Photograph by Meggan Gould
At Sea Bags on Custom House Wharf, Hannah Kubiak and Beth Shissler turn old sails into tote bags, duffels, boat bags, wine totes, messenger bags, shaving kits, and change purses.
(window) Having a waterfront shop means the company must abide by Portland ordinance and contribute to the fishing industry. For Kubiak, who grew up lobstering in Cape Porpoise, and Shissler, whose sister is fisherman Linda Greenlaw, being part of the working waterfront has not been difficult. “We repair sails for sailors and bait barrel covers and riding sails for lobstermen,” Kubiak says. “I even repaired a pair of Grundens, those overalls that bait boys wear.”
(machines) The staccato sounds of industrial sewing machines fill the room. During the day, women sew bags, splice rope handles, and stitch on nautical designs. “We had three machines and two people two years ago,” Shissler says. “Now, there are 17 of us. Next year, we’re expanding upstairs.”
(cloth) Old sails are sent from boaters around New England and from as far away as Norway. “It’s like Christmas morning for us when we open up the sails,” Shissler says. As sail technology has evolved from cottons to Kevlar racing sails, Sea Bags has developed new uses and designs for the space-age material.
(rack) A sail-cutter sections the sails into three panel sizes, for small, medium, and large bags. The cloth feels slightly granular from years on the salt water.
(thread) The white thread is one of the few materials that is not recycled. What scrap fabric they cannot make into bags, they turn into tags. “We literally use everything,” Kubiak says.