Van Conversion: Road Trip Stage 2; Removing The Guff

It’s the end of week 1 of our van conversion project and the days are slipping by pretty quickly. Finding some spare hours here to do odds and ends has been a big priority as we were both away at the weekend. Cleaning has been one of our main tasks, as well as ripping out anything we would have time to replace, and deciding (compromising) on what to keep.

The project definitely had to be to be a compromise. Because we both knew the van wouldn’t last us for years, ripping out the interior and starting from scratch wasn’t an option due to cost as well as the time constraints. The main thing we wanted to create was something we could really enjoy taking out and spending time in at the weekends, in the week and on longer trips.

It’s been a fun summer taking the old van down to the beach for the evening. We’d BBQ some sausages and crush some limes for caipirinha’s before falling asleep with a good film or book. It was really important to make something comfortable & fun that we could keep taking out at weekends.

What to chuck, what to keep, what to make

Most of the week was spent cleaning the cooker, floors and inside the cupboards of the van – which we’ve decided to keep as they do work, and we don’t have time to replace them. The cloth was coming up black and covered in dusty, oily grime for ages before anything started to look vaguely less like I was cleaning a coal mine.

The blinds on one side of the van were dirty, but they also still worked fine. After some bleaching, we got them to a stage where we could spray paint them cream again. There were no blinds on the other side of the van and we needed a simple fix. Making curtains was going to be too complicated and would use too much material. I figured if I could only sew, I could make some kind of hanging to fix onto the top of the windows and roll up like a sausage, tying at the top (kind of like a tent entrance flap does). All I needed was a sewing machine…

Me: “Hey Mum, how’s it going?”

Mum: “Yeah, good thanks. What’s up?”

Me: “Do you have a sewing machine?”

Mum: “Hmm, yes, why?”

Me: “Erm… for sewing”

Mum: “Yeah, I’ve got one. It’s in the garage”

Me: “Great. Does it work?”

Mum: “Yes of course?”

Me: “Ok cool, when’s the last time you used it?”

Mum: “When I was about 21 I think…”

Me: “… Yes, er, ok, sweet. I’ll be right over”

Vintage pfaff sewing machine
Behold, the aptly named Pfaff

So, I acquired a 60 odd year old sewing machine. It’s a solid metal Pfaff that weighs about ten tons and it’s currently sitting in its new home on our dining room table. After about 2 hours tearing my hair out whilst squinting at Youtube videos, trying to work out how the hell to thread the needle, I still could not do it.

Luckily Jackson’s sister Liberty, (who is amazing with a sewing machine) was visiting. After assuring me that “all sewing machines work basically the same way” we both spent another hour trying to work it out before finally getting it sewing again.

At this point, I really wish I’d looked hard enough inside the sewing machine box (where there was a bloody instruction booklet hiding). Anyway, since that harrowing day I have since sewed three blinds AND a cushion. Result! Although now I have the tune “wind the bobbin up” repeating round my head and can’t seem to get rid of it.

(If you are not familiar with this tune, I have been kind enough to paste in the link below to a modernised version starring a demented giraffe. Please, please have a listen and sing along in sympathy with me, just once. I. Dare. You.)

I made the blinds like you’d make a cushion, sewing them and turning them inside out to hide the shitty stitching. I then sewed one strip of venetian blind into the bottom of the material to give it some weight, so it would hang and we could roll it up.

Converting a van for a road trip, making the blinds
Inside out stitching = looks like you can sew

The van still looks pretty crappy, but we’ve started making some improvements. I managed to persuade Jackson to chuck out half of the sticky ceiling carpet with the ominous black stains. After we got the carpet off, we insulated the ceiling and sides with reflective insulation sheets, so hopefully it will be less like sitting in a tin can in the sun.

Jackson replaced the carpet with a few sheets of ply and we’ve painted it a kind of grey colour (it was meant to be blue but the light in Trago really isn’t that great). We’re currently putting together a fold away surfboard rack which will sit on the top right inside of the van over the bed, sticking to the sides with velcro when we’re not using it. As we’ve got the ply up, there’s actually something for the rack to hold onto so we shouldn’t be bothered by boards falling on us in our sleep.

Plywood lining of a van for a van conversion
Goodbye ceiling carpet!

Using the same old venetian blinds we used to make window coverings, we created a bit of a crate effect on the previously carpeted seats in the back. We did this by sawing the blinds to shape, then stapling them directly onto the side of the seats. I found some old “downpipe” coloured Farrow and Ball paint and gave it a couple of coats after we’d sanded them down, so the whole interior is now 4 shades of grey. We’re in desperate need of some colour in there.

We also unscrewed the fake granite work surface in the “kitchen” area of the van and cut out a ply surface top to use instead which we’ve given a few coats of oil. We still need to attach this. I also managed to clean the gas cooker – which was so rusty we hadn’t thought it was saveable. It now looks like this…

Cooker-in-the-van-a-wilder-life-van-conversion
It’s also hooked up to a gas bottle in the van (but we haven’t tested it yet!)

We took out the old damp ply that was covering van doors. After peeling off the more fusty carpeting, we used a hessian material that was left over from a surfboard inlay to cover them back up.

Hessian
Spare hessian for the inside panels

I also managed to find a use for the spare material from designing my board. It had been hanging around for so long that I’d just been using it as a tea towel. It’s now Carney’s favourite thing to roll on, and cover in black hair.

A pineapple cushion on a sofa with a spaniel dog
Carney, looking proud of her new cushion

We’re making some basic shelving units out of old wood that was hanging around the farm. As we didn’t want to have to keep the bed out in the back of the van the entire time, we needed the shelves to store things in. We also bought a couple of battery powered LED lights to stick under the shelves and around the van, just to give out a tiny, pointless amount of light.

LED lights in a transit van conversion

I’ll leave Jackson to keep working on the cabinets whilst I go sort out the final coats of paint. Next week we’ll be putting up the board rack, shelving, finishing the painting, adding in a storage seat and the new wooden work surfaces and a few other bits and bobs. A huge thank you to anyone who has offered a hand or free materials! We’re super grateful and you’ll definitely be getting some beer when it’s all finished!

van conversion for a road trip
Jackson being handy… although I’m not really sure how he can see what he’s doing under there
Tags :