STUDIO 103 @Sand Sea and Air Interiors

Upholstery for Yachts, Aircrafts, Home, Hotels and Office

Cushion Styles — Design and Function

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Terri Madden’s March/April 2015 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.

As you read this, I hope you’ve written down and are applying the goals you targeted for 2015. It is an insurance policy to glean the benefits of the goals you’re focused on and is a win/win solution for success in 2015. An interesting comment that stuck with me from a recent conference was ‘saying no to a customer’ – WOW – it was liberating just to think about it and I actually used it in response to a request from a customer I had not seen in over 5 years, who proceeded to say how the easy things on his list he had given to other fabricators, yet wanted me to fabricate a very difficult project for him. It was one of my least favorite projects and it would have required substantial travel time. It was refreshing to say “No”, yet I did provide a referral to another fabricator.

Think about it and trust that a rewarding project is “waiting in the wings”. I believe our intuition warns each of us when a customer request “goes against our grain” yet it always does seem to occur during a lull and we need the work.

Most MFA projects seen at the national convention in Oakland were executed with impressive skill and customer satisfaction. Yet others could have been approached differently if the fabricator had the foresight that generally comes with experience in this specialized field. There are hundreds of designs and styles for cushions. For your next project, evaluate how complex it is. Determine if you are willing to put in the time to do the research and samples necessary to achieve the required result if the project is new for your skill level. In the end you want your workmanship to be outstanding. Following are a few projects that pushed my skills to a new level.

A Corner Cushion

One customer had a corner bridge cushion fly off the boat; rather than fabricate a new cushion exactly as the original we used the opportunity to design a new cushion with a 3/8” PVC back. The PVC was carefully heat molded to the hull shape. 2” marine foam was used and the vinyl top/lower bands were patterned to the curve contour. We installed upper and lower rows of 1” Velsticks mounted to the fiberglass and 2” marine Velcro was sewn on the mesh back of the cushion. The cushion was securely held in place by almost 100% contact versus only a few original snaps.

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Hinged Cushions

I could have included several sketches, calculations and directions for fabrication of hinged cushions that are often requested for boats, hospitality and residential chaise cushions, yet I think the video link below clearly demonstrates what is difficult to put in print.

Take a look at the Sailrite video on ‘How to Make a Hinged Back Cushion’. The detailed video demonstrates step-by-step how to create a large cushion with a hinge that serves as both the back and seat of a chair. Since deck chairs on large vessels are often requested, you will find this video helpful, as it will walk you through fabric patterning, sewing, cutting and inserting the cushion foam. The video includes an optional attached pillow for the top of the cushion. Here’s the link:

How to Make a Hinged Cushion Cover by Sailrite

Over the years Sand Sea and Air has adapted the style seen on the video, so I have included descriptions and a few photos of styles that were customized to meet requests with specific parameters for size, function and storage.

Three-Section Cushion with Double Hinge

Hotel Casablanca – Alignment of the stripes increased the level of difficulty on this multi-section hinge cushion. Since the final cushion was divided into three sections, each section was constructed individually with zippers and a 2” fabric hinge band at the cushion transitions. Each band had to be carefully incorporated into the sewing process of the corresponding cushion. The cushions were constructed and sewn in this manner to provide optimal raising & lowering of the cushion sections while in use. 1” tie–down straps were added to secure the cushion to the frame on a very windy deck.

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Multi-Section Hinge Cushions with Piping

Sailing Vessel ‘True Blue’ – Contrast piping increased the level of difficulty. The cushions were fabricated in Marine Vinyl with mesh backs utilizing 1” closed cell foam. The parameters included cushions that would take the contours of the boat while being easy to fold and stow in the limited space of the deck storage compartments. The cushion sections were constructed separately and joined in a manner similar to the above project for a full cockpit of a classic 54’ Sparkman Stevens sailing vessel. Basically they could have fit in a large pizza box, yet provided spacious seating and comfort to the owner who had severe back problems.

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Double-Section Hinge Cushion with Stitching & Grommets

Hotel El Convento – The contour of the frame in the raised and lowered positions increased the level of difficulty as well as the stripe fabric, selected by the customer. This cushion was constructed similar to the cushion in the video. It had one length of fabric for both the front and the back of the cushion. The center area where the cushion frame transitioned was the area designated for the division of the upper and lower cushion sections. The area between the upper and lower cushions was defined by parallel stitching divisions, as seen in the photo. Additionally grommets were added within the center area to deflect rainwater build-up as the seating was used both for guests during daytime sunbathing as well as evening social gatherings.

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Several of the seating styles mentioned above and more can be sourced on the internet and if seating and cushions are the bread and butter of your business you should start a file of the images to source, evaluate and adjust to your customer requests. Additionally, almost all seating should include pillows for extra comfort and specialty fabrics provide a dramatic visual impact. Offering pillows is a value added point of sale for you and your customers will appreciate it.

The photos and descriptions above provide a few types of specialty cushions, yet no matter what type cushion your customer brings or attempts to explain to you, I have found it essential to review the following major details when approaching a boat cushion project for estimation, fabrication and installation.


  • STYLE – redo or new configuration (know what and how you can do to improve upon the original design)
  • Where and how will a cushion(s) be used?
  • How will it be held “in place” – Snaps, Velcro, Fastmount etc.
  • Will the covers be removable for cleaning?
  • Will the cushion be a soft base or PVC?
  • Materials, Vinyl, leather, fabric, mesh etc.
  • Pattern alignment – especially for bands and corners
  • Style – quilted, Hi-Lo, banded, roll-over, baseball corners etc.
  • Seams – simple seam, topstitching, piping etc.
  • Thread – Polyester, PTFE, Weight of thread (Heavy Accent Stitching),
  • Foam – original, new, Poly, E-Z Dri, closed cell
  • Zippers, Velcro, Velstitck, hardware, webbing, Stainless Staples
  • Refer to past issues of MF articles for good advice and photos on patterning and construction
  • Photo before, during and after each and every project

Having all of theses details confirmed and available on a form clarifies the scope of a job. It assures that the fabrication process runs smoothly and results in an award winning project for you and your customer. Consider each and every project as a future entry for MFA in 2016. It is a realistic goal to believe that your next project which you design and execute with your unique skills, input, attention to workmanship and functionality can be an award winner…

Your greatest reward is a repeat customer who will be your best referral advocate for your business!




Author: Sand Sea and Air Interiors

Sand Sea and Air Interiors is the foremost creative and cutting-edge textile studio in the Caribbean. We pursue the design and construction of a sophisticated style focused on quality, comfort and durability, and specialize in unique applications, from dramatic seating and shade solutions to tasteful tote bags for tropical environments. – Terri Madden, owner of Sand Sea and Air Interiors (SSA), is a Bachelor of Science in Textile Design from Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science, Philadelphia, PA, and possesses extensive experience and ability in design and fabrication. Nowadays, as an active member of the Marine Fabricators Association (MFA), Madden speaks professionally at national seminars on subjects such as yacht interiors, cushion construction and window treatments. Madden also frequently contributes articles for Marine Fabricator Magazine. – We'd love to hear from you at!

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