The DIY Life: One Man’s Creative Story

When amateur woodworker and DIY enthusiast Bruce Steinert realized his La-Z-Boy® recliners were looking a bit worse for wear, he set out to have them reupholstered. To his shock and disbelief, the lowest quote from an upholstery shop cost almost as much as the original purchase price of the recliners. Being a handyman with a “can do” spirit, he began researching ways he could reupholster the recliners himself. Along the way, he learned a lot about sewing, the upholstery process, and what it takes to tackle a new hobby. He’s shared his story with us.

Over the years, Bruce had completed many woodworking projects, both big and small. He built a workbench and router stand for his workshop as well as smaller home projects and repairs. Two of his most complex and impressive woodworking jobs were for a local church. He built a 12- by 16-foot, 4-foot-high stage that disassembled into 4- by 8-foot sections for storage. He also constructed a 5-foot-diameter oak pulley wheel to restore function to the church’s bell. Other projects, including electrical work, plumbing and window sash replacements, added to his skill set.

Bruce credits his woodworking and other crafting experience for his seamless transition into sewing and upholstery work. Having previous DIY projects under his belt also gave him the confidence to tackle a new hobby. “For most DIY projects, I find there is a stage in the project when you can’t go back and your only choice is to forge ahead to completion. It’s a great confidence builder. Online videos are a great learning tool.”

Prior to his La-Z-Boy upholstery project, Bruce had done some basic sewing. He sewed curtains, baby clothes, and had made clothing repairs. At an estate auction, Bruce and his wife purchased a Morris chair (an early 20th-century version of a recliner) at a great price because it had no cushions. They tried to make do with a purchased cushion, but it wasn’t ideal. The chair was such a great find that they didn’t want to settle for a mediocre store-bought cushion.

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The store-bought lounge chair cushion (left) is no comparison to Bruce’s well-fitting, custom-made cushions (right).

So, Bruce set out to sew a custom-made cushion for the Morris chair. While researching how to sew a cushion, he came across Sailrite’s inventory of how-to videos. By watching the Sailrite marine cushion video and applying his pragmatic approach to learning new skills, he was able to create a great looking chair cushion. It was this successful project that convinced Bruce he could handle the recliners. “Making new cushions let me practice with a larger project that needed the fabric pattern to match, new foam and zipper plaques. That gave me the confidence to tackle the recliners.”

In preparation for reupholstering the recliners, Bruce knew he’d need a better sewing machine. His old machine couldn’t handle more than two or three layers of fabric. He needed a sewing machine with more power and slow speed control that could handle thick fabric assemblies. When working on his Morris chair cushion, Bruce had watched many of Sailrite’s free project videos featuring the Ultrafeed. Watching the Ultrafeed handle the various sewing applications in the videos is what sold Bruce on the machine.

With his new Ultrafeed LSZ-1 at the ready, he again turned to Sailrite’s project videos. He watched the “How to Reupholster a Recliner Chair” video and followed it step by step. “The patterning techniques were all applicable. My process mirrored Cindy’s process in the video.” He made sure to take careful notes during the recliner disassembly process as he knew this would help him smoothly reassemble all the pieces. “When you are about to start removing the fabric, think through how the pieces were probably assembled at the factory since you will want to remove them in reverse order. There were 47 pieces for each of our chairs. Start to finish I completed both chairs in about four weeks but did not work nonstop.”

Not only did Bruce follow Sailrite’s recliner upholstery video, but he also watched the accompanying “How to Make an Upholstery Work Table” video so that he’d have a nice, elevated workstation on which to reupholster his recliners. With his woodworking know-how in his back pocket, Bruce took the Sailrite work table design and improved it by making his table collapsible for convenient storage in his workroom.

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Bruce’s collapsible work table. He stores the legs, fabric and hardware pieces inside the table so everything stays together.

“I highly recommend building the stand if you don’t have a suitable work surface,” Bruce advised. “My workshop is fairly small and storing the stand was going to take up a lot of space. It needed it to be compact, yet easily reassembled.” Bruce modified his work table to make the legs detachable. The legs, trunk liner fabric and a bag of various hardware pieces are stored inside the collapsed table. The top and bottom of the table latch together for a secure hold. “From the original 9 square feet of floor space occupied, it’s now less than 3 feet.”

Now that Bruce has successfully reupholstered his recliners with his new Ultrafeed, he’s also used the machine to repair a tear in his computer bag. He used Sailrite’s video on how to repair a tear in a sail and adapted the technique. On the same bag, he replaced the worn out faux leather handle with real leather, also using his Ultrafeed. “It is a very well made product and simple to operate. It makes sewing truly a joy.”

