STUDIO 103 @Sand Sea and Air Interiors

Upholstery for Yachts, Aircrafts, Home, Hotels and Office


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Affordable cushion alternatives

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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 SandSeaAir.com.

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.

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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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Selecting the best fabric

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Photos 1 and 2: Designer and private label textiles, such as this Ralph Lauren anchor pattern, can cost $100 or more per yard. Using a matching tone in a solid Sunbrella® fabric on the zipper bands and bottom lining can help keep a project within budget.

Terri Madden’s March/April 2018 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.
Check out Sand Sea & Air’s amazing work for marine environments at SandSeaAir.com.

Thank goodness for Dr. Google! When sourcing textile options for projects, fabricators can simply type in “marine fabric” and up pops a plethora of vendors and nautical-themed images. You’ll find individual maritime insignias that correspond to each of the 26 letters of the alphabet as well as graphic illustrations for almost every kind of nautical hardware—from anchors to navigation wheels. Also in abundance are fish patterns, playful sea horses and giant photorealistic renderings of marlin, swordfish and many other images that can be used on accent pillows, custom cabin quilts and pillow shams on larger vessels.

Budget for success

The initial discovery meeting with your client lays the groundwork for a successful project. Obviously, you will discuss the scope of the project, color palette, etc. But most importantly, you need to understand the client’s budget. Clients often avoid giving you a firm number, but moving forward without a sense of the budget can be a tremendous waste of time for both you and the client.

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Photos 3, 4 and 5: Images such as flags and the nautical alphabet add dramatic flair to interior decor.

As you narrow your offerings down to a few key textiles that fall within your client’s budget, keep in mind that you can introduce a dramatic fabric as a focal point with as little as one yard of material. Using dramatic textiles makes a strong impression and helps ensure your position as a preferred fabricator. Check with your supplier about minimum quantity requirements, yardage availability and lead times.

It’s important to have a realistic sense of how much yardage is required for the items to be fabricated and to charge accordingly. For instance, an L-shaped sofa can easily require up to 14 yards of material. If your cost for material is $25 per yard plus a 50 percent markup, this translates to $525 for the fabric alone. Cost has to be taken into consideration if the project requires foam upgrades. Additionally, calculate the time and cost of removing the original material, fabrication of the new covers and the installation. And keep in mind that projects incorporating fabrics with patterns will require additional yardage.

At Sand Sea and Air, we use spreadsheets to calculate the material costs for each project, the fabrication steps necessary and the time each step requires. After we complete a project, we go back to analyze and record any changes that affect the final “true” costs and profit for each project. This system ensures we’re not losing money on a project and helps us tweak our budgets moving forward.

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Photos 6 and 7: This pattern required us to balance horizontal and vertical repeats as well as a hinge fold in the bow cushions to accommodate the incline of the vessel. The final seams on the pilot and copilot seats reflect a harmonious transition, yet it was extremely challenging to fabricate the high/low back cushion in harmony with the seat cushions.

Tricky cabin tricks

Creating bedding for fitted mattress covers and cabin quilts presents specific challenges. Mattresses often have oval curves rather than a traditional rectangular shape, and you many need to work around framing that holds mattresses in place. Also, a master cabin bed is generally 60 inches wide, yet material is often available in 54-inch widths. To ensure you have sufficient material, it’s important to calculate and construct the additional sections on both sides of the center yardage with consideration to the pattern repeat on the top panels. I prefer to use the full 54-inch-width as the center and then use narrow bands of 4 to 6 inches of fabric on either side.
Additionally, side mattress bands can be as high as 10 inches, which means a good portion of the side bands will be visible. You will need to maneuver the fabric pattern repeat to get the most attractive part of the 54-inch width in the band front, with seams joining as needed toward the sides.

We recently fabricated fitted mattress covers for a queen-size bed in a Ralph Lauren anchor pattern. The material had anchors twisting left and right, some in opposite directions, while others were in the same direction along adjoining rows. Since this fabric was expensive, we used a matching tone in a solid Sunbrella® fabric on the zipper bands and bottom lining, as they would not be visible once the mattress was onboard. This helped keep us within budget and ensured a successful project.

