Introduction: How to Sew Cushions for a Camper Van

Picture of How to Sew Cushions for a Camper Van

In the last instructables, we shared how to build a table-bench-bed unit. In this instructables, we share how to make the cushions for both the benches and the bed.

Our past steps also include: how to insulate a camper van, how to build the storage platform, and how to finish the walls with cedar paneling.

DISCLAIMER: This is the first van conversion we are doing, so this is certainly a process of trial and error! We tried to describe at every step the reasons why we made the choices we made, so hopefully you can see that we used common sense to design this process. I am an industrial designer and design researcher and my boyfriend is a landscape architect with some knowledge in wood working. I learned how to sew from my mom Louise and my grandma Lucia, since I was a kid. We see this project as an experiment and as a wonderful place to try out some ideas about design, materials and fabrication.

For a short story of how we travel in winter, check out this article on the go-van.com website!

For an overview of the work we did, take a look at our timelapse videos!

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

For the cushions, we used:

  • 10 meters of grey fabric, a mix of 40% cotton and 60% polyester. We used a mix of cotton and polyester to find a balance between a fabric that could be washed easily, that would be comfortable to sit and sleep on, and that would not gather too much moisture (since snow or water might come in the van with us).
  • Grey thread
  • 10 dark grey zippers
  • 7 foam pieces of 4 inches thick, cut to dimensions. We sourced our foam in a local shop in Vancouver and they were able to cut the pieces to the size we needed.

Step 2: Tools

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For tools, we used basic sewing tools:

  • Sewing machine (borrowed from our friend Belinda who makes lovely leather mittens and bags )
  • Fabric scissors
  • Seam ripper
  • Small ruler and long measuring tape
  • Pins
  • White pencil to draw on the fabric
  • A square
  • Iron and ironing board

Step 3: Take Dimensions and Make Sure Everything Fits!

Picture of Take Dimensions and Make Sure Everything Fits!

To start, we took the dimensions of the cushions we would need. We had already designed the benches and bed, so we just needed to make sure that cushions would fit on top of that. We separated the cushions into areas that still allowed us to access the storage compartments in the benches. We also had to think about how 2 of our long cushions would serve the dual purpose of back rest in seated position, but also complete the bed space when sleeping. A few math calculations and we were ready to go. Here are our dimensions:

  • 1 large cushion for the back section: 68 1/2 x 24 inches
  • 4 small cushions for the seats: 23 3/4 x 17 inches
  • 2 long cushions for the seat backs: 48 x 17 inches

When we took our dimensions, we made sure to be slightly generous, to make sure that when the cushions were all down into bed mode, there would be no cracks in between them and that they would be quite tight together.

Step 4: Small Cushion First: Measure + Cut

Picture of Small Cushion First: Measure + Cut

The strategy for each cushion was to cut 2 pieces for the top and bottom of the cushion and then cut one long band that would wrap around all 4 sides and connect the top and bottom pieces.

** Also, it was very important to cut and sew the pieces just a little smaller than the size of the foam so that the fabric was nice and tight on the cushions. This prevented having wrinkles in the fabric once we were done.

Let's start with the small cushions. The dimension of the foam is: 23 3/4 x 17 x 4 inches. This means, I will aim for a cover that is 23 1/4 x 16 1/2 x 3 1/2. I took 1/2 inch off all dimensions.

When thinking about the dimensions to cut, I leave an extra 1/2 inch on each side, to allow for the seam.

The dimensions for cutting are the following:

  • 2 pieces of 24 1/4 x 17 1/2
  • 1 piece of 59 1/4 x 4 1/2
  • 2 pieces of 24 1/4 x 2 3/4 -- > these pieces are for the two sides around the zipper.

Using a long ruler or measuring tape, as well as a square, draw the pattern on the fabric. Then cut with the scissors.

Step 5: Small Cushion: Zipper

Picture of Small Cushion: Zipper

The first step for sewing was to sew the zipper onto the side band. We wanted to add a zipper to the covers so that we could remove the covers if necessary to wash them once in a while. The zipper on the small cushions is on the long side. Since the zippers we have were longer than 24 inches, we just left the end side come off the edge for now. The important part is that the zipper's head is at about 1 inch from the edge of the cushion.

