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.
“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!”
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!”
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.”