DIY sailboat cockpit cushions

Nikki Goes DIY In The Cockpit – Painting Fabric Cushions

I think we’re all drawn to pretty things even if we don’t agree on what pretty is.  For me, not much can compare to the beauty of the rugged coasts along the Redwood Forest or gazing down an icy waterfall from the top of a glacier in Alaska.

One environment brings out the romantic in me and moves me to the point of tears, while the other has me so invigorated I can’t sit still.  It’s undeniable that my surroundings have a huge influence on my emotions and state of mind.  So naturally, when it comes to my personal surroundings, I want something that makes me happy, inspired, and invigorated.

It didn’t take long to realize that the cockpit of our sailboat is our favorite place to hang out.  The breeze flows through, frosty beverages are within arm’s reach and there’s lots of room to stretch our legs out while enjoying the views.

We’re going to spend a lot of time in this space both while we’re kicking back and underway.  Which is why it’s at the top of my makeover list.  The seat cushions and pillows are of great quality, and still in good condition, but the style is not mine at all.  The colors are dark and the patterns are way too traditional for our taste.

We’re drawn to spaces that are bright, airy and have an ever so slightly quirky edge. There are a lot of ways I could have gone about transforming this space but most of them cost a pretty penny.  After way too many hours researching ideas on the internet and watching YouTube videos…I finally came up with a game plan.

I am going to paint my cockpit cushions! 

Yes, paint. Not purchase new cushions, not buy fabric and reupholster, but pick up a bucket of paint and see what happens.

So, grab an ice-cold beverage and your sunglasses for this video because it’s hot, muggy and the sun is shining here in South Florida.

Kind of nifty don’t you think!?!  It might be my all-time favorite recycling and DIY project ever.  Reupholstering or having new cushions made would have cost far more money and taken way more time…plus, it’s something we’re not ready to deal with at the moment.

  • Total Time Invested – 20 hours (including trips to the store for supplies)
  • Cost – Less than $100
    • 2 quarts (I used 1.5) of chalk paint: $66
    • 1 quart of polycrylic (I should have gotten a smaller size): $18
    • Painters sponge & drop cloth: $5

Before and After


Overall I am thrilled with my new space.  I like the clean look of everything and my new dapper furry friends make me smile.  It’s like having stuffed animals again and I’ve started giving them all names.  If I start talking to them or setting them up a spot for tea…well…I’ll at least make sure to get it on camera for you before Jason drops me off at the loony bin.

Below you’ll find everything I used, a few tips from my experience and where I found the pillows.  If you have any questions, want to say how crazy you think I am or perhaps a DIY story of your own, please share in the comment box below.  I love love love (yep that’s 3 loves) hearing from you!

A Few Fabric Painting Tips

  • Different fabrics will absorb more or less paint and will absorb them differently.  I have seen velvet fabrics soak up the paint fast and not come out as even, but still, look great.  I have also seen some printed fabrics that still show the print through and not look so hot.  I highly suggest test patching.
  • Water is your friend and it is easier to start out by using too much and backing off if needed.  I used 3 parts paint to one part water and made sure my sponge was nice and moist at all times.
  • Work it in, but don’t overwork it.  I was working far harder at the beginning than I needed too and creating extra wear on the fabric.  I found that as long as I kept my sponge really moist, the paint went on and soaked in no problem.  My arms were much happier too. 🙂

Fabric Painting Supplies

Other Extras From The Video

Hello there! I honestly don’t know what to say, so I am going to tell you a bunch of random facts instead. I'm a fish eating vegetarian who hates spiders and loves snakes. I almost never took vacations growing up. I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking (still do). I misspell about every other word I write and still struggle with grammar. I love splurging on a good high tea (which is really hard to find these days). And whatever you do, don’t tell me I can’t do something, because then I'll HAVE to do it!

Comments (77)

  • Teresa

    Cushions look awesome. You inspired me to do the same. I painted 5 coats of chalk paint with excellent coverage. Not to seal them. I purchased the polycrylic but have some questions.
    How many coats of polycrylic did you apply? After using polycrylic, was the fabric still flexible? Does the polycrylic crack? Would appreciate your help with these questions.

