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Finishing Touches

January 1st, 2021 / By: / Feature

Finished seam options such as piping and topstitching increase durability and add decorative details as seen in this aft double seat fabricated by Terri Madden, Sand Sea & Air Interiors. Photo: Sand Sea & Air Interiors Inc.

Materials and techniques for marine trimmings that improve form and function. 

by Sigrid Tornquist

It all matters. Fabric. Thread. Trimmings. They work together and depend upon each other. Skimp on one component and the whole project is compromised. For marine fabricators, trimmings are the critical details that refine and elevate a project. Read on for a primer on marine trimmings including terms, uses, innovations and techniques that open the door to finishing touches that perform, enhance and hold projects together—beautifully.

The basics

There are thousands of product choices in the marine upholstery market. “In fact, it is time consuming and tedious to pore through all of the product data to determine the best products for the job,” says Russ Griffin, co-owner of Northcoast Marine Specialties LLC, a marine canvas fabrication shop and training school in Port Clinton, Ohio. “Many shop owners will narrow their preferences down to a half dozen ‘go-to’ products rather than repeating the search again and again.”

Bindings are used to trim and finish the raw edge of a fabric application. Used by every fabricator, they come in a variety of sizes and surround the raw edge of fabric to make it look neat. “We carry from ¾-inch to 2-inch binding but the two main sizes are ¾ inch and 1 inch,” says Rick Hirsch of wholesale supplier Manart-Hirsch Co., headquartered in Lynbrook, N.Y. “It used to be that ¾ inch was a staple but over the years people started to prefer 1 inch because you have a little more room, which makes it easier to catch the edges and the sewing material a little easier. But it all comes down to the preference of the individual fabricator.”

Prefab piping is available in most standard colors, and trimming manufacturers continuously add colors to provide more options. Many marine fabricators prefer to make their own accent piping for projects that require custom color and textures. Photo: Sailrite.

The workhorses: hidem and welting

Hidem and welting are two foundational products of marine trimmings. Fabricators who educate themselves on a variety of finishing details using these products can elevate their shops above the competition. 

“Hidem and welting are the two most-used trimmings in the marine upholstery business,” Griffin says. “Welting is used more often and can provide separation of colors from one panel to another and can accent upholstered goods to match their surroundings. Hidem is simply a ‘must-use’ product to hide staples that attach vinyls and fabrics to hard surfaces. When given the choice, an upholsterer will elect not to use hidem if there is another way to attach the fabric.”

Hidem is a term that comes from a contraction of the words “hide them.” It is also known as gimp. Hidem is comprised of two pieces of cord that flips open in the center to attach a cushion to a wood or PVC base. 

“Most hidem is used in manufacturing cushions, and most of it is vinyl,” Hirsch says. “But you can also use woven fabric, such as Sunbrella®.”

“Hidem conceals staples or tacks while attaching marine fabric flush to the bottom of a boat seat with a stapled vinyl trim,” says Steve Daegling, industrial product specialist for wholesale distributor Trivantage®, Glen Raven, N.C. Daegling says Trivantage’s top choice to fight water, mildew and fading is Horizonhidem gimp, made of coated engineered synthetic leather.

Welting, which is also known as piping, is described by Hirsch as “one piece of cord, as opposed to two that make up hidem, with a flange that is sewn between two pieces of fabric to give it a finished look.”

For welting, Griffin prefers foam core piping because it is more manageable and easier to use versus paper or plastic cord. “We try to stay away from cottons and nylons, as the polyfoam products last much longer,” he says. 

Binding and facing can both be used to trim the raw edge of a fabric application and come in a variety of widths such as these ¾-inch and 1-inch bindings and facings from Manart-Hirsch. Photo: Manart-Hirsch Companies.

Of webbing and buttons

Webbing can be used to strengthen the edges of canvas for fasteners or tie-down straps. “Polypropylene and nylon are both very common for webbing,” Hirsch says. “Nylon is a little stiffer—a little stronger—but they’re both used for the same application.”  

“For webbing, polyester is our first choice,” Griffin says. “However, cotton twill is our first choice for French-seam backing [which encloses the seam allowance on the inside of a sewn item, so no raw edge is visible], as cotton will conform to the shape of the skin much better than paper or plastic twills.”

As with other materials, project application and use guide its selection. “In the world of webbing, nylon offers strength of material and polyester carries greater UV resistance, so it depends on your greatest need for each project,” Daegling says.

