Inexpensive, Custom Patio Chair Cushions

Last year, I created a minor stir with my budget patio furniture makeover where I gave a fresh look to my tired patio furniture by spray painting it black and sewing black and white cushions from inexpensive vinyl tablecloth fabric and foam mattress padding.

We did not baby our patio cushions and left them out in all kinds of weather. They were rained on, even snowed on over the winter and well….let’s just say that inexpensive vinyl tablecloth fabric is not meant for that kind of abuse. After one year, there were rips and holes in the fabric and water had soaked through to the foam padding beneath degrading it.

Before I felt completely depressed about the loss of my cushions, I took note of this advice about patio furniture from Better Homes and Gardens.

“[C]onsider [inexpensive outdoor] fabrics semi-disposable. Leave ’em out in the rain and then let the sun dry them again. They’ll last just a year or two, but then you’ll be free to start with a fresh look all over again.

The other alternative is to invest in good, rugged, exterior-quality fabrics, found at most fabric shops. They resists fading and mildew, and will be around for years.”

–“Budget Landscaping,” Better Homes and Gardens

This year, it was time for a fresh look. While I intended to head to the fabric store again, being short on time, I instead found these fun tablecloth prints at my local Wal-Mart. All of the tablecloth sizes were the same price so I bought the biggest sizes I could find. It was the same type of vinyl fabric I used last year and better yet it was only about $1.60 a yard. I bought two coordinating prints, a polka-dot and a stripe.

Wal-Mart's cute vinyl tablecloth selection this year.

Last year’s cushions came out great but there was just one problem with them. I used standard square seat cushions for the chairs and they were just a bit too short. When you sat in the chair body parts would overhang the cushion. It wasn’t uncomfortable, it just could have been better. I also misjudged how many mismatched chairs I really had and didn’t realize that some chairs had a short rectangular back and others more of a long oval back. You can see my mistakes in the photos below.

This year, I wanted to correct the poor fit of the chair cushions by creating custom-fit patio cushions. It really was not hard. The first task was to create pattern templates for each cushion. To do this, I just laid down some newspaper on each chair, traced the shape I wanted and cut it out.

Newspaper template pattern for patio chair cushion.

I then cut the same shape out of the inexpensive mattress foam padding and added about 1 inch all the way around as I cut two identical pieces of my tablecloth fabric.

Fabric cut 1" wider than foam padding.

Next, just like last year, I had to make about one million (ok, 24 or so) ties to tie the cushions to the chairs. I used the striped fabric and cut strips 1” by 20” long. I pinned the wrong sides of the fabric together, sandwiching the ties in each corner where I needed a tie.

I started sewing on the shortest side of the cushion about 2” from the corner and sewed a seam on the sewing machine all the way around, stopping 2” past the final corner, reinforcing the seam with a second line of stitching. I realized that this instruction is confusing so I created the diagram below to illustrate.

I then turned the fabric right sides out, stuffed in the foam and hand-stitched the remaining opening closed.
Below is the final result! A bright new look for 2011.

My daughter also alerted me to the fact that the small rectangular cushions were the perfect size to tie onto some of our little side tables for extra bench seating. While these little tables can’t hold a lot of weight, they can hold my daughters who also like the fact that the side tables sit a little higher than the chairs. I sewed 2 additional cushions and now we have seating for 6 if we ever need it.

The nice thing about black and white chairs is that you can choose practically any cushion fabric pattern you want and it will match perfectly!  There are so many options for vinyl tablecloths that it really opens huge creative possibilities.  At the end of summer, watch for a clearance sale on tablecloths and pick up one to sew into cushions during the doldrums of winter for next season.  Or, you may get really lucky and find a deal right now for this summer.  The tablecloths I picked are currently on half-price clearance!


Since I only sewed cushions for one table and chair set, it did not take much time and cost about $20 in materials for 10 cushions. Another benefit to this year’s approach is that I have fewer cushions to store and need less space to store them when not in use. Right now they fit in the bottom of a small storage bench. This makes it easy to take the cushions off when we are finished using them and might extend the life of the cushions somewhat.

You may be wondering what about cushions for the larger strap chairs. For those, I am taking a different approach this year. To find out what, you’ll have to read Thursday’s post!

What do you think of this year’s patio cushion look? Please share in the comments.