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Photos 8 and 9: It’s important to calculate the waste factor on side-by-side cushions when the visual pattern must remain harmonious. It can be as much as 14 inches, as was the case in the Kravet® Turquoise Flamestitch pattern with a 17-inch height repeat. Fortunately, that was exactly the height needed for the upper back cushions. We darted the excess fabric in the center of the curved corner cushion so the sides maintained the continuous visual repeat of the pattern. We also manipulated the fabric along the sides and back of the bow headrests to continue the dramatic pattern seen on the front of the cushion.

As you fabricate the details of your projects, imagine each one as a winning entry in the Marine Fabrication Excellence Awards. Careful planning and execution will create a complex masterpiece that embodies more than form, fit and function for your customer; it will provide the personal satisfaction of a job well done.


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Keeping up on trends in marine upholstery

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Photo 1: The exterior upholstery on this custom-built vessel by Nor-Tech offers tones of sand and ivory in different, yet complementary textures of vinyl.
Photo 2: The decorative topstitching in contrasting colors on the seat of this custom-built vessel by Deep Impact is striking. Formerly flat cushion surfaces are transformed with visually appealing diamond-quilted patterns on ergonomic high-low surfaces. The boat show featured an extensive use of a double diamond quilted pattern (using the beefy stitch known as a cable stitch).

Terri Madden’s September/October 2017 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.
Check out Sand Sea & Air’s amazing work at SandSeaAir.com.

Boat shows are a rich resource.

When was the last time you attended a local or international boat show? If it’s been awhile, I recommend you put it on your agenda. To stay a notch ahead of the competition, professional marine fabricators must be aware of new concepts, designs and materials. Viewing new boats at boat shows is an excellent way to keep abreast of the vast assortment of new options so that when a customer is considering a refit, you can maintain the integrity of the vessel yet offer tasty, new selections that deliver a fresh impact that enhances the style of the vessel.

Recently, I attended a local boat show where standard vessels like Boston Whalers and Grady-Whites were on exhibit as well as some striking custom vessels with state-of-the-art upholstery techniques that commanded top dollar. Not only were these vessels showpieces, one salesperson of a custom boat manufacturer said the company had a 32-vessel waiting list with an 18-month delivery time frame.

Here are some of the new materials, trends and ideas that struck me as I wandered around the show.

Vendors are a research treasure trove The marine vendors at boat shows, as well as those who support the Marine Fabricators Association (MFA) regional and national conferences, are a valuable resource—so take advantage of them. They provide sample cards and books of their current offerings, as well as larger swatches for your special projects; customers love to view and touch the materials onboard their vessels.

Make sure to review the manufacturers’ data on the backside of the sample cards. It’s filled with information that can help you compare specifications regarding lightfastness and the all-important Wyzenbeek test results for abrasion.

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Photo 3: Serge Ferrari’s Stamskin One and Batyline Eden upholstery materials offer extreme durability and resistance in outdoor environments.
Photo 4: Here is a classic rope pattern by Ralph Lauren® for an indoor/outdoor acrylic fabric being used as an accent pillow with a ¾-inch rope trim our customer decided to showcase on her salon sofa.

The Wyzenbeek test determines the number of times a material can be sat upon before it shows sign of deterioration. The number of “double rubs” are a measurement of a fabric’s abrasion resistance. To conduct the test, a piece of cotton duck is stretched over a mechanical arm and passed back and forth over the test fabric in each direction. Each back-and-forth motion is one double rub. These results are listed with most fabrics and are helpful in determining which fabric is right for a particular application.

Just last week I was looking for a commercial-grade vinyl and upon contacting a local salesperson, I learned about a vinyl that could withstand 1.5 million double rubs. We are currently working with a designer who will not even consider a material less than 50,000 double rubs. Gathering this type of information is essential to operating within a customer’s budget and to understanding the value of one product over another.

Impressive upholstery materials

A few top-of-the-line materials stood out at the show. Serge Ferrari manufactures an extensive range of technically advanced materials whose value surpasses the cost per yard and is an excellent offering for marine upholstery projects. Stamskin One, the “skin” touch material, offers extreme resistance in outdoor environments. It includes an outstanding seven-year warranty and is available in more than 24 colors, in either a matte or soft grain texture.

This material is impervious to oils and creams, such as sunscreen. It offers easy care and maintenance and is safe to use with alcohol-based cleaners. There are no “pinking” issues with this marine vinyl, as there have been with other vinyl-based materials, since no plasticizers are used in the manufacturing process of Stamskin One. Consider this thermal material that offers comfort, fire resistance and breathability for your next project.

