STUDIO 103 @Sand Sea and Air Interiors

Upholstery for Yachts, Aircrafts, Home, Hotels and Office


Leave a comment

Affordable cushion alternatives

CushionsReadytoGo

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.

FoamDacronComboreadyforCover

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.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Keeping up on trends in marine upholstery

Screen-Shot-2017-08-23-at-10.02.32-AM

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.

Screen-Shot-2017-08-23-at-10.02.13-AM

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.

Screen-Shot-2017-08-23-at-10.01.59-AM

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.


Leave a comment

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 SandSeaAir.com.

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.

Hi-LoFoamDeterioration

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.


Leave a comment

Seating solutions for reclining, storage and temperature control

IMG_6101.JPG

Terri Madden’s March/April 2017 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.

When a customer requests an unusual type of seating for a boat, it’s a fabrication opportunity to begin a comfortable dialogue with that client. Instead of hesitantly saying, “I will try to do my best,” turn your response into, “I am here to help you.”

That customer may have already heard a reluctant fabricator say, “That’s not possible,” or “That’s going to cost a lot of money.” The open-minded fabricator will thoughtfully listen and ask questions as the customer describes his or her vision. The goal is to cultivate a constructive dialogue that will help a customer understand the value of the fabricator’s time, effort and skills. What’s more, creating an especially challenging seating project may become an award-winner that ultimately showcases a fabricator’s considerable skill and experience.

Customers are often looking for a wow factor in their new marine cushions and seating. At the same time, they usually have budget constraints and want the work completed as soon as possible. To balance these demands, fabricators need to help clients understand the give and take of turning unusual requests into reality.   

When an usually project is requested, here are ideas for preparing for your first meeting with the client:

  • Designate a day to review his or her request so you have sufficient time to explore solutions that will suit the project.
  • Consider whether this project will take away or add to your core business.
  • Review measurements and gather photos of similar projects.
  • Develop sketches and rough drafts for the client.
  • Research the type of materials required, including quantities, costs and availability.
  • Compare the customer’s budget to your rough estimate for materials and labor.
  • Designate your prototype fee in your estimate; this will be different than a quantity fee and re-orders on certain items.

Adjustable chaise seating

Consider what new projects you have seen in the past year. I find it inspiring to view fellow fabricators’ projects that, to my knowledge, had not previously existed in the marine market but are now are frequently seen on pleasure crafts around the world.

Adjustable reclining chaise seating has been in the furniture industry for years, yet only recently have a few fabricators sourced hardware and materials to transition this idea to the marine market. Now this comfortable solution is a reality for marine customers.

In the past, super yachts often incorporated flat cushions into a recessed area on the bow of the boat. Typically these “day bed” cushions have had elevated headrests integrated into the body of a cushion, providing only a few inches of elevation. However, fabricators like David Elliott, owner of David’s Custom Trimmers in Australia, have recently utilized a 25 mm Kingboard as a custom base with a stainless ratchet-hinge. The hardware is available from Taco Marine. This fusion has provided a durable and comfortable solution for guests to sit side-by-side with one person relaxing in an upright position while another person reclines.

Since the completion and installation of this project, Elliott has been sourcing additional prototypes for alternate functional hardware that is enduring and functional when installed into a fiberglass hull. He, like so many other fabricators, continues to strive to propel a great concept to the next dimension.  

Premium storage

Every vessel, no matter how large or small, needs optimized storage space, which is always tight onboard. Crew and owners need most items to be securely stowed away, yet they want easy access to everything from hardware to comfortable quilts.

Clever storage was recently created in the armrests of a custom-built sofa by Canvas Designers Inc., Riveria Beach, Fla. In fact, this upholstery project was awarded an Award of Distinction in the MFA 2016 Fabrication Excellence Awards. This custom sofa was for a 72-foot Merritt Sport Fish.

The two sofa arms of this handsome U-shaped sofa provide spacious custom storage via a hinge access feature. [Terri, this project was included in the March/April 2106 issue of MF (MFA Fabicator Awards). It stated “The entire seat and back are on hydraulic hinges, which lift up for storage space.” I think I should add this.]

