I do more than a reasonable amount of research before working on a project. I’ve spent weeks (possibly months) reading through detailed build threads on the Sprinter-Source forum, other blogs, reference books, facebook, you name it. I really appreciate all the people who have shared their journey with the world so we can learn and make better choices. I’ve also found it frustrating that the information is all over the place and I have a terrible time using the search function on the forum.
I also spend way too much time trying to find the best value (and yet I’m a terrible negotiator and spent way too much on the van itself!). I keep bookmarking things, then needing to go back through and eliminate those that aren’t applicable. For example, when shopping for the sink, I went through every bar sink out there, and many kitchen sinks as well, bookmarking them as I found them, then eliminating until I found “the one”. I researched sink types (quartz vs stainless vs ???) to determine the best possible sink for the van.
My hope with this blog is that you will be able to just read through and find the right balance of quality vs cost vs functionality. Nothing I’ve chosen is the cheapest. I’m going for things that will last and work exceptionally well. AND, nothing I’ve chosen is the most expensive (although the fridge is close – but dang, it works SO well and I have no regrets).
My builders, Keith of MOD Eugene and Trevor of Luxury RV are both focused on creating a van that will last by using quality parts and best practices. I’ve tried to document their work here, although there is a lot of what they do that I don’t see. If you have any questions about how anything has been put together, just comment and I’ll get an answer for you. They are so amazing and I feel completely supported in this crazy idea we all have of building out a Sprinter!
Of course, what I’ve chosen is based on my goals (environmentally friendly, non-toxic, comfortable, durable). I’ll be living full-time in my van and I’ve learned over the last year that I need a living space that is aesthetically pleasing and that I can be proud of (yes, I’m vain that way). Your personal goals will determine the right choices for you.
I haven’t even ordered the van yet and I have my first hiccough!
I got an email from my chosen upfitter this morning and he’s encountered some health problems and won’t be doing any vans this year!
It’s a bummer because he really got what I was going for and was willing to work with non-toxic materials and not make a big deal of it. He even offered to research glues!
I have a couple of other ideas for who to have upfit our van, but I don’t know that their aesthetic and sensitivity to green build matches mine like Sam’s does. I know it will be wonderful, whoever builds it, but I’m definitely missing Sam and wish him a speedy recovery.
Yesterday I ordered my van!!!
Finally, after months of agonizing over every last detail, reading the Sprinter Source Forum extensively, following some detailed builds over on Expedition Portal, poring over the Dealer Order Guide, and, at the last minute, finding the most helpful document – the Sprinter Equipment Handbook that gives detailed info about every single option, I actually placed an order.
Since it will be my home, and it’s such a big purchase, the pressure to get it right weighed heavily on me, and I ended up delaying the order by three months. But I feel really good about the configuration:
There is probably some overkill here – like, do I REALLY need a backup camera (which is in C02) AND Parktronic, but I reasoned that the bumper repair, if I hit something, would be more than the cost of these options, and my home would be in the shop, so I went for it.
I ordered with Troy at McCoy Freightliner in Portland. He was by far the most responsive salesman I worked with. I’m a terrible negotiator and paid full price. Don’t do that! The best advice I read on this is to figure out what you want and then send the info to a number of dealers and work them down. I was going to do that, but I wasn’t patient and persistent enough to get them to get back to me.
There are so many decisions to be made, it’s almost paralyzing. I’ve put my choices in bold type and written out why as I’ve made the decisions. That doesn’t mean that choice will be right for you, but at least you will, hopefully, have more info than you did before reading.
I’ve put my final decisions on the home page, but if you want to see all the things I considered before deciding, you’ll find that here.
- To have a traveling home that is as non-toxic and environmentally/human-friendly as possible.
- To have everything I need to camp remotely for up to 7 days
- To be able to prepare real food wherever I am
- To have as comfortable, non-toxic bed as I possibly can
- To be able to park just about anywhere – specifically any of the little parks along the Oregon Coast.
THE BASIC VAN:
What goes into this decision is, can I put the bed across the back of the van, or do I need the full length of the bed? I had an evening of thinking that I could get away with a shorter bed, but the whole point of the Galavan is to have a comfortable bed and a way to make real food while exploring.
