Welcome to my blog about Live Magic, a Vivacity 20 yacht based on the south coast of England. Here I will update on trips, maintenance and any projects being undertaken.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012


Although the cushions on the boat were not in terrible condition I recently decided to reupholster them to improve the interior. I went to Fabric Land and looked about for a reasonably priced fabric for the job. Although there are many specialist fabrics for this purpose, even some "specially for boats" they are generally very expensive and would end up costing more than the boat is worth. In the end I found a nice cotton fabric with navy and white stripes which will match the new hull colour.
First things first, what will you need to upholster your cushions?
  • Old cushions
  • LOTs of pins (see picture, this is just about enough!!)
  • A sewing machine
  • Thread
  • Fabric
  • Good scissors
  • A straight edge (a Portland plotter is good for this)
  • A tape measure
  • A chalk pencil or tailors chalk

Once you have all of the required things you'll need to start cutting fabric for your first cushion. Don't be scared by strange shapes, just sit and think it through before you start. The one in the picture is from LM's forepeak and has a very odd shape but was easy enough to cover. I decided to put a zip in the end of the cushion to reduce cost and keep it out of sight. This means that I now have to squeeze the foam to get it in, and it takes a while to put on or take off the cover but it does look better.
The fabric I bought was striped accross rather than along which meant I had to sew it into a double width. This was easier than I thought it would be and produced very good results, but I spent a very long time pinning the sheets together to ensure that the pattern lined up as shown in this picture:

This helped all the way though the project - as with all of these types of project the mantra "measure twice, cut once" must be always in your mind. Once I had a sheet wide enough for a cushion, I laid it out on the floor and lined up the cushion. At this point it's important to decide how you would like the pattern to appear on the boat. I oriented the cushion in the picture so that the wider parts toward the stern which are more square had the stripes running accross the boat at right angles to the cushion. The sides were later matched so that the most visible part of the cushion is "correct" to the eye and the patterns then diverge further up where they won't be noticed. When the foam is lined up on the pattern and you're sure (check twice!!) that you want to go ahead, draw around the foam with chalk and ensure the line is tight against the foam edge. Baggy cushion covers are not a good thing so keep this line close and later you'll pin and sew along it. If a corner is lined up with a blue stripe, make sure the other side lines up to a blue stripe so that top and bottom are the same. Next, I cut strips of fabric for the sides which were 2 inches wider than the foam. Anyone good at sewing can cut this down but I like a wide margin when using the machine. The foam was 3 inches so I cut 5 inch strips and sewed them end to end matching the pattern. Once these were done I drew a line on each side 1 inch from the edge which would be used for pinning and sewing. This is where the plotter comes into it's own since it has lines in various places and so allowed me to quickly draw lines without measuring every time. Alternatively make a card ruler and cut it to the correct width, in this case 4 inches to measure from the opposite edge - a wide rule is easier to use than a narrow one.
At this stage you should have 2 halves of fabric for a top and bottom as well as a long strip for the edge. Sit and pin the edge starting with the part that needs to match, lining up the chalk lines on the edge and the top/bottom as well as the pattern. Don't worry if the pattern doesn't match all the way along but try to make sure the noticeable part does which will be seen on the boat. In the picture above you will see the pins as I sewed using the machine. Make sure that you put them in with the head away from the machine so that you can remove them as you sew. If the pin head faces the needle you will have a terrible time removing it if it gets too close (trust me...).
Once you're all pinned and lined up, sew along the lines. This should be fairly straightforward as long as you work in sections and line up the cloth before sewing. I left the edge where the zip goes until last since this used a special side panel which I sewed a zip into beforehand. To do this, buy a zip of an appropriate length (in my case 24 inches since the cushions are 24 inches wide). Cut some thinner lengths for the side fabric since the zip will join two. Hold the zip so that the teeth, or top of the zip, are facing the outside pattern. The zip edge will line up with the side of the fabric. Pin the opposite side of the zip to keep the side you will sew free. Put on the zip foot to the sewing machine (this fits off to the side to allow you to sew in the right place). Line up the zip under this foot and sew the whole length of the zip. The ends may need to be finished manually before the whole panel is added to the cushion.
This is the finished item, each cushion takes a good couple of hours to prepare to put aside a weekend or two for this project.


  1. Hi David
    I have been looking for blue and white stripped material to re cover the cushions on my boat, my question is what is the material and were can i purchase it. Your blog is great as I can show the blog to the wife as she has volunteered to make them.

    1. Hi Rebel, hopefully I'll be going to the shop today so will let you know the one I used. The shop is http://www.fabricland.co.uk/. As I think I mentioned in the article, it's a standard cotton fabric so bear in mind that it's not upholstery grade. That said, it's similar to what I replaced and that wasn't worn at all. I'm taking some more pictures at the moment (zips etc) so watch out for an update to the post.

  2. The fabric I used is "Stripes White/Black" from this page http://www.fabricland.co.uk/poly_cotton_page_4.htm Although it says black it definitely looks dark navy. I'd recommend buying a whole roll as it will work out cheaper in the end - I used 20m for my 20 foot boat which was more than I thought I would.