Winter Camping: A Cold Case DIY

Mark Carter is not your typical Sailrite® customer. He doesn’t sew for his boat or RV, and he doesn’t do any home sewing or upholstery work. Instead, his hobby is a bit more … cold. He enjoys winter tent camping with his family in the upper Midwest United States. Winter camping might sound bitterly unpleasant, but Mark has found a way — with a little ingenuity and a can-do DIY spirit — to turn this frigid hobby into a pleasant activity for him and his family.

Mark and his family began winter camping around 10 years ago. They connected with other winter campers from online camping forums, including HammockForums, Bushcraft USA and WinterTrekking.com — plus camping groups on Facebook — and found a community of like-minded outdoor enthusiasts. They soon began winter camping together as one big group. There’s a camp going on almost every week throughout the year among the woodsy friends in these online groups. Mark and his family join in as often as they can.

“Most camps last three to five days, but I’ve done up to two weeks in Canada,” he recounted.

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Mark with one of his custom-made hammock hot tents.

“People from all over the United States and Canada meet up in places like the Huron-Manistee National Forests [extending across the northern lower peninsula of Michigan],” said Mark. “The camps can last for three days up to a week with campers staying however long they can.”

The Carters camp year-round, mostly in the Midwest and Canada. Although his sons are grown now, they still enjoy spending quality time outdoors with their father and other family members. Winter camping is a bit of a tradition for the Carter Clan. “My son Carl and his wife, Jessica, my son Corey, my brother James and a few cousins camp with me,” Mark stated.

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Mark (on the left) and several family members including his youngest son (on the right) enjoying a winter camping reunion in 2014.

Through his winter camping hobby, Mark realized there was a void in the camping gear and equipment industry for hammock tents. So what does any self-reliant, determined hobbyist do? He made his own, of course! Mark first learned to sew practicing on his mom’s old Singer, repairing his camping gear. He later purchased a used Singer that he uses to sew his tents and hammocks.

Mark was inspired to sew his own hammock hot tent after watching a YouTube video his friend, and fellow winter camper, Tom Brown had posted. The video featured a tour of Tom’s handmade hammock hot tent as he explained how he’d constructed and sewn it. In the video, Tom mentioned using double-sided Seamstick Basting Tape on the tent’s seams, and that’s how Mark first learned about Sailrite.

Why sew a DIY hammock hot tent instead of buying one? “No one makes them commercially to the specifications I’m looking for,” Mark explained. “Sewing allows me to make the things I dream up a reality. I can make them the way I want them to look — a tent that weighs 4 lbs. that lets you sleep in a hammock and stays heated with a small wood stove. By sewing the tent myself, I can save money and build a tent with quality materials.”

Mark has sewn two tents so far, as well as hammocks. His first tent was based on a wall tent, also known as a safari tent, and sleeps three. With more experience under his sewing belt, he kicked his design skills up a notch for his next tent. “My second tent was based on a Dogger TZ Brown design. I modified it for additional height and simplified it for easier construction and faster set up.”

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The two photos on the left show Mark’s tent panels laid out and matched up with tape lines. The photo on the right is a 12-foot toboggan Mark uses to haul his supplies to the campsite.

When designing and constructing a tent, Mark always begins with a paper drawing. He scales it down and decides how he wants it to look and the features he needs. He then figures out the dimensions and measurements. Next he plots out a full-size pattern on the floor in his home using painter’s tape to map out the pieces. After that, he marks and cuts the fabric to match the taped pattern on the floor.

Next come the sewing and construction process. Mark uses Sailrite basting tape to sew the slippery silpoly tent panels together. “Silpoly is very slippery fabric to sew and you want to avoid using pins through the fabric as it can create work waterproofing all those extra holes. After I assemble the tent, I set it up to evaluate how I did and look for ways to make it better the next time.”

In addition to basting tape, Mark also orders the other materials for his tents and hammocks from Sailrite, basically everything but the fabric. “I started buying supplies from Sailrite after watching Tom Brown’s YouTube video. I order #10 Vislon zippers, 1-inch webbing, binding and vinyl window material. Hammock campers are DIY types, and Sailrite is well-known in the community.”

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The wood burning stove inside his tent keeps Mark warm and dry.

Altogether Mark’s tent weighs about 5 lbs. It’s heated with a small wood burning stove with an opening in the roof that fits the pipe for the smoke to escape. He can cook food protected from the elements and he can dry his clothes and gear in the comfort of his tent. Plus, sleeping in a hammock means he’s protected from the cold, hard ground.

Mark loves the tents and hammocks he’s custom made to fit his camping pastime. For him, it’s not just a way to be creative and experience the joy and pride that comes with making something with your hands. Camping is also his family’s way of coming together for good laughs, good fun and a little adventure. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what life’s all about?

“My hammock hot tent lets me travel to remote areas and sleep in comfort,” Mark said. “Winter camping is peaceful. Give it a try!”

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Mark kicks back in his hammock while enjoying the view outside.

Driven to Sew: A Lifelong Hobby

The DIY spirit can take any number of forms — there’s no end to what you can create with the right supplies, a good idea and a little extra time on your hands. That’s exactly the same mindset held by Sailrite® customer and long-time crafter Louis Cossey. Following his retirement in 2016, Louis realized he had more opportunities than ever to start exploring the things he was really passionate about: creating custom projects of all shapes and sizes.

Louis has always been a car guy. Since high school, he’s successfully rebuilt eight cars, taking charge of the metal fabrication, welding, fiberglass, bodywork and paint all by himself to create a one-of-a-kind labor of love. Upon retiring, he started work on his 1923 Ford T-Bucket, a hot rod based Model T. As a pillar of American history, the Model T was built by the Ford Motor Company between 1908 and 1927. The T-Bucket still retains many of its classic features but also has a more modern engine. Louis was determined to make this car just as immaculate as all his others, perhaps even more so given that he could now devote his full attention to it.