I chose the 170″ primarily to have the bed be a full Queen size. In making this choice, I give up ease in parking but I can still mostly fit in a normal sized parking space. This may be my “practice van” – I may end up building this one out then going with a shorter van – we’ll see…
- Water storage
- How much water do I need for a week? I ended up with a 40 Gallon tank which might be too big, but that’s okay.
- Plastic vs
Stainless Steelmore because this is what my systems guy was familiar with
- I did get a Big Berkey for drinking water and it is awesome! Not sure where it will go, but it’s definitely going!
- Water heating
- Electric – my systems guy ended up doing the research on this one. It works well.
- 12v – don’t have to level.
Dometic, Engel, Isotherm, Nova Kool
top entry, or front door
- Size – how big is big enough for a week? Hoping 4.6cf is big enough.
- Do I need a freezer and if so, how big? Yes because blueberries!
- Isotherm 130 = 4.6cf refrigerator/freezer – decided on this one for many reason (after agonizing over this decision!). It has a compact footprint, looks amazing, super efficient – 430w/day, and eliminates the need for a separate freezer which saves about $440 and 160w/day. After using it for my first trip I’m SO impressed. The blueberries stayed frozen solid and the eggs just below the freezer were cold but not too cold. If you can afford it, I highly recommend this fridge.
This decision comes down to knowing everything I am going to want to carry with me! Yikes! The plan has developed and I have two banks of 4 drawers and closet under the bed. I also have a pull-out tray in the back under the bed that will be 4′ x 2′ and has two boxes with lids that will serve as stools – with the tray serving as a table off the back. I love this cool, multi-purpose plan! There will also be a two-drawer box/bench that will have a file drawer on the bottom and a cubby above that is large enough for my oil case (I teach essential oil classes).
- Upper cabinets or not? I really like the upper cabinets that Dave Orton put in. I’ve decided on upper cabinets from the drivers’ seat back until the last “window” (which isn’t a window at all, but is the spot for one and from the door to the same spot on the passenger side. This will allow blank wall for sitting up in bed leaning against the wall to read.
- Cabinet materials –
bamboo, wood, stainless steel, Kirei, aluminum, ApplePly
- Countertops –
stainless steel, quartz,Paperstone (in Leather)
- Flooring – Marmoleum (in Red Copper),
- Drawer and cabinet pulls. I decided on the Southco Stainless Pulls and I’m so glad I did. They feel great – all metal. Pretty sure they’ll last!
- Wall fabric – leaning toward 10oz. Hemp Canvas. After the first trip, I’m thinking I’ll skip the wall fabric. The wood walls were really nice.
- To have a toilet or not? I considered a bucket and a snap on lid (I bought this for the maiden voyage but didn’t end up using it), the Cleanwaste for its size and storability (I bought this from REI and had to return it because I needed man-hands to close the legs), composting toilets because they are so cool, and the Dry Flush. I felt that the last two were just too complicated for my needs, and the Dry Flush is just too wasteful. Of course, once I’m on the road, I may feel differently. At this point I’m having my builder build a box that houses an oval mop bucket from Home Depot with a standard toilet seat over it. I’ll use the Poo Powder and bags to deal with the waste. I also have a P-Style (where have you been all my life???) and wow! What liberation!
- Internal or external shower? I’m choosing to go with an external shower off the back and a gym membership. Now to figure out what gym! Please comment if you have a great option for that!
- Camper heat – Espar diesel heater,
electric ceramic heater, radiant floor heat. I got the Espar D2 and it is great! It’s installed under the passenger seat and is pretty quiet and really heats up the place.
- A/C vs just a powered fan – I was going to go with just a powered fan. I was deciding between the Fantastic Fan and the
Maxxair. I went with the Fantastic Fan – they seemed about the same and that was what the installer had/was familiar with (even though they did a lousy job and it leaked! I don’t recommend RC Display Vans in Portland. Luckily, Van Specialties fixed it so no more water all over the floor!) I do wish I’d stuck with the Maxxair that I was leaning toward. My builder has now installed a cover over the Fantastic Fan so we’re all good, but still… hindsight!
