From The Scratch-Built Hot Rod
Chapter 15: Upholstery - Seats
(Note to readers: This is a very streamlined version of the seat upholstery process. For more details on how this upholstery was done you can go here. For more information, consult the many automotive upholstery books written by professionals, and search out the many tutorials available on the internet.)
The donor seats
|The original bucket seats for this project were salvaged from a wrecked Subaru (Photo 15-1). After taking a number of pictures of the seat for reference purposes, the upholstery is removed from the seat, and all of the panels are separated at the seams using a razor, small shears, or a "seam splitter", which is a handy tool you can find in the upholstery section of variety or fabric stores.|
|Photo 15-2 shows the separated panels for just ONE seat. The panels are marked with various notes and registration marks to keep track of how the new panels will go back together. Don't trust your memory, make notes on the panels and take digital pictures. Also, only do one seat at a time. This allows you to use the second "original" seat as a reference while putting the new seat back together.
The original panels are ironed or pressed flat, and are then used as patterns to cut out all the new upholstery pieces (Photo 15-3).The fabric used for this project is Burch Fabrics's "Magnificent" in caramel color. This is a 100% polyurethane-faced fabric with a polyester and cotton backing. The feel and look match the Ultraleather upholstery in my '32 pickup.
Rolled and pleated panels
As you will note in the picture of the original seat, the center section of the seat and the back are pleated. We will do the same with the new seat covering but we want to create a more traditional "rolled and pleated" look for the center sections.
|To do this, a piece of fabric is cut to the width of our pattern piece, but about an inch longer than the pattern piece to allow for shrinkage when the pleats are sewn in. Lines are drawn on the fabric representing whatever width you want the pleats to be. For this project, we spaced our pleats at every two inches.
Next, a piece of 1/2" sew foam is cut slightly larger than our piece of fabric. Sew foam is made specifically for upholstery work. It's a lightweight foam with a special backing attached on one side so that you can sew it without the stitches pulling through the foam.The sew foam is lightly glued to the fabric using 3M 77 adhesive (Photo 15-4) . The "77" adhesive is not recommended for permanent gluing, but all we want to do here is hold the fabric in place while it is being sewn. Using the guide lines we drew earlier, the fabric is sewn to the sew foam, creating a pleated effect across the panel.
|Begin with the center pleat, and then work your way to each end. The perimeter of the panel is stitched up using our original as a pattern for the stitching location (Photo 15-5). For these seats, all of the perimeter stitching is spaced 1/4" in from the edge of the fabric. This was the spacing on our original seats, and to keep the patterns correct, it is the spacing used on our new panels. The panel is then trimmed to match the original pattern (Photo 15-6). A pleated panel for the back of the seat is made the same way using the pattern for that section (Photo 15-7).|
The flat panels
Looking again at our original seat (Photo 15-2), we see that the pleated center panels are surrounded by flat or "plain" panels. Although these panels are fairly simple, they all have foam backing. Photo 15-8 shows the sew foam attached to the back side of one of the panels. Photo 15-9 shows the fabric side of the same panel. Photo 15-10 shows the balance of the panels with the foam sewn in place.
|Before we begin sewing the panel sections together, we need to show one other key element: the welting. Welting can be purchased pre-made, but it is rather expensive. To make your own, you begin with welting cord. Welting cord comes in various diameters; we are using 1/8" cord for this project (Photo 15-11). Fabric strips are cut approximately 1 3/8" wide (Photo 15-12). If you prefer, this fabric can be an accent color, or it can be the same color fabric you use on your seats.|
To sew the fabric around the cord, your machine should be equipped with a "welting foot". This is a special foot with a concave bottom, which holds the fabric tightly around the cord while sewing (Photo 15-13). The fabric is folded over the cord and sewn as shown in Photo 15-14. Photo 15-15 shows a strip of welting ready for installation.
Sewing the panels together
|To assemble the panels, we begin by sewing a flat wing section onto each side of the pleated center panel, with a strip of welting sandwiched between the two sections (Photo 15-16). From the back side, you can see how the seams are created (Photo 15-17). The black strips are Velcro, which attach to matching Velcro strips embedded in the seat foam at the factory. The Velcro pulls and holds the seat cover as it wraps around the sculptured foam seat.|
|Next, side panels (arrows) are sewn to the "wings" (Photo 15-18). This seam is also sewn with welting between the two panels. The last panels to go on (arrows) are the two bottom sections (Photo 15-19), which are sewn without welting.|
|Turned "right-side-out", the cushion cover now looks like this (Photo 15-20). The cover is pulled tightly over the foam seat base and attached using the original attachment points (Photo 15-21). (Note: many times seat covers are pulled tight and held with hog rings. This seat was designed to hold the cover with wires sewn into the cover which attach to small clips on the bottom of the seat. Every brand of seat will be a little different. Just put yours back together the same way it was originally made.)|
|The seat back is sewn in the same way, and then the seat and back are reassembled (Photo 15-22). The second seat is completed using the same steps (Photo 15-23).|
|Although our original Subaru seats came at a very good price ($5), they did not have the headrests included. So, the headrests had to be made from scratch using 8" x 7/16" bolts with the heads cut off. The bolts are spaced so that they will slide into the original mounting holes on the seat, and they are welded to a 1/8" flat stock panel. The bolts have "notches" welded on the bottom end, which allow them to be adjusted up and down using the original seat adjustment mechanism (Photo 15-24).|
A wood backing is then added to create a "box" around the framing (Photo 15-25) and the box is covered with 1/4" closed-cell foam (Photo 15-26). A pleated front panel is sewn and a "skirting" is attached around the perimeter of the front panel (Photo 15-27). Photo 15-28 shows the sewn cover from the front side.
The cover is pulled over the headrest and glued to the back side of the "box" (Photo 15-29). A wood trim is cut, polyurethaned and screwed to the back of the box (Photo 15-30). The completed and installed headrest is shown in Photo 15-31.
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