Oh, my Sailrite LSZ-1. How do I love thee?
One of the many boat-related subjects that captured my interest awhile ago was canvas work. I had taken some sewing lessons a few years back and had a lightweight machine, but I knew sewing for boats required something more heavy-duty. There are countless “What’s the best sewing machine?” threads on the sailing forums and the Sewing on Boats Facebook page, and the runaway recommendation is always a Sailrite machine.
Sailrite is an Indiana-based company that has been around since 1969. They sell everything you can think of that might be needed for boat-related (and home decor) sewing, and their customer service is top-notch. With hundreds of how-to YouTube videos covering everything from making cushions to sails, they have a way of breaking down each step so that you find yourself thinking, “I can make that!”.
Sailrite’s machines are monsters (they can sew through 8 layers of sailcloth and 10 layers of canvas), and they aren’t inexpensive, starting at $649 without a zig zag stitch and $749 with it. Optional bells and whistles increase the price tag, although it was cheaper than buying them separately. Given the cost, I researched a lot of options before deciding it was the right machine for us.
Getting a sewing machine was never in doubt. Having a professional sew your canvas work costs enough that buying your own machine will quickly pay for itself. We have several things that we’d like to make, including new interior and cockpit cushions, weather cloths, lee cloths, curtains, a bimini, and various covers. Just having the cushions custom-made would have dwarfed the price of the Sailrite, let alone the cost of everything else. We also wanted the ability to bring the machine with us when we cut the lines so that we could easily make the inevitable repairs without having to find a professional or (shudder) do it by hand. Perhaps if I felt I was good enough, I might even be able to do minor repairs for other cruisers in exchange for things like, oh I don’t know, maybe rum? A used Sailrite sells for almost it costs new, and they are snatched up as fast as a Fatty Knees dinghy on Craigs List. So it was decided. A Sailrite LSZ-1 Premium package would be purchased at the appropriate time – maybe in a few years. Then we bought Pegu Club.
This past fall we were talking about what we should do about Pegu Club’s sails. They are reaching the end of their useful life, and when we were cleaning the jib we noticed a few areas that needed some attention. We knew the mainsail would be the same. I suggested that we take them to a sailmaker, but Jeff pointed out that perhaps we should buy the Sailrite now rather than spending money on repairs and still needing to buy the machine later. He didn’t have to tell me twice! Now I just needed to wait for a sale. Fortunately, the Annapolis Sailboat Show was coming up and Sailrite had a generous boat show special that also applied to on-line orders.
That’s how it came to be that by mid-October the UPS man was delivering a VERY large box to our front door. Inside was our new Sailrite:
At 56 pounds, this thing was a beast. It made my Janome machine look like a toy. It came with a carrying case and a 7 pound Monster II Balance Wheel with a hand crank for when you don’t have electricity. A DVD covering set-up, use, and maintenance accompanied it, and by the end of the evening I was ready to start sewing!
I had decided that a good first project would be a tote bag. It would give me a chance to get used to how the machine worked and the feel of the controls, and it would have the added benefit of being useful. Using Sailrite’s easy-to-follow instructions I made a green tote bag out of Sunbrella fabric with two pockets, binding trim, and webbing for handles.
It turned out so well that I decided to make nine more tote bags for Christmas presents. And with that, I was off and running.