The picture that tells a thousand words

And as most of those words are not very lady-like, I thought it wise to only publish the picture: And just to prove the cushion even has a zip and (gasp)… semi-reasonable corners:

That is all. The first complete campervan cushion. One down, four to go. I’m off to lie down in a cool, dark room.

A sewer’s guide to being pragmatic (while still making beautiful seat cushions)

Pragmatism. noun 1 the art of dealing with things in a practical rather than theoretical way. 2 the art of embracing campervan cushions as a practical seating application even when the corners are theoretically lop-sided, sticky-out or have a tiny hole in the middle.

I started off with a rather romantic notion of making these cushions; being holed up at my sewing machine on a Sunday afternoon with a nice cup of tea, radio on and the heater warming my feet. When I realised I was actually quite good at sewing in a straight line, I was already converting my desk into a sewing table and planning all sorts of ambitious projects.

The vision was shattered as soon as I reached my first corner. The general idea with a box seat cushion is to have a top and bottom panel, a side strip that runs around three sides and a back panel with a zip. None of this sounds too complicated, but whichever method I try to sew the side strip around the corners, they look completely different.

I have dusted off my library card and tried four different patterns. Through the wonder of YouTube, I’ve had lessons from Darlene in Detroit and taken advice from Barry in Texas. I’ve tried the meticulous ‘pinning and pressing’ method and the more kamikaze ‘just snip and pivot’ method (that was Barry) and nothing seems to work consistently. Every time I think I’ve cracked it, no sooner have I made a celebratory brew than I line it up with the opposite corner and realise it’s two centimetres lower.

Hurrah!

Aaaaaaarghhh!

So after several frustrating weekends at the sewing machine growing increasingly despondent, I came to the conclusion that imperfect corners would just have to do. I would take a pragmatic approach and just get them finished. Shamelessly seeking reassurance that my corners were, in fact, brilliant and I was being way too hard on myself, I showed Paul a selection and asked for his honest opinion.

And in the next moment, in a brief memory lapse when all the rules that had been carefully instilled over the last 12 years were inexplicably discarded, there was a pause. A frown. A very close look at the seams. And then, ‘Hmmmm. Yes, I see what you mean.’

Followed by a look of complete surprise when a fine plume of smoke started escaping from my ears.

‘But, you said you wanted…’

‘I DIDN’T MEAN IT! I WANTED YOU TO SAY THESE ARE THE FINEST EXAMPLES OF CUSHION CORNERS YOU HAVE EVER SEEN AND WHY HAVE I NOT JOINED BARRY AND DARLENE ON YOUTUBE WITH MY OWN SERIES OF SEWING VIDEOS’.

‘Oh.’

So that’s that. It’s back to the drawing board. But, having relayed the whole sorry story in a long teleconference, Mum has come up with a new plan of attack, which requires sewing no corners whatsoever. Round cushions! Actually no, that will be a very last resort, but I will try the new method this afternoon and report back. Meanwhile, the heater’s on and the radio’s blaring, but I may add something a little stronger to my tea cup.

Access to the campervan gas bottle

Is it me, or are these post titles getting increasingly less intriguing?

Anyway, it’s always a slightly hairy moment when you take a power tool to the van’s shell. Particularly when the size of hole you’re cutting could not be easily patched up with a bit of sticky-back plastic and passed off as a ‘vintage’ feature if anything went wrong. Thankfully, it didn’t! So we now have external access to the gas bottle.

The 2kg gas bottle sits in a metal box, which would provide some protection in the (hopefully unlikely) event of any gas leakage. The three-sided box sits underneath one of the seats and we’ve now fitted a vented door to the outside.

Paul made two cardboard templates to work out exactly where to cut the hole: one the size of the box and one the size of the door frame. He lined up the box template on the inside and drilled a hole through the centre. He then lined up the centre of the frame template on the outside of the van with the hole, and drew around the outline. He then cut the corners using a 50mm hole saw and cut between the holes with tin snips.


Paul sealed all the cut edges with rust primer, squeezed a layer of silicon around the door frame (to prevent water seeping through) and pushed the frame into place.

