Sundowner Canvas’ Guide to Why It Costs So Much
The easy answer is time and materials. Of course that really doesn’t answer why.
In order to truly understand why canvas costs as much as it does, it’s helpful to know what actually goes into the process. Just like a mechanic, carpenter, or electrician, a good canvas company has to have skilled workers. In our case, that means seamstresses. It takes several years of sewing in the industry to truly become competent in the making of the vast variety of projects we’re called on to do. While there are videos and books out there that can give you the basics, to have professional looking canvas you need, well, professionals. They have the shops, equipment and know how to do the job quickly and efficiently. They know the intricacies of building your project because they’ve been doing it for years. When we started working in this industry, we figured that it was basically a 4 year apprenticeship program. So a lot of what you’re paying for is that experience.
So there you are, we’ve sat down and discussed all the options. We’ve measured your project and worked up an estimate and presented it to you. Once you’ve caught your breath. The first thought is probably WOW! Why does it cost so much?
If we’ve given you an estimate, we’ve probably spoken with you several times. We’ve been to your boat to see what needs to be done. You’ve sat down and explained what you want, and we’ve told how we’re going to make it a reality. We’ve discussed fabrics, thread, glass, hardware, zips. Most importantly we’ve discussed options with you. We might even have discouraged you from choosing a certain way of doing things or materials. Remember we have years of experience doing this. We’ll do it however you want, but we need to be sure you understand what you’re asking for so there are no questions down the road. Always remember, this is your project. We want your input. There have been many times we had an idea of what the customer wanted and how we would go about it, but after discussing it with the customer on their boat, discovered his vision was a wee bit different that ours. We want to do it correctly the first time. Changes generally mean more money either yours or ours.
Whether it is canvas materials, glass, or thread, each has their good points and bad. These are things that we will discuss with you. As in all things it’s best to make an informed decision.
One big thing to consider is color. What color canvas do you want on your boat? Sunbrella comes in a myriad of different colors. Which one is best for you? You want blue or green, possibly red. What shade do you want? One thing to keep in mind is that darker colors hold up better in the sun. They transmit less UV rays through. Some colors change once they are in the sun. Others show their age sooner. We will tell you what colors don’t hold up in the sun.
Along with color, the fabric can be a factor in the final cost. Sunbrella is pretty standard here in Texas, but there is also Weathermax, Topgun, Sunbrella Supreme, Sunbrella Plus etc. There are also a variety of vinyls to be considered. A few have a 10 year warranty but most have only 5 or less. Cost of material can range from $18.00 a yard up to $60.00 for outdoor fabrics. Some interior fabrics are even more. Even a small project can be 2 yards of material. A large project may run 30 yards or more.
If you put an enclosure on your boat of some type, you are going to need glass. By glass we generally mean a see through soft vinyl. You will often hear it referred to as “isinglass”. A dodger might be 1 sheet. A full enclosure might be 5 or more sheets. Glass is very expensive. There are basically 4 types of glass. Roll glass is the cheapest. It’s also the softest and tends to shrink more. Regalite and Crystal Clear (different manufacturers) come in sheets. They are somewhat stiffer than roll glass. Both of these have a tendency to scratch easily. O’Sea and Strataglass are better versions of Regalite and Crystal Clear that have a coating that is more resistant to scratching. Polycarbonate glass is hard. It tends to look like a real pane of glass when on the boat. We use O’Sea glass.
These are the products we primarily see in Texas. There are other companies making glass for boats that we don’t see here.
What kind of thread will be used on your project? The 2 main types you see are polyester and Goretex. Polyester can come in regular or a sun resistant version. It will over time fail in the sun. Generally you can figure that polyester thread will last from 3 to 5 years before you need to restitch your canvas. Goretex has a lifetime warranty and should last as long as your canvas.
The materials we use are all marine grade. That means stainless steel , bronze, and brass fasteners. Materials like Sunbrella, Stamoid, Weathermax, O’Sea or Strataglass, Phifertex mesh. All of these have to be able to stand up to the elements. None of them are cheap.
Time is the primary driving force for costs.
We have to pattern your project. A simple hatch cover will probably only take about 10 minutes to pattern. A boat cover can be up to 5 hours. An enclosure on a big power boat may take the greater portion of 2 days. We may have to make multiple trips to the boat to install hardware or confirm measurements. Once we have the basic pattern done on the boat, we take it back to the shop and finalize the design. That can take several hours. Keep in mind that an enclosure on a big power boat may only be 7’ wide by 9’ long. When you add all the sides up, that’s a pattern that’s 32’ long and anywhere from 4’ to 6’ high. If you want it to look right, the sides have to look alike, glass and hem lines have to match. There is a lot of thinking that goes into finalizing the design. Since Julie and I (Frank) generally go out together on all patterns, there are quite often discussions about how we think the final product should turn out. Sometimes they are loud discussions. Remember the object is to produce a product that you can say WOW! to.
You can have the best materials and the best sewing, but if your pattern is poorly done, it will be reflected in the final product. The pattern is the key ingredient in a great product.
