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Making new seat covers by hand.

Discussion in 'Tips and Tricks' started by charlesshoults, Dec 3, 2014.

  1. I've gone back and edited this post to give it a description of what I'm trying to accomplish. As I've been driving the truck more and more, the drivers seat has started to wear out, seams opening up. This has happened before, with evidence of a previous owner attempting to hand stitch them back together. I decided I needed to do something about it. I started asking around to see what shops could handle the job. The closest upholstery shop is 80 miles away in Scottsbluff Nebraska. To redo the seats and headrests would cost me about $600. I think that's too much money. I was warned about the shop and was told that if I could find somewhere else to get them done, or do it myself, I would be better off. I've never done anything this complicated before and was unsure, but I started hunting around and buying up supplies. While I'm at it, I decided to add 1/2" of foam to everything for a bit more cushioning.

    I plan to recover both seats, both headrests, both sun visors, make a steering wheel cover, and replace both interior door panels, adding space for two speakers in each door. I could simply buy a sheet of hardboard, cut the holes to match and glue a sheet of vinyl to it, but I want to add some definition to the doors, give them some depth, so the doors will be made of several pieces of vinyl, some areas with foam, set up in a way to match the pattern I'm giving to the seats. I will also be pulling up the floor, adding some vibration dampening and making a full coverage carpet.

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    This is my second attempt at making a new cover for the headrests. The first attempt was going good at first, then the sewing machine sort of exploded, screwing up the piece in the process. I've learned a few things since then, so here it goes.

    This is what the first attempt looked like. I started by drawing the pattern out on paper, before I had any of the vinyl. When the vinyl did come in, I didn't think about it, transferred the design to vinyl and got to work.
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    The new attempt is slightly different. I applied the design directly to the perforations on the vinyl instead of trying to use US Standard measurements. I tested a light green flow pen on a piece of light colored vinyl, making sure that it washes off, then drew the pattern on the vinyl I'm using for the headrest. I let it dry, more or less, then got to work.
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    The vinyl is stitched to a 1/4" thick piece of foam, that itself has a cloth backing to keep the thread from cutting the vinyl.
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    The darker bands are cut from 1.5" vinyl strips, center marked, two rows of double-sided tape applied with edges folded to center. Two more strips of double-sided tape hold the bands in place prior to stitching.
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    The diamond pattern is a bit smaller than the first attempt, but it's more uniform.
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    The piece is now trimmed and I'm ready to try stitching sides to it again. Hopefully I don't screw it up again. I'm tired of wasting pieces.
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    Last edited: Dec 7, 2014
  2. Ok, this attempt is much better than the first, but it still has a problem. I cut the border to be 2.5", then 1/2" was taken up from stitching it to the rest of the cover. After adding 1/2" of new foam padding to the existing headrest,it's not long enough to pull around the back. The original headrest had a wire run through a sewn loop on the back of the headrest, then pulled tight with a pair of pliers. My plan was to use a cord through a similar loop, but not enough material. For this one, I may end up needing to make a loop out of another piece of vinyl and stitch it to this one. For the other one, if I make the border an inch wider, I'll have enough to create the channel for the cord and trim whatever excess.
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    Last edited: Dec 3, 2014
  3. Before going to more extensive measures, I decided to give a piece of wire a try. This is a little more bulky than the original since I have 1/4" of foam stitched directly to the vinyl, but I think it will work. I'll need to pick up some bolts to reattach it to the mounting rails.

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  4. I installed the first headrest in the truck after work today and I stitched up the second headrest tonight. I sprayed the bolts with penetrating catalyst snd will let it sit over night to see if there is any hope of getting the bolts out without drilling them. Even though the headrests are the smallest pieces of the projects, they have the tightest bends and are the most difficult to get under the machine. Screw ups waste the least amount of fabric. This weekend, I think I will take the passenger seat back out of the truck and begin making patterns and stitching up the individual flat pieces.
     
  5. Jim Nelson

    Jim Nelson Active Member

    That looks great,I wish I had your talent and sewing machine.The last one I had done cost $300 and came out real poor even after returning three times.At least doing it yourself if you aren't happy with the results you can just rip it out and do it again. Good job I say.
     
  6. I was quoted $600 to have the seats done. I don't like spending money on things that I don't have control over, so even if it costs me the same amount of money, I'd rather do it myself. I got the screws out of the second headrest this morning, cleaned up the rust and coated the steel frame with primer over lunch and completed the installation tonight. The second headrest looks a little better than the first, but I think I need to some reinforcement on a few points.

