. What started as a purse for herself has now grown into a small business. Using her Sailrite® Ultrafeed®, she’s reintroducing these vintage-style bags to the world and reigniting her love of sewing.

The Start of an Idea

Laurie was excited to jump in and get going on her purse. She already had some basic sewing skills, so she knew she’d be able to sew the purse without a problem. However, she hit a speed bump early on. She didn’t know anything about pattern making or purse design. And since she couldn’t find a pattern for a denim flat bottom purse online, she needed a little help designing and patterning her purse. Luckily, her sister was coming for a visit. An accomplished seamstress, Laurie’s sister was able to help with the design process.

“I drew out my idea and we created the pattern together. Once I saw my dream come to reality, I was hooked! I got so many compliments on my purse that I started taking orders for them. For the most part, all the purses that I have sold have been local. Women stop me on the street and ask me where I got my purse. They are always surprised when I tell them I made it myself!”

fat bottom denim and floral purse

Laurie’s first purse made from an old pair of jeans and a bedsheet on her home sewing machine, before she upgraded to an Ultrafeed.

After that initial design, Laurie added fringe and beads to her bags as unique design elements. Since her fat bottom bags were inspired by the hippie era, the fringe fit right in with that style and aesthetic. “When I was in my teens and twenties, everything was fringe. I am 62 now, but back in the day, I was a complete hippie — with the clothes and hair. Everything was tie-dye and fringe, and we did it ourselves for the most part.”

Laurie upcycles used jeans that are still in good condition for her purses. She adds fabric panels, lace, beads and fringe to create truly one-of-a-kind designs. “I love every single one of the purses that I create. Each one has its own unique beauty.”

Finding Her Creative Process

Laurie lets her creative spirit guide her not only in her bag designs but in life too. A self-professed “avid student and seeker of personal change,” Laurie has a degree in behavioral sciences. She’s helped people with therapeutic stress and trauma relief, she’s taught dance classes and has even been a radio show host. “I’ve had a pretty crazy life!”

Laurie has always had a creative spirit. One of the things she loves the most about the DIY lifestyle is her ability to bring her dreams and ideas to life in a tangible way. She loves the process of taking an idea, a vision in her mind, and using fabric and thread to bring her idea to life. “Every purse I make I see fully completed in my mind, and then I know exactly how to create it. I have always been a very visually creative person. My brand-new idea is brought into reality, and now I am the only one on the planet who makes these bags. Every purse is uniquely different.”

Laurie sewing on ultrafeed
Laurie’s new Ultrafeed handles the thick layers of denim with ease.

Upgrading to an Ultrafeed

After completing her first two bags, her regular sewing machine was struggling to sew through the thick layers of denim. Laurie knew she’d need a heavy-duty machine capable of handling multiple layers of thick material. That’s how she found Sailrite. “I knew I needed something stronger and started searching the internet. I had never used an industrial machine before. In fact, I would not say I knew that much about sewing, really, but your videos made everything so easy to understand. I love that you also have troubleshooting videos on your site, which made it so easy to learn the machine.”

Her Ultrafeed has given Laurie the confidence to attempt sewing projects she previously had never dreamed of. Not only does she sew her hippie bags, but she is also branching out into projects for her husband’s motorcycle. “I have lined my husband’s riding chaps that he wears on his motorcycle and made a cover for his oil cooler on his Harley. I’m not afraid to tackle anything anymore!”

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Laurie’s Etsy shop, The Hippie Handbag Company, is a nod to her love of all things 1960s, especially the hippie lifestyle. “I grew up in that era. I was a little too young to go to the original Woodstock, but it was all about the lifestyle back then. It was a very creative time in so many ways — music, peace, love, rock ‘n’ roll, the hair, the dress styles. Upcycling was big back then too. It represented unique and individual creativity and expression. Just like my bags, every person is different and beautiful in their own way.”

Whether you were alive during that era or just have a fondness for all things boho, Laurie’s life philosophy is something we can all appreciate.

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.

