Sit on It, Jen
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Updated August 25, 2020.
Furnishing an outdoor living space can potentially be a majorly expensive project. To furnish a home with sturdy pieces you love, and that will last, is an expensive endeavor. Why would an outdoor living space be different?
Although, if you are creative and patient, even though it could still be a little pricey the cost does not have to be exorbitant. Spending a little extra money in the end will be worth it: you will have stronger furniture, that will last you longer, and be exactly what you want. While spending a little extra you will save money because you will not be paying out each year or two to replace the items, in addition to the money you save by doing the project yourself.
My husband and I would like to spend time out on our deck enjoying the view. We just need furniture out there to make extended time outside more comfortable. Beginning with an outdoor couch seemed logical. This is something we could easily build ourselves. (They did it on Trading Spaces all the time. Did anyone else obsessively watch that show?)
Both my mother and sister advised I purchase the cushions before building the couch so my husband and I could build the couch to the correct dimensions around them. They also advised I use Sunbrella, or a similar fabric made for the outdoors, to help with the longevity.
Well, I looked around online at offerings at the patio stores and home improvement stores’, and the comments in the low reviews steered me away. Even for the supposedly “good quality” cushions that cost more, people were saying that the pillows were sunken in after a few uses. That was disheartening. Why would I want to spend hundreds of dollars for cushions that would sink in and stay that way? Perhaps you prefer a softer cushion or mattress, but I like them more firm. Your muscles have to work harder to keep you comfortable when a seat is too soft. After sitting for a long time you could end up more tired; as when a mattress is not supportive enough. (I would love to have a source to cite this information to you, but I heard it over a decade ago and do not remember where. I do know it must have been a reputable source though, because I would not have held onto the information otherwise.😉)
Anyhow, I looked for a while for some cushions. The kind with the Sunbrella or similar fabric cost about $500 for a single seat set and we were aiming for a loveseat. I think we could have bought a whole loveseat for that $1000 price tag of cushions, but nothing was quite what we were looking for and I was sure we could easily build one for less. The loveseat probably would not be as fancy, though I figured we could make it sturdier.
I thought about it a little and determined I could make the cushions too. I had sewn complicated enough items before, and my mom had sewn replacement cushions for an easy chair in the living room, so why couldn’t I? There are plenty of tutorials on the internet to help. A little research and some planning were all that I needed.
The Joann Fabrics store app was helpful too. Texts came to my phone regularly telling me that a single item was 60% off, or a single cut of fabric was half price. Using those notifications I bought all of the materials on sale; the foam and the fabric each costing me at most half of the original price.
Before purchasing the materials, however, I needed a plan. I based the dimensions for the cushions off those of our indoor couch, which we find very comfortable. However, I made the height of the back cushions a couple of inches taller to give my husband, with his taller frame, a little more support when he sits.
My mom added welting (the cord that runs along the edges of cushions) at my request on the cushions for the armchair inside, but that was not the look I wanted for the outdoor loveseat. Admittedly, welting was more work than I wanted to do on this project too; so for that I was glad it was not the look we were going for outdoors.
To figure out the amount of materials I needed, a pattern was necessary first. The internet is such a great resource when you know how to look. I had an idea of how to go about making a box cushion, and then came across this video tutorial from OnlineFabricStore.net. The instructions are very clear and helped me to formulate a pattern for my box cushions. I calculated how many yards of fabric I would need and which notions were necessary. In the end we decided to use 5” high density foam (more money, but so worth it to have really comfortable cushions), batting (one roll of twin size was more than enough), Sunbrella fabric, zipper, and upholstery thread.
I also bought some foam glue to secure the batting to the foam. Once I got the spray glue home and read the instructions further, as well as some instructions online, I decided to return that glue. The toxicity of it frightened me and seemed an unnecessary risk. To replace that glue I purchased Aleen’s foam glue, which works like the Elmer’s school glue. A bead of that adhesive along the edges held the batting in place just fine and was a lot healthier to use.
Most of the winter and spring I waited for the sales to pop up as notifications on my phone, and I slowly made the purchases as they came. Since I was teaching and it was track season, there was not much time to work on other projects, so it was ok with me that it took a little longer to gather the materials. Once the local track season began to taper off and I had all of the needed pieces I was able to get to work. My goal was to have the sofa completed to use in the summer.
The first step, following the video tutorial was to cut out the foam. Use your tape measure and a yardstick, or straight edge, to measure and mark the length with a Sharpie or similar writing tool. Double check the measurement against your plans. Measure twice and cut once. You do not want to have to purchase more foam.
When my parents downsized and cleaned out their house my mom found an electric carving knife in her hope chest. She asked if I wanted it. I remember thinking, “When will I ever need that? I’ll just use a regular knife and not clutter up the kitchen,” and I said, “No thanks.” Apparently, they are good for cutting foam. Hindsight is 20/20 😅. I thought that a reciprocating saw was pretty much the same thing and tried using that. It worked ok. I have since found out that my scissors work better and more cleanly and would suggest using those if you do not have one of the knives the tutorial recommends.
As you may have guessed, my cuts were a little jagged. I figured I could make up for them with a little extra batting and some squishing into the cushion cases. Spoiler alert: It worked, but only because the cuts were not horrendous.
The next step was to cut the batting. For the largest cushion, I chose to line up the foam on the batting, glue along the edges as I wrapped the batting around the largest sections, and cut the excess at the end.
Begin with the biggest pieces and try to line up the longest edge of the foam with the shortest edge of the batting to get the most you can out of a space. The goal is to have one large piece leftover instead of a bunch of small pieces. You will waste less and have more to easily use in a later project. For example, the long seat cushion will fit vertically on the twin size batting, but may not fit another sized piece of the same width, or the back cushions on the leftover section beside it:
Now, if you orient the seat cushion horizontally on the batting it also fits, but the amount leftover on the side is not as large and you can fit both sides of the seat cushion on the same length as before, AND one of the long edges in the leftover on the end. This leaves a larger section intact below and more to work with, creating less waste. Move pieces around and measure before marking and cutting to get the most out of your materials.
Squeeze out a bead of glue along the edge. Not too much is needed; the glue is pretty tacky and grips well when you lightly press the batting into it.
Even with the single large piece of batting, it was important to glue along the edges of each face to make sure the batting stayed in place.
Once the final edge is glued, cut off the excess batting with some good scissors. I decided not to put any batting along the smallest faces in order to make stuffing the seat cushion into the covers a little easier. Those ends would be facing into the structure of the couch and the added padding would not be as necessary.
After following the above approach, I chose to use the excess along the sides to cut the pieces for the back cushions and get the most out of my materials. The short edges fit there well. I glued the edges, lined up the batting, wrapped the batting, and cut the excess. Continue the process until all of the pieces are covered.
Be sure to read the instructions on your choice of glue for drying times. I believe I had to wait a few days before it was fully set. That is not much of a problem, though, because you have your dimensions and can move on to the sewing!
Since this has gotten rather long, I have written about the sewing in another post. I hope you are as eager to continue with the project as I was.