He then bolted the door frame to the van using nylon locking nuts (try saying that after a Sunday afternoon beverage – I am failing miserably), so they don’t vibrate loose once we’re on the road.

The next step is to connect up the gas and have it certified.

The cupboard doors arrived from Laminex this week and are trying desperately to blend into our carpet before being fitted. Here’s a sneaky peek:

Wiring a campervan

Phase one of the campervan wiring is now complete – hurrah! There is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Actually there’s not because lighting is part of phase two, but at least the fridge is whirring away nicely.

What follows is a very simplified description of how we got to this point. If you have any more detailed questions, please leave a comment at the bottom of this post!

<Disclaimer> Now, I am (clearly) not an electrician and neither, for that matter, is Paul. All the works described below are still to be certified by a licensed electrician to ensure we’re in no danger of electrocution down the track.

Okay. We have two main circuits: One that will plug into a 240v power source at a campsite, and one that is powered by a 12v battery for when we’re travelling off-piste.

Here’s an overall view:

240v power circuit

  • Paul cut a small hole in the shell of the van and attached a 240 socket so we can run a cable to an external power supply.

  • From the other side of the socket, a 2.5mm cable runs through a conduit (to protect from any sharp metal) along the inside of the campervan to a 16 amp fuse.

  • The fuse clips onto a small metal bracket, which is screwed to the van. The yellow and green cable shown above connects to the metal shell of the van (we had to scrape a small patch of paint off the interior) to provide the earth.
  • Three cables then run from this fuse. The first runs to a power socket for the battery charger – ours is a CTEK Multi XS 150000. The charger will eventually be hard-wired to the battery.

  • The second cable runs around the front of the living area, under the doorway (in the lower of two conduits) to the power point for the fridge.

  • The third cable will run to an additional socket. Perhaps for a hair straightener.

12v battery circuit

There are two circuits from the battery.

  1. The first solely powers the fridge when we’re not connected to external power.  The fridge will automatically recognise when we disconnect from the 240v, and will switch to battery power.

The cable runs from the battery to a 15 amp fuse, then through an isolation switch, around the front of the living area, through the top conduit in the doorway and to the fridge.

We used an 8mm diameter cable to prevent any voltage drop between the battery and fridge and it seemed to do the trick; even with a 4.5m cable, we’re getting a consistent 12volts to the fridge. In fact, we seem to have gained a few…

In this case, the van’s metal shell provides the negative connection to the battery. Very handy.

2. The second battery circuit will power all other elements, which we’ll install in phase two: the water pump, lights and extractor fans.

The cable runs from the battery to a 40 amp fuse, then through an isolation switch, around the front of the living area to the control panel. Each switch in the control panel has its own fuse, ranging from 10-15 amps.

We’ll use the control panel to switch on the lights, fans and water pump. The water pump sits to the left of the fridge, so the cable runs around the fire extinguisher above, through the top conduit in the doorway and past the fridge to the pump.

Isolation switches

Running the cables through an isolation switch means we can manually switch the circuit off if necessary. We have also installed a dual-battery isolator; the car’s alternator will charge our 12v battery while we’re driving, but the isolator prevents our battery taking power from the car’s battery.

So that’s it! We bought everything from Bunnings (surprise, surprise), Supercheap Auto and a local electrical shop. Phase two is to install the lighting and fans, which involves cutting a hole in the roof, yikes.

Converting a campervan – our favourite Google searches

If you have arrived at this post from Google or ‘another leading search engine’, I am wondering if you’ve found what you were looking for. When I first embarked on this blog, I had the rather lofty ambition of producing a kind of campervan oracle for people tackling similar projects. I have a sneaking suspicion that something has gone awry along the way. To test this theory though, I have developed a (not at all egocentric) fascination with the WordPress stats page. This is where, under the dubiously respectable guise of ‘professional interest’, I can find a list of search terms that have led people to this blog. (Fear not, I can only see the words you typed into Google rather than your postcode or inside leg measurement). Theoretically, this should tell me the topics that fellow campervanners need help with.