Buttons may not be the first things that jump to mind when thinking about marine finishings, but the truth is they are more than an aesthetic choice. “Although they are often seen as simply an embellishment, they have a job to do as well,” says Kathryn Maisto, MFC, owner of Fairwinds Canvas LLC, a marine canvas fabrication shop and training center in Racine, Wis. “Buttons are one of the main trimmings we use. They are prevalent in our industry and hold a functional purpose in addition to aesthetics. People tend to forget that their real purpose is to assist in keeping fabric from shifting with use and wear.”

Exact patterning, precision and experience were key to re-covering the multiple curves on these seats. Northcoast Marine used Softside vinyl from Spradling International Inc. and color-matched the piping around the inserts to finish the look. Photo: Northcoast Marine Specialties.

Color options

Clients typically want trimming to match the primary fabric or to contrast and complement it. Trimming manufacturers continuously add colors in an effort to provide fabricators with more options. “We’re constantly communicating with customers and other fabricators to learn more about and meet the latest industry needs,” Daegling says. 

When fabricators aren’t able to find the color they’re looking for, they make their own trimmings, which is a labor-intensive process. “Making hidem and piping is a real hassle unless you have an attachment to make them—and most standard shops don’t have that,” Hirsch says. “That’s why we carry so many color options.”

Whether fabricators make or buy trimmings, sewing the finishings can be a time-consuming process. Griffin advises his students to take their time. “It makes no sense to invest in the best fabric, the best thread, the best trimmings, only to hurry up a job and have a crooked stitch or a puckered corner,” he says.

Educating the client on options is a vital part of the process. “We offer the options, describe the function and purpose of the embellishment, and have finished cushion samples of each trimming we use so a client can visualize the finished product,” Maisto says. “Then we describe the manufacturing process so the client understands the increased labor costs.”

Causeway™ PVC-coated polyester hidem gimp is available in a variety of colors and is used to cover tacks and staples in boat upholstery. This durable gimp endures demanding marine environments and combats fading, water and mildew. Photo: Trivantage.

A changing landscape

As with all design, trends drive color selections and marine fabrication is no different. “Keep in mind—things change,” Griffin says. “In the ’70s we saw multicolored stripes and panels in boat seats with piping around every panel. Today they are solid in color, no piping, and a single topstitch in an accent color. 

“Remember, too, that products change as well. Just because we have used a particular fabric, trimming or thread for years doesn’t mean that we should not always be seeking out new products that may be a better choice. Being flexible and remembering that styles change will keep you on the cutting edge and in demand.” 

Sigrid Tornquist is a writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minn.

SIDEBAR: Welting/Piping Tips 

Photos: Sand Sea & Air Interiors Inc.

from Terri Madden

Piping cut along the bias makes your piping take curves easier and achieves a smooth edge. It provides an overall cleaner look than straight-cut piping, which is cut along the length of the fabric parallel to the selvage, as the selvage edge has the least amount of flexibility or stretch.

Welt cord fillers come in assorted sizes like a #5/32 “standard” in materials from cotton to polyester and polypropylene. Experiment to know which best works for your needs and for interior vs. exterior projects.

Set up your machine to switch to one or two standard sizes of welt feet. A welt foot set allows for a single welt cord to pass to the left of the needle. Choose a size slightly larger than your welt cord size to allow room for the fabric. Various sizes are sold per set (inside and outside foot). Practice until you are able to sew the piping strip directly over the welt cord onto your fabric in one shot. This will not only save you time, it will eliminate pre-stitches from showing, especially around corners.

SIDEBAR: Trimming Tips 

“If cost is an issue for the fabricator, we’ll recommend something that’s a woven acrylic braid or centerfold binding. But the more expensive bindings are folded [two-edge turned], have a little more body, give a more expensive look and give the edge a stronger feel.”
—Rick Hirsch, Manart-Hirsch Co.

“Maximizing time for our fabricators is key. We offer a wide variety of colors in welt or piping to help our customers save time and be more efficient on the job when manufacturing their own welt or piping might not be an option.” —Steve Daegling, Trivantage

“The companies that have increased their ‘in-the-field’ sales staff are reaping rewards. Online forums are another excellent source for finding products.”
—Russ Griffin, Northcoast Marine Specialties LLC

“We always make our own hidem and welt. It allows for proper color match or contrast, and using the same fabric weight helps avoid possible seam puckers.”
—Kathryn Maisto, MFC, Fairwinds Canvas LLC