Sewing for a Greener Future

Do you think about your carbon footprint? When you see trash or discarded items lying around, do you ever wonder if they could be turned into something useful again? Enoch Cincotta does. A self-starter and small business owner, he turns trash into treasure — literally. He takes discarded objects and trash from local businesses and uses the materials to create one-of-a-kind bags, wallets, backpacks, fanny packs and more. With the help of his Sailrite® Ultrafeed®, he’s doing his part to clean up his community and give a second life to the things we cast aside.

One Man’s Trash …

The idea to create usable items from trash came to Enoch when he was living in Miami Beach. At the time, he was making the occasional bag for friends and for himself. He was ordering his materials from suppliers and spending a lot of money in the process. Suddenly, everything clicked. “I realized that I wasn’t paying attention to how much waste was being generated by my artistic process — finding the material online, purchasing it, getting it in the mail two days later. It doesn’t make sense to me anymore.”

He was walking along the beach one day and noticed all the trash and discarded goods left behind. Things like inflatable pool toys and rafts, shade sail material and bicycle tubes were still in good condition but had been tossed aside. “Being a part of such a beautiful environment and noticing an immense quantity of trash left behind by the waves of tourists… I would find broken sun shades lying on the beach, the inconvenience of fixing them ultimately leading to them being discarded.” And so, an idea was born.

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In Miami Beach, Enoch had “regular” dumpsters that he would scavenge. He’d sort through the trash and find usable items for his budding business. The process was tedious and time-consuming. “It would be a process of finding materials, cleaning them, and transforming them into something new. I like the ritualistic nature of the process and taking my time to appreciate the material for what it is. They just need a little love and patience to be transformed.”

When he relocated to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he found a more direct and cleaner way to obtain his sewing materials. Enoch initiated relationships with local businesses, making deals to procure the discarded materials before they made their way to the dumpster. This made the cleaning process much simpler and saved him a lot of time. He was also able to get a larger quantity of materials with the same amount of effort.

coffee bag collage
A collaboration with a local Harrisburg coffee shop produced these bags and wallets made from coffee bags, parachute webbing, bicycle inner tubes and convention center banners.

It’s in Harrisburg where his business really got off the ground and his business concept came to life. Enoch witnessed someone’s discarded plastic bag floating in the wind, and that’s how he came up with the name for his business: Reanimator Threadworks. He watched an otherwise lifeless object become transformed — reanimated if you will — into a moving, living thing. And that’s exactly what Enoch does. He takes lifeless, used up objects and reanimates them, giving them a second life and another purpose than what they were intended and created for. A torn sun shade becomes part of a backpack. An empty bag of coffee beans is transformed into a truly unique tote bag.

Sustainable Sewing Practices

Enoch learned to sew thanks to his mother’s teaching. A requirement of his homeschool curriculum, he started sewing as part of the home economics portion of his education. And now he’s taken that skill and turned it into not only a business but a way to do his part as an environmental advocate.

enoch sewing at market
Enoch uses the Monster II Balance Wheel to sew without electricity at farmers markets.

He sells his bags in local stores and hosts free sewing workshops at farmers markets. “The goal is to get out in the community and sew materials on the streets. The more people exposed to the power of sewing the more excited I get.” During the winter, when the farmers markets are closed, he collaborates with other environmental advocacy groups and hosts free sewing workshops for sewing panniers, bike bags, backpacks and more.

His bags are constructed using a wide variety of everyday materials. Everything from banners, inflatable rafts, bicycle inner tubes, parachute webbing, vinyl billboard material and more are transformed into “functional pieces of art,” as he calls them. It’s amazing the things you can sew with a little imagination and ingenuity. To sew through this wide range of materials, he needed a sewing machine that would be up to the challenge. And that’s where Sailrite came in.

sewing thick material
The Ultrafeed can handle layers of thick materials like these bicycle inner tubes, which make for a durable and water-resistant bag bottom.

“I learned about Sailrite while pouring through online forums for an industrial machine. I was intrigued by the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 and its modular nature — one machine for a bunch of different applications.” Another big asset of the Ultrafeed is its portability, which comes in handy when Enoch takes the machine — which he has affectionately dubbed “Ol’ Blue” — on the road for conventions. “I’m taking Ol’ Blue with me on a bicycle tour packed in her carrying case, but at home, she’s hooked up to the Workhorse™ Servo Motor and Industrial Table. That kind of functionality makes it ideal for the lifestyle I live.” Recently, Enoch acquired the Monster® II Balance Wheel so he could sew without electricity at conventions and workshops, furthering his green lifestyle and the machine’s versatility.