Here are the sewing steps:

  1. Sew the two thin bands together (the ones that are 2 3/4 inches wide)
  2. Open the two pieces and place them flat on an ironing board. Iron the seam flat
  3. Install the zipper foot on your sewing machine. This foot is usually the one that allows the needle to be completely at one side of the foot to leave some space for the zipper's teeth.
  4. Start by sewing one side of the zipper. Just follow the zipper's teeth, all the way on the length side.
  5. Then do sew the other side.
  6. Because we didn't want the zippers to go until the end of the side (to prevent from too much pressure on the side seams), we decided to let the zippers start and finish about 1 inch to the edge. To stop the zippers, sew over the zipper's teeth at the two ends. Be careful with the needle and go slowly, especially if you have metal zippers.
  7. Use the seam ripper to open the seam where the zipper is.
  8. Use scissors carefully to cut the extra part of the zipper at the end.

Step 6: Small Cushion: Sew the Sides

Picture of Small Cushion: Sew the Sides

Now, we have one long band to do the sides and one shorter one that has a zipper in it. Sew the pieces together to make one long band. Don't sew the 2 end pieces together quite yet, we will do this at the end once, we have sewed the side pieces to the bottom piece.

Step 7: Small Cushion: Sew the Bottom

Picture of Small Cushion: Sew the Bottom

Once the side band is ready, I started to sew it onto the bottom piece. I started with the side that has the zipper, because this is the one side that needs to be exactly positioned. I followed along the edge until the corner. At the corner, I pined the needle in, raised the presser foot, turned the fabric 90 degrees, folded the side fabric and pressed the presser foot down again before sewing that line. I did all 4 sides of the cushion.

Once the 4 sides were done, I sewed the last edge on the side of the cushion. I made sure to have a nice 90 degree angle with the bottom to have all sides perpendicular with the bottom.

Step 8: Small Cushion: Sew the Top

Picture of Small Cushion: Sew the Top

The last part to sew for the small cushion was to sew the top. Because here is it important that all the dimensions arrive flush at the end, I pinned each side first. This allowed to make sure I would have just enough fabric when I get at the end (not too much or too little). I did the same process as to sew the bottom part with turning at each corner.

TIP: I had the zipper open to do this, so I could have my hand inside the cushion to work with the fabric!

Step 9: Medium Cushion: Measure + Cut

Picture of Medium Cushion: Measure + Cut

I used the same strategy as for cutting the small cushions: cut 2 pieces for the top and bottom of the cushion and then cut one long band that would wrap around all 4 sides and connect the top and bottom pieces. One difference here was that I was not able to cut just 1 long band that would go all around, so I split it in 4 sides that I sewed together.

** Again, it was very important to cut and sew the pieces just a little smaller than the size of the foam so that the fabric was nice and tight on the cushions. This prevented having wrinkles in the fabric once we were done.

The dimension of the foam is: 48 x 17 x 4 inches. This means, I will aim for a cover that is 47 1/2 x 16 1/2 x 3 1/2. I took 1/2 inch off all dimensions. When thinking about the dimensions to cut, I leave an extra 1/2 inch on each side, to allow for the seam.

The dimensions for cutting are the following:

  • 2 pieces of 48 1/2 x 17 1/2
  • 1 piece of 48 1/2 x 4 1/2
  • 2 pieces of 48 1/2 x 2 3/4 -- > these pieces are for the two sides around the zipper.
  • 2 pieces of 17 1/2 x 4 1/2

Using a long ruler or measuring tape, as well as a square, draw the pattern on the fabric. Then cut with the scissors.

Step 10: Medium Cushion: Zipper

Picture of Medium Cushion: Zipper

Here, I used the same process as for the small cushions. However, I was not able to find long zippers, so I used two small ones that met in the middle. As for the small cushions, the zippers were a bit long a the ends so I cut them and sewed them to secure them.

Step 11: Medium Cushion: Sew All

Picture of Medium Cushion: Sew All

Follow the same instructions as with the small cushions. This means starting with sewing the side band bands together (the 3 sides and the side with the zipper). Then I sewed the band to the bottom first, and then adding the top.

