From Brisbane to Bristol

I have committed the cardinal sin of blogging. I haven’t, well… blogged.

Since February.

As a copywriter who regularly advises clients of the benefits of frequent blogging, this is probably not a good thing.

In my defence, after my last post when we had just sold our beloved campervan, we then left our jobs, sold our house and cars, said goodbye to everyone we knew, panic-bought a few souvenir fridge magnets to remind us of 9 years in Brisbane and packed up our entire antipodean life into 101 boxes and a 40-ft shipping container.

Campervan Converts - Sydney Harbour Fireworks
Our last night in Australia with a better than average view.

Oh, we then emigrated (or re-migrated?) 10,000 miles to the UK, found a job, found a house, started a business, and emptied those 101 boxes in a completely new part of the country.

I know, I know. It’s a weak excuse. Especially because we’ve actually only opened 80 of the boxes.

But we’ve made it, and are now living in a little village near Bristol. Despite having a similar name, Bristol is – unsurprisingly – not like Brisbane. I won’t dwell on the differences (it does rain quite a bit) but on the plus side, it is a similar distance from some excellent campervanning country.

Campervan Converts - Croyde Bay, North Devon

Croyde Bay, North Devon, UK

Campervan Converts - Baggy Point, North Devon

Baggy Point, North Devon

Just as Brisbane has the wonderful Sunshine Coast on its doorstep, Bristol is less than two hours from the rugged North Devon coastline and its long, sandy surfing beaches. It’s a place we know and love, having spent the first part of our honeymoon there. Okay so you swap warm summer evenings lazing next to a beach barbeque for bracing afternoons huddled behind a stripy windbreak, and Queensland’s spectacular pelicans have been replaced by absolutely ginormous seagulls. But it’s all okay. The fish and chips are good. There’s always the tinkle of an ice-cream van in the distance.

Campervan Converts - windswept on Croyde Beach

Raincoat and wellies instead of togs and flip-flops?

And amid the chaos of the last few months (loosely interpreted as a career break for CV purposes) we’ve managed to escape to both Devon and Dorset for a few long weekends for a proper medicinal dose of sea air. It’s been great. It would be amazing in a campervan.

I must admit when we arrived back in the UK it was tempting to replicate our to-do list from 2010, which went something like:

  • Buy minibus
  • Convert into fabulous campervan
  • Have lots of holidays
  • Write a blog

But our recently acquired status as Sensible Adults suggested that providing a new home for our toddler was probably a priority, so finding accommodation and employment were pushed higher up the list. For the time being, we are campervan-less.

So what’s the best way to explore counties such as Devon, Dorset and Cornwall if not in a campervan? The obvious answer is, of course, to find a gorgeous little whitewashed B&B hideaway perched on a remote cliff-top with a roaring open fire and fresh pastries delivered every morning… but while the AUD/GBP exchange rate remains resolutely in the doldrums, we were looking for something a little more modest.

Camping was the rational option, but with the three of us still very much in the acclimatisation stage (even in a centrally heated, double-glazed house), sleeping under canvas seemed like a step too far. So we eased ourselves into the northern hemisphere’s climate with a more comfortable combination of hotels and lodges. One of our favourite places in the country deserves its own post, so I’ll review where we stayed in the next blog.

Campervan Converts - Croyde Bay, North Devon

It’s sunny!

In the meantime, if any non-Queensland readers need convincing that it’s one of the best places in the WORLD to travel in a campervan, check out the summer edition of the UK’s excellent Campervan magazine for some familiar photos. Or take a look at the Surf n Turf article here.

Au revoir, madame campervan

So many people have been in touch since my last blog post to enquire about our campervan. We recently sold it to a fantastic couple – Ann and Nigel – who fell in love with it as much as we did. In fact, they flew all the way up from Canberra to view it, before driving it back (1,200km) later that day. Phew! And having suffered from a slight identity crisis over the last five years, the campervan finally has a name: Dolly. I think it suits her. I’m sure many adventures await.

We are about to embark on our own adventure, and relocate back to the UK after 9 years in Brisbane. It’s a sad farewell but we’re looking forward to spending much more time with our families. And with plans already afoot for our next campervan project (the lime green kettle and gingham cutlery have already been packaged up and shipped back), the blog will continue. Hurrah! See you on the other side 🙂

Taking delivery EBay pic of seatsCampervan convertsLayout - timber frameFlooring - completed Joinery - cabinets 3Joinery - seating area Campervan convertsJoinery - kitchen Interior - cardboard modelJoinery - bed and mattress 2 Interior - Happy camperInterior - patriotic back doorLifestyle 6  Plumbing - bathroomCampervan interiorLifestyle 5  Campervan convertsLifestyle 15MaroochydoreNSI 5Queen Mary Falls, Killarney

Montville - autumn colours         Lifestyle 3Baby in a campervan

Best bits of the Campervan Converts:

How to make fabulous seat cushions part one and part two

How to make TERRIBLE cushions (only one part required)

Everything you need to know about campervan plumbing

How to wire a campervan

Delicious food you really really need in your campervan

How to fit a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom into a glorified taxi

11 simple steps to achieve your diy campervan

How did it all start?