What are Enoch’s impressions of his Ultrafeed now that he has sewn everything from billboard vinyl to parachute webbing with it? Enoch had this to say about his machine: “So far I really love the reliability of the machine. It has taught me a lot about the mechanics of sewing. I’ve spent so much time reading the manual and feel really comfortable with how it’s designed to be repaired in the field. It’s built to last — I don’t see that too much anymore.”

enoch repairing ultrafeed
Enoch tuning his Ultrafeed LSZ-1 with the guidebook close at hand for reference.

Leading by Example

Enoch is mindful of his own carbon footprint and does what he can to live a green lifestyle. “I really work hard to be aware of my environmental footprint. I ride bikes and am active in the community as much as I can be. To be as effective as possible you have to live in the way that you want the world to be — not forcing your ideals onto others.”

Ultrafeed on bicycle
Hitting the road with his portable Ultrafeed and a makeshift work station!

Part of his mission is bringing awareness of living a more resourceful and self-reliant lifestyle through sewing. He donates 30% of profits from the sale of his bags to teaching free sewing workshops and educational programs in Harrisburg. “I was a camp counselor for six years and that got me really excited about youth education. I see an opportunity to educate individuals in my community about being self-sufficient.”

He also teaches repair classes where he promotes hands-on learning opportunities. People can learn how to repair textiles and gear instead of throwing them away and buying new products. “When we are empowered to make and repair, we stop being consumers. And we start using our brains!” Next year, Enoch plans on traveling to schools — biking his sewing machine and materials, of course — to facilitate educational workshops. “I’ll be teaching kids not only how to sew but how to get creative with trash.” Teaching the next generation how to be resourceful and environmentally responsible, “that’s the future, the big time.”

fanny pack collage
A truly one-of-a-kind fanny pack made from found objects.

“I like to think that when I interact with these materials I’m giving my energy to the object, transforming it into something that lives and breathes with a personality of its own. I see it as being more than just a transformation of an object, but also a transformation of an idea. By reanimating our garbage and repairing what is broken, we also reanimate our community — increasing self-sufficiency and resilience. That’s what I think is really important.”

Enoch’s drive and passion for upcycling is something all creatives can relate to. A big part of the DIY lifestyle is taking something and transforming it into something else. So, the next time you see trash on the side of the road or the next time you go to throw away an old sweater, an umbrella, a pair of ripped jeans, a pool toy, a beach ball … Stop and think, “Is there still a use for this item? What could this object become?” The possibilities are endless.

The Art of Working With Leather

Few people start a business in their retirement, but that’s exactly what Sailrite® customer Varoujean Tilbian did. After a lifelong career in photography, graphic design and digital printing, he turned his creative eye toward leatherwork as a way to remember his father, a lifelong leather craftsman. In his retirement he’s busier than ever sewing handmade leather goods, running his own small business, and passing his family’s leather legacy onto his grandson. This is a story of family, fortitude and the power of perseverance.

A Family History of Leathercrafting

The art of leatherworking is ancient and storied. For Varoujean, leather’s significance is woven throughout his family history and played an important role in his upbringing. “I grew up under my father’s tutelage. From the age of 4 until I was 16, every day after school I went to his shop where he taught me everything I now know about leatherwork. Over time, I observed his dexterity and skill, but it never occurred to me that, someday, I would put those skills to use.” Originally from Armenia, both Varoujean’s father and grandfather had leathercrafting businesses. His grandfather had a small shoemaking shop in Western Armenia, which is today known as Turkey. 

Varoujean Tilbian
Varoujean Tilbian

Varoujean’s father, Avedis, eventually settled in Ethiopia where the family experienced both highs and lows but persevered through it all. At 27, Varoujean’s father started making leather shoes and established his own factory where he manufactured handmade shoes for men and women. When the Italian fascist regime infiltrated Ethiopia, the family fled to Somaliland. Once it was safe to return, Avedis opened a leather shoemaking factory where he specialized in high-end women’s footwear. 