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Louis had his work cut out for him with the T-Bucket.

After getting past much of the bodywork, Louis began the process of sewing the interior upholstery but quickly ran into unforeseen problems. He had no real prior sewing experience before starting on this particular endeavor. Back in the ’70s, he’d taken a 15-hour auto upholstery class but explained that he’d never had the time or proper equipment to try any serious sewing projects on his own.

“The first mistake I made was to try and sew with an old sewing machine with no walking foot and use cheap interior material. It just didn’t work.” In search of a new sewing machine, he visited a local sewing supply store. There he was told to look into a company called Sailrite, as these would be the best kinds of sewing machines for the type of work he wanted to do.

“Of course I found Sailrite online and couldn’t stop watching the YouTube videos. I think I watched all of them several times and eventually bought the Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LS-1 machine. It instantly made me think I could sew!”

While the Ultrafeed had made the interior car upholstery sewing easier, there were still a few roadblocks in the way. Louis originally tried using an off-brand of faux leather, but after sewing three separate assemblies, he still couldn’t get things to lay down properly. He realized this was due to the poor quality of the material, not his sewing skills, and instead opted to try some Naugahyde® All American Black fabric. Voilà! The high-quality, abrasion-resistant vinyl made for the perfect car upholstery.

“I learned the hard way that I couldn’t practice with less expensive materials because it doesn’t act or react the same way that higher quality fabric does. After getting the Naugahyde, the project totally came together.”

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With help from the Ultrafeed, Louis began to gain confidence in his sewing abilities and could finally visualize just how the T-Bucket would turn out. It also helped to have support from his wife, as she aided in lining up seams and helping pull the material so it could be stapled down with his Sailrite® Long Nose Upholstery Staple Gun. After weeks of toiling, Louis’s first big retirement project was finally in its full splendor! Both the seats and the top of the T-Bucket looked amazing and it was time to start thinking of potential projects to sew with the Ultrafeed.

So what’s next on the agenda? Louis plans to stay true to his car obsession, as he’s got his eye on reupholstering the interior of his 1971 El Camino. Plus with more time for fishing, he also plans to sew a completely new bimini and cover for his old fishing boat. “Although working with old cars is my passion, I really enjoy making things with the Ultrafeed. It’s both extremely satisfying and a little aggravating! I’m getting all kinds of people wanting me to sew little projects for them. And between the quality of the Ultrafeed, the fabric and the staple gun, Sailrite is the only place I will purchase products from here on out.”

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The fully restored T-Bucket — ready to ride.

No matter where your DIY journey takes you, or at what point in your life, it’s never too late to start on that project you’ve been dreaming about. When you really love the type of work you’re doing, sewing becomes more of a hobby and less of a chore. Whether you’re young, or just young at heart, expressing your creativity can have impressive results.

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.”

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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.

Sewing Our Way Around the World: Voyage of the S/V YOLO

You only live once. That was the motto and motivation for Jason and Karen Trautz when they embarked on a 10-year circumnavigation sailing adventure. Through it all they learned that the key to the liveaboard lifestyle is endurance, patience, kindness and having the right person by your side.

The Beginning of a Dream

“We never intended to circumnavigate; we just kept going,” Karen recounted. “I was happy to be in the Caribbean, and then we kept going west. Once we went through the canal we just kept going downwind. Pretty soon, you’re in another ocean, so you just keep going.”

Jason and Karen began their journey 12 years ago when they purchased a 42-foot PDQ Antares and christened her the S/V YOLO. “We launched from Charleston, North Carolina. That’s where we bought the boat,” said Jason. “‘YOLO’ — You Only Live Once. Go for it. People around us started dying, and we thought, ‘we gotta get out of here and enjoy life.’ Some of our fellow employees were passing away at young ages. You kind of get that vision of mortality.”

“People wait too long to do the things they want to do,” said Karen. “And then they can’t do them. So we decided we needed to get out there while we were still capable of doing the sailing routine. The cruising lifestyle was fabulous. He wanted to sail around the world and see all these old cultural places. I just wanted to live a Jimmy Buffet song.”

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Karen and Jason enjoying a freshwater spring in Tonga.

And so began a decade of life on the open sea. After selling their house, cars, condo and all the possessions they didn’t want to take on the boat, they set sail in 2007 and finished in late 2017. In that time they visited 88 countries, and, believe it or not, they insist it wasn’t enough time! “We went through three sets of passports with the maximum number of pages you can have,” Karen reminisced. “It’s a big world out there, and there’s a lot we missed. We saw so little of it.”

Sewing at Sea: The Good, the Bad & the Salty

Before Jason and Karen began their sailing adventure, they knew they would need a sewing machine strong and dependable enough to handle life at sea. They first learned about the Sailrite® Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 at the annual Annapolis Sailboat Show. “Some of our friends were talking about the machine,” Jason recounted, “and I bought our machine over the phone from Matt Grant [Sailrite Owner and Vice President]. We knew sails needed a zigzag stitch, and we knew the LSZ-1 was what we wanted. Before we began our trip, I talked to Eric [Grant] because we wouldn’t have access to any spare parts along the way. So he loaded me up with all the spare parts we’d likely need during our voyage. And it was obviously true. We ended up using all the parts Eric recommended. They obviously know their equipment.”

Once they had their Ultrafeed and all the accessories they’d need for their trip, all that was left to do was to learn how to sew. Both Jason’s and Karen’s mothers sewed, but neither one of them had ever practiced the skill. After getting the runaround from local places unwilling to teach him, Jason again turned to Sailrite. “Back then Sailrite had DVDs and books on sewing. And that’s how I learned. It was a lot of trial and error and ripping out stitches.”

After Jason finally learned to sew and practiced on his new Ultrafeed, they were one step closer to setting sail. They soon learned that sewing at sea is very different from sewing in your home. There are environmental factors you don’t have to consider on land. Not only that, but they quickly learned that procrastination is the enemy when it comes to sail repair.

