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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've completed my first project with my "new" 1949 Singer sewing machine. This is a good lesson in basic sewing and hand stitching techniques.

I bought a pair of armrests from Classic Parts not too long ago ... this week I brought them in the house, took them apart and recovered them with leather from a Scandanavian moose who died and left his legacy in my interior.
:D
I sewed all seams with the machine and then applied a "French Stitch" using a hand-stitching awl and heavy-duty waxed thread.

You can see the entire process here:
Click Here
 

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Your armrests are very interesting, I'm glad the moose didn't die in vain. A couple of comments.... you didn't back your french seam with anything, making the original machine stitch line the only thing holding your armrest together. A french seam is usually backed with twill tape covering the entire seam and sewn through on both sides to strengthen the seam. This is more important on places that get more abuse, such as seats.
Since you made cardboard patterns anyway, why not make them first and cut the leather from the pattern? Then if something doesn't fit, you can trim or add to the pattern and re-cut. Here are a few tips for making patterns from the original vinyl: Before you take the pieces apart, mark position notches (witness marks) on both sides of the fabric which you match up as you're sewing the pieces together. (There may already be position notches so just use those.) This is not so important on smaller projects, but very important on larger ones, like seats. After the pieces are taken apart, you will also probably need to add to the pattern to account for seam allowances (usually 1/2" or 3/8") Soak the vinyl in water until the backing is saturated and press it from the backside with a steam iron. Put a piece of plywood over the pieces, weight them down, and let them dry. This will flatten the vinyl and make it easier to trace. The left and right pieces are mirror images of themselves, so you only need one pattern which you flip over to cut left and right. On a piece which is the same on both sides, like the center section of your armrest, draw a center line on the cardboard, trace one half (the best half if you are copying old pieces) of the piece, and cut the pattern out up to the center line. Then simply fold the cardboard on the center line, outline the opposite half and cut out the rest. Again, not as important on smaller pieces, but very important on larger ones. Good luck with all your projects.
 

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We haven't heard from you in awhile, thought you sold your truck!!!
 

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Acoustic Rock ... for real.
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Hey, Solidaxel - No way!
:cool:
It's my daily driver! I've just been busy with other things and enjoying all the improvements I made on the truck, thanks to everyone here. I'm pretty much done with all the mechanics and now I'm getting back to projects, working up an interior, so I'm back.

DanTwoLakes - Thanks, Bro'! I needed to hear every piece of advice you gave. On the French Stitch, I did sew the top to the flap on the back side ... but I see what you mean about adding a piece that goes across to both sides for support to the seam. I did the machine-stitched seam with nylon upholstery thread and double-stitched each seam ... plus leather is much more plyable (more stretch) than vinyl, so I thought I was doing well and, also, I didn't want too much bulk there; there's enough from folding the leather as it is ... I think I need to skive (shave) the leather thinner wherever I'm gonna be French Stitching to get less bulk (thickness)?

I'm learning as I go on this one, so I sure do appreciate posts like yours!
:smash:
 

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Horvath: I wasn't trying to rain on your parade. What you did was very nice, obviously done with a lot of love, and will probably last a long time. What I was trying to get through to everyone else is that a french seam needs to be stronger in other areas (like seats). BTW,........ be careful stitching vinyl, leather, or ultraleather too much. If you sew seams twice you run the risk of actually cutting the material by getting stitches too close together. Does your machine have a way to adjust stitch lenghth? If so, I wouldn't sew leather , vinyl, or ultraleather with more than 6 or 7 stitches per inch for that same reason.
In one of your other posts there was mention of nylon thread being resistant to sun and waterproof. Nylon thread is the strongest, but polyester thread (Sunguard 92) holds up to sun better than nylon.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
DanTwoLakes: You didn't rain on my parade at all, Bro' ... quite the opposite -- you taught me some very important points, and now you've given me a couple more! Keep it up!
:)

You've got me wondering though ... what about seats that don't have a French stitch? Where there is just a simple seam sewn, is there some sort of reinforcement there that we don't see?

I'm using actual animal hides ... moose and elk, so far. This kind of leather is amazingly strong! I mean, if I'm cutting a piece and have a 32nd of an inch still holding on, I can't pull it off by hand - I have to cut that tiny bit in order to get it free!

