Cheap and Easy Boat Tricks: Covering Salon Cushions

During our trip I was able to finish my project of covering the salon cushions and we couldn’t be more pleased. When we bought Galapagos the cushions were 1980’s hideous. Really, what must we have been thinking in that decade? They were some kind of mauve and blue misty nebulous looking fabric that made me cringe. In addition they were worn and torn and the foam had seen better days. Brief calculations for replacement ran into the 1000’s of dollars and we were spending that on baby Beta ‘Hiram’ and his personal nursery room, so there wasn’t much left over for what amounted to prettifying the interior.

Skippy is displeased with this upholstery.

Having little money has never stopped me before, so I took it as a challenge and carried on. When one is faced with a task like this, it is important to keep the specific goal in mind; the current goal, not necessarily the long term goal. In this case the goal was to update the interior to make it a pleasure to look at and use until such time as we could afford to replace the settee cushions altogether. In a word, the goal was HAPPINESS. I wanted to look down into the salon and feel happy.  Eventually we will do some minor remodeling in the salon anyhow. So for now, the happiness upgrade had to be enough.

Since the foam was fairly worn, I added a layer of 1″ cheap foam I got at Hobby Lobby. Cheap is the operative word here and it’s good that I didn’t spend much money. I’m not sure I would go that route again. But I cut the foam to add a layer to each bottom cushion and got started. It did add some comfort and that’s what I was going for.

First draft. A revision was definitely in order. This looked sloppy and the fit was too ‘casual’ for me.

Like many projects of this type, I never know how I’m going to do something until I get into it a bit. I started by trying to make easy slipcovers, thinking I would then be able to remove them for washing. After making a couple of these I decided I didn’t like the way they looked and wanted something more fitted. I didn’t care if I could remove it or not, because, again, the focused goal was an upgrade in looks and comfort for the short term. It needs to last a couple of years. I would use Scotchguard to protect the fabric. As usual, I was making it way too hard.

The old upholstery was built like a tank with three separate sections on the settee backs, each containing its own foam and each with its own zipper. It made me tired just to think of how I was going to keep the same tailored look without all the trouble. In addition, I had bought all of this fabric that the store had because I loved it that much, but it still amounted to less than what I believed I would need. I would have to cut corners to extend the fabric somehow.

The solution was so much easier than I suspected. I simply pinned the fabric tightly to the cushions and, by hand, stitched the fabric in place on the cushion, tucking the corners in neatly and stitching them down. I had the fabric positioned, pulled snug, and pinned before stitching so there were a lot of pins.  I used a large running stitch to sew the fabric to the seams in the settee backs, giving them a ‘folk art’ look that goes well with the fabric pattern. These seams were the hardest part. I ended up ordering some cheap upholstery needles from Amazon. The 12 inch needle did the trick and will serve nicely as a spear should we ever find we need one.cushionback

One of the money saving strategies I employed here was that I did not buy zippers or any other kind of sewing accouterments. Only thread and the deadly needle. In addition, since I added a layer of foam to each seat cushion, none of them are reversible,  removing the need to have fabric cover the back. This saved me fabric, time, and labor as I didn’t have to piece fabric to get the entire thing covered.

Here’s the cost breakdown:

Fabric: 20 yards 160$
Foam 40$
Thread 10$
Deadly needle 5$ for a package that included even larger needles.
Total cost: about 215$

Once I got the method down, the work went quickly and easily and I actually enjoyed sitting in the cockpit and stitching away. We’ll call this a win in the cheap boat tricks category. .


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23 thoughts on “Cheap and Easy Boat Tricks: Covering Salon Cushions

  1. Love the idea! The fabric on the settees on the boat we bought is disintegrating, and so doing a quick fix is high on the priority list for this fall. You gave me some great ideas of how to do it without spending a fortune or taking forever — we have lots of other projects!

    • This work does go very fast, and I loved it that I could do it on the boat without tearing everything apart. I understand the whole ‘lots of other projects’ part!

  2. That definitely looks happier, great job! I love how a little color can help lighten up a boat salon! We redid our interior cushions this past winter…so glad to have it done, and my husband did most of the work! ~Jackie

    • Color is so necessary with all that wood. Must be nice to have a husband who can sew! Mike is the man around engines, but I fear needle and thread is not his game.

  3. What a great idea! I almost did something similar but then my mom intervened with her industrial sewing machine, but yours look so good. It’s also great that you left the covers on because they will protect the foam and you can easily wash the new covers and still have places to sit.

    LOVE the pattern…I’m jealous.

  4. I have to ask did you get the crease lines in the first photo? Did you sew a pleat behind the fabric? And if so how did you sew so straight without a sewing machine?

    • That is what the 12 inch needle was for although I did do one by taking the foam out of the cover snd using the machine to sew along the seam. That was a big pain in the ass and I had to do it three times before I got it right. Totally not worth the trouble. I got it straight with the large needle because I could feel the seam underneath with it do that guided me. If you look at the photo of the entire settee you may be able to tell the difference between the hand stitched ones snd the one I used the machine on. Basically after doing the first back cushion by machine I decided I was fine with hand stitching. Much easier for me because I do not have an industriAl machine.

      • Not sure I answered your question. I pinned the fabric over the seams on the cushion backs then did a running stitch on top of the seam, using fingers to feel for the seam underneath. The large needle allowed me to take several running stitches at once and that made them straighter. This was the most painstaking part. If I had not cared to have a tailored lolling result I would have skipped it.

    • Cheryl, the skill required for this are minimal. If you can wrap a neat package and sew using a whip stitch, you can do it.

  5. What size thimble did you use with that lethal needle? The salon looks as they say in the Navy “Shipshape” now and ready for the open sea!

  6. So I have been perseverating over this post for awhile….and decided I’m just going to go for it! A little aside…after I did all the boat curtains….(wait for it) I managed to retrieve my most beloved Donna Karan bedcover from my florida house. Sky blue/Lime green/White gorgeousness! So the curtains are navy and lime and white…what to do? For sure remake the v-berth curtains….Maybe go for a little ecclectic mishmash of color in the main cabin? Anyway, one recovery (the bedspread) led to my inspiration to recover our settee cushions in much the same way you have described in this post. So I read all this today, and am formulating my plan! I still want to re-cover them properly eventually, but I certainly do NOT have the thousands required. Perhaps you already answered this, so I’ll peruse but what sort of large upholstery needle? Do you have the model number and I can order off of Amazon. Galapagos looks AMAZING!!

    • Go for it! I only used the large upholstery needle because of how my cushions were made. I used a regular large needle to stitch the fabric onto the cushions and then the large needle to do the stitching on the front. You can order large needles through amazon by searching the term ‘large upholstery needle’ . Mine came in a set for about 6$. You can pm me if you need more info about the how to’s.

  7. I love the brightness and your ability to just make things work without spending a ton of money just to do it the way it was before. I’ve been looking for ideas on covering the cushions in our trimaran and really appreciated your tips and all the photos helped a lot! Thank you!

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