STUDIO 103 @Sand Sea and Air Interiors

Upholstery for Yachts, Aircrafts, Home, Hotels and Office

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Affordable cushion alternatives


There are several cushion design options to offer a customer with a limited budget. The cushions shown here have butterfly corners, which resemble a boxed corner, but involve fewer fabrication steps, translating to a lower price point. This affordable and efficient solution allowed us to deliver a client’s project within an aggressive time frame.

Terri Madden’s May/June 2018 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.
Check out Sand Sea & Air’s amazing work with cushions at

It is often challenging to offer successful cushion design solutions when a customer wants a champagne look on a beer budget. Getting the answers to the following four questions during the initial client meeting can make all the difference in finding an affordable solution that leads to a satisfied customer:

  • Who is the final decision maker? This may not be obvious, yet knowing this is critical to the success of the project.
  • What is the scope and time frame of the job? Perhaps the customer wants a full boat refit—and wants the salon cushions delivered in time for next month’s vacation. Can your production team meet that time frame?
  • What is the budget? This can be an uncomfortable conversation, but it is necessary. Knowing the budget up front will reduce customer frustration and prevent you from offering solutions that may be far out of reach.
  • What is the value of this project to your customer? Is it to resell the vessel at the best price possible with the least investment? Is it an upgrade after an insurance claim settlement? There are many possibilities, and understanding the value will help you offer the best solutions to your customer.

A recent challenge

Sand Sea and Air was contacted by a new customer who lives outside of Puerto Rico. He purchased a sailboat with large salon areas consisting of spacious seating on both the port and starboard areas of the salon. Hurricane María had damaged the vessel and he had thrown away 24 cushions and wanted new ones by the following month when the family was leaving for a live-aboard summer adventure down island. He had purchased the vessel at a bargain price and wanted new cushions at the “best price” possible.

Old photos of the vessel showed lumbar seating that was not reversible and held “in place” while out at sea in wavy weather. This usually involves several fabrication steps, which translates to a higher price point for cushions. The primary challenge was to tackle this job in the most efficient manner possible to provide an affordable solution and deliver the project within the desired time frame.


Everything a project requires adds to the cost. For this customer, we included marine upholstery fabric, UV thread, medium-density polyfoam for the seats, and for the cushion backs we chose to utilize smaller pieces of stock foam triple-wrapped with Dacron®. Depending on cushion size, you might consider purchasing affordable bed pillows.

Assess the variables

We had our client review a checklist of options to confirm his priorities, such as tie-down solutions so that the cushions don’t go flying on bumpy seas. The checklist was our guide to effectively planning an affordable and winning solution that was within budget, comfortable, easy to maintain and secure.

Based on our customer’s request to fill spaces that originally housed 24 cushions, we devised a way to fabricate a single cushion in an hour. Doing the math with a shop rate of $100, his cost was already $2,400 without the cost of foam or fabric. This is why knowing your customer’s budget is crucial to planning, fabricating and delivering a profitable solution. We budget our proposals to bring the cost of goods within a margin of 35 percent. Assessing all these factors allowed us to design a cushion that provided durability, comfort and style at a reasonable price that was also profitable for us.

Plan your cushion lengths to the size of foam sheets available in your area for the least joins or waste. Theoretically, from a sheet of 55-inch by 75-inch foam you can get six seat sections at 25 inches by 25 inches or four seats that are 25 inches by 37 inches. Fabricating four longer rectangle cushions takes less fabric and time than cutting and sewing six square cushions. Additionally, fabricating only rectangle cushions for the seat cushions is a more affordable option than intersecting corner cushions with diagonal edges at each corner, which involve considerably more construction time. Reducing the overall quantity of seat cushions to a total of five long rectangles rather than the original 13 helped us keep the budget affordable. To secure the cushions on the vessel, we included a 2-inch band of Velcro® across the bottom of the cover prior to assembly.

Use the tips in this article to provide seat and back cushions with corner details that reduce fabrication hours and translate into affordable and attractive solutions for your customers.

Screen-Shot-2018-04-27-at-10.51.41-AMHigh style on a budget

Boaters want to sink into a safe and cozy spot to enjoy their time at sea. So why not create back pillows that offer the comfort of a bed, yet look classy for family and guests? Boxed cushions are the most widely used cushions for residential furniture and boats. They are tailored and frequently include a welt or piping with the boxing sewn to the top and bottom pieces of square or rectangular cushions.