I'm having trouble getting 6 stitches per inch with my Singer because the leather creates so much friction. I'm going to try using a teflon foot and see if that helps ... but I may wind up buying an industrial machine anyway, like a Tacsew or a Pfaff, so I can use fatter thread. Also, I'm not too happy with the hand-stitching I did ... the thread is too heavy looking I think and the amount of work involved is ridiculous.

What kind of machine are you using? And what size thread?
 

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Nope, there's nothing other than the single line of stitching. Production line seats are generally made from fabric that has a foam and a backing bonded to it, which makes the seam pretty strong. Most of the time perimeter stitching is top-stitched for a couple reasons: additional strength, and top stitching smooths out the seam, and makes it lay down where you want it. (It also gives the piece a finished, tailored look that I really like) I use a Consew 226R and a Consew 255RB-3 with nylon #69 thread and pre-wound bobbins for almost everything. Anything I sew that will be used outside gets polyester Sunguard thread. The 255RB-3 uses larger M style bobbins whereas the 226R uses smaller G bobbins. Both of these machines will adjust stitch length and also adjust for different thicknesses of fabric. Trying to sew hides like Moose or Elk has got to be challenging. My guess is that you're going to have a tough time tailoring things with these heavy leathers. I like my Consew machines. One reason I stuck to them is the feet are interchangeable. I've got a lot of money invested in different feet, so it's nice to be able to use them on either machine. (for example, I have a 5/8" welt foot that I only sew windlace with using 1/2" sponge rod.) Pfaff makes a good machine also, as does Juki and Singer. You don't have to buy a new one to get a good machine, but take it to a qualified mechanic and make sure it is set up correctly. If you have any other questions, ask away.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thanks, man. I appreciate all this info greatly!

My biggest question right now is about thread thickness and needle sizes. On my Singer, I'm using a #18 leather needle with nylon upholstery thread (Coats #D-64) ... this seems too thin-looking to me for upholstery work - my Singer will take #69 thread but I'm not sure where to get some.

Is there a big difference between #64 and #69 thread?

Also, I haven't seen any needles larger than #18, though I've heard people talking about #22 but again, I don't know where to buy them.

PS - What do you mean by "top-stitched?" Is that like "half of a French stitch?"
 

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D-64 is Coats upholstery thread designation and should be comparable to the #69 I use. They also make a topstitching thread that looks heavier. My machines use 135x17 needles, and I like size #22 which is the largest. I'm not familiar with your machine's needles or available sizes, but if you're using a large leather point needle (kind of wedge or arrowhead shaped) you should be fine. Rochford Supply in Minnesota is a good online source of thread and prewound bobbins. I buy mine from local upholstery suppliers. There is (or used to be) an upholstery supply shop in Harrison, NJ who would have #69 thread. Topstitching is what you see around the perimeter of car seats that don't have cording. After sewing a seam, both pieces of fabric are laid down in one direction and sewn down together, so you are sewing through three layers of fabric, the outside and both sides of the seam which are underneath and not seen. Yes, it would look like half of a french seam.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 · (Edited)
Excellent.

I did some modifications to my Singer last night ... this is a great machine, built in 1949; a true workhorse! I'm now getting 5 stitches per inch out ouf it, sewing 4.5 oz. leather ... I had to file the grooves in the needle plate at the back to allow the added movement of the feed dog, but it all worked out well.

Now, I'm told that I can use a 92-size thread with this machine ... I don't know what that means, but I imagine it's heavier looking which is what I want.

Next, I'm going to try a roller foot ... that should allow me a larger stitch, too.

Once I get the machine doing what I want, I'm going to do the armrests over again and see if I get better results.

Honestly, after seeing the great looks of real leather, I can't imagine using anything else ... look at this and tell me if there's anything else like it:



It's the center piece (horn cover) on my '75 Caddy steering wheel.
 

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Alan, glad you are still around and still hanging with the PU. I like your arm rests and, like you, I like the French seams. There are tools you can buy that makes the holes for the hand stitching that allow you to get them both straight and even. You can get them in different sizes, space distance and number of teeth. I like to have 2, 3, and 4 teeth. I use the 4 toother for straight seams and for curves, I go down depending on the steepness of the curves. I always put a tooth in the last hole I punched so it keeps the seam spacing very even all the way and as straight as you can with a machine.