Interesting things I have learned:

  • There is definitely demand for a blog solely about campervan toilets. They are remarkably popular.
  • Campervan cabinets seem to be the nemesis in most people’s campervan conversions. (Just go to Bunnings!)
  • There is surprisingly high interest in gingham curtains. Maybe we could form a clique.

Some of the search terms have actually provided great inspiration for our own project:


‘DIY campervan bath’
– Now this is a fantastic idea, seats are overrated anyway. A bath would neatly fit in the living area and would require no cushions!

‘Tiling a campervan bathroom’ – what, the whole thing? That is dedication. I was planning to just stick a few mosaic tiles around the sink but maybe we should put a bit more effort in.

‘DIY slide-out room on campervan’. Now there’s a thought. I quite fancy a study. Unlikely though, seeing as I’ve been campaigning in vain for a slide-out roof for several months.

Some search terms have been more concerning:


‘Mould in campervan toilet flush tank’
. Hmmm.

‘Campervan toilet won’t flush’. Oh dear.

‘Campervan toilet still won’t flush’. This person was getting desperate.

‘Campervan toilet leaking water on floor’ I’m hoping that Google swiftly directed this poor person to a mop and bucket and they’re not now standing up to their ankles…

I also feel I might have lured some unsuspecting audiences here under false pretences, because quite a few people have arrived at the blog having googled ‘calming colours’. This must hark back to our early interior design plans to create a zen like atmosphere; I’m sure anyone hoping to be faced with a calm and serene environment beat a hasty retreat at the sight of our eventual fabric choice. Hopefully the people who googled ‘fun campervan upholstery’ left feeling a bit more fulfilled.

Over the course of the project I’ve tried to include most of the popular themes along the way, but there are some specific questions that keep popping up, so I’ll try and answer these in separate blogs. First will be how to attach cabinets to the shell of the campervan. After that, I should finally be able to report on the electrics because after several weeks surrounded by wires, apparently we’re almost powered up.

Incidentally, if you are converting your own campervan and have any questions or comments, please post them here!

Ps Thanks for everyone’s comments and messages about the cushions; I’m under the impression you’re getting a bit concerned. Luckily I’m not the sort of person who turns into a procrastinating perfectionist when faced with a bit of pressure* and I’m making steady progress. Photos coming soon!

*this might not be completely true.

How to convert campervan seating into a bed

After much pencil chewing and imaginary beard stroking over how to convert our campervan seating into a bed, Paul had an epiphany.

The first stage was fairly simple. By hinging an extra panel onto the long section of the L-shaped seating, we could pull it out to create the base of the bed. As shown here:


Paul had to cut the top panel marginally shorter than the bottom one, so it would clear the overhanging worksurface when pulled out. This will be hidden though once the seat cushions are on.

We’ve continued to use the same material for all the seating panels – I imagine the staff at Bunnings are somewhat intrigued by the sudden demand for their cheap pantry doors. It’s been a readily available form of MDF though with a glossy plastic coating, and has been really easy to work with.

The challenge was creating the supporting leg underneath the pull-out bed panel. The moment of revelation occurred when Paul worked out he could add another panel, which, when hinged, would act as a back rest in one position, and a supporting leg when folded down:

In the bed configuration, the two seat cushions will stay in position, and the two backrests will lie side by side on the other half. The bed is actually wider than I’d imagined; I was visualizing us both having to lie on our sides and turn over in unison, but it’s about 1.2m wide, which is fairly comfortable.

This week Paul has also fitted the master control switch, and bought the battery and the charger, so the next job is to start wiring everything up. Since winter arrived early in Brisbane, I have been lobbying for a nice warm fan heater, in case the van is finished before August. I’ve been advised to just rug up.

Confessions of a campervan convert

As a very wise lady once trilled, ‘In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun’. Well, there’s a challenge. Always keen to find, and indeed exploit, any smidgen of fun when tackling these campervan cushions, I decided to go shopping.