Step 12: Large Cushion: Measure + Cut

Picture of Large Cushion: Measure + Cut

I used the same strategy as for cutting the medium cushions: cut 2 pieces for the top and bottom of the cushion and then cut one long band that would wrap around all 4 sides and connect the top and bottom pieces. Again, the long side band was actually 4 pieces that I sewed together.


The dimension of the foam is: 68 1/2 x 24 x 4 inches. This means, I will aim for a cover that is 68 x 23 1/2 x 3 1/2. I took 1/2 inch off all dimensions. When thinking about the dimensions to cut, I leave an extra 1/2 inch on each side, to allow for the seam.

The dimensions for cutting are the following:

  • 2 pieces of 69 x 24 1/2
  • 1 piece of 69 x 4 1/2
  • 2 pieces of 69 x 2 3/4 -- > these pieces are for the two sides around the zipper.
  • 2 pieces of 24 1/2 x 4 1/2

Using a long ruler or measuring tape, as well as a square, draw the pattern on the fabric. Then cut with the scissors.

Step 13: Large Cushion: Zippers

Picture of Large Cushion: Zippers

Follow the same instructions as for the medium cushions, with 2 zippers meeting in the middle. The only difference here, is that the zippers will not need to be cut at the extremities, but rather there will be a short distance between the end of the zipper and the edge of the cushions. This is fine, as long as you have an opening that is large enough to welcome the foam cushion.

Step 14: Large Cushion: Sew All

Picture of Large Cushion: Sew All

Follow the same instructions as for the medium cushions.

Step 15: Put the Foam in the Covers!

Picture of Put the Foam in the Covers!

Last step! Now, we just had to put the foam in the covers. Since the covers are made slightly smaller, this is a bit tricky, but with some patience, it ends up not being too hard. We tried to put the corners in first and then go from there. For the small cushions, I was able to do it alone, but the big ones are a bit harder to manage, so we did it with one person compressing the foam and the other placing the fabric in place.

Just make sure that the seams are at the edges of the foam and there you go!

Step 16: Enjoy!

Picture of Enjoy!

This is it! Bring the cushions to the van and enjoy them during the day as much as at night!

We have been using the cushions for our trips since December 2014, so it has been 6 months now. We couldn't be happier with the cushions! We found that the material we picked is easy to clean if anything spills on it. Also, in addition to being more comfortable, the cushions also add a layer of insulation for us when sleeping which is much appreciated during the winter time!

Comments

JennaM44 (author)2017-08-12

Hi there! I love your van! I do have a question about your cushions. I'm wondering where in Vancouver you got the foam?

Instructably (author)2016-11-20

Hi ! Love your instructables :) Thank you so much for sharing them. Cannot wait for your kitchen installation instructable :) Hopefully you are still planning to do it! All the best and happy camping!

AudreyDesjardins made it! (author)Instructably2016-12-28

Hi, thanks so much for the comment :) We have still been using a shelving unit we bought at Canadian Tire for our kitchen! It turns out that it works out much better than we thought. Below is a photo of the unit for now. We have also installed a small boat sink with a hand pump to have 'running' water !

StatewideFoamRubber (author)2016-11-29

Hey There Everybody!

My name is Randall Moore and I am the owner of Statewide Foam Rubber, I am working with a couple right now on this exact project and just wanted to reach out to anyone else who is in need of a little assistance. We are located in Idaho Falls, ID and we do custom jobs like this on a daily basis. So If you come to a point where you need anything we are here to help.

We carry quality high density foam rubber(not cheap poly foam), fabric, glue, thread, etc etc. So if you need product of even just a professional opinion please feel free to give us a call. We Can cut, upholster, and ship anything you need.

Statewidefoamrubber.com or 208-523-7380

cammcleod (author)2016-10-02

Hello! Awesome build! I see you two are skiers and wanted to know if
you have found a solution for transporting skis? From the looks of your
design there is no good way to carry them inside the van. We have a
similar situation and can't find a decent rack system. If you have any
thoughts or experience with this I would love to hear it. Cheers!

