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Chapter 15: Upholstery - Seats

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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[edit]
Car seat cover Vehicle Car Car seat Chair 15-1 The original Subaru bucket seat. Photo attribution
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.
Panel patterns[edit]
Wood Table Hardwood Floor Wood stain 15-2 These are the upholstery pieces contained in just one seat cover. Photo attribution
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.
Furniture Table Bed frame Bed Room 15-3 Using the originals as patterns, the pieces are cut out of the new fabric. Photo attribution

Rolled and pleated panels[edit]

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.

Floor Wood stain Wood Flooring Laminate flooring 15-4 Sew foam is glued to the fabric. Photo attribution
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.
Food Cuisine Rectangle 15-5 The pleats are stitched and a seam is sewn around the perimeter of the panel. Photo attribution
Tan Rectangle Wallet Beige Paper 15-6 The original pattern is used to trim the panel to size. Photo attribution
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).
Tan 15-7 A pleated panel for the seat back is made the same way. Photo attribution
The flat panels[edit]

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.

Belt Material property Fashion accessory Strap Buckle 15-8 Sew foam is glued to the back of a flat panel. Photo attribution
Beige 15-9 The foam is sewn around the perimeter of the panel. Photo attribution
Furniture Wood Table Plywood Varnish 15-10 The flat panels with foam sewn to the back of each. Photo attribution
Wire Cable 15-11 A spool of 1/8" welting cord. Photo attribution
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.
Wood Metal 15-12 Strips are cut from the upholstery fabric to create welting. Photo attribution

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 machine Wood Table Machine Machine tool 15-13 Note the concave "welting foot" which holds the cord tight to the needle. Photo attribution
Sewing machine Sewing Sewing machine needle Craft Home appliance 15-14 The fabric is folded over the cord and fed into the sewing machine. Photo attribution
Wire Fashion accessory Copper Metal Cable 15-15 A finished strip of welting. Photo attribution

Sewing the panels together[edit]
Tan Paper product Paper 15-16 The "wing" panels are sewn to the pleated center panel with welting between them. Photo attribution
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.
Hood Concept car Vehicle Paper 15-17 The backside view of the panel. Photo attribution
Dinghy 15-18 Side panels (arrows) are then sewn to the wings. Photo attribution
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. 15-19 Bottom panels (arrows) are sewn to the side panels. Photo attribution 15-20 At this juncture, the cover is turned right-side-out. Photo attribution
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.)
Furniture Beige Comfort 15-21 The cover is stretched over the seat foam and attached to the base. Photo attribution
The completed covers[edit]
Car seat cover Car seat Tan Vehicle Car 15-22 The seat back is completed and joined to the base cushion. Photo attribution
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).
Car Car seat Vehicle Car seat cover Classic car 15-23 Both seat covers are completed. Photo attribution
Table Furniture 15-24 Headrest structure was made from 7/16" bolts and 1/8" flat stock. Photo attribution
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).
Tool Metalworking hand tool 15-25 A wood backing is screwed onto the back of the framework. Photo attribution

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.

Rectangle Box Wood Dairy 15-26 The headrest is covered with closed-cell foam. Photo attribution
Linens 15-27 A pleated "face" is sewn to a side panel. Photo attribution
Beige Furniture Rectangle 15-28 The headrest cover before being installed. Photo attribution

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. 15-29 The cover is stretched over the foam and glued on the back side. Photo attribution
Tool Wood 15-30 A wood trim piece is screwed to the back of the headrest. Photo attribution
Car seat cover Car seat Tan Beige Leather 15-31 The completed headrest and seat. Photo attribution
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