However, a mock box cushion provides a lot of style for very little effort. It looks like a box cushion, yet it does not have the separate boxing strip. The fabric top and bottom pieces are measured and cut to include the area for the boxing, and corners can have a short seam or corner stitch to create a tailored, squared-off look. Other corner options include butterfly corners and Turkish corners (sometimes called a gathered corner). Similar to a box cushion, the mock-box cushion can include a zipper welt with a bit of practice.

MockBoxCushionMock Box Corner Prep

Image 1: To prep the basic cushion pieces, measure and mark with pins identical top and bottom pieces that are the exact size of the foam form (obtained from your pattern). On each of the four edges, add half the finished boxing depth. For example, the cushion foam form is 25 inches by 25 inches with a 4-inch boxing; this requires a 29-inch by 29-inch top and bottom piece for a cushion without a zipper, or add ¼ inch on edges where a zipper will go. Cut the two pieces, install the zipper, and then close the remaining seams, pivoting at the corners.

Squared-off corner

Photo 2: Separate each corner and ease open seams and align one seam on top of the other. Measure down from the corner half of the finished boxing depth, drawing a line across the corner, perpendicular to the matched seams; the length of the line should be equal to the finished boxing depth. Stitch securely across the line for all four corners. Option: Finish seams with a serge edge and/or topstitching.

ButterflyCorners1Butterfly corner

Photo 3: This corner is similar to the soft-box corner, yet it is less tailored and resembles a butterfly wing.

The corners are trimmed diagonally and then folded into inverted pleats. Measure in from each corner along the raw edge half the finished boxing depth. Mark these points and connect with a diagonal line. With the pieces together, cut along the diagonal line at all four corners. Fold to find midpoints along the diagonal, and mark these points with pins placed perpendicular to the diagonal edges. Separate the pieces with the right side of one piece up. At each diagonal cut, make two folds that meet at the center pin. Sew a tacking stitch to hold the folds in place and repeat at all four corners. Turn the cover to the right side and insert foam or Dacron® fill.

TurkishCornerCushionTurkish corner

Photo 4: Sometimes called a gathered corner, this corner has an exotic flair that is easy to make. Stitch the top and bottom pieces as described in the butterfly corner, and secure the corners from the wrong side. Start at one corner and measure from corner stitching along each seam line half the finished boxing depth. Mark these points on the fabric edges. Repeat on the remaining corners. Use a compass or small bowl to mark a curved line connecting marks on both the top and bottom pieces (eight curved lines in all). Put one hand into the pillow and reach into one corner “cone.” With your other hand, run a small gathering stitch (using strong double strands of thread) around the circle formed by the curved lines of the two pieces, opening the seams as you come to them. After encircling the corner, pull the gathered thread tight, wrap it around the gathers several times, and take a few tacking stitches to secure. Repeat at the remaining corners. Do not trim or cut the corner. Turn to the right side and insert foam or Dacron fill, working the filling into every corner.


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Foam failures and how to prevent them

Moldy Mattress Liner & Foam 2 copy

Exterior mattress that sat next to a Jacuzzi. An exterior mesh cover over Dri-Fast® foam could have prevented the deterioration of the vinyl cover over polyfoam. Stagnant water grew mold and the seams allowed the water and mold to seep into the polyfoam.

Terri Madden’s July/August 2017 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.
Check out Sand Sea & Air’s amazing work with foam at

All marine fabricators who provide products for cushions, bedding and headliners face decisions on the best foam for the application. The right decision ensures quality projects and happy customers. The wrong decision contributes to foam failures.

Cheaper can cost more

Less expensive foams may seem like a good deal until you realize they can deteriorate far more quickly than pricier foams because they may include fillers and additives such as sawdust and soybean oil.

I saw this firsthand some years ago during the oil crisis when prices for petroleum-based products (like foam) shot through the roof. One supplier offered a less expensive marine foam that was not yet “captain” recommended—a definite red flag. Two years later we were contacted by a new customer to replace the deteriorated foam from that supplier.


Here is one situation where a liner may have diminished the effects of sunlight. This image shows a commercial acrylic material on an exterior cushion where the polyfoam shrunk in the areas where the fabric was the lightest color. Interestingly, the foam was not affected where the dark stripes absorbed the sunlight. Photo Credit: Devin Genner

To prevent this sort of foam failure, only deal with reputable foam suppliers, ask a lot of questions and educate your customers who may not immediately understand why a more expensive foam product may be more cost effective in the long run.