Pat Erickson, at Canvas Designers, says the company slogan is, “If you can dream it, we can make it.”

The sofa is all leather with the back sections custom built with 2.25-inch horizontal channel pockets. The foam pockets were individually fabricated with a Stamoid back base for stability. The back has zipper access for stuffing the foam into the individual pockets. The size was specified by the client to match the leather boat blinds. This custom feature on the sofa back was exactly what the customer envisioned.

Just last week I received a customer request to include armrest storage in new custom sofa on a family vessel that is in a full refit stage. The customer saw this feature on the Internet and at a boat show. This opportunity illustrates how important it is to keep up with design trends for seating and cushions through Marine Fabricator magazine, seminars and conventions.

Climate controlled seating

Bill Marriott from Extreme Upholstery Designs, Charleston, S.C., is a talented fabricator who recently exceeded a customer’s expectations by creating climate-controlled mezzanine seating. He described the request as a “brain teaser, to say the least.” He puzzled through every step before preparing a prototype. Many times this type of process can take a fabricator days or weeks. I like to call it “chewing over a project.”

Bill’s client flew him to the boat site, so he could pattern the seat area on a new custom-made 62-foot Scarborough in North Carolina. The resulting seats are climate controlled with heat and air conditioning, so the owner can have a cool ride after a long hot fishing trip. Sunbrella® fabric was used. The one requirement the client had was, when standing on the dock or the back of the boat, he did not want to see into the open holes where the heat and air comes through the seat. Bill designed the seat so that only the fabric was visible when looking at the openings.

This was no easy task for a three-dimensional seat, which required access to insert the foam on form fitting cushions. Talent, ingenuity and years of design skills were incorporated into this amazing creation   .

Here are preparation tips that can guide you in creating a challenging project.

  • Do a conceptual “walk through” for each stage of a unique project to ensure that your time and talent are adequately compensated.
  • Confirm materials and hardware.
  • Prepare a maquette, sample or pattern.
  • Consider contours and alignment of all areas.
  • Determine time factors for each stage.
  • Determine what employee training may be required for the project.
  • Determine installation logistics and storage-related issues.

Don’t be shy about calling on fellow fabricators for advice when you hit a roadblock. You will be surprised at how willingly they share resources related to suppliers, techniques and professional contacts. I recall reading about scrim foam in the Marine Fabricator magazine several years back, I did not know what this foam was or how it would be utilized, so I contacted the author. She was more than willing to explain the various types and usages and provide a list of vendors. Through reaching out to others, I am fortunate to have many friends in this unique industry.


Leave a comment

Restyled sleeping cabins

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-10-36-06-am

Terri Madden’s May/June 2016 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.

Interior sleeping cabins on a vessel have always been my favorite projects. I enjoy researching options and ultimately providing customers with tidy solutions that offer easy accessibility.

Cabin spaces and mattresses come in all shapes and sizes. One of my clients claims to sleep 14 people on his 54-foot Bertram with only three interior cabins, but that’s a story for another time. On my first sleeping cabin project, the vessel had no foam or mattresses, and the sloping hull areas required patterning that I could barely fit into. A recent project on a Ferretti master cabin had a walk-around queen bed and headboard with massive oval windows at sea level.

Plan the job

  • Determine the time needed to do the job. This is essential in putting together your quote to know what your profit on the project will be.
  • Determine qualified personnel to pattern, assemble and remove items from the vessel.
  • Identify adequate machinery and equipment to complete the project.
  • Purchase the materials, keeping in mind availability and delivery issues.
  • Determine what fabrication skills are required to do the work. Decide what work can be done in-house and what duties will be outsourced. For example, who will do quilting?
  • Determine the process and dates for re-installation of items removed from the vessel.
  • Under promise, over deliver.

Start with good communication

When meeting a potential customer, good communication sets the stage for a successful project. Keep in mind that your customer may be unsure of your skills and how the design process works.