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Photo 5: Throughout the 25-year life of this 83-foot Cheoy Lee vessel, the original owner selected exterior fabrics by Kravet® and JF Fabrics for the bow and bridge seating. The vessel hull was white with turquoise accents. It seemed only natural to provide sample selections that showcased this color palette.
Photo 6: Even though the material specifications noted that the horizontal pattern was a 17 ½-inch repeat with a 14 ¼-inch vertical repeat, it was extremely challenging to estimate the quantity of material. Even more challenging was maintaining the repeat layout during construction so that adjoining seams and cushions aligned to showcase the visual repeat of the material, especially on the curved corner cushions.
Photo 7: The classic herringbone pattern with a wave effect on this outdoor acrylic from Kravet was the client’s top choice. Since this pattern was very dramatic, Sand Sea and Air recommended a solid matching turquoise for the seat cushions. The contrast provided a perfect harmony for the spacious seating areas.

Serge Ferrari’s Batyline Eden is an extremely durable mesh material consisting of PVC and acrylic that combines strength and softness to produce a textile with the “hand” appearance and texture of an open-weave material. It is resistant to rot, mildew, UV radiation and fading, with a backside coating that provides a 100 percent waterproof mesh. It is a unique and comfortable material for your customers.

The comfort factor and ease of care make it a prime consideration for your next project. Whether for seating at sea or on exterior furniture, it is an impressive and functional material.

Contact either your local vendor or Serge Ferrari for color cards and pricing. Serge Ferrari is also an active participant at the national MFA and IFAI conferences, with an extensive assortment of other high-quality marine materials.

Sunbrella® fabrics are a far cry from the solid “canvas” that most fabricators were once familiar with. Sunbrella acrylic yarns are available to designers to create the patterns and textures that are now a virtual “Garden of Eden” in the marketplace. Designers at companies such as Ralph Lauren® and Kravet® have used Sunbrella in luscious patterns and textures at price points that are competitive to familiar brands, while others can exceed $200 per yard. The price may seem steep, yet just one yard can have a dramatic effect on your next project and be a showcase piece for the vessel owner.


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Meticulous prototyping leads to attractive cylinder cushions

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Terri Madden’s September/October 2016 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.

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

Approaching a project with cylinder cushions is kind of like trying to put a square peg into a round hole, you have to approach the solution by thinking “outside of the box”. The box being what we are familiar with when constructing cushions – foam in rectangular shapes, cushion covers with standard size side bands and upper and lower faces of equal dimensions. Ok, so you’re starting to get the picture, or you’ve visited a job site and been requested to fabricate cylinder cushions; all of the sudden you’re walking on uncharted territory. You can approach the challenge by welcoming it as a learning opportunity and break down the stages into manageable sections. If there are multiple pieces, you’re already a step ahead as fabricating more than one piece will add to your profit ratio.

Over the years we’ve been asked to fabricate several unusual items that may or may not be a product that we have no way of knowing if it will be a “one hit wonder” or an item that will “take the market by storm”. A while back we started charging a prototype fee, a few hundred dollars to develop and fabricate a concept for a customer, a prototype then goes to a set price based on the final quantity. We consider the customer and this price sheet found on the Internet:

Price List

I design everything – $100

I design – You watch – $200

I design – You advise – $300

I design – You help – $500

You design – I help – $800

You design – I advise – $1300

You design – I watch – $2100

You design everything – $3,400

This pricing may or may not apply to your project, yet do consider the learning curve if you’ve never fabricated a cylinder that will attach to tubing. I recommend setting aside several hours of uninterrupted time to develop the concept and fabricate prototypes in order to evolve the best solution when you do not have a pattern or a good existing cover that you can take apart for your project. When you build this factor into your project, the understanding that you are being compensated for your talent, will inspire your solutions and result in an award worthy project.

If the customer wants to use existing cylinder foam, evaluate how the foam shape has conformed to the original covers and if at all possible, move forward with new foam. This is very important as the old foam may need a topper in order to properly “fill out” a new cover! You can order dry-fast foam cylinders, cut to size, available in three densities of firmness, including the cut-out for the tube in the cylinder center. On the illustrated sketch you can see the diagram we submitted when we ordered new foam from Reliatex Inc. They have facilities in Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami, Florida. Be sure to allow sufficient lead-time for any supplier to cut and ship your product.