Hi! Thanks for the comment! Yes, we are skiers and snowboarders. On a normal trip, we end up bringing with us around 2 pairs of skis (for me) and 2 or 3 snowboards (for my partner). We know it is a bit much... but we can't really make rational decisions about that haha! We put all of them under the storage platform. https://www.instructables.com/id/Storage-platform-for-the-back-of-your-Sprinter-van/ We keep them on one side of the platform, and we can put other gear on the other side (we put the other stuff in milk crates and other plastic boxes usually). For the snowboards, some of them are usually in a transport bag (this keeps together the bindings so it makes it easier to slide another snowboard on top). For the skis, we use straps to keep pairs together. I hope this gives you an idea of how we do it!

Thanks! Our design is a bit different where below the "storage platform" is not open all the way through. Instead we designed two long draws sliding out the back and then something similar in the front. Because of that we cannot store our skis inside the van. So we are on the hunt for a good rack solution. Not sure if your interested in something like this but we came across this the other day. Looks promising and should be able to mount to the rear doors allowing you to store the skis vertically.

https://www.seasucker.com/shop/ski-rack/#tab-descr...

Thanks again for the reply. Your design has been a huge source of inspiration. Thanks for sharing!

Oh, I see! Yes, then the skis would not fit at all under! We have used similar ski racks in the past on a car and they are pretty easy to use. If you use them vertically, I would be careful that the skis don't slide downwards as you are driving. Or make sure that one of the racks is high enough to hold everything high enough so it doesn't touch the road. Probably just needs a bit of testing. Also, we often have our mountain bikes on a rack in the back, and our skis inside on the same trips (when they are longer trips), so I think that having both skis and bikes out might be a bit too much! Maybe a rack like this would also work for you: http://ep.yimg.com/ay/orsracksdirect/thule-tram-hitch-ski-rack-9033-32.png (but not sure how much you can open the back door in that case). Hope you find something that works soon!

IlanG5 (author)2016-08-18

Hi! Awesome info. all your van posts are amazing! Can you please share the name of the shop in Vancouver that you got the cushions from. Were there many options to choose from? Thickness, material and such? Or is 4" thick pretty much the standard? I am hoping to find something a bit thinner. I have limited head space in my Delica... Thanks :)

AudreyDesjardins (author)IlanG52016-10-03

Hi, sorry for the slow reply! We went to Vancouver Foam Store: http://vancouverfoam.com/ . 4 inches thick is pretty standard, but they had 2 options: one that would be more durable if you sleep and sit on the cushions everyday and one that is for uses that are a bit more casual. You can talk with the people there, they know a lot of stuff! (Also, I wouldn't really go below 4 inches thick, even if you are worried about head space... at 4 inches we sometimes still feel the board under the cushion when we sleep). Cheers!

katieanndenis (author)2016-07-23

I'm blown away by the information and details you've provided in your tutorials...it is everything I've been sporadically looking for on blogs and in forums in one place. Thanks for all of this, I'm inspired!

Awesome!!! Thanks so much for the comment :) I hope your inspiration is materializing!

User1 (author)2015-07-02

Hello,

Can you touch on a little on the foam? I take it you bought one piece and started cutting it to shape, right? How was the price of the material? Did you do some comparison on other possible material? I was wanting to do something like this years ago, but I decided to bail on that cause the price of the foam was nuts!

AudreyDesjardins (author)User12015-07-02

Hi!

We actually had a shop cut the foam for us. We contacted a place that is specialized in making RV cushions, beds, sofas, and all sorts of things with foam. We gave them our dimensions and they were able to cut them easily and precisely for us. We looked at a variety of foams at different places (different thickness, different densities) and decided to go with a 4 inches thick foam with medium density (so that it would be comfortable both for sitting and sleeping). The foam was a bit expensive, for sure, but we realized that we will use it quite a bit and we were ok with spending the money. Overall, for the foam and all the pieces cut to size (they were very accurate on size as well, which we were very happy about!) it was around 275$CAD, if I remember correctly. They proposed to do the covers as well, for an extra 350$, but since I can sew, we said no thanks!

Hi Audrey,

Your project looks amazing. I need to order some foam for my own camper and it seems like you're pretty happy with what you've ordered.

Could I please ask you to refer me to the shop you used?

Is there anything else that I need to specify besides - 4", medium density?