Case study of cheap foam breakdown

A five-star resort hotel asked us to replace exterior cushions and daybed seating that were only two or three years old. One of the cushions looked like a former balloon that had been popped, another looked as if a wild dog had chosen it for a nesting spot and a third looked as if it had gastric bypass surgery!

Fortunately, we had not provided the original cushions and it was obvious the failure was due to a “budget” foam. A quality marine foam would have lasted twice as long. These cushions did not have liners—only exterior covers in an outdoor fabric.

Fabric liner considerations

Would a liner have prevented this issue? I don’t believe so. This

Lounge Seat Foam Shrinkage

This exterior daybed foam was one of several similar pieces at a resort property. It was a shocking example of foam shrinkage when inferior marine foam was supplied by a low-budget vendor.

was clearly a case of the cellular structure of the foam deteriorating in a commercial setting where the seating was used more frequently than on a private vessel. Fabric liners can prolong the life of exterior cushions in some marine settings, but there are important things to consider when using them:

  • Fabric type: Some liner fabrics are magnets for mold and mildew when used in an exterior application, and this will also affect the underlying foam. If a liner material is used, make sure it is mold and mildew resistant.
  • Application: If frequent cleaning will be required, foam placed inside a liner makes it easy to remove and reinsert into an outer cover.
  • Foam type: I generally always use Dri-Fast® marine foam here in the tropics where exterior cushions are frequently subjected to moisture. However, manufacturers offering water-resistant fabrics often question the necessity of using marine foam with their products. If your customer is on a tight budget and will be storing the cushions indoors when they are not being used, you might be able to use a less expensive foam.
Wet Seating under Cover

Asked to replace these old bow cushions, I was surprised to see how wet the cushions were underneath a protective cover that did not appear to be torn or broken. To prevent this, a water-repellent finish could have been applied to clean cushions at the first sign of water seepage. A breathable, water-resistant cover would allow for water runoff.

Good cushion foam choices

Open-cell reticulated foam has extremely open pores that allow water and air to flow through it easily and is available in soft, medium and firm densities. These foams are comfortable and stay cool when used for seating cushions and mattresses. Dri-Fast (sometimes called marine foam) is a high-quality open-cell reticulated foam formulated with an antimicrobial agent to prevent mold and mildew. When paired with an outdoor cushion fabric for the top and sides with a mesh base, it creates a virtually maintenance-free all-weather cushion that is easy to clean without removing the foam, making it an ideal choice for most boat cockpit cushions.

Closed-cell PVN foam (also known as flotation foam) is three times firmer than polyurethane foam and is a more expensive option. Its buoyancy makes it a great choice for flotation applications like floating cockpit cushions and life vests. It is also a good choice for commercial boat seating or other seating that will be used as a step for getting on and off the vessel. PVN foam resists water absorption, so you can safely cover it with any type of fabric. Thin sheets of closed-cell foam are often glued to the bottom of other foam, adding additional support to a cushion, like a box spring to a mattress. When using it with Dri-Fast foam, cut holes in the closed-cell foam for drainage.

Supposedly Marine Foam Breakdown

These two-year-old exterior cushions were provided by a well-known manufacturer. Perhaps budget constraints determined the use of polyfoam and the fabricator thought a water-repellent liner would keep water out. Verify the specifications of the materials you use to avoid this situation. We omitted the liner and used Sunbrella® fabric with Dri-Fast foam.

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Cushion security issues

Terri Madden’s September/October 2015 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.

You can browse the PDF, or read a text version below.

I love going to boat shows, especially to investigate how all of the new boats keep their cushions attached. Traditionally cushions were snapped or screwed through boat rails and/or secured via T-nuts or spider bolts to wood bases. Now there are options like ridged plastic Velcro found in industrial supply stores; while top of the line vessels push industrial designers to design attachment options that are invisible to the viewer. Researching the names, keeping current with new components and their suitable applications may seem daunting, yet it can bring significant rewards. When your customers present a cushion installation challenge, all of the hardware options in your database can deliver a flawless and secure award-winning project.

