New Cushions–Time to do Some Sewing!


Whoa… I can hear you manly men through the Internet.. “Shoot, sewing is wenches work”. Aiy, in the modern world sewing is indeed labeled as wenches work. However before our modern “domesticated” times sewing was for swashbucklers. Really, seriously…

Not convinced.. Well let my words paint a little story.

Imagine! (insert some 80s flashback music)

Your the captain of a wooden schooner 80 miles offshore of an island paradise. The skies are clear and the winds are perfect. Visions of big bosom bar wenches dance in your head as you wave the tiller back and forth wave over wave. You actions have become methodical and your mind is completely focused the wenches. As you are lost in dreams of milky white skin, the sky darkens and a squall moves in quickly. In what seems like an instant the wind goes from serene to freight train howling. You are caught with way to much canvas up and the ship shudders, then accelerates under the sudden horse power boost. Like a good ship, she immediately begins to round up and “wind vane”. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen fast enough and the mainsail relents to the invisible wind gods. A 12 foot rip appears and wind pours through the hole before your ship completes the pirouette!

As quick as it came, the squall vanishes over the horizon. Your now bobbing about “wind to” with your sails flopping around and a giant rip in your main. Your sails aren’t the only thing flopping as the visions of big bosoms vanish from your head. The situation isn’t dire, but you know a big merchant ship was due into your port only a day or so behind you. If they beat you into port, all them wenches will be taken. Ok, maybe the situation is dire! You quickly drop all sail so you can calm the boat and assess how bad it is!

You tie in, and head forward to asses the situation. A cursory glance and your spirits lift a bit. It’s a clean horizontal tear about 3/4 of the way down the main. Its bad, but not catastrophic. The cursory glance is enough and you head back to the cockpit and back below to gather supplies. As you tear through the cabin finding thread and needles you are already doing calculations for how long it will take you to repair and be back underway. 3 hours seem about right, but damn those are going to be 3 hot hours in the midday sun! Lets just hope the girls appreciate your extra dark skin (at least you will have the tall and dark part covered).

You tie back in and head back forward so you can get down to work. You quickly drop the sail on deck and begin laying it out so you can work. As happens on a boat in the endless blue, your mind wanders and your actions become methodical, almost robotic. Before you know it, the sun is deep in the horizon and you are tying the last stitch. Its not the pretties repair, but there is no doubt she will hold.

You waste no time raising all sail and mentally calculating the quickest track to said paradise! You will now need to sail through the night, but you are pretty sure that you dosed during your mechanical sewing as you feel rejuvenated, but maybe that is the new visions of voluptuous bosoms that are dancing in your head! You and the boat quickly become one and you estimate the speed through the water. A quick mental calculation reveals you will make landfall by next sunset.. Well ahead of the merchant ship. With the good news, your mind shuts back down and the methodical robotic movements take over steering the boat!

The night flashes by as you woodenly steer a compass line towards your destination. Morning brings some excitement as your fishing line sings and you haul a fantastic dolphin fish over the gunwales. Its then more routine until a dark wisp appears over the horizon. You should have spotted land long before this but visibility is poor today and you don’t glimpse land till 18 miles out. With land in sight, you quickly do some head calculations and realize you will definitely be in before sunset!

The last few hours are always the worst. You can see the land, but it seems like you aren’t getting any closer. If you weren’t so attuned to the boat, you would swear you aren’t moving. However, you can feel her and know your speed hasn’t changed. You will be in port just before sunset. You close your mind and let the miles slip by!

As the sun is sitting low on the horizon you are just rounding the corner to enter the harbor. Due to the katabatic effects of land the wind has swung around and you are now running downwind. Since you are making good time, you no longer need your headsail and go forward to douse it. The swell has built up at the mouth of the harbor and small waves are making it over the bows. As you are dropping the foresail you are splashed by a few of those breaking waves. Once the sail is down you can only imagine the picture you paint as you enter the harbor. Wet trousers clinging to your thighs, wet shirt unbuttoned half way down sticking to your skin with wet spray glistening off your hair.. the sun setting behind you causing all those droplets to light up golden. You silently wonder if you should pick up a stick on way to the tavern so you have something to beat the wenches off with!