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    I told a coworker that once I take the passenger side seat back out of the truck, I'm probably going to set it on the couch and stare at it until I figure out what to do with it. I'm going to be adding 1/2" of foam to the entire front. The front-facing panels should be about the same size so I can make patterns from them, but the sides will need to be bit wider to account for the added depth. Plus, just like the headrests, I'll be stitching 1/4" foam to everything. Looking at the second picture, it's odd, but I figured out where my radio antenna went.

    Once I take the existing seat cover off, I'll need to separate the steel frame from the foam, clean up and paint the steel frame. Has some rust.
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  7. The passenger side seat back in my mini truck is made up of five sections of cloth and four sections of vinyl. The existing vinyl sections are going to be replaced with new, thicker, padded charcoal vinyl. Of the five cloth sections, the single section that is most centrally used as the seat back will be made up of the perforated vinyl with a diamond pattern and solid vinyl bands. The other sections will be made of the solid, slightly darker "driftwood" vinyl. I only bought 2 yards of that particular vinyl and may not have enough for both roles, so I may end up having to order more. I had to order more 1/2" medium density foam this morning to have enough to cover both seat backs and both seat bottoms. I'll likely be ordering four more yards of perforated vinyl so that I have enough for not only the seats, but also for sections of the doors.

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  8. Dang, my back hurts. Stitching the diamond pattern on a piece this size really sucks. Constantly having to fold a section of it to get it to fit properly under the machine. I need to wipe the piece down to remove the green ink residue, then set it under something heavy to flatten it out. Similar to the way I made the second headrest, I'll need to stitch a wider band for the laterals so that when this panel is stitched to the ones next to it, there isn't a gap.

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    The sewing machine I'm using is quite old. It's a Pfaff 332 made in 1949. German construction, aluminum body with steel components. I bought it 10 or so years ago from the mother of one of my friends, for $100. I haven't used it for a great deal over the years but it's certainly getting a workout now.

    To build the seat covers, door panels and headliner, I have the following:

    8 yards of 1/4" foam padding with a cloth backing
    8 yards of charcoal vinyl cloth
    1 yard of perforated charcoal vinyl cloth
    4 yards of "linen" perforated vinyl fabric (probably need to order 4 more yards)
    2 yards of "driftwood" vinyl fabric (4 more on order)
    22 sq. ft. of 1/2" medium density foam
    72 yards of marine-grade1/4" wide double-sided tape (not enough)
    450 yards of "driftwood" upholstery thread (600 yards on order)
     
  9. The passenger side seat back is getting close. I need to stitch a reinforcement around the edge, then take the existing cover off the old seat to add new foam. The old cover is held on with hog rings. I don't have new rings, or a pair of pliers for them, so I may have to improvise. This thing has taken most of the day to complete. Started at 9:00am this morning.

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  10. Acerguy

    Acerguy Moderator Staff Member

    Wow! Amazing work! Nice job.
     
  11. Thank you. Today has been sort of a bear. If you are considering doing something like this yourself, think long and hard before you do it. It can be a real pain.

    Manipulating something this big under a home sewing machine is a chore.
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    The existing cover was held on with many copper rings. I don't have any copper wire. I suppose I could buy some. I do have some 16ga steel wire, but thicker would probably be better. I should have anticipated this, but the existing foam appears to have sections of wire molded into the foam itself. The back of the seat cover had sleeves sewn to it and a wire through each sleeve. Two copper rings then held this wire into the groove against the wires embedded into the foam. No hog ring pliers. I may either lash lengths of wire to the bottom of the new seat cover, which would have to be stitched by hand since I've already trimmed the excess, or hand stitch sleeves to the bottom of the cover in the same manner as the old. Instead of using the embedded wire, which I can't readily access, I may punch holes through the foam all the way to the back and pull it taught with paracord.
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    I've started gluing the new layer of foam to the old. Two done, two waiting to be done, but I want to wait until these are dried and I can trim them before I add the other two. I have enough for this cushion, but I'm almost out of foam, almost out of double-sided tape and almost out of thread. I've ordered more but it will be some time before it gets here, so this cushion will be installed into the truck when it's done, but after that, I might be done for a week or so.
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  12. I made three loops, through which to pass wire used to hold the seat cover to the foam. I managed to attach one of them to the seat cover with the machine but the other two had to be stitched by hand. Tomorrow I'll be able to do final fitting.