Develop your plan based on the facts you received over the phone or in person. Do as much discovery ahead of time and prepare a list of the key points that you and the customer must address in your first meeting. Research the vessel: know the model, year and size. Find out the customer’s primary goals, time frame and budget.

Listen to what your customer is asking for, confirm and recap the key items that were mentioned and requested during your meeting. Be honest if this is work you can provide. Then let your customer know when you will get back to him or her to offer your best recommendations.

For new cabin interiors, having a second meeting is generally necessary. You will want to discuss material selection and confirm layouts, styles and measurements, especially if design changes are being made rather than duplicating existing covers and window treatments. Take plenty of photos of all cabin areas; these will be invaluable references during your project.

Many materials are suitable for interior marine applications. I recommend offering your customer two groupings that will accommodate the agreed-upon budget and time frame of the project.

Once an agreement is reached, it is time to get started. For a recent master cabin project, the decision maker lived “off island.” She requested new textiles for the master cabin of a 60-foot 2003 Viking. The four coordinating textile patterns were selected online during a phone conference for the following:

  • A three-part headboard
  • A queen-size bed frame in one large section and two smaller sections
  • A fitted quilted bedspread for the existing mattress that sits within the bed frame
  • Two pillow shams with accent trim
  • An oversized neck roll pillow
  • Navy-colored fitted sheets in 100 percent cotton and 600 thread count.

Selection of materials

Fabric selection can be a daunting process unless your customer knows what he or she is looking for. Some customers know what design theme and colors they prefer, such as casual nautical styling or more sophisticated residential bedding. Because fabrics vary widely in cost, it is important that you and the customer agree on the budget, particularly because bedspread quilting and specialty fabrication quickly add to the budget.

Our showroom offers a large selection of indoor-outdoor fabrics from which our customers can choose. However, sometimes customers select online fabrics, as did our customer. Because she
selected four online fabrics, this required extra time. Her choices appeared to be a good match on the computer monitor, but they were very different “in hand.” Be certain to give yourself sufficient time to request and receive samples before purchasing.

What appeared to be plenty of time turned into a final rush to meet our deadline due to unforeseen decisions and delays. The delays occurred for reasons outside our control, including:

  • An additional two to three weeks was needed, as we waited for the requested samples of the original four fabrics. Two fabrics were woven patterns that were fine, yet the main fabric for the bedspread was a bright print that did not match the other materials. Time slipped by as we sourced the best replacement fabrics and waited for new memo samples.
  • A matching solid blue fabric was needed for the bed frame, because the original choice was back ordered past our delivery date.
  • Extra time was needed to verify that all fabrics were in stock and ready to ship.
  • Photos of replacement fabrics were sent to the customer, then we waited for her final approval.

Even though a local company had agreed to do the quilting, the wait time was more than a month after it received the fabric.

We needed additional time for the in-house quilting and procuring a large matching flat sheet for the lining and the Dacron® fill.

Some of you specialize in interiors and provide fitted quilted bedspreads. However, if you want to begin offering this item, be aware that a standard 54-inch fabric has to be pieced evenly on each side of the center of the 54-inch fabric to look and fit correctly on a master stateroom mattress.

This type of mattress can measure more than 65-inches wide.

Once you have an extra large size for the length and width, plan the quilt design that can be anything from an outline pattern to an hourglass pattern. For our project we decided on a diamond motif.

Over the past few years, several of our clients have purchased flat quilted bedding from online sources like Pottery Barn. We then adapt the quilt to the mattress shape. This is an affordable option you may like to recommend, especially for bunk beds.

For those who would like to offer quilted bedspreads, Tabors of San Angelo Inc. is a custom workroom in San Angelo, Texas, that provides high quality quilting for bedspreads, pillow shams and pillows. We have used this company in the past. You can send them a pattern with specifications, request a catalog or contact them at http://www.taborsofsanangelo.com.