  • Shelley Morton

    Toying with the idea of doing the same thing to my cockpit. Are you still happy with it? Can you wear white wet shorts while sitting on them?

  • Mick

    Your videos are so addictive, and the information you provide on your web site is top notch. Better than the telly. Well done and Thank you. What will be your next adventure?

  • Niki Delehant

    Hi Nikki – this is Niki. 🙂 My husband Don and I have been watching your videos since getting our 27′ Catalina in April. We, too, are docked in FL (boat is docked in Bradenton) and will be taking sailing courses. We wanted an older, inexpensive sailboat to learn on. Our goal is to move out of our 2500 sq ft home in Tampa and live on a Catamaran (albeit much smaller and cheaper than yours) in the next couple of years. I prefer the width and shallow draft to that of a monohull. We love watching your videos as you give a true depiction of what it’s like to be liveaboards. Would love to see more videos on just day-to-day living on the boat and what you took for granted living on land vs. sea. I find moving aboard that I will miss my bathtub. I’m also an avid cooker/baker and feel like I’m going to need my ‘gadgets.’ How has refrigeration, cooking, storage been on the boat? While my husband and I adore one another, we do need space from time-to-time. How do you and Jason handle that? And this may be a weird question, but would you guys ever consider day sails with your blogging friends and fans?

  • Slim_Chestnut

    The paint will increase the possibility of mold and mildew and slows the ingress and egress of water, shortening the life of the very expensive cushions! Ha ha! Don’t say no to Nikki! Some things leave left alone! How about just painting one side (except on the non symmetrical cushions) and add some new non symmetrical cushions. There is paint that melt/welds to nylon and plastic and would be best to use. Done well it is soft and pliable as the nylon.One brand is called Fusion! You may be surprised that “re-making” the world of sailing is not quite so easy or safe as changing things in RV’ng. In sailing safety trumps all. You guys are too precious to each other to goof it up. Very domestic of Nikki. A true nest builder!

  • Neal Davis

    Off-subject question/request concerning your opinion of Motor Home Specialist RV. We are contemplating buying a 2016 American Coach Revolution from them. Please share your opinion of them here or directly to me at my email address. Have read several negative reviews of them on Yelp, but think I recall you speaking well of them in a video a couple of years ago. Thank you!

  • April

    I love all of your posts and videos! I am more of a passive reader, but I still feel like I know you guy! Haha. Anyway, I stumbled on this article of this family and it made me think of y’all! (the only big thing you have in common with them is the boat life, but still) 🙂

  • My wife and I are enjoying your sailing/sailboat videos. Might we take you way back for a quick question. We wanted to know if you could remember how many solar panels could be placed on the roof of the Monaco Vesta 32PBS. You had three 160 watt panels. Could there have been 4, 5, or even 6 of these panels panels? Our Sincere Thanks!!! Safe travels!

  • Love it Nikki! My mom started painting upholstery (furniture, floors, walls…) years ago with latex paint and has all 5 of her kids doing it now . She’ll firm 90 this Dec and just”redid” her porch. As she says, there is nothing cheaper or easier! Keep it up.

  • Patricksworkshop

    wow if you didn’t say you u painted the cushions I don’t think I would have ever known as you started to paint the DIYer in me was like oh no but as you progressed I was impressed on the look and after the sealer yeah I can see that working and lasting great work Nikki thanks for the video and awesome channel
    patricksworkshop on youtube

  • Kristi

    wow ~ very nice ! ! a peaceful cool color. i love the hunt of an idea made real, this was so fun to watch ! and congradulations on finishing it up.. i tend to lose steam and string things out. looks good !

  • We watched your video and I have to say you have some perseverance!! But it turned out great! Keep us posted on how it holds up?!

  • Denny

    I’m a 67 year old man, happily married man for 40 years, so please don’t take this the wrong way. In my opinion, the cockpit is looking great, but by far, the prettiest thing there is you. All the best to you both. As my mom used to say, “Go, explore, have glee in your heart and live to the max while you’re young!”