In this article I’ll explore some of the materials you may be familiar with, while offering some upgraded information as to the brand names and many of the MFA supplier resources that can assist you in the future to fabricate cushions that stay in place during wind, rain and the high seas. For trailering a boat it is best to advise your customers to check & stow cushions if there is any chance that they will fly away. You can also offer protective covers as an upsell item that will protect and extend the life of your customer’s investment.

There are several boat manufacturers who have Forum sites on the Internet for customers to express concerns, questions and solutions that may guide you for a particular model and cushion style solution.

For my very first cushion project, my customer wanted to know exactly how many holes I was going to drill into his beautiful Birdseye woodwork to attach the 13 stud screws to hold the snap tabs on his cushions. I’m sure if I were installing the project today I would find a hidden system that would affix the cushions on board. Interior boat cushions slide and shift around as much as exterior cushions, yet the approach to adhere them may vary significantly.

Attachment Materials to Consider

  • Snaps – Traditional, yet have to be placed with 100% accuracy. Installation requires forethought as snaps on expandable vinyl without reinforcement pullout after a few removals. Drilling or installing screws into fiberglass or gel-coat requires caution and screws should include a bit of a marine sealant when setting them.
    • Always include site installation time when replacing cushions with snaps. Only a 1/16” variation from the original snap location will prohibit a cushion from fitting properly.

See photo: Snap Failure

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  • Velcro – There are different types – While each type of fiber offers its own benefits, the type of task it will be performing is the best way to make a selection. Nylon and Polyester are almost identical in appearance. The major difference between these two types is their lifespan. Nylon fasteners can open and close 10,000 times while polyester fasteners have a lifespan of 3,500 openings and closings.
  • Nylon Velcro – hook and loop fasteners provide a sturdy and reliable hold and are far and away the most common hook and loop system at a better price point.
  • Polyester Velcro – does not absorb water, is resistant to mildew and is the most resistant to ultraviolet light. Velcro hook and loop fasteners made of polyester provide a strong hold and closure. Polyester Velcro can be double or triple the cost of Nylon Velcro, yet it is my preferred choice for boats in the tropics.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.33.35 PMAbove: Velstick, Velcoins & Dual Lock

  • Velstick – A semi-rigid, high impact vinyl extrusion with Velcro Hook or Loop Tapes permanently attached. Velstick fasteners were designed and developed for those applications to rigid surfaces where speed and simplicity can be accomplished with the use of rivets, screws, etc. Designed for easy use, Velstick fasteners can be cut with scissors, drilled or punched. It is ideal for all kinds of marine use. Traditionally it is offered in 1” x 48” strips in both White and Black – Hook and Loop. It is also available in 1.75” x 48” in Black Hook thru Trivantage.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.34.16 PMCushions held in place with 2” Velcro sewn into cushion back & Velstick secured to surface.

  • Velcoins – fasteners that are available in several different diameters for lo-profile attachment points with acrylic Hook & Loop Velcro.
  • 3M™ Dual Lock™ Reclosable Fasteners – a fastener that can both durably attach and be easily separated; you get the permanency and strength of a screw with the ease and aesthetics of a hidden fastener. It is a recloseable fastener that locks into place and provides holding power 5 times stronger than conventional hook and loop.
  • Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.34.32 PMYKK® PowerRail® Hook & Rail SystemThis product is an engineered lightweight hook and rail system for wall and panel hanging and other applications. PowerRail hook fasteners provide superior holding strength and flexibility. I chose to include this type, even though I have yet to use it; I think it is an interesting application to securely hold large cushions to vertical surfaces. Any feedback would be appreciated.

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  • Hooks & D-Rings – traditional interior upper sofa seat cushions are held “in-place” via a snap hook on shock cord, sewn into the upper cushion and connected to a D-Ring on the lower cushion. A small hand helps when attaching these cushions.
  • Webbing with Hardware – For this windy deck we used 2” webbing with a turnbutton eyelet sewn into the cushion underside. The turnbutton post was installed underneath the wood frame. Tip: Always include sufficient installation time on your estimates/invoices as travel and installation time add up, especially when more than 1 person is required.

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  • Grommets – all sizes and even colors – an aid to secure pillows on a windy deck.

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  • Zippers – yes, they can help hold cushions that join one to another! This zipper placement was designed to prevent the neck roll from falling off the cushion or rolling forward.