Fitted sheets

The original mattress shape was designed to permit movement around it on three sides. The headboard was angled, and the rest of the mattress was one long curve. Including fitted sheets with an order is a nice addition for an irregular mattress. I always recommend starting with a king-size sheet set, which may seem large, yet it allows for adequate yardage for the fitting cuts, darts and a new elastic casing under the mattress.

Follow these steps to make a fitted bottom sheet:

  • Cut off the elastic band close to the edge of the sheet.
  • Place the sheet over the mattress so that it hangs down evenly at the sides from the top.
  • Use any of the original darts at the corners that may work.
  • Continue to dart the corners and transitions around the mattress as needed, usually four to six darts.
  • Mark the sheet at 17-inches down from the top edge; this will be your cut line and edge to turn, fold under and stitch closed with a half-inch elastic within the new casing band.
  • Stitch in the original care label at the head of the sheet for customer identification when making the bed.

Our order for the king fitted sheet set was placed online at Bed Bath & Beyond, because it was one of the only sources that had navy 100 percent cotton sheets in 600 thread count.

After two weeks and no delivery date or tracking info, I placed a replacement order. Unfortunately, there were no sheets in this style and color available. A nearby Macy’s had navy sheets but they were in a 500 thread count. Once again, more time was needed to contact the customer, get her approval, then order the sheets. Almost three weeks later the sheets had not arrived. Tick Tock. The original lengthy deadline was closing in.

Delivery time

The delivery date was less than one week away when everything finally came together. The anxious customer was thrilled to receive photos of the completed project. From there, the mattress and bed frame were installed on time. The customer loved the fitted sheets and coordinated look that fit together like a jig-saw puzzle.

Even with vision and careful planning on a project, sometimes we have to step back, evaluate and add more time to our estimates. Obstacles can cause delays and stress. That stress can eclipse a team’s feeling of pride over a successful project. At the end of projects, take time to think about what you’ve learned. Try to recognize early red flags that you perhaps overlooked. Finally, acknowledge all the things you did right to deliver a quality project.


Leave a comment

Meticulous prototyping leads to attractive cylinder cushions

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-9-35-59-am

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!


Leave a comment

The art of project management on contour cushions

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 9.14.14 AM.png

The horseshoe-shaped seating for an aft cockpit required an elaborate checklist to ensure that all the customer’s requests were fulfilled.

Terri Madden’s July/August 2016 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.

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

Marine fabricators are a unique group of craftspeople and business owners. Many of us are familiar with the notion that creative pursuits are right brain activities, while math and logic are left brain activities. As marine fabricators, we utilize the right sides of our brains for design solutions that meet customers’ aesthetic and practical expectations. At the same time, we utilize the left sides of our brains for business activities like managing shop operations, doing complicated mathematical calculations, and making sure that all project specifications are completed.

The two sides our of work come together through good project management skills, so each person on the team knows what he or she is responsible for and the corresponding deadlines. My business has been fortunate to have an inspiring coach who repeatedly stresses, “Any project that we don’t plan will take us to hell!” Most fabricators would agree with this motto.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 9.25.38 AM

Sketch and measurements for seven seats and four bolsters

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 9.27.53 AM

The pattern for the cockpit cushions

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 9.27.32 AM

The side view and front view of a single aft seat

Detailed spreadsheets

We use an Excel spreadsheet to list the job details from start to finish along with realistic timelines. The details we include are:

  • Travel to the job site.
  • Patterning at the vessel with all cushion perimeters marked and all identifications noted as well as photos.
  • Materials needed. If necessary, include your research time to identify customers’ preferred choices. Check for stock items, submit purchase orders. Follow up with local suppliers or on items being shipped.
  • Production card planned with name of team member(s) and their respective tasks and processes.
  • Team review with photos to discuss scope of job, time frame, and assigned tasks.
  • Examine the patterns for all necessary indicators such as notches, zippers, seam joins etc. For the project described in this article a non-skid backing was included.
  • Layout diagrams for materials and foam.
  • Cutting directions for material.
  • Sewing details, including any training, if required.
  • Inspections and daily review to insure accuracy and timing.
  • Foam cutting and Dacron toppers.
  • Foam inserted into covers.
  • Inspection of new cushions before delivery
  • Transportation and installation at vessel.
  • “After” photos to post on Facebook, other social media sites and newsletters.
  • Job review with team members

Reviewing this list of everyday responsibilities can be eye opening. Depending on the size of your business, you may have separate personnel handling these tasks, or some employees may have multiple tasks.