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Some of the local wildlife the couple encountered in the Galapagos Islands.

“All that salt air is like living in a battery,” Jason remarked. “It’s a harsh environment living on the ocean. You either spend a huge amount of time and money on backup sails and canvases or you prepare to take care of them yourself. And proactively! You have to take care of issues when they’re small before a little thing becomes a big ordeal. Before your sail rips out in a gale. You just made a three-day project from what could have been four hours if you’d fixed it right away.”

The couple quickly learned that the sailing part was, surprisingly, not the hard part. Handling 80 lb. sails in such a small space is no small feat. Jason remarked that living on a boat is a giant logistics puzzle, and it helped having a portable machine like the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 that could fit in a small space yet still had power enough to breeze through sailcloth.

Sailing the Globe

Jason had learned to sail as a child in small sailboats and Hobie Cats, but Karen had never really sailed before the trip. A few years before they started their voyage, they took sailing classes to prepare themselves for their upcoming liveaboard lifestyle. “You don’t ever want to have your husband teach you to sail,” Karen warned, while Jason nodded along. “We went through the entire ASA [American Sailing Association] Sailing Courses in Florida. You have to learn to identify boats by their lights, learn how to use a sextant, learn offshore passage making, radios, communication … how to use single sideband radio, become ham radio operators … Email over the radio was our only form of communication during most of the trip.”

From the Caribbean to French Polynesia and Australia to Fiji, Jason and Karen sailed by the wind. They were constantly on the move, yet they were also never in a hurry to get anywhere. They simply enjoyed sailing from place to place and staying as long as they wanted. Weather dictated where they could go and how long they could stay in one place before moving on. “Who’s going to hang out in the Caribbean during hurricane season? We stuck to safety and comfort. Speed was our last concern,” Jason said.

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Exploring the small island of Niue in the South Pacific.

The Tuamotu Islands in French Polynesia were one of Karen’s favorite places they visited. The Tuamotus form the largest chain of atolls in the world, and Karen said it was like living in a calendar picture. Not only was it a beautiful place to spend a few weeks, but the people there were generous and welcoming.

“The people were so friendly,” Karen reminisced. “We helped a guy hold a roof up while he was leveling and repairing it. The chainsaw he was using had no oil for it. The instructions were in English and they didn’t know how to use the chainsaw correctly. A few days earlier, we had found an old oil can floating in the waters of the Marquesas. So we went back to our boat and retrieved it. When we got back he wasn’t at his house anymore, so we left the oil can nearby hoping he would find it. We went walking around, exploring the area, and when we came back this little boy came running up to us motioning for us to wait. He went inside and came running back out with his fists full. In one fist was a matchbook stuffed full of pearls of all different shapes, sizes and colors. In his other fist was a handful of pearls as well. That was their way of saying thank you for the oil can.”

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Some of Jason and Karen’s favorite snorkeling pictures, including a sunken ship.

The generosity and kindness of the locals was something that Jason and Karen found truly remarkable “In another island we invited the kids to swim out and jump off the front of our boat for fun. They brought me this handmade mother-of-pearl fan that had been made with the fine weaving of the Cook Islands. They also left a handful of pearls as a thank you for letting the kids play on the boat.” Karen added, “We’ve been invited to weddings, funerals, birthday celebrations, even into people’s homes to stay. If we happened to be there, they invited us in.”

“We try to immerse ourselves in the local culture of wherever we’re visiting,” Jason explained. “The goal is to understand their culture and how they do things. Sometimes we’d go into their schools and help with their English classes. The books they’re using are 30 years old. They can’t practice English because they only have a book. In many places the equipment that’s been donated has become useless. It worked for a month in the beginning but no one there understands the instructions because they’re in English. So it’s easy for me to help with their construction projects.”

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Jason poses with some local children in Gambia, Africa.

Needing a Tune-Up

After 10 years at sea and thousands of miles traveled, their beloved Ultrafeed was in need of a tune-up. They’d reached a point of frustration where they could no longer use the machine. Luckily, Jason and Karen happened to be near our Sailrite facility in northeast Indiana and asked to stop in and have their machine looked at. Their Ultrafeed LSZ-1 is over 12 years old, and even though their circumnavigation has ended and they’ve sold the S/V YOLO, they still plan on using the machine to sew projects for their home and other smaller boats they own.

After a couple hours of maintenance, their machine was good as new and ready to tackle another sewing project. It turns out it wasn’t just the tension that was off, which is what they suspected, there was a burr on the hook that was shredding thread every time they tried to sew something. “Matt Borden [Chief Technical Advisor] is a miracle worker,” said Jason. “He got our machine fixed and running like new again. It sounds better; it’s moving better. It takes the frustration out of the equation to have a skilled technician fix it and get it running properly.”

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Matt Borden, Chief Technical Advisor, repairs Jason and Karen’s 12-year-old Ultrafeed LSZ-1.

Jason had nothing but positive things to say about Sailrite’s level of expertise and customer support. “Matt Grant, his brother, Eric, everybody I’ve ever talked to on the phone or via email or met at shows — you guys are doing it right. In most parts of the world, follow-up support and service has gone drastically downhill. You guys can diagnose something over the phone or by email. You know your stuff and are willing to help. It’s such a relief to have someone on the other end who’s actually engaged and glad to work with you and stick with you until your issue gets resolved so we can use our machine again.”

Advice From a Liveaboard

Ten years of sailing around the world with only your spouse for company — not to mention that the cabin on a sailboat is no bigger than a bedroom — could be enough to end some marriages. Luckily, Jason and Karen found a way to stay sane and grounded during the voyage. They had books, music, playing cards and DVDs to keep them entertained, but the biggest obstacle was how to handle arguments.

“The biggest challenge that anybody’s going to face is compatibility,” Jason explained. “Where are you going to get away when you need to be alone? The biggest struggle is space. A boat cabin is not that big. Probably way over 50 percent of people who buy a boat sell it within 18 months because they can’t coexist in harmony.”

