New Upholstery for a Vintage Airstream (Pt. 3 – Choosing Materials)

I had already purchased some of the materials I needed for the Airstream’s seat cushions. I’d also asked my vendor to set aside some ivory-colored curtain material I liked, although I was later disappointed to learn that there wasn’t enough of it to do the job. I’d taken a calculated risk buying materials before checking with the upholsterer; if he needed more than I’d bought, I’d have to purchase something else. That’s the trade-off in buying fabric remnants – you can sometimes get great deals on high-quality material, but because you’re getting the very last quantities, there may be less of a chance you’ll have enough of it to suit your purpose.

I figured I had enough of the cushion material on hand if I bought something else for backing. Airstream, in their original design, had used a white and gold striped material on the reverse of several of the cushions, which I believe was inexpensive and less durable. Looking at these old cushions, I noticed that the backing rested against walls that were prone to cause water damage if windows or exterior seams were not maintained, so I decided to go in another direction. My upholsterer offered a sturdy, reasonably-priced alternative – tweed, made from something called ‘polyolefin.’

Tweed backing material made from 100% polyolefin, held against cushion fabric for a color match
Tweed backing material (100% polyolefin), held against cushion fabric to assess the color match

Tweed sounded very natural, but polyolefin sounded synthetic, so I did some homework online. Turns out, the Material Safety Data Sheets for this product showed that it is an eco-friendly material, and it gets very good reviews on the green building websites I found. A stroke of luck!

Next, I needed to come up with the right amount of curtain fabric. Unfortunately, I’d found myself veering away from the overt ‘green fabric’ suppliers I found, either because they were expensive & shipped fabric from overseas (which has an effect on the environment that I’d have to weigh against their otherwise eco-friendly methods), or the fabric did not seem to have the aesthetic or tactile qualities I was looking for (too plain, too rough), or the business methods were too informal for my taste (one company would not provide tracking numbers when shipping their products, claiming that it would adversely affect their quality of life). That’s not to say that I’m averse to working with these products or companies in the future, but in the short term I had to balance sustainability decisions against availability, budget & schedule.

Salesman measuring fabric. (Fletcher, NC)

Instead, I visited the Foam & Fabrics Outlet in nearby Fletcher, NC to see if they might have more of the curtain fabric I’d already found… they didn’t. However, the staff kindly offered to send samples to two of their distributors to try and find a similar product. In the meantime, I decided to look at the huge selection of fabrics they had in stock to see if I could come up with alternatives.

There were many subtleties to consider, but basically the process came down to comparing the style, color, weight, cost, and quantity available with what I already had. When I found something I liked, I would take it to the salesperson, have the lengths measured, and put it on hold until I could make a final decision. There was usually no information about the brand or manufacturing methods, so I have to admit not knowing how eco-friendly some of my choices are, but I’m otherwise happy with the results:

Materials 2.0 – newer selections are on the left.
Materials 2.0 – newer selections are on the left.

Up next: We’ll proceed with fabricating curtains & sourcing sustainable ‘stuffing’ for the cushions, and in my next post on this topic I’ll share the details. But in the meantime, I’ve got an exciting update that will ultimately help me determine my budget & schedule for this project!

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  1. What a project you’ve taken on.
    Love the colors and textures of the fabrics. Just a thought: We have open weave cushions and jean belt loops or anything hooked onto a pocket can catch and pull the weave – annoying!

    1. Thanks for the warning, Edie! That could be a big problem in close quarters. I’ve been noticing the small fabric sample I have is gradually unraveling, but I assumed that wouldn’t be a problem on a cushion that’s sewn together properly. I’ll think about this.

      UPDATE: I visited the upholsterer this morning to take a closer look at the fabric & get his opinion. We felt that the weave on the fabric was fairly tight, and that piping we’re installing around the edges of the cushions will help keep it in place. That said, I’m going to be keeping a close watch if any of my visitors have keys hanging off of the back of their belts or anything like that before they sit down! Thanks again 🙂

    1. Thank you, Alice!

      Finding a balance that’s both modern and in the spirit of the existing interior has been fun, and sometimes a little tricky! Having the ruggedness and comfort you’d want living on the road for long periods is important. I’m grateful for all of the design feedback I’ve gotten from friends & family, as well as some of the vendors I’m working with, that helped me confirm what would work or let me know when another choice needed to be made.

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