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  13. I accomplished today's goal of finishing the seat back. I had my doubts as to whether everything was going to work out, but so far, so good. I eliminated all of the copper rings, so I was trying to figure out how the heck I was going to get the cover to stay in place. Into the three sleeves I stitched to the back side of the cover, I started out with a 16ga wire but when I tried to pull it tight, it bent the wire over and pulled it through the foam. Went to the hardware store and bought some heavier steel rod, welding steel about the same diameter as a steel tent stake. I bent the ends into a U so that a cut end wouldn't poke through anything and passed each through the three sleeves. I then used an awl to poke the holes I needed through the foam, then used a thin screwdriver to run a loop of paracord through from the back.
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    I installed the cover, a length of paracord threaded through a similar sleeve around the perimeter of the cover and scratched my head for a while to figure out how to pull the pieces of paracord tight to hold the cover tight against the foam. I used some scraps of heavy saddle leather to cut little squares, drill a hole in the center of each one, pass the paracord through the leather and pulled it tight. Works great.
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  14. I need an opinion. One of the items, or sets of items that I plan to rebuild is the visors. The existing are molded vinyl and somewhat misshapen, almost like the foam inside is fragmented. I need opinions on how to rebuild them and what color. The dominant color of the seats is different than what I expected. I planned the light perforated vinyl to be the base color with the driftwood bands being an accent color, but because the same color that makes the bands was also used for three sections of the passenger seat back, that became the dominant color. That will be carried through the rest of the seat components.

    As for the doors. I'm not a designer. I'm educated as a draftsman although I didn't make use of that in my career. I recall reading somewhere that whether painting walls or building a structure, lighter colors should be placed above darker ones. Take for example, a house with a lower brick section with wood or siding above. The wood or siding should be painted a lighter color than the brick or else it appears top heavy. That concept will go into the design I have for the doors.

    The carpet will be a peppered charcoal gray, darker than the dark gray used for the seats. The headliner will be the light perforated vinyl used on the seats. Now, how about the visors? Light tan perforated vinyl, darker driftwood color like the bands on the seats, or dark charcoal gray?
     
  15. Jim Nelson

    Jim Nelson Active Member

    I would go with the darker as you want it to absorb light rather than reflect it.
     
  16. TRAX and HORNS

    TRAX and HORNS Well-Known Member

    WOW, Good job.
    My little legal guy from south of the border charges me 80.00 for the bottoms and 120.00 for top and bottom. He puts in four ribs. He does a good job. I coulnt tell you how many we have had done , a bunch.
    Most of the times the bottoms are the only thing that needs attention.
     
  17. I haven't gotten much done lately. My four yards of darker tan vinyl came in yesterday and 1/2" seat foam arrived today. I had taken one of the visors out of the mini truck and took it apart. The foam inside the headrest was in pretty poor shape, and the frame a little rusty. The light tan I have is closest to the color of the original visors so I started cutting material and stitching the vinyl to foam, until the sewing machine lost tension and tore the vinyl. I have the sewing machine corrected and have cut pieces from the darker solid vinyl fabric. It does not have holes, but I'm going to try to map out the diamond pattern I'm using on the seats.

    Today was barely 40 degrees outside, but it may be that this is the last decent day we're going to have for a while. After tomorrow, it may not be above freezing until Friday.

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  18. I made a pattern for the passenger door skin today. The piece of hardboard I have is 24" wide, but measurements say that I need 24.75", so it might be tight if I want to keep from buying another full sheet of hardboard. I'm increasing the height of the panel to fully cover the door, a second pair of speakers placed into the lowest cavity.

    The hardboard is 0.115" thick, a bit thicker than the original panel. I'll either need to thin the portions that hold the panel retainers, or buy new retainers that can fit the thicker board. I'll be accumulating supplies over the winter and will be doing quite a bit of work on it in the spring.

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    Last edited: Dec 13, 2014
  19. The trailing side of the door has absolutely no free space, all taken up by the window regulator. Factory location for a 4" speaker. I'll be adding a second speaker to each door to the bottom front. I'm trying to think of ways to make the speakers less noticeable. I won't be using factory grills, possibly a metal mesh instead, painted the same color as the vinyl surrounding it. Yes, there are speakers but I don't want to advertise their locations. I want the doors to look clean.
     
  20. Well, I haven't done much work on the seats lately. I half expect to screw something up when I start working on it, which just happens part of the time.

    I started on the main portion of the passenger side seat, which consists of four pieces, plus the dark gray sides. I looked, and looked, and thought it best to make the perforated vinyl just one section.
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    Main stitching done.
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    I ran into a bit of a problem. A few weeks ago, I bought four more yards of the darker tan color which is used for bands and lateral pieces. I unrolled it, cut a strip to be used for bands and learned that it's not the same color as the original vinyl I bought. I think I'm going to have to contact the vendor, send them a piece and have them match it. I'm not sure how much I have left of the original roll. I might have enough to finish the seats, but probably not the doors.
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    I'll cut out the other three pieces tomorrow evening, join them to the main piece. Before I cut the dark gray for the sides, I want to pull the seat out of the truck again and make sure that everything is on track to fit. I'll need to get a few more pieces of steel bar from the hardware store but that will likely have to wait until Monday.
     

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