Thanks!

kbss (author)2015-12-06

Hi again Audrey! Still loving your design. Quick question: Did you paint parts of the interior metal (eg, around the rear doors, etc) black? What kind of paint did you use?

Thanks! KS

britehawk (author)2015-10-12

I'm assuming this is a bit of reading comprehension failure on my part. You appear to say that you subtracted 1/2" on all edges of the fabric to allow for a tighter fit, then you added 1/2" on all edges to allow for the seam. To me that appears to mean that those measurements cancel each other out with a net sum of zero. Is that correct?

Hi britehawk,

Yes, sorry, I know this is confusing. I substracted 1/2 overall on the dimension to have a tight fit, but added 1/2 inch on each side for the seam. This means that I added 1/2 inch on the total length of each dimension. For example, if the cushion was 24 inches long, I would cut the fabric at 24 1/2 ----> meaning that after sewing with a 1/2 inch on each side I would have an overall dimension of 23 1/2.

Hope this helps clarifying things for you!

The main idea is that you want to have a cushion cover that is slightly too small so that it is tight and nice on the foam.

ryadia (author)2015-07-02

I guess fuel consumption is not something to consider with your van? At near to $2 per liter in many parts of Australia, it is a big consideration for any travel plans here. 30% of the places I go are un-made roads in sometimes very poor condition.

When I saw the pine lining I couldn't help remembering my own 'single person' camper. I used the lightest timber I could find. Even down to saving weight in cupboard door by making them from thin ply over one side of a timber frame with 'U' shaped rubber on the edges.

When it came to foam for the bed I relented on the weight consideration and used latex foam instead of the lighter stuff sold freely in 'cut to size' stores. I didn't regret the comfortable sleeps it gave me.

Can you tell me size of your engine and how many miles to the gallon you expect? I'm planning a trip stateside next year. I'm considering buying a used motor-home to travel in. BTW. What are you using to retain the cushions? I used small Velco tabs sewn into my cushions. Nothing more frustrating than stopping for a meal on a wet day and finding cushions all over the place! Thanks for sharing this with us.

AudreyDesjardins (author)ryadia2015-07-06

Hi ryadia,

Thanks for sharing your experience from the other side of the world! The engine is a 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel 5-speed automatic (more details here). At the moment, we are doing an average of 11 or 12 l/100 km, on the highway. Of course, for driving in a city it is very different because of all the stop and go. We were pretty surprised with the consumption of gas, which is quite lower than other big trucks out there.

To retain the cushions, we use a non-slip drawer mat that we stapled to the top of the benches. The cushions are tight enough when they are in bed mode to hold each other and the mats really help them not move around. We have not had them all fall over yet, so looks like it works pretty good! See image for an idea of what the mat looks like:

Cheers!

johng652 (author)2015-07-04

A trick I stumbled on to while redoing a couch.. Take the foam and wrap in sheet plastic. Use enough to kind of form a bag. Get a vacuum and suck the air out. This collapses the foam. Put it in the cushion cover an pull out the plastic. Works like a charm.

Thanks for sharing! I thought we would need to do something like that as well, but turned out it was fine without the plastic. Maybe because we had a big enough opening with the zippers?

W0nky (author)2015-07-02

Great instructions, already onto this on our conversion! Managed to get a set of cushions form a damaged caravan for the foam, so really cheap too!

Thanks for sharing.

AudreyDesjardins (author)W0nky2015-07-02

So great! thanks for the photos!!! Looks like this is going to be an awesome van with lots of fun adventures!!

Addop (author)2015-07-02

So great!

AudreyDesjardins (author)Addop2015-07-02

Thank you!!

Victor Does (author)2015-07-02

Awsome idea!!

Thanks!!

Ninzerbean (author)2015-07-01

These instructions are so clear to understand. I could never have figured out how to make cushions on my own. I like the way you put the two zippers together too. Thank you for sharing.

Thanks Ninzerbean! Hope your cushions turn out nicely!

lebowski (author)2015-06-30

Nicely done!

Thanks!

About This Instructable

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Bio: I am an industrial designer, an interaction design researcher, a painter, a jeweller, a skier, a camping enthusiast, and I just love to make stuff!
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