Ahem…. Ok back to the story at hand.. My mind wandered a bit, but I think we were making cushions!


The cushions are Party of Five had lived their useful life. Actually they were pretty much dead before we ever left Key West, but we were embracing our cheap cruising side. We decided to ignore the absolutely horrible job the Cubans had done trying to recover profiled foam cushions. Not only was the fit absolutely terrible but they had redone them in Vinyl. Do you have any idea what its like to lay on a vinyl cushion in +38 weather? Not only is there a puddle, but you need to peel your ASS off the cushion. They were nasty. However, even then, we were “soldering on” and using them as long as we could. Unfortunately, that ended when the cushion that I regularly sit on not only lost most of its vinyl, but the foam collapsed and I was left sitting plywood! I barely even suggested the problem to Rhonda and she was in agreement a replacement was in order (she hated the old ones SOOOO BAD).


With the green light given, I got on the Internet and began researching. The first job was to pick a material. I had been plotting this for months and back in St. Martin Erica on SeaSchell had suggested 2 materials to me, Ultrasuede or Ultraleather.  I started Googling and  discovered a couple of other suitable materials, but determined that Erica was right. Ultrasuede or Ultraleather were most suitable for life on a boat! Since I personally hate leather interior in vehicles I decided that Ultraleather was out and we would go with Ultrasuede.


Now I can hear you asking, “So what the hell is Ultrasuede?” Well, picture the soft plush material that Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge used for their seats from the 80s all the way to today. Yes that soft microfiber material! There is a reason that the big car manufacturers use that material. It wears like iron, resists stains and generally looks pretty good. Its even been making inroads into high end luxury vehicles these days. I figured if its good enough for a Maserati (seriously, they use it in their cars), its good enough for Party of Five.


However, I had a micro heart attack when I started pricing it out. It sells for $90USD/Yard. Eek,  I would need about 8 yards to just complete our settee (not including the benches in the cabins). Whoa, that is even out of our budget… So I used the one resource I have as a cruiser, TIME! I began scouring the corners of the Internet and watching Ebay. I was able to find a few places selling roll ends at a discounted rate (as low as $40/yard). However, I resisted pulling the trigger as it seemed like I could get a better deal if I bided my time. Then it happened, one day my patients paid off. A buy it now auction popped up on Ebay. 9 Yards of fabric for $90 (plus shipping). The “catch”, the seller could not guarantee it was Ultrasuede (or one of the variants like Alcanara). They were a high end furniture maker in New York and this fabric had been ordered for a customer a few years ago. They could not find the records of the original order and could only say it looked exactly like Ultrasuede and provided pictures. Hhhmm risky.. On one had I could get an %80 discount, on the other had I could end up with a crap fabric (in a color I could only see in pictures). Throwing caution to the wind, I said screw it and clicked the button.


With the fabric ordered, I realized I would need some sewing supplies to get the job done. New needles, basting tape, fabric measuring tape, Velco, ect. I pointed my web browser over to Sailrite and put together an order including everything I would need. At this point I made the decision I would cover the back of the new cushions in a different material. I would use a material for the back that would not only allow the cushion to breath but provide some “grippyness” to keep them from sliding. This would mean I would have some extra Ultrasuede for mistakes! In the next few days this decision paid huge as the Ultrasuede seller on Ebay contacted me and said they measured the fabric wrong. There was only 7 yards. They offered a partial refund which took some of the sting out (bringing the total price WITH shipping to $80).