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“We developed the ‘Five Minute Rule,’” Karen added. “If you’re upset with somebody — your partner — you get five minutes to vent, rant, rave, do whatever you need to do to get it out. But after five minutes you need to let it go because I need you back in my corner helping man the ship, trim the sails, do whatever. I can’t have you holding a grudge when a squall is coming through. You have to get over it and let it go. And I think that’s a good skill to have in any marriage or partnership, but it was extremely important on a boat.”

“It is a nice lifestyle,” she said. “If you don’t like where you are just pick up and move. You get to visit one nice place after another. But it is a lot of work. We kept our boat well maintained and in great working order so that when we dropped anchor at a new location we could go into town and explore the area instead of doing hours of maintenance work.”

“The thing is,” added Jason, “there aren’t a lot of people that make it very far. They just can’t live with each other that long, 24/7. And it’s a lot of work — every day. It’s the same chores day in and day out, and the list never gets smaller.”

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The S/V YOLO at anchor during a picturesque sunset.

It turns out sailing the globe isn’t exactly like living a Jimmy Buffet song after all, but it sounds like they don’t regret a single second of it.

Sailing With Pets: How to Cat-Proof Your Boat

After marrying in 2008, Luisa Mixon and her husband, Seth, set their eyes to the sea. Like many Sailrite® customers, their dream was to buy a sailboat, learn to sail, and eventually gain enough experience to live completely on board. When they envision their retirement years, they see themselves sailing wherever their hearts, and the wind, take them. Their journey towards making this dream a reality has been one of excitement, hard work and ingenuity. They grow closer to reaching it every day.

Before becoming sailors, Luisa and Seth would often browse used sailboat websites and peruse sailboat shows, window shopping and gathering ideas for the type of boat they would purchase when the time was right. Most of the searching was just for fun, as actually owning a boat had always seemed far on the horizon. Then one day at the end of May 2018, something amazing happened that would catapult them into a new life sailing and sewing: They found their dream boat for sale in Long Beach, California.

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Seth and Luisa sailing their newest purchase.

“The boat — a 1989 Ericson 38-200 named Astral — was beautiful and in excellent condition, so we ended up buying it. Less than a month later we were proud owners of a sailboat even though we didn’t know how to sail! Crazy, right?”

The couple then chose a marina in San Pedro, California, so the boat would be closer to their home, and learned the ropes from a few neighboring sailors. By August they had completed their first solo sailing trip and had fallen in love with life on the water. To complete the crew, the next step was to make the boat safe for Luisa’s two rescue cats, Charlie and Astro. You see, these aren’t your average felines. Charlie, a 13-year-old tabby, needs special medicine every 12 hours and Astro, a 10-year-old Bombay, requires special food for medical reasons. Considering that both animals warranted extra attention and could not be left alone for extended periods of time, it just made more sense to bring them aboard. But in order to do that, the living area of the boat had to be completely “cat proof” first.

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The Ericson (named Astral), Charlie (top right) and Astro – ready to set sail!

In preparation for this project, Luisa had already been following the videos of other sailors who had completed tons of DIYs for their boat. One of these was Project Atticus, a couple who sail abroad for months at a time and sew their own projects using the Sailrite Ultrafeed® LSZ-1. After looking at the Sailrite website and YouTube channel, Luisa finally felt she had the confidence to start a project of her own: a new bimini and screened-in cat enclosure. Naturally, the next step was to choose a dependable sewing machine and gather supplies.

“I had never touched a sewing machine in my life, so I was eager and nervous to start. We wanted the best for our boat, a machine with excellent quality that would last a long time, so I ordered the Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1 PREMIUM and every single material and tool that was suggested in the videos. It was so exciting!”

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Luisa and her Ultrafeed LSZ-1 were ready to tackle any project.

Now fully prepared, the real work could begin. With their marina being so close to Catalina Island (around 20 nautical miles), Luisa and Seth decided to challenge themselves and plan a Thanksgiving sailing expedition. This meant that the new bimini and enclosure would have to be done quickly. Being from Colombia, Luisa’s DIY adventure came with a new set of hurdles, all of which she was able to overcome.

“My first language is not English, and I had never sewn before, so the hardest part was my pace completing the projects. I had to go slow watching the videos, understanding the English. And because I wanted my project to be perfect, or at least close to perfect, I had to go back and forth, checking to make sure I was doing things right.”

Luisa took a week off work and toiled for 16 hours each day to sew her own bimini and screened-in enclosure with help from Sailrite. She soon developed a love for the work and was extremely satisfied when the finished product fit perfectly. By the end of it all, she had created a lasting addition to Astral that would come in handy on future expeditions with her four-legged first mates.

“My cats love to be on the boat … once it’s at anchor and they’re placed in the enclosure, they’re very happy. They love to see the seagulls, seals and fish. It’s amazing for them and I’m happy if they are safe and happy!”

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Luisa and Seth initially eased into their sailing journey, hoping to gradually acclimate their furry companions to life aboard. They started staying overnight at the marina on weekends and then practiced anchoring twice at White’s Island, staying for four nights each time. Luisa’s confidence with the Ultrafeed has allowed her to create several other useful projects for the boat. Along with the bimini and cat enclosure, she’s created screens for the windows below deck, modified her V-berth cushions and sewn a generator cover. She has her sights set on sewing new sheet bags and sail covers, with many more DIY sewing endeavors on the to-do list.

The plan for this sea-faring couple is to eventually move aboard Astral permanently. They’ve been placed on a waiting list, as it can take years to get the liveaboard slip, but the faster this happens, the faster they can retire and start exploring the open ocean. As for now, the pair are simply enjoying the journey that brings them closer to their dream.

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“In the meantime, we are sailing every Saturday and doing boat projects on Sunday. We work regular jobs Monday through Friday but we are practicing and learning more about sailing every day … reading books, watching videos, and continuing to sail to Catalina and White’s Island. We want to enjoy our boat to the fullest before we cast off!”