  • Bob Lantinga

    So good to see you guys with your new boat. Such a good looking boat and couple. Your so blessed. Safe passage. Good to see the sun and sun set. Wet here in Prince George BC

  • c huston

    Awesome – I am going to look for chalk paint in red for my outide cushions chairs – it drives me a little wild having to replace it all due to UV damage, what is really needed is a tinted poly-acrylic just to address uv damage if you want to up current colour without having to darken each time. Oddly enough it is a powder used to tint… who knew?

  • Tom

    The cushion makeover looks great. It is funny to see you sitting on the madeover cushions in a dress with almost the exact print as the original cushion fabric. What’s up with that?

  • Gen Smiley

    I really enjoyed this episode as I do all your episodes! (Are they called episodes for vlogs?) The DIY cushions look sooo much better than the original – FO SHO!!!

    P.S. I’m always so delighted when you release a new video. No matter how dark the day might be, watching your videos takes me to another world where there’s light, hope, happiness and lots of fun learning lots of cool things!

    P.P.S. Toronto,Ontario has lots of places that serve High Tea as does Victoria, B.C. So come on over! Canada loves you! 🙂

  • Kim

    LOVE the end result!! So fresh, new, and exciting. Mr. B and I just moved into our RV full time on the west coast of FL and I am going to be redoing all of the window treatments first (your enthusiasm has inspired me)…I hate the old fashioned colors that they have and the fabrics are not my style. Like with you… just not in our budget to be hiring someone to do all the work. Love all your videos and looking forward to your new adventures!!

  • Heather Scott

    George(the cat) and I loved what you did with the cushions, very innovative! The color is so much more restful and tranquil somehow… Love the animal cushions, so cute! George lies across my tummy while I am on the computer so that is why you get the comments from both us…personally I think he just likes the heat from the computer!

  • Gregory Brock

    Good to see a very practical how-to video on fabrics.

    I’ve been following you guys for years. Glad to see you finally made the switch to sailing.

    We did so with a 46′ Horstman Tristar trimaran. Hardly miss RVing.

  • Pam and Jim

    Great job on the cushions. But when you said the originals were too traditional for you, a thoroughly modern gal, did you realize that your blue polka-dotted dress matched those old cushions??!!? Haha. Thanks for always sharing and entertaining us!

  • Sandra & the 2 Spaniels

    When I see the original colors, they look very country-and that isn’t Nikki & Jason! I love your money saving ideas, and the results are just brilliant. I often wondered about painted fabric: glad to hear it is still soft, and doesn’t crack or peel. ? It now looks designer inspired and those back cushions are just spiffy. (Thanks for including the website so I can sign up too.) The Cat is now starting look less new-bought-boat and more N&J’s Designer Cruiser. Love the videos!!

  • Bri

    I love it! Don’t you love successful DIY projects?! When we bought our boat, all the cushions were MIA. I ended up sewing all new. A bunch of cash and around 80 hours later we’re super happy with the end result but it wasn’t easy! I shudder to imagine how much it would have cost to get someone else to make the cushions for me. Congrats on finding a cheaper solution!

  • Emily Attard

    Those pillows are the coolest I’ve ever seen! Love seeing DIY projects turn out with successful results!

  • Mary

    You are so resourceful! They turned out great and they are very comfortable! You would think something painted would be stiff and stick to your legs with the hot, humid weather in Florida. They didn’t!!!

  • Denise F.

    So nice to see the before and after pics, and I love the clean look the new color exudes! I would never have thought about painting fabric! Maybe you could use the rest of the paint to stencil your favorite sayings onto a few more pillows!

  • Lucille Hjort

    Hi Nikki, I think your handiwork is awesome. You are truly an artist and artistic person. I could never do
    anything like that. It looks good and cute and the pillows are conversation pieces as well. I was thinking about you two yesterday and was hoping to hear what you have been up to. You are an amazing couple and
    I love to follow and share in your adventures.