My shopping list:

  • High-density foam cut into two seat cushions and two seat backs
  • Wool wadding to cover the foam and soften the edges
  • Spray adhesive
  • Plenty of fabric to cover cushions and account for (ahem) unexpected hiccups along the way
  • Various reels of red cotton and random zips (mainly for practising)
  • Wine
  • Crisps (large bag)

I went to Clark Rubber for the foam, and they were excellent. The girl worked out she could save me $100 by cutting the four pieces out of a double camping mattress, which was made of the same high-density foam. So she ripped off the cover and started sawing away, while I stood and marveled at the sheer variety of interesting rubber available. Who knew!

I decided to take the spare offcuts and squeeze them into my ever-growing ‘craft box’, to join the remnants of my previous attempts at creativity. As it turned out, it was a rather fortuitous decision…

Spot the deliberate mistake. So my first job will be to do my own sawing and sticking to cobble together the missing corner from the offcuts.

Paul and I then went to Spotlight to buy the stripy fabric. I realised when we got there I should have worked out in advance exactly how much material I would need. (In my defence, I was still hoping something even more suitably surfer-chic would jump out at us at the 11th hour. It didn’t. So stripes it is.)

I had the dimensions of the four cushions, and the length of the fabric was 1.2m. That was a shame because the cushions are 1.27m long, so what I’d hoped would be the length would now be the width. Okay, so the area would just be length x width x depth. Hmmm no, that would be the volume. This was all getting trickier than I thought. I tried adding the depth to the length twice and multiplying by the width, but then what about the other ends? And what about the hems and the seam allowance that I keep reading about?

I was feeling a bit flustered by this stage. I could sense Paul was getting one of his ‘heads’ and I was starting to see various formulas flying futilely in front of my eyes: ‘Πr²’? Nope.  ‘The square of the hypotenuse…’? I hope not, I can’t even remember how that one ends. Surely it should not. Be. This. Hard. In my mind I could see my Mum (who is a mathematician – not to be confused, as I unfathomably did many years ago, with a magician – maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong) screwing her face up in frustration. How on earth did I scrape an A in GCSE maths? I could feel beads of sweat prickling across my forehead and was on the verge of leaving the store altogether, when Paul triumphantly declared it was around 10m. Hurrah! Whether he had actually worked it out or had just seen that was how much was left on the roll, I wasn’t going to argue. So we got the lot. I’m sure the extra swathes of fabric will come in handy for something.

Overall, it was quite a successful shopping expedition, although the only items on my list that have actually been put to any use thus far are the wine and crisps. And for the time being, the element of ‘fun’ remains elusive; maybe I need to hold a little tea party on the ceiling or something, try a spot of sewing up there.

Creating a campervan kitchen

I’ve had a polite request for more campervan photos, so here’s a pictorial update on the kitchen (with as few words as I can muster!)

So our exciting delivery from Caravans Plus last week revealed a ceiling fan, a gas stove and a kitchen sink:

Caravans Plus has been a very useful supplier, we also bought the Thetford toilet and gas bottle casing there. And although they’re based in NSW, the delivery charge for everything in this picture was only about $30.

In preparation for installing the stove and sink, Paul came home every evening last week and lovingly sanded and oiled the wooden worksurface. Then he sanded it again with a finer sandpaper, oiled it again, sanded it again and gave it a final coat of oil for good measure. And then he cut a huge great hole in the middle to fit the gas stove. Still, the rim of the worksurface looks lovely and smooth:

The lid also comes down to create an extra worksurface:


It was obviously a cloudy day in Brisbane.

Paul also prepared the worksurface on the other side of the kitchen where the sink will sit. 

Neither the stove or sink are connected up to anything yet. 

The hardest bit with the worksurface was cutting around the handle next to the door – on the right hand side of the photo above. Paul used a cardboard template to cut around the edge, and the patent-pending right-angled pencil made another appearance.

So here’s an overall view of the kitchen, I think it’s looking beautiful!

Paul has already started work on the seating / bed configuration, so that will be the next chapter in the story. Just don’t mention the seat cushions. I was distressed to discover I have inherited no sewing genes whatsoever, and combined with an innate lack of patience and defiant new sewing machine, progress has been fairly slow.