One thing he learned along the way during his sewing DIY was to take it one step at a time. “Don’t let the scale of a project dissuade you from giving it a try. Reupholstering a chair is just a lot of little projects done in a sequence. Tackling these projects not only gives a great sense of accomplishment but is also a wonderful stress reliever. Put down the phone, turn off the TV and get started.”

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Bruce enjoying the results of his hard work!

What’s next for Bruce? He doesn’t have any future sewing projects planned, but as he put it, “one never knows what might happen along. Long term, I have a desire to restore classic cars in my retirement. I’m sure there will be opportunities to upholster and make door panels for those. Who can say, maybe there is a second career out there for me.”

A Mother & Son DIY Duo

It all started with an idea. Kitty Ellis’ son, Jeff Scheule, was renovating an old farmhouse and preparing for his soon-to-be wedding when he came to his mother with an idea. A big idea. What follows is the story of that idea and what would become a DIY bonding experience for mother and son.

Years earlier, Jeff had seen a giant ceiling fan that resembled fishing rods with fabric as the blades. He was awed and fascinated by this unique creation. He’d never seen anything like it. Kitty recalled her son marveling at the design: “It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, Mom! I bet we could make one of these!”

Time passed and Jeff moved on to other things, but that fishing rod fan was always there in the back of his mind, lying in wait. Fast forward to 2018 when Jeff is renovating his farmhouse. Suddenly, the big idea reemerged. One of the rooms in his farmhouse was very large with an 18-foot vaulted ceiling, and Jeff knew exactly how to fill that space.

So, right before Christmas 2018, Kitty received a call from her son. “Mom, when you come to Atlanta for Christmas, can you bring your sewing machine?” When she asked why, Jeff told her they were finally going to build the fan. Kitty loaded up her conveniently portable Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 and drove up from Florida to help her son construct his dream DIY.

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A variety of totes Kitty has made. The ones on the left and top right she upcycled from used sailcloth and sail numbers.

“Jeff is very creative and is one of those people who makes things happen,” Kitty stated. “I had no doubt that Jeff would and could fabricate this thing.” He rebuilds and sells boats as the owner of Atomic Marine and Machine in Buford, Georgia, and his craftsman skills don’t end there. “He can tear down and rebuild a diesel or gas engine, rebuild any kind of car, engineer parts necessary for a project, and build additions to houses … he truly is an inspiration,” she proudly explained. So she knew a custom-built, giant ceiling fan would be no trouble for her handy son.

Kitty owns Halyards, a custom marine sewing business in Jensen Beach, Florida. She sews boat cushions, T-tops, repairs sails and the like. She learned to sew when she was 17 and hasn’t stopped since. Kitty is the sailor in the family while Jeff prefers powerboats. “I am the sailor who likes to let the wind take me to wonderful places,” she recalled. “Jeff needs to get where he’s going — fast!”

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Kitty and her great-nephew, Olly Bell, at the helm of friend Barry Stedman’s Catalina Morgan 504 named IMAGINE.
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Kitty in her shop in Florida. She owns three Sailrite sewing machines, including the industrial, straight-stitch Fabricator®.

At Jeff’s farmhouse, mother and son sat down together to plan out how they would build the fan. Kitty had brought her Ultrafeed and the Dacron sailcloth, basting tape, marking pens and other sundries she’d ordered from Sailrite. Jeff had already purchased five fishing rods and a fan motor. “Attaching the rods to the fan motor needed Jeff’s good concept and innovation for the mounting system,” explained Kitty. “He had already worked on that, so all we had to do was figure out the ‘bend’ radius for the fishing rods and how to fit the sailcloth to the rods.”

This part took some trial and error. They cut the sailcloth to the length of the rods and then added holes in the cloth to match up with the eyes on the fishing rods. They fit the fabric to the holes and figured out fabric dimensions. Unfortunately, their first fan “sail” blade did not turn out, and they had to trash the materials and start over. That first sail had taken hours to build, and the team was spent. They called it a night.

The next day, with fresh eyes and full of energy, they tackled the project again. They were able to correctly build all five fan blades and, best of all, they looked great. Jeff hung the ceiling fan with excitement and enthusiasm. He’d finally built his fan. “We were looking up at our creation with total awe and amazement,” Kitty recounted. “It was high fives all around! A fan 13-1/2 feet in diameter with five beautiful sail blades — what a glorious sight to behold. We had done it!”

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Jeff mounting the 13-1/2-foot fan constructed from fishing rods and sailcloth.

They were so proud of their accomplishment and ingenuity in creating this one-of-a-kind DIY masterpiece. Until that is, one of the grandkids asked them to turn the fan on so they could see the blades spin. “Jeff flipped the switch and the blades started turning, caught the air, and the ‘sails’ swelled up like huge, puffy marshmallows!”

