Ballard brothers have outfitted sailboats for half a century

Axel and Frank Schattauer run the custom sail making business founded by their father in 1958. #k5evening

SEATTLE — Like designers making a couture dress, Axel and Frank Schattauer measure every inch and sew every stitch by hand.

But they’re not in the clothing business. They’re in the sail making trade.

“Every once in a while, someone will walk up to the porch and look in the window to see what we’re doing in here, it’s pretty fun,” Frank said.

From mending wear to creating custom sails, their Ballard loft has outfitted Northwest boats since 1958. Schattauer Sails was founded by their father Franz, a master sail maker from Germany.

“In the beginning, I think it was more forced labor,” Axel said, laughing. “But hey, it paid off. He taught us a trade we were able to do our whole life.”

Axel has worked for the family business for 54 years. Frank joined him fulltime in 1983.

“It’s enjoyable. It’s quiet,” Axel said. “It’s kind of a zen thing because you’re going at your own pace.”

They use the traditional techniques passed down from their dad, which are growing increasingly rare.

“Details like hand-sewn rings – very few lofts do that anymore,” Frank said. “You’re creating something, and you’re creating with your own hands.”

In an era of computerized production, he still draws his own plans and Axel still trusts his own eyes for precise measurements.

“It’s slower, but it does a great job,” he said.

The intricate handwork makes a difference – Schattauer Sails last a long time. The record? One sail lasted for 40 years.

But for all their expertise, the brothers are also the last of their kind. They never found anyone interested in mastering their work who could eventually take over the business, and Frank said their type of custom sail making is a dying art form.

“Because there’s substitutions for everything we do that’s quicker, faster – you know, time is money,” Axel said.

But a lifetime of hard work and integrity is priceless, according to more than six decades of satisfied customers. A giant world map on a wall in the loft is dotted with “thank you” postcards sent to the Schattauers from all corners of the globe.

“I would guess at least 100 boats have gone completely around the world with our sails. And successfully come back!” Axel said, laughing. “It’s just something you grow up with, something you appreciate, and something that you take pride in.”

When they do retire, the brothers will still fly their sails – just, in a different way.

“Enjoy what we have left and enjoy our boat and go sailing, you know?” Frank said.

Axel added, “We’re thankful for so many things.”

Schattauer Sails specializes in custom sails for cruising, but also offers an array of other services. Their orders typically run about six months out.

KING 5’s Evening celebrates the Northwest. Contact us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Email.

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