The final piece to the puzzle was sourcing new foam. I spent a significant amount of time on Google hoping to find a supplier in USVI or BVI. Unfortunately I could not find anything solid (one store might have some foam, but might not). Eventually I just bit the bullet and put an order in with Foam Factory for a 60X80 piece of 4 inch foam (bottoms) and a 60X80 piece of 2 inch foam (backrests). It was a tough pill to swallow that shipping was going to cost as much as the foam to have it sent to St. Thomas! However, with no other options, I swallowed that pill!


Since I had put some of those orders in while we were still in the BVI, much of the stuff was waiting for us when we got to St. Thomas. Our friends Jesse and Stacey on Smitty had graciously stored it for us (a big favor on their 31ft boat). In fact they had also stored a bunch of Amazon orders for us so our arrival in St. Thomas was like a second Christmas. Of course the one package I was most interested in was the fabric. I almost leapt for joy when I ripped open the package and dumped out the bolt of fabric. There was no doubt this was real Ultrasuede and the color was super nice. I had just bought $650 worth of fabric for $80 WITH SHIPPING INCLUDED!


We had to wait a few more days for the foam to arrive which was alright as I got to touch up my sewing skills on some hatch covers. It also gave us the opportunity to figure out where in the hell we were going to cut, pattern and sew these new cushions. As you can imagine this is no small feat on a 40ft sailboat. Once the foam did actually arrive we realized the enormity of the task we had ahead of us. Stupid me didn’t think that we would now have 2 60×80 “ queen mattresses” we needed to store somewhere on our boat!


Realizing our mistake, we wasted no time patterning the new foam and cutting out the new cushions. We used the old foam for most of the patterns and added some extra to account for the shrinkage on the old foam. Once all the patterns were drawn, we used a standard breadknife (that we bought at Ace) to cut the foam. It was amazing how well a simple breadknife worked! We put the new cut foam on the settee and covered it with towels to protect it. This allowed us to throw out the old foam and covers saving some space.


I chose to sew all the bottom cushions first as they were the easiest and I needed some practice. It took me 2 days to sew the 4 bottom cushions. The hardest part was finding somewhere to lay out the fabric for marking and cutting. I took over the cockpit and salon floor to complete the task!


Once the bottom seats were sewn I turned my attention to the backrests. I had already had nightmares about this as the corner cushion was VERY complex. Not only did it curve around the corner, but it tilted back at an angle. This meant the front plate would need to be shorter than the back plate, but both would require tapered edges to account for the tilt. Much head scratching, beer drinking, template building, beer drinking, head scratching, measuring, beer drinking, arguing, head scratching… ensued. It was a seriously difficult problem to solve. If we made the front plate to big it would have wrinkles, but if we made it to short it would “bridge” and pull away from the foam. In the end I decided that wrinkles would be better than a bridge and errored on that side. That cushion took me over 9 hours to build. Although I’m not %100 happy with the result, I think I did pretty well. There are some small wrinkles but I don’t think a professional would have done better.


With the tough cushion out of the way, I quickly knocked out the last 3 backrest cushions in the next day. The job was done and we had a brand new settee! It only took about 4  8 hour days to complete the job! Surprisingly it was much less painful that I thought it would be. More importantly, it cost a fraction of if I had hired it out. Although I didn’t get a quote for this job, I would guess that if I had hired it out it would have cost between $2000-$2500 down here in the islands.  Here are our final numbers.


Foam                              = $240   (including batting material)

Shipping Foam             = $230

Ultrasuede                    = $80

Sailrite order                = $137

Shipping Sailrite          = $56

Misc                                = $55 (Glue, seam guide, ect).


Total                                = $800 (Close enough)

I would also like everyone to know that I’m a moron and somehow ordered double the back fabric I needed from Sailrite. This mistake cost me about $70 in material and shipping. Sigh, I’m hoping I can find someone to sell it to in the future! Know anyone cruising the West Indies that needs some black cushion underling fabric (yes that is what its called)?