- I ended up putting in an A/C as well. The dark color of the van just attracts too much heat. I got the Coleman Mach 8 Cub – it is really efficient for an air conditioner and is only 8.25″ high. We’ll see how much I use it – I’m thinking it won’t get used much, and if that’s the case, I might pull it out and replace it with a skylight… or a second fan.
- Windows – which ones, how many? I went with one in the door and one opposite behind the driver. They are the CR Laurence OEM look tip outs from Van Specialties in Tualatin. It’s really the only thing I’m glad I had Van Specialties do, and even then, I had to take it back up because the one on the drivers’ side leaked.
- Skylights – one or two, opening or fixed? This ended up getting scrapped. The addition of the A/C took up the available roof space.
- Window curtains/blinds. I’ve made insulated window coverings with a dark purple on the outside and a cool raw silk from 1950s Korea on the inside.
- Insulation – this seems to be the most controversial topic in Sprinter conversions! I didn’t even consider fiberglass (ick), but I did look at Polysio boards, denim, and some other things. I thought it was down to those two options until I read about Thinsulate. I don’t know if it’s the “best” option, but at some point you just have to go with it! Decided on Minicell for floor insulation.
- Solar panels – how many – I have two totalling 400 watts.
- Batteries – what kind, how many – I have two … need to get that info!
- How much juice do I need. A lot, it turns out! My first trip out and I didn’t have enough battery power to run the VitaMix. Getting a larger battery bank.
- Will I be able to generate everything I need/want
- Do I tap into the diesel tank for heat/water – looking at the Espar D5. No – we decided that was too complicated and ended up going electric for hot water.
Do we add propaneDecided against propane. Would rather have solar/diesel than carry propane.
Here’s the rough preliminary floorplan:
I’m not a technical drawer, so it’s not beautiful! The drawers under the bed platform will slide out to form steps to the bed as well as an extra seat. I’ll have a table come out from the galley in front of the seat.
Haven’t quite figured out the top of the seat yet, but I know it won’t be too difficult!
I made it to SprinterFest NW at the end of May and I’m so glad I did.
I had this idea that I had to make every decision and convert the van all at once, and I learned through many of the other folks that that just isn’t the case. So I’ve been working and reworking my plan ever since.
Some of my favorite ideas are:
- to have a table and two stools where I thought I was going to have a galley (on the driver’s side between the driver’s seat and the bed) – which has morphed into swiveling the driver’s seat to a high-ish table and having a somewhat tall stool on the other side – maybe the ice chest.
- simplified water system with an easy to fill water container above the sink.
- and just putting in the basics and seeing where I want to go from there.
I also realized that I just need to start camping in the van when I get it by throwing in a mattress, an ice chest, a stove, etc.
Getting excited for the van to come!
I finally got my new Sprinter!
A crazy day – July 2. I had a Dr. appointment and then headed up to Portland to pick her up. The traffic was BAD! It took us forever to get there – but Troy stayed late to accommodate us (and I called with traffic progress).
After trying to eat at our favorite restaurant (closed for their annual camping trip!), Jodi drove it home while I stayed behind to pick my daughter up at the airport. While I was waiting for my daughter (whose plane was 1/2 an hour late), Jodi calls to let me know that there’s diarrhea all over the house! It was the hottest day so far this year (99) and the fireworks started going off before she got home. Her sweet little dog got totally freaked out and made herself sick. AND, the reserve fuel light went on about 20 miles from Corvallis. McCoy only gave us a 1/4 tank of fuel – said it was enough to get to Eugene (NOT).
By the time I got home with my daughter, Jodi had cleaned up the house – we couldn’t even tell anything had happened, and all was quiet and peaceful.
I’m going to trust that the mishaps aren’t indicative of my future adventures.
After a lot of hiccoughs, second guessing, and using the van to move I am finally getting something done!
Even though I really don’t like their aesthetic, I’m taking her in today to Van Specialties to get a bed platform installed as well as some electrical!!!