For sale: the best campervan in the world

Fabulous bespoke campervan now for sale DSC_7151 Low mileage! Free miniature pans and gingham cutlery! Discount for blog readers! One careful lady owner!* (*And her husband. Also the previous owner, which was a childcare centre, but we have all been very careful). DSC_7119 Campervan exterior 2 The time has come to embark on a new campervan build project that will accommodate a rather lively one-year old, so we are selling our beloved first campervan. The vehicle specifications are: Toyota Hiace Commuter van SLWB, 2006 model 2.7-litre engine, 4-speed auto gearbox 40,000km on the clock Air conditioning/CD player/electric windows in the front The living space briefly comprises: Living area with extremely stylish cushions which fold out to form a double bed. Fully equipped kitchen with:

  • Two-ring gas burner
  • Waeco 80-litre fridge
  • 24-litre electric boiler with hot/cold running water
  • Powerful ceiling fan and vent
  • Plenty of storage including wine cupboard

Dual entry bathroom/ensuite with:

  • Thetford cassette toilet
  • Large basin with hot/cold running water
  • Storage cupboard and drawers
  • Union Jack styling (can be adapted with additional stars if sold in Aust/NZ)

We can also throw in additional items such as the awning, wheel lock, table/chairs and fabulous lime green whistling kettle to seal the deal (although please don’t say yes to the kettle).
Campervan interior 2Campervan interiorCampervan converts - campervan bedPlumbing - bathroom 2 Joinery - interior doors 2Joinery - kitchenIf you know anyone who might be interested and would like further details, please contact me at rach680@yahoo.co.uk.

Calling all backseat drivers

So the blog has taken a bit of a backseat recently. In fact, our spontaneous mini-break adventures have also taken a backseat. And all because our lovely, little, grown-up campervan doesn’t have a backseat.

At least, not one that will take a new baby. A new baby and his monolithic car seat. Not to mention four changes of clothes per day, a bumper box of Huggies and Trevor his favourite life-size tiger.

Samuel arrived a few months ago, and is clearly another campervan convert.

untitled-366

 

But, oh. The stuff!

Every inch of our campervan is already crammed with the essentials. Now, I’d be willing to forgo the pretty tealights, but that is not going to free up much space.

Here is our campervan:

Campervan Converts - campervan interior
Here is our free storage:

Campervan drawers

Last month, we managed a weekend away in a lovely child-friendly apartment on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

Two-and-a-half people.
Two nights.
Two hours from home.

This was our luggage.

Campervan converts - Holiday luggage
Needless to say, the art of taking off at a moment’s notice with everything packed up is eluding us.

So how can we convert our campervan – again – so that it fits another person and all his paraphernalia? Is it possible?? It must be possible. In George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, he meets a couple who convert a tiny 1960s ambulance into a campervan that sleeps six. SIX!

Our sleeping arrangements would be okay; the fold-out bed is 1.4m wide so Samuel would squeeze in that.

Campervan converts - campervan bed

(Of course we would likely be sleeping upright in the front seats once he’d made himself comfy.)

We could fill the wine cupboard with nappies, use the kitchen sink for bathtime and have meals on our picnic rug.

The car seat is the real problem. The centre console between the two front seats is wide enough to be replaced with a third seat, but I’m not sure it could safely take a baby seat – certainly not rear facing.

Is this the end of the road for campervan#1? Is it time for a new conversion project?

If you have any other suggestions, please do let me know – our campervan is itching to go further than the driveway!

And while Samuel seems very happy sitting in a drawer, we really need that space for bedding.

Baby in a campervan

 

Campervan Converts - Baby in campervan

How to add a touch of patriotism to your campervan

We’ve been neglecting the campervan a bit of late; the last few months have flown in an endless flurry of jubilee street parties and Olympic fever (not really, but it does explain the rest of the story).

One of the final jobs left in the campervan was to paint the inside back door in the bathroom white. But on our return from the UK a couple of weeks ago, where we’d been surrounded by a sea of patriotic memorabilia, this dull, wooden panel suddenly became a canvas of possibility. What are we doing painting it white?! Surely it is crying out for a union flag!