Building a Custom Wooden Boat

Somehow in the spring of 2007, Jeff Cobb ended up on Glen-L Marine’s email marketing list. Glen-L Marine sells wooden boat plans. “Week after week as the email appeared in my inbox, I’d have feelings of eagerness and disgust at the same time,” Jeff recalled. “Eager to see all the pictures of new wooden boats people around the world were building from Glen-L plans, and disgusted knowing that if I opened this email, I could kiss my productive workday goodbye because for the next two hours I’d be consumed by daydreams of the wooden boat I might build.” Jeff was particularly enamored with building a small sporty two-seat runabout model called the Glen-L Squirt.

While woodworking had never been his main hobby, Jeff had had the good fortune of growing up across the street from a cabinet builder and general jack-of-all-trades, Mr. Deedee, who built cabinets in his backyard shop. Mr. Deedee and Ms. Joy’s house is where all the kids hung out, playing basketball, ping pong and backyard football. While Jeff never did much work with Mr. Deedee, just from being around the shop as a kid he had gained a lot of woodworking knowledge. Enough so that he was confident he could build a good wooden boat, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted to make the commitment. But by the end of the summer he finally caved, ordered the Squirt plans, and began building.

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“I just had to build this boat. I bought the plans, and built my first boat — a Glen-L Squirt.”

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

After completing the Glen-L Squirt in May 2009, Jeff and his wife, Melanie, began to assimilate into the wooden boat community in southern Louisiana and beyond. “We enjoyed the Squirt, but its use is very limited being that the boat is only 11 feet long. We were enjoying the people in the wooden boat community and the boating experiences,” Jeff stated, “but we wanted a bigger boat so that we could bring friends along. We also needed to go faster and handle rough chop in order to run with the big dogs.”

So, in 2012, Jeff started designing and building his second boat, the Pretty Girl Too. It’s a 22-foot runabout that comfortably seats six adults. Jeff had very specific features and design qualities in mind for this second boat. Essentially, he wanted the boat to be like a modern luxury runabout in every way but built out of wood with the general appearance of a classic wooden boat. He built the hull from a set of Clarkcraft Mariner plans that he modified substantially. He also incorporated design aspects and borrowed inspiration from several different boats, including the Riva Aquariva, Pegiva Convertible, and numerous Chris Craft models and Glen-L builds.

Building a Masterpiece

“It took me five years of nights and weekends to build the Pretty Girl Too,” Jeff recalled. “I’d say at least a year or so of that time was spent not so much in building the boat, but in thinking through the design. I don’t draw well nor do I know how to use CAD software, so the method of design consisted of building lots of mock-ups, which is quite time-consuming.”

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Clockwise from top left: Various stages of constructing the hull.

After building and modifying the hull frame to the shape Jeff was looking for, he double planked the boat with a 1/4-inch inner plywood layer and 1/4-inch outer Sapele veneer layer. Next came lots and lots of sanding and fairing. Fairing is the process of creating a pleasant fair curve as you look down the side of the boat. Too little sanding and fairing result in a profile that resembles a wrecked car that was poorly repaired at a subpar body shop.

He painted the boat bottom green and applied clear gloss above the waterline using numerous coats of SystemThree marine polyurethane for both. The finish was sanded to 5000 grit and polished to a high glossy shine. Finally, the hull was complete. Several friends and neighbors pitched in to help gently roll the boat onto some old mattresses and then lift it onto its trailer. A very happy celebration with beer and pizza followed.

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Flipping the boat so it could be loaded onto a trailer to work on the interior.

Upholstering the Rear Seating Area

Designing the finished interior presented several challenges, but none bigger than the U-shaped seating area. Several mock-ups were built before finally settling on the final design. In the end, all that hard work and planning were worth it; the rear seating area emerged as a part of the boat that Jeff was most pleased with.

Once Jeff completed the woodwork, he thought his portion of the work was finished. He was excited to see the finished project and ready to write a check to an upholsterer and get it done. But his excitement was soon quelled when he discovered that very few upholstery shops do marine upholstery, and none of them had an appetite for all the custom work needed for his boat.

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The rear U-shaped seating area before upholstery.

He first tried hiring an upholsterer in December 2016. Yet, by June of 2017, the boat was still not upholstered. He’d been strung along for months by a couple different shops telling him they’d get to it in two to three weeks, but never actually committing to the job. Frustrated by the runaround, he decided he would do the upholstery himself. He’d watched numerous Sailrite® how-to videos and borrowed an old Thompson Mini Walker — the precursor to the Sailrite Ultrafeed® — from his brother, Carl.

While Jeff was determined to get started on the upholstery work, there was a lot of apprehension. This was a major project for someone who’d never really sewn anything, and the upholstery is so prominent in an open-air runabout that there’s no place to hide mistakes. It really needed to be done right and professionally, and Jeff had grave concerns whether he was capable of sewing the upholstery to his high standards.

Then suddenly, a hero appeared! Jill, a friend of Jeff and Melanie’s, offered to do the sewing if he did all the foam fitting. This was a fantastic break! Not only did Jill have upholstery sewing experience, but she also had an Ultrafeed LSZ-1 Sewing Machine. Much to her husband, David’s, dismay, she even put their sailboat dodger project on hold while she worked on Jeff’s upholstery. She professionally patterned the curved and irregular surfaces with Dura-Skrim® Patterning Material so everything fit tightly and sewed with Profilen® Lifetime Thread. The results were spectacular: “All too often I’m asked by people looking at the boat, ‘Who did your upholstery?’ They are always shocked to learn that it was done by a couple of enthusiastic amateurs. Jill really came to the rescue and did a fantastic job.”

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The completed upholstery work on the Pretty Girl Too.