The only thing I’ve done on the van so far is to have a Fantastic Fan put in at RC Display Vans. Not terribly happy with the result. I just found out the other day that it LEAKS! It never has looked great, and now I have water in the van.
I’m confident that Van Specialties will fix it up for me and get me closer to on the road…
After going to SprinterFest NW last summer, I totally re-thought what I wanted to do and who I wanted to have do it.
My favorite build at the fest by far was the BUG TV van from Montreal. I don’t remember their names, but the FEELING I had when I was sitting in their van was just so relaxed and inviting. The thing I loved the most was how they had their front space open with a simple stool or two, a table and the ability to just sit and gaze out the large open slider.
I learned so much about what I do and don’t want at the SprinterFest that I’d highly recommend going if you are anywhere near the area. The 2016 event will be on June 4. You can register now.
Above is the new layout. I’m sure it will change as we build, but this is what I have so far.
Thanks goes to Sportsmobile’s Design Your Own tools for the awesome floorplan template.
NOW I know why none of the other upfitters worked out for me! I needed to find Keith from Mod Eugene! I met him just two weeks ago at the Good Earth Home, Garden, and Living show, where he was mobbed with people as he showed off his newly-finished Airstream Remodel.
When I toured the Airstream I just KNEW this is who needs to build out the Galavan! Of course, he ended up getting at least two years worth of work from the show, but lucky me – he’s excited to build out a Sprinter (and he liked me – it’s mutual!)
Now the fun part REALLY starts!
Expect to see a LOT more activity here on TheGalavan.com…
I hired a new builder, ordered Thinsulate to insulate the van, decided on a fridge, and picked flooring! So excited – it’s a color I’ve had my eye on for YEARS (at least 15) and it’s a roll end at only $2.99/sf. Now I just need to verify the measurements, check it against the other pieces going into the van, and buy it!
It’s starting to get a little messy in the van right now. I’ve got cardboard for making patterns for insulation, a bed topper rolled up in the corner, and I’ve taped out our cabinets…
Next week I’ll take the van back to Van Specialties to change up the bed. I had asked for tan and they gave us gray (of course), and it’s WAY too high – I can’t even get on it with the mattress on it and haven’t even tried to get the topper up there. It’s also too far in the back – would much rather it be rectangular than to bump out into the door.
I head out in just a few weeks and the building has started. Meeting with my builders they decided to do a temporary build for the first trip since it’s their first time building a Sprinter and my first time having one built.
I’m super impressed with this temporary build. When I talked with RC Display Vans in Portland, exploring having them build it out for me, they said that the Maple ply would be too expensive for the walls, and here it is as our temporary walls! I wasn’t even expecting walls and ceiling, so I’m pretty blown away.
As you can see, the floor hasn’t been done, so when
Trevor, my systems guy rocks! He is so conscientious and does the job better than I could have dreamed. Check out the shore power connection. If you can’t tell from the picture, it’s on the black strip on the driver’s side near the back. (I’m picking up a weird reflection off the bottom paint.)
As in everything he’s done, our systems guy, Trevor went above and beyond in installing the Espar D2. I had sent him several links on how others had installed theirs and he came up with this. I’m not really sure what all is going on, but I thought someone might be able to make sense of these pictures and find them helpful.
One thing you can’t see in the pictures is that whenever he cuts through the van he paints the edges with heat-proof automotive paint.
If you want a write up on this, leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do.
We’re off! We took the van all the way to Salt Lake City and back and really trying everything out.
I learned a lot and have a few changes in what I want versus what I thought I wanted. So the temporary build was a complete success. I wasn’t ready to move back into the house! If I had a bigger battery bank, I’m not sure I would have.
As I predicted, the floorplan has evolved, or more like sussed out, as the build has progressed.
The revised floorplan in an earlier post didn’t show any under the bed detail and that is such an important design element for the storage. There’ve been a couple of times that Keith didn’t read my un-technical drawing the way I intended and built something in different dimensions and some of it I kept. For example, the drawers between the fridge and bed were supposed to be 18″ wide, but he made them 22″ – the same as the opposite bank of drawers. I checked it out and since it didn’t really obstruct the view out the slider, I opted to just leave it, especially since I got bigger drawers out of the deal!