Once the pattern is complete and the materials are on hand, the seamstress gets to go to work. Well almost anyway. On a big project, the designer (Julie) will spend some time explaining how it should be sewn. Keep in mind that the seamstress has never seen this boat. Until they’re told what it is, they have no idea what they will be creating. If they have a boat, that’s beneficial because they will have some idea what the project will become. Even the terminology used is a mix of nautical and industry. Aft, port, hatch, enclosure, smile, frown, cutouts, pin, stout, etc. are a few of the terms a person new to the industry has to not only learn but be able to decipher from the pattern. So the designer not only explains what is being made, but also has to make sure the seamstress knows how to go about putting it together. Remember, they don’t do the same project over and over again. It might be hatchcovers today, but a boat cover, enclosure or bimini tomorrow. Seldom do they do the same thing twice in a row. And everything we make is custom. It’s specific to your boat. We make a pattern for almost every project we do.
Ok, the seamstress has all the information they need to complete the project. Now they have to gather all of the bits and pieces of hardware, glass and material they need for the job. They lay it out, put the pattern on and mark it up. This in itself can take considerable time depending on the complexity of the project. Then they have to cut out all the different pieces and put them together. Kind of like a puzzle, but they don’t have a box to look at to give them hints on the pieces. They staple and tape and fit to make sure it all comes together. Then they sit and sew. A hatchcover takes anywhere from 1 hour to a 1 ½ hours to sew. A dodger from 15 hours to 25 hours and a boat cover from 6 to 20 hours. Each and every pieces has to be sewn exactly right to each corresponding piece. If the job is done right, the customer says, “that’s beautiful!”. Of course this is the short version of what the seamstress does. That’s because I don’t sew though I’m involved in all the rest.
So finally after hours and hours of work the seamstress is done. Now we might have to put hardware in the product. The finishing touches, snaps, twist fasteners, lift the dot, pull the dots hardware are all things that on occasion have to be put in before it can leave the store. Once all is done, a final inspection to make sure nothing is missed. Yes, now and then we do miss stuff. Better to catch it in the store than have to bring if back to fix an oops. If it’s a local marina, that could be a 30 minute round trip. If it’s Galveston, you’ve lost half a day. So we try and make sure that all oops are caught in the store if possible.
Now it’s time to take the finished product out to the boat. A simple boat cover might only take 30 minutes to put on. An enclosure might be a couple of hours installing hardware in the project to attach it to the boat. Once we’re done, we get to step back and look at our handiwork. It’s beautiful!
Except that it’s not just the installers work. Several people have put in a lot of time taking it from the concept to the final installed product. The salesman, Frank, was probably the first person you talked with. Julie, the designer drew up and finalized the pattern. The seamstress, either Tammy or Adelyn have put all the pieces together. The installers, any combination of those listed above have put it on. It’s truly a team effort. We take pictures that we send to you and show to the all the team members involved. We post them on our website. We all take pride in our work, and if you send us a comment, we make sure everyone knows.
Whew! We made it, except for the bill of course. We hope that in the end when you look at the completed job, it’s all been worth it.
So what have we done? We initially talked with you either in person or on the phone. We’ve gone to your boat and looked it over. Possibly we measured it then. If we have any questions, we may call you on the phone while we’re on the boat or we’ll set up a meeting to discuss options, materials, or other issues. Once we are in agreement, we’ll come back and pattern it. Hopefully we can do it in 1 trip, but often at least 2 and sometimes 3 or more. Our designer has spent time finalizing the design. The seamstress has worked her fingers to the bone laying out the pattern and sewing it. We’ve gone back to your boat and installed the finished project.
You know, when you have someone come out and work on your air conditioning, they charge you by the hour. Their time starts when they leave the shop and doesn’t end until they return to the shop. We give you an estimate. Unless something major changes in the project, we stick to that estimate. If we make extra trips for whatever reason, that’s generally on us.
It’s kind of like food. Fast food is quick, it’s hot and it’s cheap. You want quality food, you’re going to pay for it and you’ll have to wait for it. The same is true for our business. We have numerous jobs on our schedule. So the chances are, you’ll have to wait. Sorry, that can’t be helped. We will get to you as soon as we possibly can, in the order in which we come to you on our schedule. We won’t jump somebody ahead of you and we won’t jump you up either. Once we start your job, you are our priority until the job is done. We’ll be in touch. We’ll send pictures.
Keep in mind that not all canvas shops are equal. Some are people who work from home and this is just a sideline for them. Some are willing to put a product on your boat and wait for you to decide whether or not it’s acceptable. Some take pride in their work and want everything they put out to be the best. As our website says, “Our goal is to put canvas on your boat we would be proud to see on our own.” If you’re willing to settle for ok, there are shops out there for you. If you sew, there are projects out there you can do. If you want it look professional, then search for the shops that are putting out quality work. Ask for references from prior customers. Ask for locations of boats they have done the canvas on. Check out their shop. Is it clean and neat? Look at their website. All of these things will tell you what kind of product you’re likely to get. Remember, it’s your choice as to what you get.