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Last Tuesday I gassed up the Mom Bomb and headed up the Hudson Valley to Beacon, New York. I shouted out the window for MDK editor-at-large and Field Guide creative director Melanie Falick to jump in the car, and off we went to Rhinebeck. It was as close to a Smokey and the Bandit caper as you are going to get while traveling with a couple of ladies who enjoy the Fiber Arts. We were excited to be spending a beautiful late-summer day away from our screens.

Our mission: to visit the workshop where Julia Hilbrandt is making The Knitter’s Tote, one by one, for our customers, and to have lunch.

Our goals were ambitions, but achievable.

The Room Where It Happens

Here’s Julia, seated at her Sailrite, a portable sewing machine designed for making and repairing sails on a ship. (It can sew through 10 layers of heavy canvas, according to the Sailrite literature. It goes through thick felt like butter.)

A feature of the Sailrite is that if the power goes out, it operates with a hand crank. Julia says she has never had to use the crank, but it gave me a secure feeling.

The Little Wonder is for installing rivets through leather. It’s a really cool-looking tool, but the rivets on The Knitter’s Tote will all be installed by hand by Julia, using a hammer.

There is something about the rivet placement on The Knitter’s Tote that requires hand-hammering. We do not question Julia on such matters. We just think the Little Wonder is pretty wonderful.

There is a lot of industrial felt in Julia’s workshop. One of Julia’s hobbies is figuring out what to do with the oddly shaped bits of felt that are generated in the bag-making process, so as not to waste it.  Last year she made little Christmas trees out of cone-shaped bits.

Julia’s love affair with industrial felt began when she worked for a milliner. One of her jobs was to block “hat bodies” made of wool felt. She didn’t particularly enjoy blocking hat bodies, but she liked the material, and she started using felt scraps to sew bags. Her search for the perfect material ended when she found industrial felt, sold by the bolt.

Julia has industrial felt stair treads. She also has industrial felt curtains that would make Design Within Reach go weak in the knees.

The overseer of operations is Ella, a purebred Industrial Felthound. (Or possibly goldendoodle.) Nothing gets by Ella (without a gentle greeting).

We had a great time seeing the source of The Knitter’s Tote and all the other beautiful bags Julia designs and makes. At one point, Melanie started styling things, and it was time to take our leave before Julia’s studio turned into a lush coffee table book proposal (working title: Living with Industrial Felt).

As we headed out of town after lunch, we passed the Dutchess County Fairgrounds. The place looked empty and expectant, and somehow smaller than it is on the third weekend of October every year. Hold on, fairgrounds! The knitters will be there soon!



  • “It was as close to a Smokey and the Bandit caper as you are going to get while traveling with a couple of ladies who enjoy the Fiber Arts.”
    You guys are the coolest. Add industrial felt and a goldendoodle? You have achieved epic, legendary coolness. 🙂

    • Industrial Felthound. O.M.G. Always bad to take a drink while reading MDK. LOL

  • I’m intrigued by the felt baskets behind her on the upper shelf. So cool!

    • I noticed those & am curious about them also.

    • I didn’t even notice the baskets! Good catch Robin. Tell us about the baskets please Kay.

  • I have one of Julia’s bags–purchased at Rhinebeck two years ago. I love it, and get so many compliments for it.

  • “She also has industrial felt curtains that would make Design Within Reach go weak in the knees.” No picture? I mean, I appreciate the picture of the stair treads (great picture!), but really? Where are the curtains?

  • Thanks for a great post based in realism. She looks like she is really working hard. Gorgeous totes.

  • These bags scream artistry, craftsmanship, beauty! Question – were you able to have lunch?

    • Yes we had a good lunch at Bread Alone.

  • I would love to know more about those stair treads. That’s the solution I’ve been looking for. Are they just tacked down? So many questions but I love them!!!!

    • They are tacked down with upholstery tacks.

  • I love seeing how things are made. Thanks for the tour! The tote is gorgeous!

  • My engineer/lawyer sailing captain husband is interested in the Sailrite sewing machine for himself. Shared this article w him. The rivet machine is cool, too.

  • Great tour, amazing fabric but would love to know-what did you have for lunch? Food and fiber go together.

  • Cool tour. Beautiful bag. You were lucky to be “in the room where it happens” 😉

  • aaaand now I’m looking up sailrite machines…so cool!

  • Love, love, love this, from the Smokey and the Bandit reference, to that wonderful felt, with a stop for exquisite craftspersonship, and finally, an adorable dog! Query: how does Ella keep herself from lying on and chewing that amazing felt? I could barely restrain myself just seeing the photos!

  • I wish I had known about the Sailrite machine when I was trying to sew leather with my Bernina. I bet Sailrite would sail right through it. I did NOT just say that.

    I second the request for felt curtains!

    Thanks for the peek inside a makers workshop.

  • Love the Workshop.

  • I miss Beacon and Rhinebeck. We lived in Beacon for 13 years, and I only missed NYS S&W once!!

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