And then there are the pieces that we’ve designed collaboratively. Things I hadn’t quite figured out when I originally drew out the plan.
At this point we are probably about 90% done and I’m getting super excited! It is truly turning out better than I imagined, which is a really wonderful feeling, even though it has taken so much longer than I could have dreamt.
For some reason, the featured image above cuts off, so here’s the whole plan:
After traveling to Salt Lake City and back with our temporary build, everything is now out of the van (except the solar) and we are ready to really start.
Arma Coating the floor for rust prevention and also to provide a bit of sound insulation. They did a GREAT job! I found out when dropping it off that the guy here in Eugene trains a lot of the other application guys around the country. As nice of a job as they did, I would highly recommend going with Xtreme Liners as I hear that their liner doesn’t off-gas as much. ArmaCoat took a full week plus to be tolerable. I was afraid I messed up our number one goal of being as green and healthy as possible!
Fill in the valleys. I used 1x2 Common Wood strips from the Home Depot to fill in the three really deep, long valleys – it took 5 pieces. I used 3/8″ Cross-Linked Polyethylene (same as MiniCell) from the Foam Factory. It took two full sheets to do all the valleys. I’m super grateful for my quilting tools – my mat and rotary cutter made the cutting of all the strips so quick and easy.
When I picked up the van from the liner place I noticed most of the lower insulation was wet! Not good! So I got some Geocel Proflex to plug all the clip holes. I used some of this to glue down the wood strips.
I glued the foam down with 3m 90 Adhesive that I used for the Thinsulate on the walls. I filled small boxes with books to serve as weights to hold them down while they dried – you can see the last two on the right below.
As I was finishing this step up I realized that there were a few tinny spots on the floor, so, since I had a little Dynamatt I decided to stick that on those spots. I certainly didn’t have anything else to do with it and decided it would be better stuck on the van than in the garbage!
Full foam layer for insulation. I used 1/4″ Cross-Linked Polyethylene from The Foam Factory getting three full sheets and one half sheet. I used the original van floor that Keith pulled out as a pattern. This was definitely one of the easiest steps so far! I just used the 3m 90 to glue it in place. (Picture below is before gluing it!) This stuff really works! I was walking on it in stocking feet before laying down the full sheets and I could feel the cold/warm stripes.
Cut 1/8 plywood and Marmoleum. Keith heated up the shop then rolled out the Marmoleum onto the shop floor since it’s been rolled up in the shop for months. Then he laid out the 1/8 ply, then the original floor to trace. I wasn’t around for the cutting. You can see all the tape markings from our floorplan layout:
Replace original floor! I was surprised Keith wanted to use the original floor, but that’s what he thought would be best. He used the metal tie downs and filled them with expanding foam to create a level surface. Hein has filler pucks, but we didn’t have the lead time to order them, so the foam was a good and quick choice.
I would recommend using plywood instead of the original wood floor-like floor. There is a spot that dips where the two pieces come together.
Glue down 1/8 ply.
Glue down Marmoleum. Things to know: you can’t glue the Marmoleum to the original floor, which is why we have 1/8 plywood. You have to use special Marmoleum glue. Marmoleum is FRAGILE! Make sure it’s warm enough and handle with extreme care.
Keith on Halloween in his Doug from SNL costume:
Use a 100lb roller:
Finished Floor. I love it!!
One of the hardest things to figure out in a Sprinter is the toilet! They can be terribly complicated. You don’t want it to smell, and I definitely didn’t want a lot of toxic chemicals (that, to me, smell worse than what they’re covering up).
I bought a Clean Waste, but my hands weren’t strong enough to collapse the legs, so I had to return it. I liked that it folded up and only took up the space of a standard briefcase, but I’m not gonna be getting man-hands anytime soon!
I also got a Luggable Loo, which I took on my maiden/trial trip. I didn’t end up using it and was wanting something more comfortable.