And while I’ve probably missed the boat in terms of celebrating this year’s fantastic Great British events, it still seemed a timely opportunity to add a little (more) red, white and blue to our now very colourful campervan.

Paul painted a couple of white undercoats on first, and we went to Bunnings to colour match the blue with that of the curtains, so it didn’t clash too much.

Union flag campervan

I marked out the flag with what Bunnings promised was the best painter’s masking tape available, copying the original from Wikipedia. It’s a pattern that often features in my meeting doodles but I’ve clearly never looked at it closely before because I didn’t even realise it’s not symmetrical. So it was a bit fiddlier than I thought, making sure the wide and narrow bits were in the right place. (n.b. the hole in the middle is deliberate – it’s where the door handle goes.)

Then it was just a case of painting the red and blue in the right spots, and praying that the masking tape would survive three coats of paint.

Union flag campervan

It didn’t… quite. I waited until everything had dried and pulled the tape off very gingerly, but it had bled through on most of the lines. Still, we think it can pass for a vintage look, and when you stand back in the van, it’s not too obvious.

Union flag campervan

Union flag campervan

Union flag campervan

Union flag campervan

How to sew fabulous seat cushions (even if you’re a complete beginner) – part 2

Hopefully you’ve now read part 1 of how to make box seat cushions (if not, click here!) and you have everything you need to start sewing. Making cushions for our campervan was the first sewing project I’d ever attempted (may be the last) so it taught me a lot about using a sewing machine and different techniques for everything, from measuring to unpicking.

It was a steep learning curve, but hopefully what I did learn will be useful to other beginners who want to tackle something similar.

This might not always be the most conventional method of sewing, but having read a lot of beginner sewing books and watched a range of tutorials, this is what worked best for me. I know the modern thing is to upload a YouTube video but sadly, the chances of me sewing in a straight line while smiling beatifically into a camera and talking in a calm, rational voice are quite slim. But, if you are more of a visual person, there are heaps of videos out there teaching you how to sew. I watched a lot of these, but found the information would desert me somewhere on the walk between my computer screen and sewing machine.

Some tips before you start:

  • I tried every shortcut that was going. I tried to get away without pinning, pressing and bothering with a practice run. It didn’t work and I got into more of a flap. Slow and steady was actually the quickest way to the best result.
  • Pinning – try pinning with the point of the pin facing outwards to the edge of the fabric. You’ll often find you can sew over the pins like this, rather than having to remove each one as you reach it.
  • Pressing – one of my best purchases was a tabletop ironing board. It was $10 from Ikea and could stay out on the table, which was much easier than putting the big ironing board up every time I wanted to press a seam.

  • Have a practice run. I know. Making an entire cushion just as a practice sounds incredibly tedious, but it’s really worth it and if it turns out perfectly, you have your first complete cushion already. Some tips for your practice run:
  • Ideally, use the exact fabric you intend to use so you know how the weight will respond, and how you need to match the pattern up between different panels.
  • Use a longer stitch (it’s quicker to sew and easier to unpick).
  • If you’re already happy sewing in a straight line, you can just practise the corners on a few scraps of fabric. It’s just a case of matching three corners up and sewing to the same point on each one.

Step 1. Getting prepared

Carefully cut out your 6 panels, similar to the diagram here (but with your own measurements). Remember the 2cm seam allowance on each end. The back panel will contain the zip and be cut in two lengthways so allow an extra 2cm on this measurement, 1cm for each half. (If you want to give yourself a bit more leeway, you can always use 2cm for each half.)

Use a fabric pencil to mark the back of each panel whether it’s front/back etc. You’ll soon find they look very similar.

Lay out your panels in your cushion configuration so you know which bit goes where.

These photos are of my smallest backrest cushion.

Step 2. Fixing the front and side panels to the top panel

Starting with the front panel, position it – right sides together – over the top panel, with the bottom seams and corners lined up exactly.

Pin the two pieces together along the bottom seam. Make a small mark 2cm from each end and, using your 2cm seam allowance, sew between these two marks. Backstitch a few stitches at each end to strengthen.

Open out the fabric and press out the seam on each side.

Continue with the two side panels. Position them (right sides together) over the top panel, pin together and then machine stitch to 2cm from each end.

After each panel, open out the fabric and press out the seam on each side.


Cushion corners – an alternative method.

The cushion corners were my nemesis.

The standard method of making a box seat cushion is to use one long strip which curves around the front and sides. Every manual and video advised this is the best way to make cushion corners. I tried. And I failed. I battled with these corners for weeks and only produced very inconsistent results. So I devised my own method, which was far easier, looked much neater and briefly saved my sanity.

 

Step 3. Corner 1 – front / left / top corner

Look at where your front, left and top panels meet – your three corners should all neatly join up.