A Snapless Cockpit Cover

With the upholstery completed, Jeff’s attention turned to another issue. He knew that in showing and using the boat it would spend many nights tied up to dock, and so he needed a cockpit cover to keep the interior clean, dry and protected during these overnight stays. While he appreciated Jill’s help on the upholstery, he was determined to do this project all on his own. This would be the project where he’d put all the hours spent watching Sailrite videos and his brother’s old Thompson Mini Walker to use. He ordered Top Notch® 9 fabric, grommets, Boat Blanket material and patterning fabric — all from Sailrite — and was ready to get to work.

However, there was one concern in making a cockpit cover that kept gnawing at Jeff. After hours and hours spent sanding and polishing the decking to a high-gloss mirror shine, he couldn’t bear the thought of marring his beautiful woodwork with snaps for attaching the cover to the boat. He came up with a clever alternative. Instead of using the traditional snaps to attach the cover, he tethered it to each of the four docking cleats. Then he added pockets to the cover that hold collapsible fiberglass tent poles to keep the cover taut. Jeff admitted, “It’s certainly a little different looking, but it’s a breeze to put on and works wonderfully, even in fairly high winds.”

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The cockpit cover Jeff designed that cleverly uses tent poles so he didn’t have to add snap fasteners to his woodwork.

After completing the cockpit cover, Jeff put his newfound sewing skill into action by making fender covers with help from Sailrite’s project video. He also sewed some tote bags and did some canvas mending for a local sailing club. While finding satisfaction in the items he was producing, the actual act of sewing on the old Thompson was more often than not tedious and frustrating. The machine lacked the power to go through multiple layers of fabric and the stitch length adjustment would not hold in place. The final straw came when the tensioner broke. You can no longer find replacement parts for the machine, so Jeff rigged a homemade tensioner, but it didn’t work so well.

He then found a local sewing machine repair mechanic who installed a tensioner from a different model machine. “It worked OK, but not great,” Jeff explained. “I’d entertained the thought of getting a Sailrite machine early in the process while watching the videos but questioned whether it would be worthwhile just for doing the few projects I was working on. But once I realized how much I enjoyed sewing and began to envision all of the neat custom items I’d be able to make, I vowed that the next time Sailrite offered a 10 percent discount on the machine I was buying one — and I did.”

What made Jeff decide on an Ultrafeed? Following many other boatbuilders on the Glen-L forum who did their own upholstery, he noticed that most used the Sailrite machines and all of them spoke highly of their machines. Jill also loved her Ultrafeed and recommended it. “I’ve yet to read anything negative about Sailrite or their machines; it’s all glowing reviews. So, for me, buying the Sailrite machine was a no-brainer.”

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Jeff worked nights and weekends for five years building the Pretty Girl Too.

Smooth Sewing Ahead

Although Jeff hasn’t owned his Ultrafeed for very long, he’s enthusiastic about all the projects he’ll make with it. Having a heavy-duty sewing machine opens up a realm of new project possibilities. Jeff admits that he has more ideas than he’ll ever have time to sew, but he’s excited about the ones he will get to. He has plans to re-cover his outdoor patio cushions in LSU purple and gold for their gameday watch parties and has a desire to build curved wood mahogany captain’s chairs with custom upholstery for the Pretty Girl Too.

Another thing Jeff is looking forward to is loaning his Ultrafeed out to his brother. “Carl doesn’t sew too often, but the next time he does, I know he’ll enjoy the power and smoothness of the Utlrafeed over his old Thompson. When taking on any complex DIY project such as a boat, it’s always nice to have an “ace in the hole.” Carl’s my ace. He’s an extremely experienced craftsman in many areas and always available to provide advice and a helping hand. He’s also one of those guys who has every tool imaginable and has generously let me borrow them. It’s not often I have the opportunity to lend him any tool because he has them all, and so I’m excited about him benefitting from my Ultrafeed in the sewing projects he pursues.”

Oh, and how did Jeff come up with the name Pretty Girl Too for his second boat? “‘Pretty Girl’ is my wife, Melanie’s, pet name. She’s been so supportive of my boatbuilding hobby. The amount of support and encouragement she’s provided are immeasurable, and so I proudly named the boat after her. Thus the name, ‘Pretty Girl Too.’”

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Jeff and Melanie are all smiles aboard the Pretty Girl Too.

All Aboard Elcie: A Family Affair

Anyone with experience on the subject could tell you that raising a family is never an easy task. But raising a family on a boat in the middle of the ocean? Definitely tricky. That is exactly what Jessica Rice Johnson has been doing for almost a decade. Jessica and her husband, Richard, have always shared a love for sailing and now live aboard their custom 62-foot aluminum catamaran, Elcie, along with their two daughters. They’re quite familiar with the self-reliance and ingenuity that is required to thrive on the open seas.

As a tale about sailors, our story naturally begins on the water. Jessica met Richard while working on a sailing school ship in Maine. Sharing a love of the sea, they completed a circumnavigation on a refurbished boat between the years of 1997-2001. They returned home with their first daughter, Emma, and two years later welcomed their second daughter, Molly.

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Jessica, Emma, Molly and Richard in Haiti last Christmas.

“We wanted to share our sailing life with them and so we worked with a designer to create a boat that would have room for us but also room to carry expense-sharing crew. That boat would become a means of travel but also a source of income for us.”

The answer was simple: New Zealand. While it was a big decision, the family moved to kiwi country to seek out the level of craftsmanship needed to create their dream boat. During their stay, Richard worked in a shipyard alongside the builders and both girls were able to attend primary school overlooking Tasman Bay. “When we sailed out of New Zealand on Elcie, she was still a work in progress. All the systems were in place but some of the interior was unfinished. The girls were 7 and 9 when we headed across the Southern Ocean along with two friends as crew.”

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The process of building Elcie in New Zealand.

It was early into their voyage that Jessica realized they would need a robust sewing machine to tackle all of the projects that Elcie required. She had always enjoyed sewing and, at first, carried a School Model Singer. While it worked fine, she noticed that it could never sew through several layers of canvas or leather, which was limiting for her future DIY projects.