I worked with my amazing builder to come up with something I think is going to really work well. And it’s pretty too! It’s a simple oval bucket from Home Depot with an actual (comfortable) toilet seat. He had to make a ring for the toilet seat to sit on. The lid comes off and serves as a step as well (he was thinking Squatty Potty!). I’ll line the bucket with bags and use Poo Powder to neutralize the contents. I will be avoiding using it as a toilet as much as possible with a combination of using real toilets (friends’ houses, gyms, rest areas, etc) and my awesome pStyle that lets us ladies pee like a guy. That being said, I’m really glad to have it on board!
Here it is closed. It is 19″ high and sits right behind the driver’s seat. When I swivel the seat around, it serves as a place to put my feet up. To the left of it is a file drawer/oil storage shelf.
These two boxes make up a bench to sit on to work or just gaze out the sliding door. Amazingly, and without intention, my meditation pillow fits perfectly on these. I was going to make cushions, even got the perfect fabric for them, but I was trying to figure out where to store my meditation cushion and tried it out. It also completely hides the table stored behind these two boxes!
Keith is going to seal it so that it’s washable as well as putting a gasket-type seal around the lid.
Oh man, today was an EXPENSIVE day!
Last weekend I started researching folding bikes. I was hoping to fit my massage table in the back under the bed, but it’s too tall and I decided I didn’t need it. And then I remembered that I really wanted to look into using and carrying a folding bike!
As I searched online I thought, there must be a shop around here that carries some I could try out, I mean, I AM in Eugene and we are a very bike-friendly town. Googling “folding bike eugene” got me to Bike Friday. Wow! I was not planning on spending that much on a folding bike, but: local! Handbuilt. Made for my measurements. I couldn’t resist.
So today, February 3, I ordered a Bike Friday PakiT. It’s due to be finished on April 28. Mine will be purple with white cables. If they had had a burnt orange I would have gone with that. It was fun and a bit nerve-wracking to order.
Funny story – I went from the shop to Bike Friday and when I told Joe at BF that I’m having a Sprinter built he asked if Mod Eugene was building it! Okay – Keith at Mod Eugene doesn’t really build Sprinters, he’s just building MY Sprinter! But Joe had gone over to the shop LAST WEEK to see if they could collaborate! Crazy!
My builder had a launch party for his new project, “How To Build Tiny” – a new course on Kickstarter.
The Galavan was featured and Trevor and I were there showing her off! SOOOO many people were there! And most of them came through and took a look. Including the local TV station. I haven’t successfully found the clip to watch, but I did snap a pic of them filming inside the van.
Keith and Trevor got the fridge in and Trevor really tidied it all up, getting wiring out of the way and I was able to come in and decorate. I brought in my Aroma Lite and diffused Bergamot and White Fir. I also brought my comforter and pillows, my meditation cushion, my Imus map and cool prayer flags. The decorating crew had awesome orange party lights that I taped up.
It looked awesome and it was fun showing her off. I kept having the feeling that I would be driving out at the end of the party, but we still have about 20% to go on the build. I am so ready to move in!
In the back under the bed is my utility room. On the driver’s side, I have all the water – 40-gallon fresh water tank, 4-gallon electric water heater, and the water pump. I also have a drawer for the extension cord, adapter, fill hose, and filter above the water tank. In the picture above, the large hole is for the gravity fill for the fresh tank, and the two smaller holes are for the shower mixer. I’ll update after those are installed.
On the passenger side, I have most of the electric – Inverter (Magnum MS2812), two 12v 210Ah AGM batteries (Lifeline GPL-4DL actually forward of the wheel), a giant switch to instantly shut down the whole system, a big fuse, as well as a fuse box of smaller, specific fuses (not sure about all that – all I know is that Trevor is making sure I’ll be safe!), and an outlet.
Also on the passenger side is a large tray with two large boxes for storage and a shelf for chairs and a hammock. I’ll be getting a hitch-mounted hammock stand. And when the tray is all the way stowed, my Bike Friday bike will sit behind it.
Let me know in the comments if you have questions and I’ll edit to clarify (after getting answers from Trevor, my amazing systems guy!).
The drawer boxes have been done for a long time, and Keith put the finishing touches on the drawers while I was away for a GUTS retreat in Minnesota last week.
