How to sew fabulous seat cushions (even if you’re a complete beginner) – part 1

It’s taken me a while to write this post. I was so ecstatic at finishing the cushions for our campervan late last year that instead of carefully chronicling how I’d made them, I’ve basically stood back and admired them. Before I started I read so many blogs and manuals explaining ‘how to make seat cushions’, I thought I should add my own version to the mix. So here goes. Whether you’re an experienced sewer or absolute beginner, the next two posts will give you step-by-step instructions and useful tips for making your own box seat cushions, to be used in caravans, boats, window seats, church pews – all sorts. Priests with hard wooden benches – take note!

These are the cushions I made for our campervan. I made two seats and three back rests, and they fold down to make a bed:

If you’re new to this blog, you don’t need to read any of my previous posts about making campervan seat cushions. You may find you start subconsciously stabbing yourself with your unpicker before we’ve even started (and you’ll be needing that later). If you have read this blog before, all I needed were some proper instructions!

Before this project I had barely sewed more than a button, so in this guide I’ll assume you also have no previous knowledge. If you do, you’re half way there already! Part one (this blog) will cover all the materials you need to get started, and part two will cover the sewing instructions.


  • fabric
  • foam
  • wadding
  • upholstery spray
  • thread to match the fabric – toughened thread can be useful if you’re sewing with a fairly thick fabric
  • sewing machine (I hadn’t used one before but heard that Janome was a reputable brand so bought a Janome RE1306, which is one of their most basic models. It seems you get what you pay for but as long as it can cope with sewing heavy fabrics, a basic one should be fine.)
  • sewing machine needles (you’ll need thicker needles to cope with thicker fabric)
  • zip long enough to match your cushion length and in a similar colour to your fabric. The longer your zip, the easier it’ll be to insert and remove your cushion.
  • measuring tape
  • measuring stick
  • good fabric scissors
  • fabric pen/pencil
  • thimble(s) (the optimum number seemed to be one for each finger)
  • calico fabric for practice / templates.

 1. Buy your foam

First measure your seating area to determine the dimensions of the foam required. (Nb if you also need a back rest, bear in mind that the back cushion will sit on top of the seat cushion. If you’re using standard foam, it’s probably 10cm high, so the height of your back cushion will be 10cm shorter than the back rest behind it.)

If you’re close to a Clark Rubber store, they will cut foam to your measurements. Otherwise if you’re confident with an electric meat carver, you can buy a foam camping mattress, mark on the measurements and do it yourself. (Note – it is MUCH harder carving foam in a straight vertical line than it is a roast pork.) Whichever method you use, choose a high density foam – particularly if you’ll be using the seat cushions to convert into a bed or if they’re in high traffic areas.

2. Wadding / batting

Once you have cut your foam to size, it’s a good idea to cover it in wadding, which will nicely soften the hard edges and corners. Spotlight and Lincraft in Australia sell various types, and as usual, you get what you pay for. I tried a couple of wool/polyester blends but found they were a bit bulky and wouldn’t stick well. My favourite was a 100% bamboo batting, which was a bit more expensive but so soft and easy to work with.

For your first piece of foam, draw a template onto your wadding, as if you’d opened it out like a box, similar to this:

If it’s hard to draw on the wool, just mark the corners. Then cut out the template. You can make it slightly bigger than the size of your foam but you don’t want too much overlap otherwise the bulges will show through your fabric (particularly if you’re using a wool/polyester wadding – the bamboo batting was a bit more forgiving).

Lie the template over some newspaper and use a spray upholstery adhesive (from Lincraft, Spotlight, Bunnings etc) to spray the whole template first. Then spray some extra adhesive on the foam itself and position it on the template. Then quickly fold all the sides up and over, smooth out any bumps and press firmly to stick. It should dry fairly quickly.

3. Fabric

Usually the biggest decision. It took us a while to choose our material. Some things to consider:

  • It should be strong and durable.
  • If you have children, pets or pasta lovers around, some colours are more forgiving than others.
  • Darker colours work better in an indoors/outdoors setting such as a caravan or campervan.
  • If you choose a patterned or striped fabric, it’ll take a bit longer to cut the panels out to ensure all the patterns match up.
  • Consider other colours in the area. This sounds obvious but once we’d chosen the stripy seat cushions and red cupboard doors for our campervan, it was hard to choose a third complementary colour for the curtains.
  • It’s worth getting a few swatches so you can mull over them. I found it useful to make a cardboard model of our seating arrangement to get an idea of how all the colours would work together.

4. Measuring your fabric

Each seat cushion needs 6 panels: top, bottom, front, back, left and right. Measure the length, width and depth of each cushion and add a 2cm seam allowance to each end. Note the back panel will be cut in half lengthways to form a seam for the zip, so add an extra 2cm to the seam allowance on the height measurement – 1cm for each half. It’s a good idea to draw a rough diagram of how you’ll cut each panel out of the fabric so reduce the amount of waste and offcuts.

For example, if one cushion measures 100cm long x 45cm deep and the foam height is 10cm (check this before you buy the fabric as some foams may differ), your measurements (including a 2cm seam allowance on each end) would be as follows:

Fabric comes in a range of widths, and you can request the length you need. If the roll of fabric is 150cm (60 inches) wide, following the measurements above you’d need a length of 108cm times however many cushions you need to do in that size. If your roll of fabric measures less than 150cm, you’d have to play around with the configuration on your diagram. Bear in mind also that if your fabric has a bold pattern or wide stripe that you want to continue consistently around the front, back and sides, you may need to change your configuration.