When Varoujean was 10, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. To cover the medical expenses, Avedis sold his business and all his assets. His wife recovered, but the family was completely bankrupt. Not one to give up, Avedis went to a flea market and bought an old, dilapidated English riding saddle. “He took it apart to study how it was made,” Varoujean recalled. “Since it did not require machinery and a big investment, he started making saddles and anything else you can imagine with leather.”

Although Varoujean chose a different career path than his father and grandfather, he remained a hardworking provider for his family. He got into photography at a young age thanks to his love of nature and animals. In Ethiopia, he worked for a printing company in the photo reproduction department to support his parents. Varoujean says his father was not upset that he didn’t follow in his footsteps. “My father and mother were the kind of people that let us choose our own path. My father always said, ‘Learn a skill or a craft. You will never be rich, but you will never be hungry.’”

Leather goods
Purses, wallets and other leather goods, and a look at Varoujean’s workshop.

Continuing a Legacy

Leathercrafting is more than a hobby or a way to keep busy post-retirement. For Varoujean, working with leather is the bridge that connects him to his father and his childhood. In fact, it seems as if he was always destined to be a leathercrafter — like it was stitched into his DNA. “As I work with leather in my workshop, I feel as if my father is next to me, watching my work and smiling. There are times when I am cutting leather, I look at my hands and fingers and realize they look just like his hands. After all these years, I am delighted to be reconnected with him at this age and period of my life”

His first leather project was to recreate a decades-old gun holster. His father-in-law was a naval aircraft carrier pilot during World War II, flying 28 missions in the Pacific theater. During his missions, he carried a military-issued 38 special pistol with a fitted gun holster. “On his 94th birthday, my wife and I went to celebrate with him. It was on this occasion that I found out how worn-out his beautiful gun holster had become. As I began to work on the holster, I was astonished how — after six decades — I remembered how to work with leather. I remembered the many meaningful hours I spent with my father in his shop.”

leather gun holster
The new gun holster that Varoujean made for his father-in-law’s WWII pistol.

The Search for the Perfect Sewing Machine

To sew beautiful leather goods with care and precision, Varoujean knew he would need a sewing machine that was up to the challenge. On a leatherworker’s online forum, he received advice from other leatherworkers who emphasized the need for a walking foot sewing machine. While on the hunt for the right one, he found the Sailrite website. “With the help of your videos and blogs, I was convinced that the Fabricator® was the right machine. Added to its great functionality, the price was perfect and less than other comparable ones.”

fabricator
Varoujean’s Fabricator set up in his leather workshop and ready for some sewing.

His Fabricator Sewing Machine has helped him reinforce the quality and beauty of his handmade leather goods. He uses the machine to sew everything from wallets and belts to tote bags, holsters and more. When asked what he enjoys most about working with leather, he had this to say: “What I love best is that from just a flat hide I create something of beauty, and that gives me great joy.” Varoujean has started teaching his grandson the art of leatherworking. He also goes to local elementary schools to introduce the students to the time-honored trade. 

Over a year and a half later, he’s still happy with his choice of sewing machine. “The Fabricator is an amazing machine. At first, when I had some issues, the calls I made were very helpful, which proved you stand behind your machine with service.” Recently, Varoujean started offering customizable tote bags where shoppers can select their own Sunbrella® fabric, purchased from Sailrite, and then choose their leather trim color and number of pockets.

sunbrella totes with leather trim
A selection of custom Sunbrella tote bags with leather trim.

 After three years on this path, he’s still enjoying his new pursuit and the memories it brings him. Varoujean named his business after his father as a way of honoring him and thanking him for teaching his young son the art of leathercrafting. “Avedis means ‘Good News’ in Armenian,” he explained. “It’s a name traditionally given to boys born on January 6, the day the Three Kings traveled to witness the birth of Jesus and receive the ‘good news.’” Varoujean will always carry a part of his father with him, whether through the leather he works with, the name of his business, or in the blood that runs through his veins. Remembering the past, finding solace and gratitude in the teachings of our fathers — that is good news, indeed.