Aren’t they GORGEOUS? The fronts are made out of Khaya – an African mahogany. The pulls are slam latches from Southco. They were super frustrating for Keith – they weren’t manufactured very well and the screws wouldn’t fit and, well, the installation of these latches turned him into a sailor for a bit.
I’d like to be able to say “Window Coverings”, plural, but so far, I only have one completed. But I’d love to show it off!
First, the details:
- The street layer is dark, purple felt
- In the middle, I have Warm Window (an insulating fabric you can get at the fabric store)
- The house layer is an awesome raw silk that I picked up at the church rummage sale last year. The donor shared that she bought it in Korea in the 50s! (I LOVE that!)
- I used quilt binding bias tape to finish the edges and make tabs for the mangets
- I have 6mm x 1mm rare earth magnets around the edges and 9mm x 2mm rare earth magnets in the corners and about a 1/4 of the way up from the bottom to lift the bottom edge for ventilation. If I were to do it again, I would just get the 9mmx2mm, with maybe even a few larger ones for the ventilation adjustment. The 6x1 really aren’t strong enough, although they do an okay job on the long, straight stretches – but they are a little wimpy.
Here’s the step-by-step how to:
Make Your Patterns
I found this to be the hardest step, so don’t get discouraged at this point! I used newsprint roll end from the newspaper (they sell these super cheap and are a great way to get rolls of usable paper for packing, kids art, etc.). Even with this, I had to tape two lengths together for the side windows to get enough width. I also folded over on one edge to get that straight line (you can see this on the right).
I recommend tracing where the metal just starts to indent in toward the window to have a larger covering (learn from my mistake!). This would give you better insulation.
Cut Your Layers and Make a “Sandwich”
Cut all your layers. When I cut them, they were all ironed (even the pattern) – do that! They’ve been sitting around folded for a while when I decided to make this tutorial and was too lazy to iron them again because it doesn’t really matter for the next step. But for cutting them, you’ll want them nice and flat to get the best results. Because mine are in a large stripe, I made sure that the stripes were at the same place on each covering. If you’re not a detail person, don’t worry about it.
Then stack them in the order in which they go, back, middle, front.
Sew in Center Lift Magnets
This next step I didn’t do on the first cover, and I’m now trying to figure out how to retrofit it. The purpose of this is to keep the center of the cover from sagging when you lift it for ventilation.
First I tried to just sew a magnet in with thread. I’ve been avoiding gluing them because even the smaller ones are strong when they get near anything magnetic. I gave up on the thread idea because my needle kept making the magnet move around too much. So I sewed a couple of little pockets (actually, I just cut one of my tabs in half, to make two little pieces – see below for tab instructions) to insert the magnets and then sewed those down. I originally tried to use the smaller magnets, since I have so many more of them, but they are not strong enough to go through the four layers of fabric (the binding and the raw silk on both sides) so I switched them out for the 9x2s. I hand-sewed these on top on the Warm Window and sewed all the way through the back, using dark purple thread so it won’t show on the back. I didn’t want to have them ON the front, as I want the front to be nice and clean, but I wanted the back to pull up all together without separating.
My first one I pinned the binding on and then sewed it. This one I just sewed it. I think you get just a slightly better result with pinning. I do like to fold in the next piece to join nicer, and you can only do that at each spot when you pin it first. (That sentence is going to need a photo, or three!)
When you run out of binding and need to join a new piece, first open up both bindings and lay one inside the other (first picture). This creates an almost invisible and smooth transition (second picture). If you don’t, you end up with a very visible transition that you really have to push together and it will still look choppy (third picture).
Making the Tabs for the Magnets
Yes, you could probably just glue the magnets on, but these are seriously strong magnets and I think the glue would give way after a while. This is not the easiest way to attach the magnets, but I’m really happy with the results and I think it will hold up to full-time use.
Cut your magnet tabs out of excess quilt binding. I found 1 1/4″ to be about right – these don’t have to be exact.
Next, make your tabs. If you are new to sewing, below are some very detailed instructions. Not trying to insult anyone, so please skip over this if you already can figure it out on your own. I know DIYers are pretty adept at figuring stuff out!