Only slightly discouraged, they took the fan down, disassembled the entire thing, and sewed the eye holes in the sailcloth almost completely closed. That did the trick. Jeff reassembled the fan, remounted it to the ceiling, and the blades spun without the sailcloth billowing out as if the fan were about to set sail.

All in all, it was a great time and a fun way for a mother and son to bond over their shared love of DIY and working with their hands. With Jeff’s mechanical and engineering background and Kitty’s sewing skills, they were the perfect dynamic duo to tackle this project. “The sheer amount of pleasure one gets when doing a project like this is mind-boggling. Projects themselves are not hard, but there is always a learning curve. Just like when we threw away that first sail. It had to be done. The materials were not expensive, but the satisfaction of achieving a goal is priceless.”

Jeff and Kitty with fan
Jeff and Kitty posing proudly with their one-of-a-kind creation. What a team!

Sewing Like A Pro: Carol Gearheart’s Story

Sewing is a unique skill with the potential to take on any number of roles in one’s life. It can be practical, artistic, an occasional hobby or even a full-time profession. For Sailrite® customer Carol Gearheart, sewing has become much more than just a means to an end. It’s become a profession that has opened up a number of doors in the DIY universe … with surprising results!

Carol and her husband own and operate an embroidery business from their home, so creating fantastic projects is nothing short of commonplace for her. Through years of business operation, she’s become acquainted with a diverse array of people or groups who are in need of her sewing skills. One of these is the equestrian community around her home in Arlington, Washington. It all started when one customer needed a unique logo embroidered on her horse blankets and sheets. She was so pleased with the results that she spread the word of Carol’s great work to her friends and fellow horse owners.

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A custom banner sewn for a horse owner.

“Our customer base grew rapidly! I can’t tell you how many blankets, sheets, stall bags and halter bags we’ve embroidered. Then they started asking, ‘Can you repair this stall bag, can you fix this banner, can you make us some curtains and table covers?’ And that’s where the Sailrite® Fabricator® Sewing Machine comes in.”

In the past, Carol had sewn several smaller projects using her household Bernina sewing machine but she found it couldn’t handle big assemblies very well. With a growing demand for a variety of sewing projects, Carol realized she was in need of a dependable industrial sewing machine. And it was especially important to have one that had the performance capabilities to tackle any project she might be tasked with completing for a customer. During her search for a new machine, she discovered a company called Sailrite.

“I had bought a very old Pfaff industrial machine, but it didn’t have a variable speed motor and it didn’t work very well. I was lucky I didn’t get hurt while using it! I did a lot of research online and contacted Tanner Grant at Sailrite. He was very helpful and aided me in choosing which machine would work best based on the type of projects I wanted to do. I selected the Fabricator and love that I can take one stitch at a time if I want to.”

Fabricator in tow, Carol completed one of her largest projects for a horse show client. She made an 8 x 8-foot curtain out of Cordura with a 96-inch zipper that zipped to a 5 x 5-foot door panel that also had a 96-inch zipper down the center for the opening. To get the zippers and zipper stops just right, Carol had help from her friend, a seamstress at the boat manufacturing plant where they had worked for over 20 years.

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Carol’s finished curtain design.

The process of sewing the curtain was challenging, but Carol persevered. She had to reverse engineer the client’s existing curtains and figure out the zippers they wanted instead of using the Velcro® that connected the panels on the other curtains she’d received from them. After a few days of watching Sailrite how-to videos on zipper installations, she finally felt as though she had the confidence to master her project. She went on to explain, “There is no way I could have done it without the videos and tutorials. I watched them over and over again until I got it right.”

Carol has continued to watch numerous Sailrite how-to videos to further expand on her sewing skills and to try out some fun new projects. “The videos helped me to improve my pillow-making skills and I learned how to make a box cushion for the front of my fireplace ledge. I plan to create many other projects. There is much more to learn!”

For now, Carol has been hard at work sewing a wide variety of projects for the folks in her community and receives new requests for work all the time (as seen above). She’s been using the stitch-by-stitch power of the Fabricator to sew embroidered patches on bulky police uniforms, biker jackets and even sailor’s hats. “I put on the zipper foot to give me better visibility for sewing close to the edge of the patch and to better follow its unique contours. I absolutely love the variable speed because I can sew one stitch at a time to maneuver around the contour of the patches.”

Carol’s DIY journey has grown tremendously and allowed her to connect with various members of her community, from her embroidery work to tackling new and exciting sewing projects with her Fabricator. She has opened up her horizons to the diverse world of handcrafted projects and the opportunities are as endless as her imagination.