Sewing, walking-foot machine

In my quest to boat at a reasonable cost (go ahead, call me frugal, thrifty or just plain cheap – I can take it).  I present my latest effort at circumventing the outrageous prices charged for all things with the word boat on the label. I used to think motorcycle parts were exorbitant! I guess what really kills me is most of what I see is either re-purposed from other normal uses, or isn’t any better then regular, non-boat stuff, despite the manufacturers claims. Perhaps this is because boats are expensive and your life is on the line if equipment fails, if you are offshore I suppose. So there is definitely a fear involved in DIY or home based solutions, the undercurrent is “You don’t want to ruin your boat/cruise/investment with the wrong widget/paint/wax/rope!”

Last year I priced out a professional Bimini, as a blond I fry under the sun, my fair children won’t do any better in the sun, coverage we need. I was shocked to get quotes that were almost two thirds the price of what I paid for the boat. What?  This brought me to Sailrite and their yummy looking kits and machines, alas, they still seemed to be expensive to my cheap eye. The key to choosing a machine for sail repair and heavy work is a walking foot. A walking foot is an additional foot on the top that moves the material from the top and bottom simultaneously, thereby avoiding material slippage. You also need a machine that can go through heavy material, and mulitple layers of that material. Sailcloth is one of the toughest materials around, this machine uses industrial #20 needles and heavy weight thread.

Walking foot, detail
Blue arrow indicates the walking foot.

I decided that there must be a cheaper alternative to the $899 walking foot sewing machine. A little digging with the help of Mr.Google revealed that the same machine is out there marketed under different names. I went for the “Rex” from Sewman for $375, had it shipped to my father-in-law in the US who brought it up to Toronto, duty free. ahh, now that’s more like it. It is just sewing machine in a cardboard box, no case. I could buy the Sailrite Deluxe Carrying Case for $125+ shipping+ taxes & duty, or just make one; so I made one as pictured below.


walking-foot sewing machineI am not knocking the Sailrite products, they have taken the time to research, assemble and importantly, support their products, if money were no option I would just order theirs, but then again, if money were no option, I wouldn’t be sewing my own Bimini on my 30 year old boat.

The quality of the machine seems fine for what it is, a semi industrial heavy weight machine; this isn’t my mothers Pfaff. The casting is a bit rough and the cheapo plastic rheostat foot pedal was a pice of junk. I replaced it with a standard plug so I can use any standard foot pedal. (I bought one at my local surplus shop for $12, or can use my nice Foredom pedal). I also found a spool of black nylon thread there too!

My first project is a tether for my two year old. She likes to move around the boat and this summer with a second baby, we will have our hands full so a tether, or lifeline is a must. I looked at the Sailrite kit for $87, seems pretty straight forward, but the price!!!! To be fair they are using some magical carbiners that are very expensive. I sourced my clips from MEC the Canadian version or REI. If a carbiner is good enough to fall off a mountain side, I think it is good enough to keep me on my boat, the most expensive clip there is $22. I looked around on the net and it seems Whichard carbiners are expensive – but do you really need a stainless clip capable of lifting your whole boat for a haul out? I await the blogisphere to enlighten me.

Here is the breakdown:

  • 1/8″ Shockcord, 1 meter  $0.80
  • 1″ tublar webbing, 1 meter $1.30
  • two 1″ D-rings $0.50
  • 2 carbiner clips, $6.40
  • Total   $10.17

Finished product…..

Finished tether

The observant might not that the clips say “not load bearing” this clip is for my 21lb daughter, if I need a better clip as she gets heavier I can upgrade to a fancy $20 clip! My sewing may not be as clean as the professional ones, but for a saving of $70 I think I can live with it.

Stay tuned for more sewing projects.

6 thoughts on “Sewing, walking-foot machine

  1. Hello, I found your blog looking for info on the Tanzer 7.5.. looks like I am on the same lake as you but down in Burlington – I would love to know more about this sewing machine as I too would like to make a bimini. Great site by the way, really enjoyed reading.


  2. I found your blog looking for sewing machine information. I’m also a rock climber and I’m a bit appalled at your choice of carabiner for your child. I’m on MEC’s website and the cheapest non-locking (rated for climbing) biner they have is $5.75. The cheapest locking one is $8.75. Both are a far cry from $20.00.

    1. Hi Kate,
      Thanks for your comments, I said the most expensive Is $20, I was trying to figure out why “professional” sailing harnesses use such a massive stainless carabiner, when as you point out, one that is good enough for a fall off a wall can be had for $5-10. As for the choice of a non-locking carabiner, last season the kids were so light, and I also like the convenience of being able to quickly move the harness, further, we are trying to get the girls to move the tether themselves as they move about the boat. The tether is attached to their life jackets so the tether is really just to keep them from falling off… all that to say as they get bigger and more dexterous, the equip will get better! If any part of my tether fails, the worst that happens is they go for a unintentional swim…

  3. I just found your website while looking for a pattern for a Lifesling cover. Very interesting, and I can really appreciate your concern about the price of “boat stuff” – it drives me crazy to see what they charge for something made out of 25-cents worth of plastic.

    Regarding caribiners for harnesses, the sailing world is tying itself in knots over several incidences where people drowned as a result of the tethers they were wearing. It is the eternal conundrum of wanting equipment that absolutely stays closed then you want it to be closed, but then when you need to release it, it is easy to release. And everyone is forced to consider the dynamic loads that the hardware has to deal with, when a 250lb man (it is ALWAYS a guy) falls over the side and is jerked to a stop. Recently, West Marine had to recall a bunch of tethers because it was possible for them to become unhooked when they caught, just right, and twisted open, on just the right fitting. Not an easy engineering task, and when the lawyers and insurance companies consider the liability, the price goes way up. My solution is to insist that no one falls overboard.

    Your lifesling design really looks great. Would you, by any chance, have a drawing or listing of the sizes of the pieces you cut, and would you be willing to share them? I understand if there is some reluctance, but I just have to ask.

    Thanks in advance, from down in Florida, where it is about 80F, and glorious…

    1. Hey thanks for the feedback. The tethers I made were for my two toddlers that only weigh 25 pounds, and basically it’s to keep them from falling off and be aware of their movements on deck. They might be more effective if I could get them to keep them attached…

      For the LifeSling bag, I’d be happy to share my cutting diagram if I made one! I didn’t draw it out, just deconstructed the original and copied it’s dimensions, I should have included larger seam allowances as I stitched larger than planned for and the bag is a hair tight. I would just suggest measuring the external dimensions of a bag and add some hearty seam allowances, bearing in mind the type of seam you are planning on using on each side (felled seams use lots of fabric).

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