Saturday, June 22, 2013

An Ode to the Van Interior

We have been traveling in Chuck nearly a year (10 months) now, and I have never really given an account of the updates to the interior of the van. 

When we bought Chuck, his interior was butt-ugly.

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2012-04-07 10.55.04Notice how none of the fabrics matched? Goldenrod panels with blue and brown stripes on half the ceiling (another fabric on another half) and purple and brown intertwined curtains and checkered seats. Nasty. And DIRTY.

Perhaps you can imagine how I might not appreciate living in something so ugly. My thoughts were that with anything and everything else that could go wrong, I at least needed to have a beautiful interior that would not grate on my nerves and compound any already aggravating situation. So, starting in January 2012, I worked for 8 months outfitting the interior. I pretty much pulled 40-45 hours/week at AA then came home to work another 20-30 hours on the interior parts.

I think the hardest part for me was determining which colors and fabrics I wanted to use. I needed to not look too feminine (just wouldn’t work in Chuck) and fit both Jonathan’s and my tastes. Jonathan didn’t want to give much input (and he was working on a ton of stuff himself) and I am not the best when there isn’t one right answer. After many samples and stops at fabric stores, I finally decided on a brown, golden tan, and blue-tinged green (maybe you could call it sea-foam green?) palette. I think my fabric may almost have been supernaturally provided since the store from which I bought them, Fabric Resources of Tulsa, opened just in time to be in the initial fabric options and closed by the end of the year. They had great upholstery fabrics at nearly half the cost of the other fabric stores in town. I fell in love. Anyways, back to the story…

2012-04-14 11.03.25 These are the fabrics that I ended up using (minus the white see-through piece).

I chose my fabrics for the seats, and then hunted down some options for the curtains and the panels. Once decided, I went to work. I wasn’t absolutely sure I could do it… I had never reupholstered anything before, but I knew how to work a sewing machine and I had read many accounts of DIY-fanatics on the Samba doing it with good results. I figured if those burly men who had never touched a sewing machine before could do it, surely I—with my experience in arts and embroidering—could do it. I started with some easier projects to get my confidence up.

I pulled off the panels pulled off the nasty fabric and reused the panels wherever I could, but most of them where were warped and damaged. So, I bought some hardboard, traced out the panels and cut them out. Probably the hardest part of this projects was figuring out how I was going to make my limited amount of fabric work (I bought a textured vinyl that was heavily discounted because there were only two cut sections of it left—probably returned from someone else) with all the panels having the stripes in the same direction. I managed to do it—barely. There are some corners with barely any fabric to hold it on and the panels on the left that are mostly behind the cabinets only have the vinyl on what is showing and that is piece-meal at that, but it worked.

2012-04-14 17.16.37 Testing out a layout that might get all the lines vertical and still have enough fabric. Note: this method shown won’t work, you must have all the pieces facing in the same direction (in this case the viewable part must be seen).

Then, I worked on seats. I figured I would start on the rear bench seat and mattress first. Oh the learning curves! When I put the mattress together, I used one large piece of fabric for the whole thing. I basically put the mattress in it and folded the fabric over it and pulled it tight, marked it and then removed the mattress, made a few sews and added the zipper to two of the sides. I should have left the mattress in there while I pinned it up, though, as I ended up with the zipper on one side at a different height than the other side. But, since you can’t see the zipper or the sews in normal use, it didn’t matter much. Lesson learned. It was quite the interesting start as well, because after I finished the mattress, I realized that I had not factored the bottom half of the mattress into the amount of fabric needed for the brown microfiber. Oh well, nothing harmed, just had to make another trip to the store.

The rear bench seat sewed together pretty easily, but to make things more difficult, it was at this point that I wanted piping. So I made another trip to the store to try to find something durable enough in the green color (without stripes or pattern) to work as piping. Took a bit of work, but I finally found some outdoor material that would work. I had to sit for a while cutting strips, putting piping material in and sewing it shut, but the result was worth it. The look just wouldn’t have been as good, wouldn’t have popped without it. When creating the rear bench look, I went ahead and sewed the five strips (brown-pattern-brown-pattern-brown) together in a length that would cover both back and seat parts. That way they would be guaranteed to line up. Unfortunately, when I put the fabric onto the seat, I didn’t make sure that it lined up in the same direction it was cut, I think I rotated one of them 180° so that it didn’t quite line up. It is OK though, you hardly notice it.

The front seats were the tricky ones. However, I used the basic tenet of sewing using templates by carefully removing the old seat covers and removing their stitches to see how I needed to cut and shape my fabric into a cover. I marked all the seams with a marking pencil before I tore out the seams. My one mistake was that I didn’t mark places where the different pieces needed to match up with each other. Even without doing that, they still turned out pretty good, there is just a seam or two that is a bit out of place.

2012-06-16 15.32.11

Lastly, I worked on the curtains. These cute little guys were a lot more work than they appear. I made thermal curtains, so there are four layers to each one: the outer lining, a heat-reflective (in our case an emergency blanket—I don’t recommend using the ones I did as they tear too easily), insulation (batting), and the decorative lining. It was like each curtain was four curtains. And, this process was the most dangerous one. Most of the cutting, piecing, and sewing was done in our apartment. While it is spacious, there is really no place where I can work well with my sewing. So I would cut and piece and pin in our bedroom on the floor and then go to the dining room table to sew it together. With the curtains, I did a lot of ironing. It is probably not the smartest idea to iron on the ground in a limited space as you expose too many of your limbs to burning. I managed to burn my arm in a few small places before I did a real zinger on my leg.

2012-07-22 08.14.24 I still have the scar from this one. I apparently also didn’t know how to treat a really bad burn and did all the wrong things.

Unfortunately, with all the sewing I had been doing, especially through thick fabrics, I wore out my little ol’ sewing machine. It had been faithful and strong all through the process, but halfway through the curtains, I just couldn’t make any headway with it. Tangles and loose thread would prevent me from being able to sew. Desperate to finish in time to make it to Alaska, I called up my friend from Bible study, Haley. Generous person as she is, she allowed me to intrude on her home and wonderful sewing machine for a couple of days. I must tell you, after working on my basic Walmart special, hers was like a dream. It handled the fabric so easily, the stitching was perfect, it actually feed the fabric at a decent pace… I want one like that eventually. But I digress. Not only did magnanimous Haley allow me to use her machine, but she started helping me finish the curtains and giving me much-needed advice. With her help, we finished the curtains in time for our planned departure.

2012-07-17 15.15.12

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Besides the upholstery, we needed to do something about the floor. The original brown carpet was foul-smelling and worn. I just didn’t think it would work for us. So, we ripped it out (that was some work, I tell you). To replace it, I purchased some RubberCal flooring. Jonathan cut and installed it, seaming it together with Sika-Flex.

For the middle floor, we had planned on using the wood flooring that was in it when we bought it. But the underfloor accidently got thrown away. As such, the wood flexed too much. So, we put more hardboard down and laid pressure-adhesive tiles on it. (These didn’t stay down very well between the cold in Alaska and the heat in Baja, so we later used 3M’s spray-on adhesive to glue them down). The finished product is, in my opinion, beautiful and has proven to be rather durable.

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The two items that made all this work possible are 3M’s 90 spray adhesive and wonder sewing tape. The adhesive is supposed to withstand high temperatures, making it ideal in a vehicle setting. And the wonder tape saved my fingers from some nasty pin sticks as it held my fabrics together with more precision than I could get with a pin. It also made it easier to sew with the sewing machine since I didn’t have to sew over a pin or pull it out.

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