Front Seat Upholstery & Restoration
Since finishing my camper interior, one of the only things left inside was to restore the front seats and re-upholster them. Believe it or not, I sat on towels draped over the horse hair & springs for 5 years (yes, that is NOT a misprint; F-I-V-E Y-E-A-R-S). It was high time I treated my butt, and that of my wife's, to some new threads. Here's some photos of the old stuff to get an idea of how bad the situation really was. Why did I wait sooooo loooooong??????
First that was needed, was to strip them of all the old upholstery and horse-hair pads. Once they were stripped, I plastic media blasted them to strip the paint and corrosion. Then I inspected the frames and springs for breaks. Of course I found broken springs. After 35+ years of driving, springs are bound to break. First, I repaired the coil springs on the seat bottoms. Some, I just replaced all together with springs from a donor seat from a bug. the rest, I repaired with swedges. The other springs had to be grafted in since suitable full replacements were not available.
Once the frames were structurally sound, I re-painted the frames gloss black. Here's how they looked once they were painted.
One tool that you MUST have in order to apply seat covers is a good pair of ring pliers and some good quality hog rings. When I bought my seat covers, I purchased a kit that included pair of ring pliers and 100 hog rings. To say that I was disappointed in the quality would be an understatement. Since I don't so this every day, I really didn't care about the fact that they were literally made from wire. What pissed me off is that they would not even work, PERIOD!! And the hog rings were so wimpy that I wouldn't trust them to hold for very long. My advice to anyone who plans to reupholster their own seats, is to go to a hardware store and buy a REAL pair of ring pliers and a box of REAL hog rings I got a NICE pair of pliers and 100 good quality hog rings that really work well for under $13!! Don't waste your money on that crap the mail order retailers sell you. They ALL carry the same worthless kit and you'll just be throwing your money away. This set only cost my about $3 - $4 more than the cheap, worthless kit sells for. Since a picture is worth 1,000 words, here's a photo of the two sets of ring pliers and hog rings. I'm sure you can figure out which set actually works. . .
Before you can lay your foam pad, you need to cover the springs with some material. This is a MUST or the springs will poke through the foam padding in a matter of months. There's no special kind of fabric that's required, it just needs to be of heavy weight so that it will not deteriorate quickly. I paid a visit to my local Joanne's Fabric store where the had a 2 yard remnant of some heavy weight canvas for about $3. No need to pay full price for this stuff since it will never be seen anyway. Just hit the remnant bin and pick up some thick stuff CHEAP. Canvas or vinyl are perfect materials for this. I cut the canvas so that I had about 3 inches overhanging all sides. Then I doubled-up the edges and used "hog rings" so fasten it to the seat frames. Here's some photos of the springs covered with the canvas.
Then it's time for the foam pad. I got a good deal on some new contoured pads made by TMI Products. These are basically 1 1/4 inch thick foam with rounded edges glued to them. I managed to get these from a friend who had intended to do what I am doing here, but opted for a restoration shop to make custom covers.
Before installing the custom TMI seat covers, I went another step further and used some cotton padding to cover the TMI pads which also would give the seats a fuller look and super plush feel when finished. Cotton pad is available in bulk from any upholstery shop and is CHEAP. About $1 or so per foot. 4 yards took care of my front seats.
The seat covers for my bus were purchased from TMI Products. I had TMI create some custom covers that were made with gray tweed facings and gray vinyl sides and piping. Their price was VERY reasonable and the quality of construction was very good as well. The ONLY thing I didn't care for was that they sew in a string which is what the hog rings are supposed to hold on to. I called them up about this and they assured me the string was more than adequate. Sorry guys, but I just don't trust a wimpy little string to hold my seat covers in place. To remedy this, I used some 308 stainless steel welding rod and carefully slid it into the string pockets. Now the hog rings had some real meat to hold onto. And since they were stainless steel, I wouldn't have to worry about rust stains in the future like the old covers had.
Once it's time to stretch the new covers on, you need to heat them up so that the vinyl is very pliable and can stretch. If you try and apply them cold you will likely have loose covers that are all wrinkly. You can heat them basically one of three ways: (1) lay them out in the sun, (2) throw them IN-SIDE-OUT in a warm drier for about 10 minutes, or (3) you can use a heat gun or hair drier to heat them as you need it. Since I own a heat gun, that's what I used. This part was a real two person job, with my wife running the heat gun and me stretching the fabric and attaching everything. This is where I really appreciated the fit of the TMI covers. They were spot-on and lined up PERFECTLY!
The original hooks that VW put all along the bottom of all the seats that were supposed to grab the fabric and the welding rod in the pocket, basically all turned out to be worthless. Most broke off as soon as they were used. I don't think these were ever intended to be used a 3rd or 4th time. Unfortunately there was just nothing to hog ring to. To remedy this, we used more of the welding rod as a sort of hog ring and tied the covers to the seat frames and to the springs. Problem solved!!
Once the driver's seat was covered, I used stainless steel bolts, washers and nyloc nuts to re-join the seat pieces.
Here's some shots of the finished product. I think they turned out really well for a first time attempt at home upholstery.
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Revised: September 27, 2003 .