Every year the Johnsons would attend the Annapolis Boat Show in Maryland and peruse the Sailrite® booth, watching demonstrations and speaking with staff. “Many factors helped me decide the Ultrafeed® LSZ-1 was the right machine — the walking foot, the monster wheel, the heavy-duty nature of the machine — but it was also knowing that I would have help along the way if I needed it. I believe Sailrite is a very service-oriented company and their helpful videos and written instructions gave me the confidence to tackle projects I would not have tried to do otherwise.”

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Jessica and the Ultrafeed LSZ-1 in Norfolk, Virginia.

After gaining an Ultrafeed, the whole family has been busy creating useful projects aboard Elcie. For Jessica, some of the most enjoyable projects have been making the curtains, pillows and small items for her daughters to keep their room organized. Sail covers and dinghy chaps were some of the more challenging projects, while adding insect screens on all the doors and hatches was one of the most important (especially sailing in areas where malaria is prevalent). She’s also created an ingenious “Cable Tamer,” designed to keep all her computer and charger cords and various cables organized using materials from Sailrite.

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Jessica’s plethora of projects (clockwise from top left): Lure holder, bedroom organizer, the ingenious cable tamer and new cockpit cushions.

It’s safe to say that sailing and sewing have become a family affair. Jessica’s daughters have both created small projects with the Ultrafeed, like making Christmas gifts, stitching a pillow purchased in the San Blas Islands in Panama, and sewing courtesy flags for the countries they visit. They’ve learned valuable lessons during their stay aboard Elcie, and Jessica explained that raising two children aboard a boat is simultaneously the most challenging and most rewarding part of their lifestyle.

“I believe that our daughters share our independent spirit. I also believe they are learning many necessary life skills while sailing. I feel that skills like sewing, cooking from scratch, fishing, navigating and just entertaining oneself have become less important in this age of electronic devices. I’m glad they have had the opportunity to realize the importance of learning these skills and I hope it will encourage them to keep using them later in life.”

As the girls are getting older and closer to attending college, Jessica is savoring every moment with them. She explained that, of course, it was difficult for them to leave friends and forgo a regular school. Sailing aboard Elcie was a huge decision for them as they must conduct all their schooling (and tackle imminent college applications) aboard the ship.

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The Johnsons and their floating home, Elcie.

“While their education has been somewhat nonconventional, both girls have managed to stay on track and even are ahead of many of their classmates at home when they have spent time in traditional high schools. It’s my hope that just through the travel, they are receiving a well-rounded education and broader worldview.”

Since 2010, Jessica and her family have sailed over 75,000 nautical miles, including three Pacific crossings with many island stops along the way. It’s even possible for others to join them on their adventures! Elcie can accommodate a crew of 10 in five double cabins and has solar panels to accommodate the necessities. The Johnsons have detailed sailing itineraries and encourage guests to join them on thoroughly planned adventures filled with enriching opportunities. Their current route has taken them from the East Coast of the United States all the way through the Bahamas, Africa, South America, Polynesia and many more exotic locations.

If you’d like to learn more about this incredible group of sailors and see more of Elcie, visit their website: https://www.elcieexpeditions.com/.

The {Bike} Path Less Traveled: One Man’s Creative Journey

Creativity is the common denominator that exists in all crafters regardless of their preferred medium. Whether it’s the need to feel productive, to channel restless energy, or to unwind and relax after a stressful day, having a creative outlet is good for the soul. Having a hobby, especially a craft such as sewing in which you make something with your hands, engages the mind, promotes wellness and is a great way to connect with like-minded people in your community. It’s the perfect remedy for the overwhelming dominance of our technology-dependent lives.

Brett Walker has searched for a creative outlet his entire life. A hobbyist at heart, he describes himself as a “DIY type of person” who enjoys learning how to do things himself. He learned how to sew about eight years ago by watching videos online. He wanted to get into puppet design and stop-motion filmmaking, but when this idea didn’t work out, he switched to live-action filmmaking to channel his creativity.

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Brett saw a need for well-made, custom bicycle bags for storing essentials.

“I always try to find hobbies to keep myself busy and have an artistic outlet. I’ve done a lot of drawing and painting, then filmmaking, and now cycling and bag making.”

It’s his cycling hobby that propelled his desire to get back into sewing. “After cycling for a while and more than a few flat tires, I realized I needed a bag to carry my flat tire repair kit with me. The custom ones I wanted kept selling out, so I figured I could just make my own. I had also started to hear about bike camping and wanted to buy panniers (a pair of bags or containers attached to the sides of a bicycle for storage), but found out that they are pretty pricey, so that led me to want to make my own as well.”

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Some panniers that Brett made for bike camping to carry all his supplies.

Ready to pick up his sewing hobby again, he needed to test the waters and find out if he still had his sewing skills. It had been a few years since Brett had sewn anything, so his best friend’s wife let him borrow her machine to see if he could relearn how to sew; he practiced making a few bags and instantly fell back in love with the craft. With his hobby firmly reestablished, he began sewing his own bags to carry things on his cycling adventures.

Enjoying making bags for himself and his cycling excursions wasn’t enough. He recognized a need in his cycling community for locally made, custom bags and decided to turn his sewing hobby into a small side business. He named his business Canal Workshop, inspired by the canal located next to his apartment in Phoenix, Arizona, which provides miles of traffic-free bike paths. It’s this canal that spurred Brett to get back into cycling as an adult, which he’d dropped after outgrowing his childhood BMX bike.

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A sampling of the bicycle bags Brett custom designs through his business, Canal Workshop.

For about a year and a half, he’d been sewing bags with a Singer Heavy Duty sewing machine, but he found that it wasn’t handling the workload as well as he needed. So he began his search for a more powerful and dependable machine that could handle the thick Cordura canvas, packcloth and nylon webbing he uses for his bags. “I was talking to a cyclist friend of mine and he told me about Sailrite®. He mentioned that their machines were more economical and could just as easily get the job done [compared to more expensive heavy duty machines on the market].”