  • Tom BonDurant

    The DIY project looks great…;-}. You guys are always about ways to save money…..well, maybe with the exception of the price tag on that beautiful Cat, but, hey, what’s a few extra bucks when you are talking about your ‘bed and breakfast’ for the next few years? I really thought I would lose interest in your adventures when you swapped the RV for a floating home, but I’m hooked. I’ve been a ‘full timer’ for about 15 years and love my diesel pusher. Would love to pop a top with you guys and share some travel tips. Maybe we will ‘tie up’ at the same port one day. Until then, be safe, be happy, do what you love and love what your doing.

  • Cynara

    THANK U! I was thinking of painting our love seat in our fifth wheel. This video will help if I do it. Cushions look amazing!

  • illya

    You have got to be kidding me, 6 coats? You have got some gumption that’s for sure. My Grama used to tell me i can do anything if i bring enough gumption with me, We must have had the same Grama because that would be enough to make me call the upholsterer. I’m amazed at your spirit and fearless attitude of hard work.
    You guys are such great examples of how people should act and live. Never cease to amaze me.
    Thanks, illya

  • Nancy Fernandez

    Awesome job Nikki. My first thought was it going to be waterproof and you have plenty of that. Looks fantastic! The colors brightened it up and the animal pillows are so cute. You have a great assistant 🙂 and I like the shaved face much better. Love, Love, Love the videos. Oh and glad to hear your hand is healing.

  • Shelly Sizemore

    Terrific project, it turned out so nice! And I love those pillows 🙂

  • Angie

    The makeover is excellent. Where is the blue polka dotted dress from. I love it!

  • Kelley Taylor

    Looks really good…thanks for sharing, I would have never thought about painting fabric. What a great idea! BTW we were on Biscayne Bay for the 4th and saw the beautiful fireworks too!

  • Rhonda Calhoon

    Convinced! I was just contemplating fabric paint to change the color of a cornice board and thought that it might look “painted” only to look cheap. BUT, after seeing your video I am going to give it a try. Sure would save money :)! Thank you so much for your posts. I just love you two and your adventurous spirits!


    That is a nice job on those cushions, Nikki! You show the perseverance to stick with the labor necessary to finish it; most people would grow weary very soon. I’m a bit surprised that you didn’t use latex or vinyl gloves to keep the paint from getting on your hands, fingernails and so forth! Whatever the case, you made the cushions look brighter and prettier, and hopefully they will hold up to constant sunlight and moisture.

  • Thom n Nancy

    Looks great Nikki.. We love you guys!

  • I remember when I bought an add a room for a $1000 and it didn’t fit so I had to cut it up and add a triangle on both ends it was very scary but it worked great so I know how you must have felt attempting your project. So glad it turned out

  • That was very brave of you to attempt that good job I love it xx

  • Beautifully done! You are well and truly talented.

  • Jenny

    Love the dress! Can you put a link??? The cushions are amazing! Love the idea of being able to paint over stains! Glad your hand is better. I can’t believe you didn’t cry!

    Did you sell your dinghy???

    • Jenny

      PS…. I was thinking, what if you two do “cooking with Nikki & Jason”. Your food and drinks always look so yummy. I would love to see some cooking on the boat!

  • Joy Gross

    Great job Nikki… I love how you will try anything. They turn out great and I love your pillows.. please don’t have tea with them. ☺ How is your hand doing.. I felt your pain just looking at it .. Ok ok maybe I didn’t feel it like you did but I felt it lol.

  • Very nice! I am a DIY-er but my things often don’t turn out as I planned…althousgh they can be…interesting. Plus, I always manage to mess up my clothing. Watching you paint and looking so clean and pretty, well, I admit to being a touch jealous, lol.
    The cushions look great, the pillows are awesome, and it’s nice to see your hand looking better.
    Have fun, guys!

  • Larry Odom

    Your dress looks adorable on you! All the best to you and Jason. I’m so grateful your hand is on the mend.

