How To Reupholster & Repair Car Seats and Covers

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Published: 06th March 2012
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If you own a car long enough, it’s upholstery will *look* dead long before it’s engine actually dies. To maintain the value of your vehicle, you’ll need to replace the fabric on the seats, AKA reupholster them. One option is to pay a professional copious amounts of cash to do it for you. Or, if you’re thrifty like me, you’ll want to learn to do it yourself. If that’s you, I’m here to help. *smile*

Tools Needed For This Job:
Ratchet set
Scissors
Flashlight
New seat upholstery (material)
Muslin
Poly Foam
Upholstery stapler
Large sheets of paper
Aerosol glue

Go to a fabric store and buy about 1.5-2 yards fabric per seat. Velvet is a good upholstery choice for many reasons: looks, comfort, durability, and it allows seams that are sewn incorrectly to be ripped out without leaving a mark. In addition to the velvet, you’ll need 1 yard of muslin and 1 yard of 1/2 inch poly foam, per seat, to create the pleats.

First, you must remove the old seats from your car. Using your flashlight, search under the seat for the large bolts attaching the seat to the car frame. Remove these bolts, and then you can remove the seats.

Next, carefully remove the fabric from the seat frame. Most upholstery is fastened to the base with staples, which you must take off to remove the fabric. NOTE: Try to keep as much of the original upholstery intact, as this will be the “car seat pattern” you use for your new seat upholstery. Also, take notes on how the seat fits together, as you’ll have to remember this to reassemble your new fabric on it.


Before making new car seat patterns on the new fabric, the fabric that has pleats (you know, “pleats,” the body shaping grooves that run down each seat) needs to be prepared. Do this by gluing poly foam between the velvet and a muslin backing before you cut the pattern out. NOTE: Excessive amounts of glue on the fabric will make sewing extremely difficult. So, use just enough glue to hold the fabric in place.

Now you’re ready to make your new car seat patterns. Lay each piece of your original car seat material flat on a large sheet of paper. To make your new “Car Seat Upholstery Pattern,” trace around each piece of material. If your material has holes and/or tears, creating gaps in your pattern, you’ll have to fill them in using your imagination. The poly foam enhanced sections are important because they have pleats and listings. These are traced over the poly foam modified velvet, so that you have the option to sew pleats into them. In the photo below, note that, on the lower seat section, the grain of the fabric on the lower (vertical) face is perpendicular to that on the top part of the seat. This is not necessary, but does create a visually attractive contrast.

Congratulations, you have new car seat upholstery patterns! Lay them over your new material and cut out your new car seat upholstery. NOTE: Hold each piece of new seat fabric up next to the original seat cover to be sure you’ve matched each seat precisely.

Are you perspiring just *thinking* about making pleats? (Tell the truth.) Don’t worry...be happy! Making pleats is as easy as sewing a line down the foam modified fabric. The diagram above shows one way to sew pleats into seat fabrice. NOTE: If you choose a striped material, or striped textured material, make sure the vertical pleats run parallel with the stripes! Carefully sew the pleats straight or it will be painfully noticeable. The pleat that runs horizontally, in the lower section of the new seat upholstery, doubles as a seam to hold the listing.

A “listing” is a “wire that pulls fabric into a concave surface.” Without it, you’d be left with an unattractive bubble in your seat base. To make your listing for the lower car seat section, fold your muslin in half and glue it in place. Then, after you sew your horizontal pleat, you’ll have a small sleeve to put your wire in. NOTE: Sew the listing last. If you put your muslin in BEFORE you sew your other pleats, you might just sew it closed. *smile*

For the upper car seat sections, sew your pleats vertically, all the way up the back, without the horizontal pleat. There was no seam to hold the listing, so this part can be tricky. Like you already did for the lower section, fold a piece of muslin, but, this time, FOLD IT TWICE. Next, sew it down with vertical pleats. Then, after sewing the pleats, cut the top fold free along the pleats. This way, instead of one solid sleeve, you should have three separate sleeves to hold your “listing” wire.

Using your removal “notes” from earlier, and your upholstery stapler, apply your new car seat upholstery to each car seat the same way that the original material was attached. Lastly, you can replace your car seats and ratchet them tightly back onto their frames.

The above photo shows a before and after photo of a car seat upholstery renovation. The original seats had head rests, but the owner didn't like them enough to bother re-upholstering them. His car seat renovation only cost $35, saving him $100s of dollars compared to hiring a professional to reupholster his car seats for him.

If you’re still a little intimidated to take on this task after reading this article. You might invest in a professional reference guide. The "Automotive Upholstery Handbook" by Don Taylor comes highly recommended.

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