I had no intention whatsoever of taking on the re-upholstery job of Myrtle’s dinette cushions myself. It was obvious that something would have to be done with the cushions; the original red vinyl and underlying striped ticking were ripped and smelly, and fugly to boot, but I do not sew, thus I planned to outsource the job to the local upholstery shop. Shopping around for the best upholstery quote wasn’t an option, either –we only have the one shop in my small town.
I created a plan for the dinette cushions and sketched it out along with measurements of what I would need (I assumed I would want to purchase all new foam, as the current foam was really, well, old ). For the design scheme, I was envisioning turquoise vinyl with a white chevron pattern, a’la 1950’s classic car style.
Armed with my sketches, I went to visit the upholstery shop, where interesting things were learned. First off, I became enlightened as to how the rising costs of crude oil have caused an accompanying astronomical price climb in petroleum based products… like camper cushion foam. If I wanted all new foam at the current dimensions of Myrtle’s cushions, I’d be looking at $1000.00 minimum –for the foam alone! I quickly realized how perfectly usable the nearly priceless foam I already possessed was; I could figure out a way to clean it up, and besides, it would be totally encased in vinyl.
Ahhh, the vinyl. So many choices. But I knew the one for me as soon as I saw it. Classic Naugahyde vinyl –what could be more vintage than that? And it was soooo soft. It was one of the cheapest options, too, so a win-win!
The upholstery lady promised a quote, based on my dimensions, the chosen vinyl, and the fact that I would be supplying my own foam, within a week. I proceeded to head home and begin the process of cleaning 46 year old foam cushions.
I did all kinds of things with these cushions. I covered them in baking soda and let them sit in bags for 48 hours to draw out the musty odor, then attacked them with a shop vac to draw out all the baking powder. I Lysoled the shit out of them in a quest to kill any 46 year old germs. Then the shop vac again. I laid them out in my yard, hosed them down, poured detergent on them, and jumped all over them to work the sudsy soap in. Then hosed all the soap out. This followed by a week of flipping and drying in the sun, and more shop vac action. Febreeze, shop vac, repeat. Luckily, I had all kinds of time, as the upholstery shop had yet to call me with my quote. When the cushions were dry and as clean as I could make them, I loaded them all into my PT Cruiser, assuming the upholsterer would be calling any time –might as well be ready to deliver them –plus I had nowhere to put them in the house, and Myrtle was in active renovation by this time –no place for clean(ish) foam cushions to be!
I drove around with those massive cushions filling up every spare cubicle of space in my car, including most of the space where my head should go, for another 5 days or so (not gonna lie, on really hot days it smelled a lot like old, vintage camper in my car) before finally calling the shop myself to inquire as to my quote. The upholsterer apologized for the delay and told me she was not quite ready with it, she still had to figure in some further labor costs, and the piping, or something like that –I forget now –but she let me know that currently the quote was at about $2,200.00.
Just let that number sink in.
Twenty-two hundred dollars. And climbing.
She assured me she would call me the next morning with a firm number.
Well, she never did call back, not even to this day, but it hardly matters as there has never, not ever, been any chance that I would pay over $2000.00 to have vinyl cushions in my vintage travel trailer. The whole damn trailer only cost $900.00! True, I thought the cushions were going to be the one splurge item, but I thought that splurge would set me back, like, $700.00 tops. Obviously, I was woefully ignorant as to the costs of upholstery labor.
So, there I was, an ignorant non-sewer, with the need to fashion material around spongy, somewhat square objects, and to secure that material without resorting to thread, or a sewing machine. Why, I wondered, couldn’t it be easy, like, say, covering the seat on an old chair or something, where you can just staple gun the damn fabric to the underside of the wooden chair? And then I realized that it could be, it could be that easy(!) –all I had to do was put some wood on the back or bottoms of the foam cushions!
If I were a better blogger, I would have a step-by-step pictorial explanation here of how that process worked, but really, I wasn’t doing rocket science; it probably took me longer to pick out the material than it did to create the cushions, so I’m hoping to suffice with just the outline of the steps I followed 🙂
Step 1 -Spend an entire afternoon in the fabric section of the local Ben Franklin’s, agonizing over the selection -so many choices!
Step 2 -Decide that you are going to cover the seats themselves with your favorite old standby, soft canvas painter’s drop-cloth (you can pick that up at Home Depot later), which leaves only the fabric for the two back-rest cushions and the massive 7 ½ foot back wall cushion to be chosen.
Step 3 -Identify a fabric that closely matches the creamy, oatmeal color of laundered painter’s drop-cloth, so that you can use it to tone match your other two needed fabrics. (For the canvas drop-cloth, I always use whatever is cheapest at Home Depot. Once washed and dried, canvas drop-cloth is a soft, heavy, creamy material that works well for many applications -seat covers, curtains, et cetera)
Step 4 -Decide that one of the fabrics absolutely has to be a matching cream & sand ticking, just because you love nautical ticking so much, and besides, Myrtle wants to go to the Beach.
Step 5 -Stand for an hour in the fabric aisle, staring at a vintage design floral lying on top of your drop-cloth look alike fabric, trying to decide if you can pull it off with the striped ticking. Ignore the saleslady when she asks you for the fifth time if you need assistance -you’ve already told her four times that you’re fine, thank-you- people need to just let you think! For an hour or more!
Step 6 -Finish up these no-sew cushions by cutting thin plywood sheets (I think I used 1/8″) the same size as your cushions, only just a bit smaller so that you have a complete foam edge, and no sharp wood edges protruding. Cut the material so that it will completely cover the cushion, with enough fabric to wrap around to the wood back. Lay the material down first, then lay some nice fluffy quilt batting down in the size of your cushion, followed by the cushion, and lastly, lay the wood piece on top. Pull the fabric taut (but not so tight it will rip apart when sat on!) and staple gun to the board. Pay special attention to the pulling / folding around the corners, the neater it looks at the corners, the better. Kind of like wrapping a gift -make those corners look tidy 😉
Step 7 -Take lots of pictures of your new camper cushions, that frankly surprise even you with how damn good they look (really ? with a staple gun??)
I’m going to jump ahead in time, here, so that I can post the photos of the cushions once I placed them back into Myrtle. We were all prepared to paint Myrtle’s exterior in late August, when we were hit by a week of summer rain storms. I completed the cushions during this time, but did not yet have Myrtle’s interior ready. They actually hung out in my house until early November, I believe, when the rear interior of the camper was completed enough for them to go back in. Regardless, I’m going to fast-forward in time just enough to post those pictures here. 🙂
Next entry -Myrtle’s exterior paint job: in ’60’s era Turquoise & Atomic Tangerine!