  • You continue to amaze, Nikki! How you find time to paint cushions while converting the fabric of other cushions into adorable dresses is beyond us. 😉 Love ya! – P&J

  • Dennis

    I have been looking into the various sailing schools available.. Let’s see.. you have ASA and US Sailing in the states (which I would imagine you are doing one of those first).. but I have to say, I think if I was going to get into passage making, I’d probably want to take the RYA courses too.. So much to learn.. but it sounds like terrifying fun, with a huge “I did it” reward at the end.

  • Lisa Bee

    I love your fridge. how did you choose that one? They are all so pricey, aren’t they? Does it run on solar?

  • Lisa Bee

    I absolutely love it! So bright and cheery! I’m glad the acrylic coat is not too crunchy to sit on!

  • Steve

    You may have heard this already Nikki but I think you have a split personality! I say this because your dress has the same color and pattern basically has your original cockpit cushions! I’m confused

  • Great job! But I have to ask – did you ruin that lovely blouse with paint splatters? That would certainly be my luck. I’m a mighty sloppy painter!

  • Pam

    Lovely afterwards. Much sleeker looking. Good for you. And yes I adore the animal pillows. But then I love whimsy. Also enjoy you are making this your own now. What a treat to be able to follow you.

  • L. Ford

    Sorry… I cannot help myself either … but… maybe a sub conscious issue with the cushions was the fact that they actually matched the dress you wanted to wear… and then the polka dots went into overload???

    Seriously… I do see the difference but do not think I could have devoted 20 hours to the change… but get it…

    Happy sailing 🙂

  • ed

    Nikki, great vlog on painting the cushions, the cushions look fabulous!!! Since you switched to sail I found a site called chase the story sailing, tasha and ryan are a young couple couple sailing around the world on their cat, have you seen it?

  • John S.

    “I love love love (yep that’s 3 loves) hearing from you!”

    Well I love your enthusiasm and for including us when you do these every-day projects.

    But you have to admit that everything is more fun when you have an assistant that can produce iced Americanos on demand. (You do know how lucky you are don’t you?) 🙂

  • MacKenzie

    Wow that looks great!! I have a friend that’s a big DIY-er, and she uses paint for so many things– it always turns out fantastic! She spray painted some drab-looking outdoor furniture their neighbors were throwing out, and their outdoor patio is now colorful and the perfect summer hangout!

    I would never have thought of paint on fabric, but that looks great! Do you think one could use spray paint? I haven’t looked into it, but I imagine it might not absorb as well. Just a thought since spray paint is so easy. Also, the dapper animal pillows are hilarious and perfect, I can’t even handle it! 🙂

    Nice job!!

    • Kris

      If I was going to do it considering the wet environment I’d look into acrylics with fabric medium added, which makes it sink into the fabric and not go weird and crunchy. I don’t think I’ve seen it in proper spray paint form but possibly you could use a paint sprayer like you can get for painting walls?

  • Jason Newman

    Nice job! It really does look great, and there is nothing like the satisfaction that comes from finding a great solution that saves you a ton of money. I couldn’t help but notice that the blue dress Nikki wore in the last clip is the exact same pattern as the cushions she just painted over! Just thought it was a funny juxtaposition. Thanks for the great tips! Can’t wait until we can see you two out on your first solo trip; stay safe!

  • Tim

    Looks great. And you got a great work out. How’s the rope burn? All better?

  • Jon

    Looks Great……That was quite the risk Glad it turned out great and the Min Wax prob going be the Icing on the cake !! Have you guys Finished sailing School ? I see you guys are still on the Hook Do you run the A/C ? I know its been crazy hot here in the Keys and sometime on the inland water ways not much Breeze passes thru.

    • Jon

      PS How is Your Hand……Looked like it was all Healed

  • Michelle

    Great project Nikki! Thanks for showing how to do it and hey not a bad way to spend a few hours working!! Followed you in the RV series and not sure how we got to a boat, will have to go back and look. Clearly I’ve missed something! Congrats! It is a little ironic that you didn’t like the cushions but your dress was almost the same fabric! ? Thanks again and be safe !


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