Once you’ve cut and covered your foam and you’ve chosen your fabric, it’s time to start sewing. See part 2 for the next instalment!


34 thoughts on “How to sew fabulous seat cushions (even if you’re a complete beginner) – part 1

  1. Pingback: How to sew fabulous seat cushions (even if you’re a complete beginner) – part 2 « The Campervan Converts

  2. I’m making seat cushions for our pews at church. They are old pews and are wooden. Do you have any suggestions of what to use on the bottom as the underside of the cushion, so they don’t slip? Thanks.

    • Hi Heather,

      Thanks for stopping by! I’d recommend making the cushions as normal using whatever material you’ve chosen and then adding velcro to the bottom to stop the cushions sliding around. You can sew one half of the velcro to the bottom of the cushion (maybe place a strip along each edge) and use the adhesive type to stick the other half of velcro to the bench. We’ve used it on some of our back rests – it’s strong enough to hold well and you can easily unstick the bottom half if needs be without ruining the bench.

      Hope that helps – good luck!


    • I would use the foamy-vanilla-colored-rubber-like mesh that is used as a non-slip, non-skid surface under rugs & runners.

      • Hi Viva, yes that could work as well. We’ve used that in our cupboards to stop things moving around as we travel. Thanks!

  3. My brother suggested I might like this blog. He was
    totally right. This post actually made my day. You cann’t imagine simply how much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

  4. Thank You so much for Posting this…. I don’t Sew but my Husband does and because of your post I had the confidence that together we could do it ourselves. We just bought a Pop-up that is a 1980 Jayco and all original…. and I do mean all It was in Great condition however because of age when we took the covers off the beds they fell apart in my hands. Good news was the foam pads still had the original plastic wrap on so they were untouched by age. When I was looking on-line to buy covers and curtains the cost was about $1400. Then I cam across your blog and we were able to do it all for under $400. The best part is now it feels like only ours. So again Thank You. Now we can’t wait to take the family on a trip this summer.

    • Hi – I’m not sure actually, I’ve never used an overlocker but I’d imagine a sewing machine might be easier to complete the whole thing. If anyone with better sewing knowledge can help, please feel free to comment – thanks!

  5. Thank you for a very nice tutorial. One of the best I have read online.

    I was wondering why your side panels are 54 cm long? The depth of your cushion is 45 cm and with the 2 cm seam on each side, it adds up to 49 cm. I hope you can help me, thanks!

    • Thanks for your kind comments Kim. You ask a very good question and at the moment, I can’t remember! I wrote the tutorial a couple of years ago and it made sense at the time – I even remember redrawing that diagram to increase the width of those side panels, so there must have been a reason. I will try and think back and let you know 🙂

  6. Pingback: Au revoir, madame campervan | The Campervan Converts

  7. Hi Rach, have been looking for a pattern and instructions to make a cushion for a window seat. Really enjoyed looking at your work and your instructions are very clear. I am now inspired to have a go! Hope you are having lots of fun trips in your camper. Mitch x

  8. Pingback: Awesome seat cushion tutorial – Midnight's Threads

  9. I also was wondering why your side panels are 54 cm long? The depth of your cushion is 45 cm and with the 2 cm seam on each side, it adds up to 49 cm.
    I really don’t understand, but i know little about sewing….
    Kind regards, Peter

    • Hi Peter, thanks very much for your comment. I’m afraid it’s several years since I wrote these instructions, and I can’t remember all the exact measurements. I know people have followed them successfully, so I presume there was a reason for that size difference – I’m just not sure what it was! Sorry I can’t help, good luck with your project.

  10. Pingback: Top 10 Pillow Tutorials for Beginners - It's Just Sewing

  11. Hi Rach,

    My name is Chis and I’m currently writing a book about how to live in a van, and in my research I found this post. If it’s okay with you, I’d love to mention you in my book and provide a link back to your website. Please let me know if you’re okay with that. The paragraph that mentions you reads:

    Rach and Paul of Campervan Converts built an L-shaped couch that converts into a bed that sleeps two. Rach made all of the cushions herself, and if you’re thinking that you need to be an expert seamstress to make couch and mattress cushions, you don’t—this was Rach’s first ever sewing project!

    Thanks, Rach, you did an amazing job on your cushions! I sure wish I had that talent.

    • Hi Chris, thanks for your lovely comments and yes, it’s fine to include that. Make sure you send me a link to the finished book – it sounds great! ps I’m a copywriter and editor in my day job and write for the UK magazine Campervan, so if you need a hand with the editing or proofreading at any stage, let me know. My email is 🙂

  12. Pingback: Top 10 Pillow Tutorials for Beginners - Monica Skov

  13. Pingback: Top 10 Pillow Tutorials for Beginners - Mama Makes Crazy

  14. I’ve have tried a variety of ways to making good corners for cushion covers.
    Your instructions were super easy to follow and my corners turned out the best I’ve ever made. The cushion look fabulous.
    I’m glad your example popped up first among the many ‘how to’ examples.

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