Pin along the edge of the front and left panels. Again, make a small mark 2cm from each end (where the corners will be) and, taking care to manoeuvre the top panel out of the way (you should only ever be pinning two pieces of fabric together, make sure the third doesn’t get caught up), sew to the 2cm mark. Backstitch a few stitches.

Now you can turn your fabric the right way round and see how neat and pointy your corner is!

The reason most methods use a single strip for the front and sides is to avoid having potentially weaker seams on the edges. I haven’t had any problems so far but you can strengthen your seams as much as possible by using thicker upholstery thread and backstitching over each end a couple of times.

Step 4. Remaining panels and corners 

Once you have the top, front and left panels attached, turn the fabric inside out again and press out all the seams. Continue with the top / front / right corner using the same technique as above.

Then you just have to add your bottom panel and sew its corresponding corners to complete your 5-sided cushion cover. All you have to remember is to line up your edges and leave a 2cm gap at each end.

Note: If you’re flagging, stop at this point for a reviving cup of tea and a jaffa cake, and congratulate yourself on having produced fabulous cushion corners.

Now it’s time to look at the zip.

Step 5. The zip

In a nutshell, you’re going to cut your back panel in two lengthways, then sew it back up (bear with me – this forms the seam), tack the zip on underneath your seam, then machine stitch from the right side through your seam allowance and zip. You can then cut open the seam and open/close your zip.

In the following photos I’ve demonstrated the steps on a prototype using cream fabric with red thread, which shows up more easily. Of course it also shows up mistakes and wonky lines more easily – these will be nicely disguised if you’re using matching fabric, thread and zip, so yours will look much better than this!

Here’s how to do a zip in 20 simple steps.

  1. Take your back panel and cut it in half lengthways. R= right side, W=wrong side. (Try to cut a bit straighter than in this prototype!)
  2. Put the panels together (right sides together). Place the zip in the centre, aligned with the bottom seam and make a small mark at each end of the zipper teeth.
  3. Place the zip to the side.  Pin the seam together.
  4. Using a 1cm seam allowance, sew the two pieces together. Machine stitch long stitches between the two marks (to make it easier to unpick at the end to enable the zip to open) and little stitches for the rest.
  5. Press open the seam and place the panel wrong side up (the seam will now be right side up).
  6. Attach the zipper foot to your sewing machine.
  7. Open the zip and place it wrong side up over the seam allowance.
  8. Pin the left side of the zip to the seam allowance, with the zipper teeth running along the centre. Placing the pins’ point facing against the way you’re sewing makes them easier to remove as you sew down. 
  9. Place the fabric on the sewing machine and move the bottom panel out of the way so you’re only sewing the zip to the seam and not the panel underneath. (Nb. The reason for this is on a basic sewing machine, you may find the stitches don’t look as neat underneath, and I didn’t want them showing through on the right side of the fabric. If you have a better sewing machine and are happy with how the stitches look underneath, you can sew all the way through to the right side, and can skip the next section where you sew through from the right side.)

11. With the zip pull at the bottom, sew down the left side. Go slowly around the zip pull, you might have to manoeuvre the fabric a bit around it.  

12. Close the zip.

13. Pin the right side of the zip to the seam allowance, moving the panel out of the way, as before. Turn the fabric round so the zip pull is at the bottom.

14. Sew down the right side.

15. Turn your fabric over. The zip is now attached in position underneath the seam allowance but is not visible from the top. Press flat.

16. Position the fabric on the machine, right side up with the zip pull at the bottom. With the zipper foot to guide you, sew down the left side of the centre seam. Start around 5mm above the zip stop, and stop when you’re struggling to sew in a straight line around the zip pull underneath. (It doesn’t matter if you don’t reach the end, we’ll continue sewing this line shortly.)

17. Return to the top of the line you have just sewn. Sew across the end of the zip (around 5mm from the zip stop).

18. With the needle still down, pivot the fabric and sew down the right hand side. Again, stop when the line is threatening to curve around the zip pull.

19. Remove the tacked stitches over the centre seam and check your zip opens and closes easily.

20. You can now move the zip pull to the top, and continue sewing around the bottom of the zip without being impinged.

That’s it!

Now all you have to do is turn your 5-sided cushion cover inside out again and attach the zip panel following the previous instructions. Et voila! You’ll have made a beautiful cushion with neat pointy corners!

As per the disclaimer at the start, I started this project as a complete beginner and had to learn from scratch. As such, I’m sure there are simpler (and shorter!) instructions out there in webland. But this is what worked for me, so hopefully someone else can benefit as well.  As always – all comments are welcome!

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.

Ingredients:

  • 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!