Sew What?

Question: I would like to learn to sew my own upholstery, like seat covers and side panels, etc. I have used our sewing machine to make drapes and pillow covers, as well as repairing jeans and shirts, but have never tried to sew leather or vinyl. What are the tricks for doing so and where can I get some information on this skill and obtaining materials? -- Pat, Alexandria, VA

Answer: Since you already know how to sew, you're a prime candidate to become a do-it-yourself upholstery expert! As you know, sewing is all about measuring, cutting and seaming fabrics in a consistent way to end up with good-looking seams and articles that fit properly.

The other important part to sewing is the machine itself. If you own a “homeowner” type of machine, it probably can’t perform heavy-duty work (thick, tough materials). Machines that sew leather and vinyl are powerful and utilize the “walking foot” instead of the more common stationary foot.

Walking foot machines (commonly referred to as “industrial” machines) have the ability to feed material with far less bunching-up, wrinkling or jamming, not to mention broken needles. They can sew upwards of 1" thicknesses, which means they can sew seams with beading, so common on car upholstery. They can also handle the thick, heavy-duty threads needed for automotive upholstery. Look into getting one if you don’t already own one.

Believe it or not, here at the Second Chance Garage we use a 1922 Singer Leather Patcher foot-treadle machine! It weighs as much as an engine block but sews up a storm.

As far as materials go, the Internet will provide you with several suppliers for bulk vinyl, leather or automotive cloth. Your local auto upholstery shop has reference books so you can look up the proper materials for your project, and they can order bulk goods for you at discount prices.

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