Trees
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Hey, Trees! It's good to connect with you again, Brother!
:D
Man, I can't find a 4-toother ... I like 4 stitches per inch, too. Where can I find one? If you have a source, I sure would appreciate it. All I've been able to find is 5, 6 & 7 per inch - it's a hand tool with a wheel on the end, right?
 

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Alan, it is a tool much like a punch except the foot is similar to a fork with out a bend and very short tines. You mark your first hole and place the first tine over the mark and align the tool with your direction of seam and strike with a mallet, punching 4 straight, evenly spaced holes. Then put the first tine in the 4th hole and repeat. You end up making 3 new holes each time. I'll try to find you a source for the tools but in the mean time, start looking in local hobby stores. I can't imagine a leather working shop not having them.

Trees
 

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Alan: You are correct. #69 Nylon thread has about 6300 yards per pound, and #92 Nylon has about 5000 yards per pound, which makes it noticeably heavier, but not thick. (The difference in Polyester thread is 6500 yards for #69 and 4800 yards for #92.) You won't need a different needle for 69 as compared to 92.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Trees - I know the tool you're talking about and I do have a source ... thanks. I was thinking of another tool that has prongs situated on a wheel (kinda like a pizza cutter) ... these are used for marking out holes to be punched but, for some reason, they never make them with less than 5 holes per inch.

DanTwoLakes - Thanks for the clarification. I guess there's no such thing a thicker thread, eh? They are all the same thickness ... it's just that some are heavier in weight ... correct?

Also, correct me if I'm wrong: Nylon is stronger than poly ... but poly has a better UV protection and I should use polyester thread rather than nylon?

You also said "They also make a topstitching thread that looks heavier." -- what do I ask for if I want to buy this one? And I gather this one should only be used for top-stitching or french-stitching, not for sewing seams - right?

I found what appears to be an elaborate sewing center in Princeton ... I'm going to go check it out Friday morning to pick up that Roller Foot and whatever else I can get my hands on.
 

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Nylon is stronger than polyester in the same thickness. In other words: Nylon 69 is stronger than polyester 69, but nylon 69 is slightly less strong than polyester 92. Polyester 69 will last longer in a boat cover sewed with nylon 69, but polyester 92 will last far longer in the same circumstances. Don't be confused with the thickness of the thread, thickness does not necessarily mean strength. Cotton thread 1and 1/2 times as thick as nylon 69 may be thicker in appearance, but has far less strength. As far as the topstitching thread......... Coats makes a specific thread called topstitching thread. It is specifically designed to look heavier than their regular thread for appearance only. It is not necessarily stronger because it is and looks heavier. For example: Coats also makes an orange thread specifically to topstitch bluejeans. It may look heavier, but has far less strength than other threads. In other words: thread manufacturers make certain threads for no other reason than how they look on a specific finished piece, not necessarily how strong they are. What confuses the issue even more is the fact that there are no real sizing standards as far as thread goes. For upholstery work, nylon 69 is the standard, for different looks, there are dozens of threads to present other looks. Polyester 92 and polyester 138 (basically double the size of 92 but the same strength) are used for boat covers. Polyester 138 requires a larger needle (150 in my case and as large as your machine allows in your case) Polyester thread stands up better to direct sunlight. In any other application, stick to nylon for strength as opposed to size. My point is this: use whatever thread gives you a strong seam, and topstitch or french seam with whatever looks good to your eye. Whatever you do...........do not use nylon monofilament thread. This stuff is very cheap, but it heats up and stretches as it goes through a sewing machine, (even at low speeds , but especially at high speeds) and fails quickly. Bass Tracker used this thread to sew all their pontoon seats for two years and all of them failed after 5 years. They may have improved this stuff over the years, but............once bitten, twice shy babe. I apologize , once again , for being so wordy, but I was on a roll. Keep asking questions, dude, you're helping lots of guys when you ask.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
That was GREAT, Dan! Thanks!

I'm finally getting the idea. Nylon (like CoatsD-64) or (better still) Polyester 92 is what I'll be using on all my seams ... for strength.

Then, for looks and because I like the way a fatter thread appears -- and also for the UV protection factor -- I'll be using something like the Polyester size 92 on all French- or Top-stitching, which is mainly there for visual design and also what happens to get beat on by sunlight.

Sounds like the most economical approach would be to just use Polyester 92 for everything.
 
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