Open your piece of binding.
Fold it inside-out at the center fold – this will give you a nice crease when you turn it right-side-out. Sew along the edge, either down from the fold or up from the raw edge.
Sew the other side. I tend to sew down from the fold on the first side and up from the raw edge on the second, but it totally doesn’t matter.
Clip your threads and clip the corners at the fold so when you turn it, it turns cleanly.
Turn your tab right-side-out. I use a quilting tool for getting the corner pushed out squarely, but you could also carefully use the tip of your scissors or the point of a pen.
Top stitch down both sides. This makes it WAY easier to sew the tabs onto your covering – it keeps your magnet from trying to get under your needle. When finished, simply insert your magnet.
Now you’re ready to attach your tab. Just fold the raw edge under and put it on the back – making sure it doesn’t peak out on the front.
Super important! Start sewing from the outside left.
Sewing lesson: When you get to the spot where you need to turn your work, make sure your needle is all the way DOWN. Then lift the presser foot and pivot on the needle. If it’s not all the way down, you’ll mess up your stitch and, depending on your machine, could end up with a mess of tangled thread.
Here’s the finished tab. It’s a little messy on the back side because it doesn’t really matter – it won’t show. If it did, I’d take more care tapering the open end so it doesn’t peek out the side.
Ta Da! The finished front close-up of the tab.
This is a lot of work, but the result is I have only one layer of fabric between the metal of the van and my magnets. And, most importantly, it works!
So, you know how I sewed the center lift magnets? Well, those are just so the cover doesn’t sag when lifted for ventilation, as in the above picture. You also need to sew tabs that extend beyond the cover on both sides with the stronger magnets. These you will move up the window if you have the window open and want mostly privacy, but need some air. This is one of those things I haven’t seen anyone else do, but thought was important.
General Sewing Tips
When I was growing up, there was always a sewing machine on the dining room table unless company was coming, and even then, it was often left out. My mom was always working on something. She was also a major procrastinator – but a fast seamstress. So, I knew, if my prom dress was cut out the night before the prom, I’d have an amazing dress in time for the dance! All that to say, I have some tips to share if you need them!
Be sure to lower the presser foot before you start sewing, otherwise, you’ll end up with a bit of a mess.
For take-off and landing, make sure your needle is in the full, upright position! If not, you’ll knot your thread under the plate and will get very frustrated very quickly.
For the first stitch, hold the threads straight back. This will prevent getting funny loops of thread on the back. Since we are sometimes sewing on the back in this project, you don’t want funky loops of thread to show on the front.
To lock your thread (similar to tying a knot when hand sewing), go forward two stiches, then sew in reverse for two stitches before continuing forward. Same at the end – back two, then finish with forward two.
When clipping your thread, clip the front first, then pull slightly on the back thread before cutting it. This will pull the end of the front thread through to the back for a cleaner finish.
If your machine has a helper behind the needle to walk your fabric, disengage it for this project. We are using too many layers and it just gets in the way.
I recommend using a fresh needle in your machine for this project. It will just work better. Hey, you spent tens of thousands on a Sprinter – splurge a couple of bucks on a new needle. And if you’re borrowing someone’s machine, get two so you can leave them with a fresh one – this project will not be kind to your new needle.
It can matter which direction the thread is coming off the spool. My Pfaff requires that the thread come up and over the spool and does not work if the spool is upside-down.
Machine oil is a good thing. Check the directions for the machine you’re using to apply a drop of oil in the right place.
If your stiches front to back are not even, you probably need to adjust the bobbin tension. You’ll have to Google how to do that if you don’t have the manual.
I hope this helps someone! And no, I will not sew it for you. I actually don’t LIKE to sew, even though I know how!
She was, once again, dressed up for the party last night. My builder had a second Kickstarter party – this time a Tiny Living Fair, so I hung out and showed her off.
Even though she wasn’t featured in the marketing this time, we did get a few people who were in the process of building their own, or thinking of building their own, which was super fun for me. I got to geek out on all the little details with people who were already familiar with the whole concept.