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Old 06-28-2014, 03:31 PM
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Engineered Leather

I need some help in deciding what kind of material to use in my street rod. I know that the materials all have some kind of specs, but some of what is written leaves me dazed. One type of material that I was considering was "an engineered leather that fuses leather and textile together". Okay, what is that? What are double rubs, railroaded, etc...? I like the feel of leather, but cost is a factor and so I have to use some sort of faux leather, which by the way is really, really nice. How does one choose the material; what determines the choice? I've seen some swatches, but am I comparing oranges to apples? The upholsterer gave me some ideas, but one material may be better than the other in one department whereas the reverse may be true. I need help so I don't choose something I may regret later.

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Old 06-29-2014, 09:53 AM
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There are four types of materials that look like leather. One, of course, is real leather. There is no substitute for real leather when it comes to feel, look, wearability, comfort, etc. It is by far the best material to use for car seats if you are going with a leather look.

The next is good old vinyl. The face of vinyl is made of poly vinyl chloride. It comes in thousands of colors, shades, grains, textures, and softness. Automotive grade or marine grade vinyl is what to use in a car. Those two grades hold up better as far as wear, resistance to oil and other chemicals, and fading from sunlight.

The third is 100% polyurethane faced fabric which usually has a woven Rayon backing. This is what is generically called Ultraleather. Ultraleather is actually a brand name, not a description. It also comes in thousands of colors, grains, etc.

The fourth is what you call engineered leather. It is also called faux leather, recycled leather, and bonded leather. It is a distant cousin to the Ultraleather type fabrics. Don't be confused, the part of this fabric that is actual leather is the back, not the front. The front is 100% polyurethane, and the backing is recycled leather scraps which are ground up and converted to make a backing. It too comes in thousands of colors, shades, grains, textures and softness.

The advantage of the three types other than leather is that they come in rolls which are 54" wide by as long as you need. It is way easier to cut and work with rolls of fabric than it is to work with leather. Leather and suede come in hides, which are usually 45 to 55 square feet with about a 10% to 15% waste factor. This translates to about 3 yards of fabric. ( A yard of fabric is 36" wide and 54" across). You should be able to do two bucket seats and a complete rear seat with two to three hides depending on their size.

Railroaded and non-railroaded are not generally used to describe those four types of fabric. Textiles are referred to with those two expressions. Railroaded means the orientation or pattern of the fabric is down the roll, not across the roll which is what non-railroaded fabrics are. Why is this important? In upholstery work, you need to keep all of the pieces of textiles oriented in the same way. It is also advisable to keep all the pieces of vinyl, etc. going in the same direction. (With leather it doesn't matter.) If the orientation is railroaded (down the roll) it means you can cut your pieces in very long lengths if need be. Non railroaded orientation (across the roll) means that you may have to cut longer parts in two or more pieces to keep the orientation correct. I know that's confusing, but look at these pictures. The one fabric that says "I'd rather be fishing" is non railroaded. The floral fabric is railroaded. Why? because you don't orient flowers so they are sideways, or upside down, and you don't orient an obvious sideways pattern up and down. In the absence of any pattern, you look at the grain of the fabric. The grain should be up and down, not side to side. If you look at the close-up of the two fabrics, you can see the grain goes up and down on the floral, and side to side on the other fabric.

Double rubs refer to an abrasion test used by manufacturers to grade their fabrics' durability. The test is called the Wyzenbeek test. Fabric can be rubbed with a variety of things, usually some kind of canvas, to do these tests. The more double rubs that the fabric can withstand, the higher the quality and the more you would expect to pay per yard. Textiles are also tested this way, but this test is like the gold standard for 100% polyurethane fabrics, recycled leathers, and vinyls.

I am not thrilled with the 100% polyurethane faced fabrics, either Ultraleather or recycled leather. I have seen these types of fabrics not handle ordinary wear on car seats very well at all. For that reason, I do not recommend them any more for car seats. My advice is to stick with leather or auto grade or marine grade vinyl for any car seats.
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No one lives forever, the trick is creating something that will.

Last edited by DanTwoLakes; 06-29-2014 at 10:12 AM.
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Old 06-29-2014, 04:33 PM
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I have just been educated! Your description couldn't be any better.
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Old 06-30-2014, 07:30 AM
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I love it when a bright man "spills the beans". Thanks Dan, I learned something today.

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