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Contrasting the color of thread and welt allows you to add different design elements to your finished products.
At Canvas Designers Inc., we use everything from ¼-inch foam up to ¾-inch foam thicknesses on marine vinyl upholstery fabric. Most automotive quilting products use ¼-inch foam, but the increased thickness of the foam can change the whole look of a design’s depth. We at canvasdesigners personally use ½-inch as our standard thickness and go down to 3/8-inch or ¼-inch only when we have a very small pattern and are looking to have a flatter look. All four foams we use have tricot backing already applied to them.
An important element of your quilted vinyl design can be the thread portion of the job. This type of quilt stitching exposes the thread at the panel's surface. The size and color of the thread can contribute to the final look of your finished product. Using complementary or contrasting thread to the fabric's color allows you to achieve different design effects in your finished quilted marine vinyl products.
As we have seen in the automotive industry, thread size can even play a part in the finished look. Everyone has seen sports cars with seats topstitched in bright fluorescent-colored large-diameter threads. Your equipment limitations may or may not let you vary the thread size, but remember that automotive trends typically show up in the marine industry, so be prepared for this element when considering future equipment needs.
Canvas Designers has invested in equipment over time to align with the demands of the marine upholstery industry market regarding quilting stitching. We quickly realized that the throat limitation on our sewing machine made it very difficult to make any larger-sized patterns, so we invested in a 30-inch long-arm sewing machine to get more face fabric under the machine's throat. This helped tremendously for hand quilting and is still used extensively by our sewing staff for some of the basic channel and diamond requirements that are stitched.
However, this method is limited and cannot be used in many intricate patterns we sew today, like diamond pleated marine vinyl. The more intricate patterns take extensive sewing talents and a lot of time to complete tasks using standard machines. Since we were already making custom comforters and bedspreads in our shop, we had a Gammill Statler® stitcher in our facility. Our Gammill was both a manual hand-guided machine and a computer-driven CNC machine. While it is typically used with lightweight thread to quilt bedding, we got it to sew the larger threads required for quilt stitching and do a decent job on the basic diamond patterns without much effort.
As demand for more intricate patterns and designs continued, we upgraded to our ZSK CNC embroidery machine. This is one of the few equipment options on the market that allows us to use both a heavy thread for the quilt stitching and a small thread for the embedded embroidery capability we were looking to add. Our machine is a 12-thread machine with six large threads and six embroidery threads that can be used simultaneously to create a design. This machine allows us to quilt stitch any pattern drawn or imagined, but unlike most other equipment, it also allows us to embed embroidery in our quilted pattern simultaneously.
The embroidery machines in this market segment have a fixed head and a large hoop that moves the fabric in the pattern we are trying to achieve. Our machine has the largest sewing area available in the U.S. We can continuously sew a panel area of 52 by 54 inches with our ZSK and embed embroidery anywhere within this area. This capability gives us an infinite number of design elements that allow us to build unique, high-end upholstery products that many competitors cannot produce. It has also opened an opportunity to produce these panels for other shops and has allowed us to expand our workload to keep the machine busy doing our retail and wholesale marine quilting work.
Marine upholstery designs change just like the fashion industry, but quilt stitching is the newest trend and will be here for a while, so jump on board and add creativity to your next project. Whether you’re hand-guiding, outsourcing, or looking for your next equipment investment, this design element allows you to add tremendous value to your finished products.
Mike Erickson is CEO of Canvas Designers Inc., a large South Florida custom canvas and upholstery shop. John Erickson is the next generation in the family and head of the technology department. He oversees the company's CNC, CAD, cutting, and equipment development.