Seat For Your Pants

Nancy German in her hangar shop.

Nancy German in her hangar shop.

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RAVENNA — Seamstress Nancy German says it’s still a man’s world — in general as well as in her own profession. But she can compete.

Being outnumbered, by her estimation, 10 to one in the plane upholstering business doesn’t deter German.

She started doing vehicle upholstery for her husband 18 years ago when he needed a truck seat.

Wanting to learn to sew leather, German  soared into the plane business a little over three years ago after answering an ad for a plane upholstery seamstress.

German works in a cluttered, busy environment. The whir of the sewing machine accompanies the oldies-but-goodies tunes on the radio. Her daughter and granddaughter work nearby, one slicing stiff yards of carpet while the other jumps in and out of the naked interior of a small plane waiting to be re-adorned.

A dismantled seat waits for a new covering of leather.

A dismantled seat waits for a new covering of leather.

The planes are their owners’ babies, their wives, their mistresses.

In the on-the-field hangar constituting her office, the plane competes for attention with a myriad of boxes, materials, ladders, tables and tools. It’s a casual environment.

Office attire for German is shorts and a “Cleveland Rocks!” T-shirt. A suit just won’t work here: German sometimes finds herself on the floor of a plane tugging at resistant carpet.

German likes her job most of the time, until pressure to finish a plane mounts. Then eight-hour days turn into 10- or 12-hour days, or even overnighters. That makes retirement sound good.

Materials must conform to strict FAA guidelines.

Materials must conform to strict FAA guidelines.

The leather upholstery for planes is a tough and unforgiving tool of the trade, too. Her hand is in a brace from the stress of working with the resistant material.

Still, German likes the challenge of her job, even though she says men are probably better suited to it. They have more hand strength, and they may have an innate understanding of what men want for their planes.

The planes, German says, are their owners’ “babies, their wives, their mistresses.” She jokingly adds, “They probably treat them better than their wives.”

— Patricia Sedon is a graduate student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University.  

“The interest and pride one has for what one does for a living makes both the person and his or her craft interesting and unique.  Stories That Fly profiles a number of individuals who demonstrate this.” 

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