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  • Keder Welt – check that you use the correct style & diameter for the track application you are installing – the flat style welt below avoids screw heads in the track. Diameters of welt and track vary so order with caution…

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  • Costa Track – is heavy-duty PVC, center-mount track. It is designed to replace flange-style track. Used for a variety of enclosures and cushion applications. It can be heat-formed to most radii and is predrilled every 4 inches. With built-in countersink for the seating of screw heads, the large channel opening allows keder welt to slide through unobstructed. Lengths are available over 8ft.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.36.59 PMAbove: Costa Track, Flange Track, Flex-A-Rail

  • Flex-A-Rail A flexible, non-corrosive, PVC extruded awning track for kedar ropes. It is a lower profile than the Costa track and it is great for twisting around corners for easy installation. You can heat it if necessary to bend. It is easy to cut with a hacksaw. Use flat or oval head screws and 3M VHB tape to help install.  It is available in White or Black.  Consider setting with a square head # 6 with a #4 screw for the best fit thru the small center opening. Track, screws and screwdriver are available through Bainbridge.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.37.35 PMCosta Track and Flex-A-Rail Installations

I’ve included most of the typical solutions and images for cushions security systems we’ve encountered here at Sand Sea and Air in Puerto Rico…and yes we’ve gained new customers when we have been called upon to replace cushions that have flown overboard when another contractor did not consider foresight. Below is a cushion challenge that incorporated track with keder welt in the bow, snap tabs at the hatch opening cushion and webbing with turnbuttons on the Port and Starboard sides. May your sea legs steadfastly carry you through your next cushion installation!

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Upholstered Wall Panels

Terri Madden’s May/June 2015 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.

You can browse the PDF here, or read below.

Most likely you will be reading this article as warmer weather streams across your state and your customers delight in contacting your marine business with new challenges.

If you have never had the opportunity to fabricated wall panels, consider a customer request as an opportunity to add to your skill set – toolbox.  Why? Boat interior hulls of every size and shape have some type of surface treatment that require finishing detail. The visual surface most likely will be in wood, laminate, wallpaper or padded panels.  Padded wall panels are esthetically pleasing; they can provide protection as well as sound/heat insulation. Panels can be easily removed for repair &/or replacement if they become damaged. Generally no sewing is required.

This article will be a guide in determining where to start, what materials are necessary and how to provide solutions for a timely and profitable product.

As with most marine projects a request for new wall panels is either cosmetic, such as when a boat is bought or sold or when an owner realizes that the materials are moldy, discolored or abraded.

We have had requests for all types of panels including accent topstitching on the perimeter of the panel.

A major consideration is budget, what “look” your customer envisions vs. what you can offer for their vessel. Yacht designers showcase vertical panels one year and horizontal panels the next.  Recently panels have been separated with handsome wood trim.  Determine if the panels will be flush mount, side by side or will they be set individually within a frame?  Will you need to replace only the covering on the existing panel, replacing water damaged panels and the surface material, or patterning to fabricate and install new panels for the first time on the vessel.

Our very first wall panel project encompassed replacing wallpaper with horizontal panels down 5 steps from the Salon to a curved hallway with 4 cabin doors on a 50’ Bertram. The unforeseen obstacle was removing the handrail, as the visible cap nuts and screws would not detach and it required access to remove them from a portside guest cabin wall. This alone added significant hours to the project.

Tools to Have on Hand

  • Circular / Jig saw
  • Tack / Claw hammer
  • Staple gun / staple puller
  • Stud finder

Basic Wall Panels – Approach and Evaluate

Traditionally a padded vinyl is wrapped and stapled around ¼” wood or PVC panel. These panels are held “in-place” via heavy duty Velcro or Panel Fasteners. Velcro allows for easy removal / installation / replacement when access to electric cables, AC vents etc. is required. When using panel fasteners consider the spacing, size and weight of the panel to hold up against the jostling / size of the boat.

Determine who will prepare the area if you are making new panels and verify if other contractors are working inside the vessel in order that your access is coordinated. Decide which system you will use to adhere the panels to the surface. Make a small sample to verify height next to doorframes or trim as this can prevent any unforeseen obstacles. Consider the difference between a thin silk vs. leather or a 30 oz. vinyl; add foam height and each sample will be slightly different. Perhaps a 1/8” panel is needed or a 3/8” would be a better fit. It is a good idea to display these samples in your shop and use them to show new customers!

