Re­uphol­ster­ing leather seats

The one thing that can spoil the look of a clas­sic is a ropey in­te­rior. Re­cov­er­ing seats is not as easy as it looks and some­times it’s worth fork­ing out the ex­tra to em­ploy a pro­fes­sional to get the job done right

Classics Monthly - - Contents - WORDS & PHO­TOG­RA­PHY IVAN OS­TROFF

A shabby in­te­rior will let even the best cared for clas­sic down. We show how to re­fur­bish tired look­ing leather seat fac­ings.

T he seats in my 1982 RMB Gen­try were really in need of work and since they were be­ing re­cov­ered, it made sense to in­clude all the in­te­rior trim pan­els at the same time so the whole in­te­rior would match. How­ever, it didn’t seem nec­es­sary to fea­ture those pan­els in the same de­tail, as the process of strip­ping off the old ma­te­rial and re­cov­er­ing items such as doors pan­els is clearly far more straight­for­ward than deal­ing with a seat.

When the cov­ers have been re­moved, it’s not un­usual to ex­pect to find some cor­ro­sion dam­age on a 60-year old metal seat frame. For­tu­nately, the only cor­ro­sion we found on these seats was in one of the seat pans. The grotty area was sanded down, re­paired and cov­ered with the ap­pro­pri­ate pro­tec­tive paint but if the metal can­not be prop­erly re­paired, it’s im­por­tant that the seat frames should be re­placed in the in­ter­ests of safety.

You could of course opt for a set of ready-made seat cov­ers that are avail­able from var­i­ous sources. Of­ten these off the shelf items will come with vinyl bor­der fac­ings but in this case we re­quired an all-leather prod­uct in a par­tic­u­lar colour, so we chose not to go down that route. With the ap­pro­pri­ate tools and skill level, this type of job could be car­ried out at home but we opted to use the tal­ents of a pro­fes­sional trim­mer and used Dun­can West at Vamped Trim­ming. Dun­can was keen to stress the im­por­tance of be­ing eco­nom­i­cal when lay­ing out the tem­plates in or­der to avoid wastage of the leather hides if do­ing this job at home.

When se­lect­ing hides to re­cover a seat, bear in mind that cer­tain curved ar­eas of the squabs or backs may need to be stretched to make them fit, so the thick­ness and sup­ple­ness of the hide needs to be con­sid­ered. Al­ways check hides thor­oughly, keep­ing an eye open for blem­ishes in the sur­face of the leather and re­mem­ber that cer­tain seg­ments of a hide may ap­pear dif­fer­ent from oth­ers due to them com­ing from dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the an­i­mal. For these rea­sons, plus the lack of cor­rect tools and fa­cil­i­ties, the whole job of re­cov­er­ing the seats and trim pan­els was en­trusted to Vamped Trim­ming. The fin­ished job utilised qual­ity leather through­out, in­clud­ing on the gear lever gaiter and the foot- well car­pet edg­ing and as well as the re­sult be­ing ex­em­plary, the re-trim has also to­tally trans­formed the image of the car. 1 These seats orig­i­nated from an MG Mid­get and had not been touched since 1989 when the black fac­ings were re­placed with brown vinyl. Over the years, some of the stitch­ing had per­ished and the vinyl was worn through where the cars doors had been rub­bing against the vinyl. 2 The old ma­te­rial was sym­pa­thet­i­cally re­moved, us­ing a sharp blade to cut through the stitch­ing sep­a­rat­ing each panel. Great care has to be taken not to dam­age the sec­tions as they will be very care­fully laid out and used as master pat­terns that will be ac­cu­rately repli­cated in the new ma­te­rial.

3 Once the old cov­ers had been re­moved, all the foam was care­fully pulled out from the metal seat pan and back. Any cor­ro­sion was ground away and the holes filled be­fore the re­pair was treated with anti- rust paint and a coat of Ham­merite. 4 Af­ter all of the old foam ma­te­rial had been re­moved, a few rem­nants will of­ten be found stick­ing fast to the metal seat backs and frames. In this case, the residue was cleaned off with a pro­fes­sional clean­ing agent such as Acrysol. 5 Next, a layer of scrim foam was stuck on to the metal seat backs to pro­vide the cor­rect shape and act as a bar­rier be­tween the cov­ers and the frame. The foam will also help to avoid any sharp edges wear­ing through the new hide cov­ers. 6 It’s al­ways eas­ier to re-use any foam re­moved from the old seats in or­der to keep the orig­i­nal shape. If some of the old foam tears dur­ing the strip­ping process and re­quires re­pair­ing, it can be glued with a con­tact ad­he­sive from ei­ther a spray can or a glue gun. 7 Once all the old cov­ers had been sep­a­rated, they were laid out on the hide in prepa­ra­tion of repli­cat­ing each in­di­vid­ual sec­tion. It is im­por­tant to use space eco­nom­i­cally when lay­ing out the in­di­vid­ual sec­tions in or­der to make best use the amount of hide avail­able. 8 Be­fore any of the new hide was cut, each in­di­vid­ual piece of the old ma­te­rial was laid out on white card and marked out as a pat­tern. Heavy- duty shears were used to cut the hide from the tem­plates in readi­ness for stitch­ing later. 9 Us­ing a fine black marker pen, the cen­tre line of each of the seat foams was marked pre­cisely in or­der to help line up the flutes of the seat cush­ion and the squab. Do­ing this en­sures the cush­ion and squab will look square when they are fit­ted later.