Verify that all of the details are noted on the final pattern, to insure that each component of your project will be delivered in a timely and profitable manner. As you know, any forgotten detail will cost you time and employee frustration.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 9.34.12 AM

6-7. Early and final patterns for a single seat cushion. 8. Notched contour area for accurate joining of top and bottom faces. 9. Bottom face with non-skid fabric and zipper installed.

Planning sleeker contour cushions

A recent fabrication project involving contour cushions for a 43-foot catamaran drove home the importance of project management. For this seating project, the scope and sequence of the project was complex. By thoroughly detailing every aspect of the job, I could accurately project the time needed for the production schedule, including the purchase of materials.

Our creativity was unleashed on this project as we experimented with a sleeker contour for the new catamaran cushions. The captain of the vessel had forwarded sufficient details with an area layout along with material preferences and requirement dates. That was enough information for us to provide an estimate.

We commenced to pattern the horseshoe shaped seating of the aft cockpit, which we learned is the most used seating area of this vessel.  We prepared a checklist to review with the captain during our visit to confirm the details for the following:

  • Cushion design. See sketches and final pattern indicators for a sleek contour at tubing locations.
  • Total number of cushions.
  • Materials for top and bottom material.
  • Thread type and color, topstitching details.
  • Zipper color, size and slider location. We like to place slider tabs on the inside for cushions that won’t be opened frequently.
  • Foam type and density.
  • Dacron toppers.
  • Nonskid base.
  • Piping, ties, snap tabs, Velcro and other components.
  • Starboard base. For the captain seat we supplied a new ½-inch panel of starboard.
  • Bolsters and accent pillows, including quantity and sizes.

All of this information was used as the guideline for filling in our job spreadsheet. We entered all data and updated the spreadsheet for a final accurate job cost. Keep in mind that job sheets can act as templated guides on future projects; we can tweak similar spreadsheets for new projects with just a few changes.

We include the following:

  • All job materials.
  • Separate pricing for all components and percent mark up.
  • Quantities.
  • Shipping costs.
  • Task times for each phase (total labor hours) for a final accurate job cost.

After the seating project was started, the boat owner requested the patterns with the job. In the past we have been asked to retain patterns, and we keep a 2 percent inventory of material in case the owner needs an emergency replacement. Currently, many projects are digitalized and it is easy to maintain or provide a duplicate for any item. Company policies vary for storing and providing job patterns. Terri, what is your policy? Only one design co has asked us to retain patterns for  1 year.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 9.34.21 AM

10. Inside view of notch indicators at contour and zipper detail. 11. Outside view of cushion at a corner contour for tubing and topstitch detail to hold seams in place. 12. The first step involves sewing the outside edge of the zipper tape to the inside of mesh. 13. For the second step, on the outside of the mesh, cut open the mesh along zipper teeth. For the third step, fold the mesh toward the tape edge and top stitch.

Encouraging your employees 

Project management includes encouraging and coaching your employees. Shop owners and managers need to ensure that employees have the skills to thrive under pressure, and that requires communication, training, and recognition. We need to cultivate new employees by exposing them to small projects where they can gain confidence. All employees, no matter what their length of service, need to be recognized for their skills that result in a well-executed project.

At the end of a project, ask your employees what their biggest learning experience was. Point out aspects of the work that you appreciated. Build on their strengths and coach them on their weaknesses. It is essential that team members feel satisfaction for contributing toward a successful project.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 9.50.27 AM

14. Don’t be fooled by the clean look of new cockpit cushions; the elegant outcome is the result of detailed planning and execution.