Vinyl with foam backing is frequently used over panels. Vendors such as Covin Sales and Majilite offer an extensive selection of vinyl patterns that can be laminated with stock foam thicknesses in a range from 1/16″ to 3/4″, with a 5-yard minimum order.  *Do not attempt to laminate material to foam by yourself as it is practically impossible to get 100% contact and any separation will bubble and be quite noticeable when the panels are mounted.

Let the Project Begin

If you are making new panels, schedule sufficient time to prepare the area by removing all furniture or trim if necessary. Use a stud finder to locate studs in areas that may prevent installation of panel fasteners.

Pattern areas and record details and measurements for all areas/double check/ record a number sequence for Port / Starboard panels.  Frame out the areas for Velcro or fasteners and indicate these locations on your patterns. Determine the spacing between panels as 1/8” foam + vinyl = thickness on a panel edge – when the panels are side by side – you need to multiply the thickness by 2 to get the space you need to allow in-between panels. This may require ¼” spacing or more between adjacent panels.

Consider ordering PVC panels pre-cut from your supplier for accurate edges or be sure to check the cutting blade on your saw and how it will affect the finished edge, which your space requires.  An extra trip to the boat is recommended after panels are cut to verify multiple panels for adjustments and final fit of all edges prior to covering.

When ordering and cutting vinyl or fabric add +2” on all sides of the L + W for sufficient material to wrap and pull to the back of the panel for stapling.  Practice corners by folding and notching the material at panel edges so that there is no overlap.  If you are using heavy duty 1” Velcro on the panel back consider using 2” heavy duty Velcro “on-site” for 100% contact. After stapling, cut any extra vinyl away so that the Velcro is mounted next to the vinyl in order that the finished panel mounts as flush to the wall surface as possible.  Occasionally decorative screws are used to secure panels “in place” on a vessel yet we have never used this system.

During your evaluation the fastening system was determined and now mounting fasteners like Velcro are stapled on the back of a panel after the panel is covered whereas other mounting fasteners like fast mount and Christmas trees need to be in place prior to the panel being covered.  Be aware that the spacing between your staples is important as most manufacturers do them almost side by side to keep consistent tension.  Check that the size and length of the staples you are using are adequate/correct for the finished project. Staples that are too long could pierce thru the face of the vinyl when pressed against. If you are using 1/8” PVC be aware that a ¼” staple may be too long and needs to be stapled in at an angle. A 1/8” panel is not a typical size yet on a lo-profile door project we covered with fine silk we had to be extremely cautious to place staples one right next to the other to prevent visual ripples and insert the staples at an angle to hold the material “in-place” as well as prevent the tips of the staples from protruding the fabric surface.

Understanding, researching and applying various wall panel systems for a finished “look” will provide an additional level of expertise as a marine fabricator.  Additionally other applications with the same techniques above can be utilized for upselling as a project for your customers on locations such as headboards – residential padded walls for sound systems and door panels.  The “skies the limit” and there is numerous information and “How To” videos on the Internet. I am an email or phone call nearby to assist you for any questions or concerns.  May a dose of confidence and your craftsmanship guide you on a new adventure!

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Cushion Styles — Design and Function

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!



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Learn to talk the talk, then walk the walk

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Terri Madden’s January/February 2015 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.

Browse the PDF here, or read a text version below.

Whether these are your early years as a fabricator or you are a seasoned “salty dog,” we are all walking a road with a unique language and set of skills. It’s fun to say “boating has been in my family for close to 100 years,” yet other than always having a passion for the water, it was not until July 1995 that I moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico with the the opportunity to manage a sail loft and utilize sewing skills fabricating the random cushion requests that came into the shop. 

For newcomers to the MFA and boating, the first step is to learn the language to “talk the talk”. Reach out to fellow fabricators when you have a question or need assistance to “walk the walk”.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.21.57 PMFor example, I had read about “scrim foam” in a Marine Fabricator article featuring cushion construction. During a hurricane, I used the down time to call the author, who was happy to discuss the features of “scrim foam”. It can be 1/16” – ¼” thick and it is used as a backing foam under fabrics, leather and vinyl to add padding and shape. It can be cut, glued, stitched and used in multiple layers to achieve a desired thickness or as a final padding layer over firmer foundation layers of foam. Check with your suppliers, as they can also pre-glue foam to vinyl for wall & headliner applications.