The originals that the Cubans tried to recover. LOL. The original factory cushions were shaped and had buttons. The Cubans just reused the foam and tried to sew covers for them. No buttons or profiling. Not sure what the hell they did to the center cushion, the foam was upside down! In their defense, it is Cuba and they need to make due with what they have or can get.



Well shit.. We have 2 chunks of foam this size that we need to store.. Oh and its supposed to rain for the next week. Time to step on the gas and get this stuff cut!



Here I am marking things out to get the bottom cushions cut. As I look at this picture, I’m struck by how we no longer notice the places we are. If I had looked at this picture 2 years ago I would have marveled at the beauty in the background. Now, its just normal! There is a saying “Cruising is just boat repair in exotic places”. No one ever told me those places would no longer seem exotic!



Seat cushions cut and the kids couldn’t wait to try them out!



A little fabric drape to get an idea of the finished color. Nice!



Get in there you little *&$(%.. Now I know how chubby people feel getting into “skinny” jeans!



The princess always gets the first try (she never noticed the pea). As a boring aside, it looks like an average Wind day. Our wind generator looks like its making 3.66Amps.



I might have given “lefty” for a proper place to work and sew. You have no idea how hard that was in that small space. Not to mention we still needed to eat, live and do schoolwork on that table.  (Yes that’s a Crayola marker behind my ear. We are on a boat, you make due with what you have).



Old Lucille was a trooper. She plowed through that fabric with ease. If she could only talk, the stories she could tell. She was built in 1965 and I’m sure this little trip to the Caribbean is just part of her story. For anyone wondering, I’m using Tenara thread. Yup absolutely crazy since these cushions will never be exposed to the sun. However I had Tenara left over and I can sew very well with it. Plus it makes sewing the Velco easy as it doesn’t catch on the loops. If you have any projects that will be out in the sun, I encourage you to research Tenara. Its virtually indestructible to the sun (seriously). 



Of course a fort was in order before our garbage run. They begged us to spend the night in the fort but gave up once it started raining!



The “head scratching” before the beer drinking and arguing! (notice the fan on the table)



Done… Pictures don’t do it justice. It looks really nice in person! (Yes of course we had to buy a fan to match the cushions).


  9 comments for “New Cushions–Time to do Some Sewing!

  1. Judy
    April 26, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    Wow..absolutely beautiful! You did a fantastic job! Now we need to come in person to see them…lol. Gosh I sure wish. Did I understand in your post that you used a different fabric for the back cushions? If so it looks the same…fabulous!
    What a team you guys are! So proud of all of you! Grandma Emma would be a beaming!

  2. Judy
    April 26, 2017 at 4:05 pm

    Looking back over the pics… your table needs some love…

    • travis
      April 26, 2017 at 4:19 pm

      Now bleeping way.. I’m done with jobs for a while..

      Yes we used a different fabric on the sides of the cushions you can’t see. It looks nothing like the fabric you can see. Its black and rubberized.. You need some.. I have a shitton left!

  3. April 26, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    All i can say is Beautiful Beautiful!!! Not ma y men would take that on not many ladies would be able to do what a good team! ☺❤

  4. shirlee
    April 26, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    Looks amazing. So many hidden talents TJ. So proud of you. Bet you could hire yourself out to make cushions for someone else. Looks so amazing and the color is perfect.
    So jealous of your lifestyle. Enjoy everyone. Miss you guys.

  5. Judy
    April 27, 2017 at 6:33 am

    As your mom said your grandma would be proud. I never knew anyone other than her that could sew clothes without a pattern. She was awesome and like a second mom to me, you obviously got your talent from her. Awesome job

  6. Dean
    April 27, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    That looks fantastic! Great job. I’m constantly in awe of your learning capacity and being able to execute so well.

    • travis
      April 27, 2017 at 5:32 pm

      Thanks Dean.. I appreciate that compliment..

  7. Georgette and Russell Drolet
    April 27, 2017 at 5:10 pm

    Good job TJ . You are a jack of all trades.

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