Brett initially looked at the Ultrafeed®, but Sailrite happened to be running a sale on the Fabricator® Sewing Machine, so he decided to take a look at an industrial sewing machine instead. “I figured that an industrial machine was more suited for the work I was doing. I liked that it had a classic steel look, was all black, and the name of the machine spoke to the type of work I was doing. When it went on sale, I thought this was a no-brainer.”

He’s been sewing with his new Fabricator for about six months and has no regrets about his choice of machine. “It’s strong, straightforward, and when I see it, I just want to sit down and work. The machine hums along and causes me no real issues. I love that it’s inset into the table that it came with and that you can wind the bobbins while you work. It works like a charm.”

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Brett sewing a bag with his Fabricator set in its industrial sewing table.

The sewing process has been a bit of trial and error for Brett, as it is with most hobbies, and he’s learned some valuable lessons along the way about how to sew with skill and professional results. “One of the most important things I’ve learned is to take my time. Like in filmmaking, the more time and effort you put into preproduction (planning, pattern making and cutting), the faster and more efficient the production (sewing) is. I like to make one panel of a bag at a time, then put them all together. When I first started I was so eager to see the final product that I often left off important parts like a handle or my label.”

“It’s such a timesaver to take your time with a project. Planning out the process and then executing it correctly the first time means spending way less time with a seam ripper. One thing I’ve learned, and am still trying to perfect, is setting the tension properly. I had a hard time sewing certain lightweight materials before I learned to dial back the tension.”

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Brett’s bags are truly unique, like this custom-fit frame bag.

When asked what he enjoys most about the sewing experience, Brett mentioned the sense of accomplishment he feels when making something himself and how his sewing hobby has led to new friendships. “I enjoy that I can make something for myself that is exactly the style, size and quality that I look for in a bike bag. I also really enjoy that I can provide that same service to the cycling community in Phoenix. What I love most is I’ve made a ton of new friends; a lot of my customers have gone on to become close friends because we’re all into cycling so much.”

While the majority of his sewing projects are for his bike bag business, Brett has put his Fabricator to other uses. “I’ll hem some pants or make some pillowcases for my girlfriend. I did recently make a regular backpack. I’ve also got an order for a bike bag with leather accents, which will be new territory for me. I did some research on that through the Sailrite website and am putting in an order for diamond tip needles from Sailrite for that project.” 

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Where will your sewing adventure take you?

With a restless, creative spirit, Brett is constantly searching for the next project to tackle and a new skill to learn. “I’m always looking for ways to grow and add to my skill set. I recently learned that custom bags for off-road vehicles is a thing, so I’m going to try that out. My buddy actually put a bug in my ear about making some bags to organize his new truck. Another project I’ve got on deck is blackout window coverings for a van.”

The creative vein through it all is Brett’s need to channel his artistry into something tangible. Whether you’re a sewer, woodworker, painter or knitter, the pure joy of creating something with your hands is the thread that ties us all together. 

Best Seat on the Patio

Sometimes, the only thing standing between you and your dream DIY is a few supplies, some research and a little encouragement. Sailrite® customer and crafty creator Anita Jackson learned that with the right tools and the right attitude, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. As a retired nurse, Air Force and Navy Reserve veteran and mother of five, Anita is no stranger to hard work and perseverance.

It all began with six old patio chairs. What had once been white sling fabric was now torn, dirty and covered in what appeared to be mold. Everyone told her to throw them out, but Anita had a better idea. Why not just clean them up and replace the sling fabric? It seemed like an easy enough project. Besides, it wasn’t as if Anita was without sewing experience. Both her parents were skilled at sewing and she’d had many lessons starting from the age of 10. As one of her favorite hobbies, Anita often sewed small cellphone bags, purses and quilts in her spare time. However, the closest thing she had done to patio chairs was re-covering dining room chairs.

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The chairs were in need of a major upgrade.

Armed with her previous sewing knowledge, Phifertex® sling fabric and a Sailrite how-to video, Anita set to work completely revamping all six chairs. It wasn’t long before the entire thing turned into a family affair. Her husband and two of her sons offered much-needed help by taking the chairs apart, cleaning, spray painting, fitting the sling fabric and putting them back together.

Although the Sailrite video was straightforward and easy to follow, the project was not without its hiccups. Originally, Anita had cut out all the pieces of sling fabric to replace her chairs. “Next time, I would cut and sew one to check the fit before cutting the rest. I sewed the seams as instructed in the video for all six chairs. I enlisted the help of my son and my husband to install the fabric into the frames. No matter how hard I tried, the fabric was sewn too small to install!”

Just like with any project, it’s natural for mistakes to happen. Her husband, Tim, was very supportive and further encouraged her to continue. He said, “The only way to not make mistakes is to not get up when the alarm clock rings.” Thankfully, the sling fabric was very forgiving and it was easy to rip out the old seams and adjust them so they would fit correctly on the chairs. There’s no doubt that it was hard work, but the entire DIY process gave Anita a new outlook on the creative possibilities that come from having the right tools and the right attitude. There’s a special feeling that comes from turning something old and worn into something completely one of a kind.

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Before and after Anita’s hard work.

“I was so proud of the job that I sent photos to friends and relatives. I got a lot of compliments and some people said they didn’t realize the slingback chairs could be re-covered. I told them about the Sailrite videos and wonderful products all on one website.”

Through her adventurous DIY efforts, Anita was able to finish all six chairs just in time for her grandchildren’s spring break visit. “This project definitely boosted my confidence in trying new projects with Sailrite. Maybe they’re not perfect, but we enjoy using the chairs again. I’m ready for another project!”

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Anita’s chairs were finished just in time for a visit from her grandchildren.

For our full selection of sling chair fabric shop Sailrite and to see the full how-to video on replacing sling chair fabric, click here!