The quickest route to a relaxing weekend?

Straight down the Pacific Highway, of course. After a busy few weeks at work, Paul and I had been craving a quiet, relaxing time over the five-day Easter break. So I think we were both a little surprised to find ourselves not heading to the coast, but ensconced in a crowd of other frazzled couples being herded along the pathway at Ikea. A pathway from which there is no escape. No early exit strategy. Everywhere you look people are frantically searching for a little pink card that says ‘Move directly to marketplace. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200.’

Anyway, the plan was to look for a wooden work surface for the campervan kitchen. This was an about turn really; we’d always been keen to avoid the traditional pine look that you see in so many pictures of converted campervans, and were planning to use a pale laminate for the kitchen surfaces instead. But Paul loves working with wood, and was concerned that the interior was starting to look too white and sterile. I am inclined to think once we introduce the red cupboard doors and stripy seat cushions it’ll be hard to see any white, but I do quite like the idea of a solid wooden surface. Like one huge chopping board. So we’re hitching a brief ride on the pine-look bandwagon and have bought an Ikea Lagan worktop. It was almost 2.5 metres long, weighed over 30kg, and only just squeezed in the car (barely leaving room for my Ikea purchase: a single fluorescent dishwashing brush, which was looking a bit forlorn at the bottom of my huge yellow bag).

Paul’s cut two pieces of wood to fit each side of the kitchen and has given it about five coats of timber oil. He chose a Danish wood oil in the hope it would get along nicely with its Swedish wooden companion.

Wood before being oiled

In other news, Paul’s been doing some finishing touches on the cupboards and has boxed in the wheel arch at the back of the main kitchen cabinet, using the same laminated wood he used for the walls.

He’s also completely secured the toilet to the floor, which I am relieved about because I find it quite a comfy place to perch while Paul’s working, and as our driveway is on a slope, I was always in slight danger of sailing off down the van. Fixing the toilet was quite tricky, we couldn’t get long enough screws to drill far enough into the floor, and the limited space in the base of the toilet made it awkward to get the drill in to screw down. So Paul went underneath the van and used long bolts to drill up through the base of the van and through the floor, and secured the bolts with nuts in the base of the toilet.

Finally, the prize for this week’s most interesting photo surely goes to:

This is the steel box that Paul has resized for the gas bottle, so it will snugly fit our 2kg gas bottle rather than the 9kg one it was intended for. A bit of hacking and a lot of sticking has saved us sending the original box all the way back to NSW.

Earlier this week we had a bumper delivery from Caravans Plus which included a stove, kitchen sink and roof fan, so Paul’s going to tackle some of those this weekend.

A final word about gingham curtains

I’m sure there are plenty of craft blogs out there and I have no intention of turning this into another one. However, at the risk of confusing everyone who arrived at this blog having Googled ‘how to fit campervan cabinets’ (and alienating everyone else) I am going to indulge in one final post about my affiliation with gingham fabric.

A few weeks ago, I bought some beautiful red gingham material, which would be perfect for the quintessential campervan curtain.  Since then, I have been looking, unsuccessfully, for some upholstery fabric to match.  The stripy fabric that Paul’s so keen to use for the seat covers would clash horribly. Plain red fabric would work well with the gingham, but next to all the red cupboards might create an ambience more ‘brothelesque’ than would be desireable.  So I have reluctantly admitted defeat. There will be no gingham in this campervan. We have bought the bright stripy fabric for the seats and I am now on the search for a plainer fabric for the curtains.

So this picture is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it means I finally managed to thread the bobbin on my new sewing machine and produce something resembling a tissue case. Hurrah! On the other hand, it means that my beautiful gingham, which had so much potential, is destined to spend the remainder of its days protecting packs of Kleenex.

So put your orders in now while my bobbin is still in place. I have samples of gingham fabric in red, lilac, navy, black and lime green. How I ever thought lime green curtains would match red cupboards, I’m not sure.