Weft & Warp Seamster, Chef Erik Desjarlais, Chef’s Knife Bags, Handmade, Portland, ME, Maine, Upholsterer, Chandler Adler 1970, Sewing Machine, Chef Matt Jennings, Hand Stitched, Where to buy, Shop, Chef’s Tools


Canvas Chefs’ Knife Bags



Photo Credit: Find. Eat. Drink.

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“Erik's bags are first rate. They are the type of hand made textile that only existed in generations past. They are super durable and will literally last a lifetime. When mine gets dirty, I simply run it through the dishwasher machine and brush it with a stainless steel scrubby. These things can take a beating. And they look great. Hand stitched, embossed with their particular manufacturing number- so that Erik can keep his notes on the bags as he makes them, in case there is ever a problem. He's a craftsman. And only a chef could know how important a dependable knife bag is- he's got the market cornered. That's why I decided to buy ten of them for my staff this past Christmas. Everyone was beyond psyched.”

- Chef Matt Jennings

“Weft & Warp Seamster's first product launch of professional grade knife rolls show years of craftsmanship and dedication. They are no-frills, all function bags designed to protect the serious cooks cutlery and tools and are crafted by hand with love and attention to detail.”

- Chef / Cheesemonger Sergio Hernandez

The Chef Turns Accidental Seamster

By Erik Desjarlais

My grandfather was a skilled upholsterer. His attention to every detail was intense and focused.

Erik working his sewing machine   

Photograph courtesy of Erik Desjarlais

In his tiny basement workshop he would put new life into antique Cabriole and mid-century sofas, wingback chairs, and ottomans. Hunched over his 1970 Chandler Adler sewing machine, glasses perched at the end of his nose, he would whirr away until each piece was just exactly perfect. Tight seams, perfectly aligned patterns, cushions formed and stuffed with just enough support and bounce. Cutting yards of fabric from a bolt with his razor straight Wiss scissors involved focus and intensity, and to this day it is one of my favorite sounds. The guy was a craftsman and an expert.

Some of my earliest memories at my grandparent’s house involved going down the creaky basement stairs and hanging out with him while he sewed, cut, and built masterpieces of rejuvenated furniture.

This, of course, eventually led to him hiring me to pick up and deliver the furniture. I was maybe 10, and he wasn't a big guy at all, but we'd maneuver hundreds of pounds of sofa bed down flights of stairs without touching a wall. "One more coat of paint, and we would be in a tight spot," he'd say. We would load the furniture into the van and head back to the workshop, where I was in charge of taking apart the furniture, one staple and tack at a time. I learned not to scuff the wood. I learned exactly what kind of wood each piece had and how it would react to the tack puller. He'd sew and build while I dismantled. When the day was over, I'd sweep the floor and run a long dowel fitted with a magnet to pick up any leftover tacks and staples.

One day, he let me sew.

“Go ahead. Just step on the pedal and follow the line. Make sure it's straight.”

“That’s it?”

“Well, no. But that's where you start.”

I slammed on the pedal, the motor engaged, and the fabric went shooting off the back of the table. I almost put a Schmetz 135 x 17 upholstery needle through my finger and the bobbin thread jammed up in the casing under the machine.

“Holy shit.”

"Holy shit is right," he chuckled. "It's not just on/off. Press lightly and count the stitches. Relax. But Jesus Christ, pay attention."

I figured it out, eventually, and I was given the responsibility of seaming cushions and pillows, which I relished. I was still pulling tacks and sweeping, but such is that of an apprentice.

Wait... apprentice? More on that later.

As I headed in to my teens, I chose a wayward lifestyle, following the Grateful Dead and working in kitchens. Well, Jerry eventually died, and my career was spawned. I went through being s stagiaire and a commis, chef de partie, sous chef. Then at 25, I opened my own restaurant. Ownership of two and a half restaurants later, and well into to my thirties, I had become increasingly dissatisfied with and completely disillusioned by the restaurant industry, and everything about it. Everything.

I’m married to a wonderful woman who also happens to be a chef/owner. We had a daughter and I said goodbye to the restaurant life to raise her. I didn’t want someone else raising our daughter and I didn’t want someone else running my kitchen. So, I retired at 34. Done. Forever. Fin.


Erik’s Tools  

Photograph courtesy of Erik Desjarlais

about a year, it became obvious that I needed to find a new career. Woodworking? Cabinetry? Electrician? Plumber? Various metallurgic arts? Most of the masters in those fields were masters because of their longevity in the craft.

At this point in my life I wasn't prepared to be an apprentice again. The romantic notion of being a boat builder’s apprentice and eventually being a skilled boat builder myself was just that... a notion. And not appropriate for this chapter of my life.

I hemmed and hawed for months. I needed to have a plan, stat.

Over the course of that year, I had lost both of my grandparents. Grandpa first, then, what seemed like too soon thereafter, Oma.  “The sewing machine and upholstery stuff are yours,” my aunt Chris told me.

I’m not a designer, and I have no sense of fashion, whatsoever. I once washed and wore the same flannel shirt and Carhartts every day for a year. Before that, chef whites.

Utilitarian craftsmanship, that’s what. My mother is a talented quilter, and my father had apprenticed under Grandpa too. He was a part-time upholsterer. There was always a sewing machine running somewhere in my life.

Throughout my entire career I put things together. Breaking down a whole animal and building it back into various dishes with numerous techniques... it was like a Danish Modern sofa. Take it apart and make it better. What I didn’t realize up until that moment, was that I had the foundation of an apprentice upholsterer. And now, the tools.

I picked up the Chandler Adler sewing machine, (“Mule”, as I call her) and the hand tools. The touch quickly came back to me, and the soft whirr stirred up fond memories of working in Grandpa’s shop. I made a few knife rolls, based on the design of my twenty year old roll. One for my wife, then one for my knives. Trial and error brought me to a design I was happy with, and I sold a slew of them before Christmas. And so was born Weft & Warp Seamster.

I built a small studio in our 1830s home in New Gloucester Village, just outside of Portland, ME. I have an old butcher block baker’s bench as a cutting table, Grandpa’s tools, and have added a second sewing machine, a mid-century White Rotary, for the finer detail work.

The knife rolls are utilitarian, but pretty sleek and easy on the eyes -- function and form balanced out. My days are spent playing daddy/goalie for our toddler daughter, and my nights are spent hunched over old Mule or the cutting table, using the same razor sharp Wiss scissors Grandpa took care of so well. Presently, there’s a three month waiting list for the bags. Customers are ok with that and I am too.


Recommended By

- Chef Matt Jennings of Farmstead, Farmstead Downtown and La Laiterie Bistro in Providence, RI

- Chef/ Cheesemonger Sergio Hernandez of Bklyn Larder in Brooklyn, NY