10 In or­der to repli­cate the orig­i­nal shape and style, a card was placed be­tween the seat cush­ion and the old vinyl bor­der sec­tion. This was to make tem­plate that can be used to cut the new leather to the pre­cise shape of the orig­i­nal ma­te­rial. 11 The old white pip­ing was go­ing to be re­placed with a new length in brown hide, so the old ma­te­rial was used to mea­sure off a new length prior to cut­ting. Do­ing it this way will en­sure the pip­ing’s not too short and any ex­cess will be trimmed off later. 12 In­stead of us­ing pre- cov­ered pip­ing, which can make the job eas­ier, an in­dus­trial sewing ma­chine was used to stitch a strip of match­ing hide over a length of new pip­ing cord. This is go­ing the ex­tra mile, as uses it more hide and takes longer but the fin­ished re­sults are well worth it. 13 Here the scrim foam has been cut in readi­ness for sewing in­side each in­di­vid­ual seg­ment of the stitch and roll flut­ing on the seat base and back. It looks easy but great care is needed to cut each sec­tion to the pre­cise shape if all the seat pleats are to end up ap­pear­ing uni­form. 14 The fin­ished sec­tion of stitch and roll flut­ing was laid out over the card tem­plate cre­ated ear­lier from the orig­i­nal vinyl ma­te­rial af­ter it had been dis­as­sem­bled. Each of the fluted sec­tions must be checked care­fully for ac­cu­racy at this stage be­fore pro­ceed­ing. 15 Us­ing a nor­mal in­dus­trial sewing ma­chine, each of the leather pan­els was stitched onto a Cal­ico back­ing with scrim foam sand­wiched in be­tween. This will en­sure the fin­ished job has the de­sired soft and sup­ple feel as well as the ex­pected and es­sen­tial dura­bil­ity.

16 At ev­ery stage the leather pan­els were checked care­fully for fit be­fore pro­ceed­ing. Here the fluted cen­tre panel of the seat is be­ing laid over its base foam to dou­ble check all is cor­rect be­fore the sur­round­ing panel was stitched per­ma­nently into place. 17 Whilst the newly made up pip­ing was be­ing very care­fully sown onto the edge of the seat panel, a white pen­cil was used to trans­fer any lin­ing- up ref­er­ence ticks from be­low the ma­te­rial to the top sur­face as the pip­ing was sewn into po­si­tion. 18 Hav­ing com­pleted the face panel for the seat cush­ion, it was now care­fully of­fered up to the foam back­ing pan­els to check the ma­te­ri­als all lay cor­rectly. The marker pen lines around the foam were now es­pe­cially use­ful to make sure the newly stitched panel were cen­tred and square. 19 In­stead of leav­ing an un­pro­tected edge along the bot­tom of the metal seat pan like it was orig­i­nally, a length of clip- on edg­ing was used to pro­vide a more fin­ished ap­pear­ance. This was eas­ily tapped gen­tly into place around the seat base with a tack ham­mer. 20 Although the orig­i­nal foam had been in place for many years it was found to be in ex­cel­lent or­der and still per­fectly us­able. Old foam, how­ever, can de­te­ri­o­rate with age so it is im­por­tant to check it care­fully prior to re- cov­er­ing to make sure that the ma­te­rial has re­tained its orig­i­nal body. 21 Once all of the pan­els mak­ing up each seat cover had been sewn to­gether, con­tact glue was sprayed over the en­tire cen­tre panel then sprayed on to the foam it­self. The glue was then given time to ‘go off’ be­fore the newly made cov­ers were care­fully of­fered up. 22 Work­ing from the back for­ward, the two com­po­nents were placed to­gether. Great care and pa­tience was needed at this point to en­sure the guid­ing tick marks on both the foam and the new hide cover lined up per­fectly. Once the glue bonds, the cover can­not be repo­si­tioned.

23 The sides of the hide and the bor­der were pulled down care­fully but firmly all round the seat base, mak­ing sure that the sur­face of the leather re­mained quite smooth and without any vis­i­ble creases in readi­ness the se­cur­ing spring clips. 24 All new spring clips were at­tached to the base of the seat work­ing from the cen­tre out­wards. It’s im­por­tant to use the cor­rect size spring clips and also to take great care not to dam­age the new soft hide with the head of the tack ham­mer. 25 Where the hide was folded un­der the metal seat base, there will be ex­cess ma­te­rial at the cor­ners. Af­ter ‘pinch­ing’ the leather to­gether be­tween a thumb and fore­fin­ger, any ex­cess can be trimmed away cleanly with large shears, en­sur­ing no over­lap re­mains. 26 Glue was then ap­plied to the metal of the seat base and the sur­face of the ex­cess leather that was to be folded back un­der it. Af­ter al­low­ing the rec­om­mended pe­riod for the glue to cure, the leather was folded over and glued down un­der the seat pan. 27 Next, the pivot bolts se­cur­ing the squab to the seat pan and its re­spec­tive cush­ion were at­tached. The match­ing seat cush­ion, re­splen­dent in its new hide was then care­fully low­ered into place and the newly re­uphol­stered seat was now com­plete. 28 Both re­stored seats, to­gether with the re-trimmed door cards, front foot-well cards, rear wheel arch cards, a com­plete set of rear body panel ledges and a match­ing gear lever gaiter all trimmed in the same match­ing brown hide laid out ready to fit and look­ing bet­ter than new.


The fin­ished job with seats and all in­te­rior pan­els back in place. Re­uphol­ster­ing the in­te­rior has sim­ply trans­formed the car. Whilst avoid­ing that aw­ful ‘ too- new’ look that can ruin a clas­sic car, the seats look good too and are now really com­fort­able. By us­ing qual­ity ma­te­ri­als and ap­pro­pri­ate ex­per­tise, the fin­ished job is sure to last for many years.

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