Getting Ready to go for the Gold

Ok, so now you’ve analyzed the task, the quantity and style of cylinder cushions, and determined a price that you and your customer find agreeable.

When we measured the original cylinders we realized that they were all slightly different lengths and that one standard size would work well within the tubing frame spaces. Additionally, a standard size would be less production time vs. custom sizes and the overall project would be more visually appealing. We include an extra 1/2″ more or less for our finished foam size (based on the foam density) when ordering new foam, so that the foam “fills out” the cushion cover.

As the actual time for fabrication approaches, having the foam cylinders on-hand is essential for proper pattern placement and achieving the best final fit.

For this project we approached the cylinder design and prototypes without an original pattern, since the original covers were not the quality that we would replicate. Now our basic guidelines were our roadmap to reach our goal to design and fabricate tasty cylinder covers to fit over the stainless tubing; cylinders with an 8” diameter and a length of 27”. It was now in our hands to make removable covers for 4 cylinders with inserts in medium density foam, which would provide sufficient for firmness for seat backs so guests could enjoy relaxing moments while at sea.

In the past we fabricated jacuzzi pool cushions on tubing that helped us in our approach for this project. The jacuzzi cushions were designed for a more permanent location, whereas the cylinders for this project needed to be removable by the crew on a 42’ catamaran.

Our Solutions

  • We started with the round ends first. The circles were cut to include a 1/2″ seam. We cut two – 8” circles of vinyl for each side. We generally cut our foam and material the same size in order for the foam to “fill-out” the cushion cover after the seam allowance reduces the cushion size.
  • We placed the vinyl circles face to face.
  • On the inside of the vinyl we marked the center hole for the tubing cut-out and a line for an opening along 1/2 of the diameter for an access opening, when the finished cylinder would need to be placed over the tube.
  • We stitched along outside of indicator line for the opening slit, around the circle for the tubing and down the other outside line for the opening slit.
  • We cut next to the stitching between the lines for the access opening and around the center hole – removing the excess at the center hole.
  • We turned the layers to the right side and top stitched the layer opening “in place”. Then we trimmed the inner facing layer as seen in the photos.
  • The cylinder ends would secure closed with a Velcro flap whereas the center of the cylinder would incorporate a #5 jacket zipper. The tails of the jacket zipper would hide inside of the sides of the cylinder and be accessed via the Velcro opening and closing next to the tubing.
  • A piece of 2” Male Velcro formed the flap as one edge of the Velcro was sewn to one side of the opening under the tube hole and a piece of 1” Female Marine Velcro was sewn to the other side of the 4″ opening. This insured that the area would hold tight in a closed position when the cylinder was placed on the tube. See photo.

I’ve included a few photos of the Jacuzzi cushion that was made with the zippers extending into the side ends showing the stitching sequence & pole placement cut-outs, which were underneath of cushion zipper.

  • The cylinder center was measured and cut with seam allowances included for the zipper.
  • The two ends of the cylinder were sewn to the center panel
  • The jacket zipper was sewn to a turned edge of the center panel, leaving a 3″ tail at each end, where the cylinder side ends met the center panel.
  • The foam was inserted into the cover (we spray a dry silicone when inserting foam into covers, as it reduces the resistance of the foam and material).

I included photos of a unique striped canvas cylinder project that we observed on a vessel, cushion covers definitely in need of replacement, yet the vessel was not in San Juan for the project to be realized.

The finished cylinder could be easily placed on the tubing, inserting the foam over the tubing, closing the zipper (tucking the zipper ends into the foam and securing the end circles via the Velcro. By carefully maneuvering the foam at the cylinder ends the male and female Velcro would secure/close the space below the tubing to where the zipper connected. The end result was sleek cylinders with hidden access areas for easy removal and installation. Additionally, at the time of installation we wrapped the tubing with nonskid to hold the cylinders “in-place”, as the original cylinders had unsightly zippers, which displaced to various locations on the tubing.

Not only were we proud to deliver a handsome project, the captain and owner were equally pleased. The design and fabrication process is in our library of cushion styles and will certainly be a valuable example when the time comes to reproduce cylinders that fit into and on special spaces that require Stylized Solutions!