Refitting 54 cushions on a megayacht

Published On: July 1, 2011Categories: Features, Interiors & Upholstery

In March of 2010, we received a phone call from the City Marina and Boatyard in downtown Charleston asking if it was OK to give our company’s name and email address to the owners of a boat that would be arriving in Charleston in a few weeks. I was told that it was a sailboat and the customers needed some cushions redone.

Fortunately, we have built a great relationship with the marina over the years and, as a result, it usually refers large jobs to us first. We worked on the marina owner’s new sportfishing boat that he was building at their boatyard, which helped us build a good reputation with his company.

0711_f2_1I received an email from my contact on the boat who, I learned later, was the wife of the captain and they are part of a large extended family that owns the yacht. She said she would contact me as soon as they reached Charleston.

A few days later she phoned and asked me to meet her at the boat when it arrived. I asked what slip the boat would be in and that’s when I learned the boat was a 190-foot Perini Navi Sailing yacht, which would only fit on the outside of the megadock.

This particular yacht was launched in 2007 and was the 40th vessel built by the company. The hull was made in Turkey and the rest of the boat was built and assembled in Italy. The yacht was built to the specifications of the family who owns it. It’s a private vessel that is used only by the family, extended family and their friends. As we worked on the yacht, it was evident that it is truly loved and enjoyed by the family.

Making plans

My first meeting at the yacht was a brief tour of all the exterior decks, which all had multiple cushions that needed to be redone. Although the boat is only three years old, it is in constant use sailing around the world, which is why the cushions needed to be redone so soon.

Completed couch on port side of flybridge. We did the same on starboard side.

Completed couch on port side of flybridge. We did the same on starboard side.

The project included cushions for the bow seat, welted helm seats and backs, two large settees on the bridge deck, sunbathing cushions by the hot tub, large curved backs and seat cushions on two seating areas on the main deck, curved backs and cushions in two seating areas on the aft deck, folding cushions on storage boxes and cushions on two tenders. The client requested that the cushions be comfortable, durable and made perfectly to look like the originals.

I took pictures to document where all the cushions were placed on each deck, what they all looked like and how they were fabricated so I could do an accurate quote. I also took measurements of all the cushions at this time.

The project turned out to be quite large with a total of 54 cushions that needed to be redone, some canvas repairs and fabricating a few items, such as extra-large bumper covers and sheets for some of the beds.

0711_f2_3The customers wanted us to take all the cushions back to the shop as soon as possible because they were having other work done on the boat and needed the cushions to be out of the way. They also wanted everything done fairly quickly. The original timeframe was six weeks—and we stayed within the timeframe.

Additional customer requests involved the fabrication of the covers for the cushions. They wanted all of them to be white vinyl again, which went best with all the beautiful finishes of wood and stainless steel on the yacht. They wanted fabric that would last a long time, along with Tenara thread that would last as long as the fabric. They also asked that the seams be done differently than on the original cushions so that water would not get in. Originally, each seam allowance was folded in and stitched with no fabric behind them, letting water go right into the foam. There were specific requests concerning the way certain cushions were held down. They needed to be attached with tabs and snaps so they would not move while the yacht was underway.

Pick up and fabricate

After we emailed our quote to the customer—which is the way we do 99-percent of our quotes these days—and it was approved, along with a deposit, we needed to get the cushions off the boat as quickly as possible. The logistics of this process were handled by our son, Joe, who has worked with us for about four years.

Port and starboard long curved seating on the aft deck.

Port and starboard long curved seating on the aft deck.

When he arrived at the marina with his large pickup truck, the marina had a couple of its golf carts waiting for him. They began shuttling the cushions back and forth from the boat to his truck. Each cushion was marked on the bottom so that we knew exactly where it came from. Even with a large truck with a club cab, it took six or seven trips to get all the cushions to the shop. Some of them are 10 feet long.

Next, all the hardware had to come off the cushions, and all the stapled-on covers and zipped-on covers removed. Some of the cushion backs had large stainless poles attached that mounted them to the boat. Every piece was marked so it went back the same way it came off.

Then, every single piece of upholstery had to come apart so we could use the old pieces as patterns. This part was the most time consuming. With so many cushions, each with so many pieces, every single piece of upholstery had to be numbered to match the cushion. Each piece got match marks where it attached to the other pieces, and then they were taken apart. Many of the cushions were different only by fractions of an inch, so numbering was the best way to keep track of everything. Each piece was also labeled on the bottom with its placement on the boat.

Helm seat after all new upholstery and foam was installed. Blue tape shows areas that are still being varnished. There were actually two of these seats, one port and one starboard. Everything we did was on duplicates with the same cushions on port and starboard.

Helm seat after all new upholstery and foam was installed. Blue tape shows areas that are still being varnished. There were actually two of these seats, one port and one starboard. Everything we did was on duplicates with the same cushions on port and starboard.

In order to speed up the process, we fabricated the cushions in an assembly-line fashion with Joe cutting the new pieces, myself and another seamstress sewing the upholstery, and Jim, my husband and partner, stuffing, stapling and assembling. Sewing the covers for the cushions was time consuming and complex because of the way that the covers had to be installed on some of the seats and backs and the way every seam had to be folded and topstitched perfectly. We used approximately 90 yards of vinyl, and we used all the fittings that were already on the boat.

As a particular area of the boat was completed, the cushions were taken back to the boat to be checked for size and fasteners to be installed on the boat.

Up to the challenge

The biggest challenge of this job was its sheer size and getting other work done while this job was ongoing. We dedicated certain areas of our shop to this job so we could keep everything, including the white vinyl, clean and organized. The other challenge was the perfection in workmanship that was required. We always strive to do the best job we possibly can, but, in this case, the desire to have everything perfect was intensified.

Throughout the job, the customer was easy to work with. As time went on they added to the things they asked us to do. We tried to provide updates so they were assured the job was on schedule. They also came to our shop a couple times to check on the progress, and we enjoyed showing them around and showing them the work.

The experience of working with them was a pleasure. At the end of the job they were gracious enough to have a party on the yacht for all the craftsmen and contractors that worked on the boat while it was here. We had a number of other boat owners ask us if they could work for us that day so they could get a chance to get on board and admire this beautiful sailing yacht.

Jeri and Jim Perillo purchased Custom Canvas of Charleston Inc. in 1999. After two years, the company had grown so much that Jim quit his job in order to work there full time. In 2008, it employed two full-time seamstresses, one part-time seamstress and the Perillo’s son, Joe. Custom Canvas of Charleston does all types of canvas, including biminis, enclosures and covers, and interior and exterior marine upholstery. The company also does OEM work for a local sailboat manufacturer, as well as industrial work and one-of-a-kind unusual jobs.