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Portuguese bridge cushions

Interior, Shop Techniques | July 1, 2019 | By:

By Terri Madden

Recently, Sand Sea and Air welcomed a 134-foot luxury motor yacht built in 1988 to San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was designed to cruise in lavish comfort and classic elegance. The large exterior deck cushions below the bridge were located in an ideal space for lounging while cruising, yet over time, some cushions had blown away and the new fabric color did not match the existing Navy Sunbrella® cushions. This article details our approach to replacing the cushions.

A “Portuguese bridge” is a walkway behind the foredeck, in front and to the sides of the pilothouse windows, separated from the foredeck by a (generally) waist-high bulwark. The bridge deflects green water from the foredeck up over the superstructure top rather than slamming against the forward windows of the pilothouse. It gives a semi-sheltered area outside the pilothouse while underway. It also provides a “safe area” during inclement weather. and provides additional storage space.

Photo 1. The original fabricators did not ensure their work would stay in place; nor did they visually align the cushions with the irregular length and height along the contour of the 20-foot space.
Photo 2. Only a 2-inch strip of Velcro® brand hook and loop tape from port to starboard held the back cushions in place, and the front edge of the seat cushions had fewer than two snaps per piece. Neither the hook and loop tape nor the snaps provided a durable fastening system for the mega yacht cushions.
Photo 3. We had to consider adjustments for a tight corner fit for the seats and backs because the corners registered a 70-degree instead of a 90-degree angle, which is more typical for perpendicular sides.

Project execution

Step one: Secure individual back and seat cushion combos.

The individual back cushions were designed to attach via a 2-inch Velcro flap band sewn along the length of each of the five mesh bottom back areas of the cushions. This flap was joined to a 2-inch Velcro tape piece on the mesh underneath each of the five seat cushions. This system securely joined each of the five back/seat combinations so they would stay in place. 

Step two: Define the final height area for the back cushions.

The original cushions had a poor layout that did not visually align with the lines of the vessel. The back cushions were all fabricated at the same height of 20 inches, which did not look visually pleasing against the hull height variation of almost 3 inches. 

Our solution was to design the seat backs to install parallel to the upper lines of the vessel to give an overall visual consistency from the center back cushions toward the port and starboard corners. The top edges of the new navy cushions contrast nicely against the white fiberglass hull.

Step three: Design overall method to secure the cushions.

We chose Costa Track® for the tops of the back cushions and Velstick® (a semirigid male Velcro tape) to secure the front edge of the bottom cushions, since the seat front was the area that would receive the most “liftoff” while underway.

Back cushions: We sewed a length of keder welt into the back edge of the upper back band. This would provide a secure contact for the back cushions to the Costa Track, which was installed at an equal distance of 2 ½ inches from the fiberglass edge below the windshield.

Seat cushions: We sewed a 2-inch width of polyester Velcro tape along the front leading edge. We use polyester Velcro tape for marine applications because it withstands the elements much better than nylon tape, even though the cost of polyester tape is almost double the price of nylon. 

We installed sections of Velstick (available in 1 by 48 inch lengths) near the front edge of the fiberglass seating. We use male Velstick tape because it withstands the elements better than female Velstick tape. The new cushions will ensure secure and luxurious seating for years to come. 

Terri Madden owns Sand Sea & Air Interiors Inc. in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

We used three colors of ripstop nylon with an individual tag sewn outside along each center zipper for easy identification. “Red” for the port #1 and port #2 seat and back; “blue” for the center seat and back; and “green” for the starboard #1 and starboard #2 seat and back.

Lay out the patterns for the cushion faces and side bands along the width of 54-inch Navy Sunbrella®. This layout provides the least shrinkage when the band seams are sewn to the top panels and topstitched. Make sure notches on all four sides are marked prior to cutting the panels as well as identification for inside (I/S) and outside faces (O/S).

Use each pattern again for the layout of the mesh weave for your cushion bottoms. Again, check that notches on all sides are marked for alignment and identification to the tops and bands. 

Prior to joining the mesh bottom to the sideband, prepare the mesh with a center zipper and sew the 2-inch female Velcro® tape along the seat cushion edge. Now you are ready to sew the mesh base to the cushion top. Follow with topstitching along both sides of the band. This also enables inside seams to lie flat when foam is inserted. 

Canvax works well as a patterning material because it is strong, easy to mark, and it allows you to see through to the layout grid below. Ensure all pieces are correctly identified with name, number, date, notch indicators and Velcro locations.

Frame out the individual cushion areas with 1-inch blue painter’s tape (which comes off easily without sticking after being in the hot sun). Mark side-by-side seams and include the top edges for the back cushions.

Apply ½-inch double-sided tape over the 1-inch blue tape, and carefully place Canvax over the entire area to be patterned. We use Canvax as a patterning material because it is strong, easy to mark, and it allows us to see through to the layout grid we defined ahead of time for each of the five cushion seat/back combos. Mark each area and all references for zippers, Velcro® tape, etc.

When cleaning up the patterns, make sure:

  • All pieces are correctly identified with name, number, date, etc. 
  • All adjoining cushions have matching notch indicators. 
  • All fronts and backs are correctly marked for their location.
  • All seat patterns have Velcro locations marked (this will provide accurate alignment for the Velstick® installation on the vessel). We traditionally install 2-inch female Velcro to the cushions to ensure a firm 100 percent contact to the 1-inch male Velstick on the vessel. Also, we check that the start and stop of adjoining cushion Velcro is aligned from port to starboard.

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