Give it a try for a polished seating look, especially when sewing channel sections in boat seat cushions. The rectangular areas of the aft seating in the photo is a good example of scrim foam pre-stitched to the underneath sections of vinyl before the pieces are joined side by side for the center of the cushion.

Then the seat center is stitched to the front knee rollover band and the seat back center is stitched to the top rollover band, followed by the side bands to join cushion fronts and backs. The technique can be utilized on a basic seat cushion with only 2 – 3 top sections until you are more comfortable with your skill level to sew cushions similar to the custom cushions fabricated to fit the aft seating area for this Viking 68’.Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.22.48 PM.pngAs a new member to the MFA, I learned that there are fabricators who specialize in exteriors yet they would not venture to fabricate a cushion; whereas there are fabricators who specialize only in intricate interiors; then there are those that offer expertise in both fields. Everyone is more than willing to share and ‘problem solve’ any situation you may encounter. Numerous vendors attend seminars & workshops; they offer marine materials that have exploded in design and durability as technology has advanced. For example expanded vinyl with two-way stretch is now available with four-way stretch for jet skis and motorcycles as well as ‘cheap and cheerful’ cushion covers that can be wrapped and stapled to a base without stitched side bands as seen on the Pedi cycle cushions. Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.23.06 PMI recall with fascination reading suppliers catalogues like the palm of my hand. A project for a saloon and 2 cabins came in with “free reign” to recover all the cushions – foam with angles was so new, I had no idea which way was up or down. Fortunately time was not a factor and in hindsight the project that took more than 1 month, would now take only a few days. It was a perfect stepping stone “baby-stems” that we’ve all taken- it was exciting and I began to view all the boats in the bay as future opportunities! Know that wherever you are, to look around for hidden possibilities.

It was during a phone call to a supplier that I learned about the MFA and ironically a salesperson from Bainbridge (who is now head of Serge Ferrari, USA) passed by my shop in 1997 and mentioned the importance of attending the MFA National Convention. This was the only familiar name/ face I recognized upon attended my first MFA convention. Yet I went back to PR with a foundation of friendship and direct access to suppliers that I treasure to this day!

After some of my early interior projects, I developed a chart with illustrations of cushion styles after some verbal confusion transpired in an attempt to decipher a customer request for exterior and interior “airplane style” seating for an Italian Riva.

A visual reference cuts to the chase and having the variety of illustrations shown here should be useful in your shop.Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.23.31 PMUntil now, there has only been one project with more complexity than the helm seating encountered on the Riva. The sail loft that I managed offered mostly exterior Sunbrella fabric, clear vinyl and sailcloth.

Honesty with the boat owner was the best policy and somehow he trusted me to complete the job in less than 1 month.

Clearly I had a lot of research to do, as I actually didn’t know the difference between vinyl used for tarps and covers or ‘expanded’ vinyl. Ironically in a recent discussion with a local decorator, she was appreciative to learn that ‘expanded’ vinyl is used for seating cushions; as an expanded vinyl returns to its original shape. I cringe to think that I almost made the mistake not to use an expanded vinyl on the Riva cushions!

The request for “airplane style” seating was totally new and required the skills to make interior sections for this style of cushion. In a future column, I will expand on how I learned to construct a cushion with interior sections to create hi-lo seating. Below are two images for Pilot Seating: the Riva, which was fabricated as a novice, and the Hydra-Sport, which utilized skills (including scrim foam) developed along the path of earning a Master Fabric Craftsman certification.Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 12.24.05 PMFortunately now there are applications & digital cameras to assist fabricators so that all information is obtained while “in the field”. This avoids extra site visits and your time back in the shop can go to on-line research, ordering materials and commencing fabrication.

Measure twice, cut once is a “motto” learned from a dear friend & it is worth repeating constantly. Also be sure to attend MFA workshops, which provide valuable information on workflow for small, medium and large shops so that your projects can be estimated, fabricated and installed to everyone’s satisfaction. Even one new tip will grow your skills and make becoming a Master Fabric Craftsman one of your next goals!

Perhaps you will be reading this in Oakland California at the 2015 MFA National Convention. If not, make attending a plan for 2016, because the experience will bring to your business an expansion of craftsmanship, camaraderie and proficiency.

Please write or call to let me know any questions concerns you have or would like to know more about in future articles as we welcome in another year of adventure and honing our skills as marine fabricators!