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USER'S GUIDE to Upholstery Restoration



By Bill Bassett

(click here to download MS Word version)

There are several points that should be addressed before someone makes the decision to purchase upholstery.

· The one time buyer of service buys on price or claims. He has no experience with the range of quality in available upholstery work. The lack of experience makes him or her an easy mark for an overstated marketing technique

· Fit, Accuracy, and Detail are extremely important in the selection of one's upholstery. These three areas are not equal in all of the kits, although one might be persuaded to think this by the descriptions utilized in the advertising.

· Looks and Feel of the Materials: There are many variations of materials that can be used in the construction of upholstery kits. The finest kits use the best materials; the less expensive ones cut corners wherever they can. All grades of leather are not the same; door panels and interior panels that are made from cardboard are not suitable for anything but the budget restoration.

· Durability should be considered when making this major purchase. The kits using the best materials are going to give the best service life.

· Kit Contents: The inexpensive kits have the least number of pieces included. If you are doing a restoration, you'll need all of the upholstery pieces, not just the easy ones. Sometimes obvious pieces are not included with the kits; this is an indication that the interior may never have been test fitted to a car. The other reason for less than complete kits is the manufacturer may not have the capabilities of making all of the pieces.

· Wide Range of prices, quality, and ultimate effect: Most buyers of restoration invest significant amounts of money in the car. Arguably, the intended look and feel of the upholstery is as important as the paint job. Not only looks, but also comfort should be considered, as this is the only place that you have any immediate physical contact with your car. You should be happy with the way it looks and how it feels.

Numerous Ways to Reduce Manufacturing Cost of Upholstery

There are many reasons for the variety of prices for seemingly similar kits, These are the most important ones.

1. Leather is the most expensive material used in anyone's upholstery kit. There are several grades of leather available from any leather company. Some of the grades are quite expensive; some of them are quite inexpensive. Some of the inexpensive leathers have a lot of bodywork done on them before they can be sold. Marks are sanded out of them and plastic fillers are used to fill in the affected areas. These hides are put through a press that has plates to print a grain pattern on them so they look like leather. These quite often will look similar to the higher priced materials. They will not hold up nearly as long as the better grades. People, who use these types of leather, use them because they are inexpensive and are not concerned with quality or the length of time that they will last. Leather also comes in dye lots and in grain lots. The highest quality upholstery kits use premium grades of leather from the same dye lot and the same grain lot. Some of the suppliers save all of the scraps from each interior. At some point, there are enough leather pieces to make an interior. There is no concern that the pieces have come from a number of different dye and grain lots, most people will not know the difference. They don't really know why the leather does not all look the same, they just assume that's the way leather looks. This is the way leather looks if the kits are made from scraps. Guess which color hides the differences the best? Did anyone guess black? Does anyone know an upholstery supplier that specializes in black kits? This practice is very apparent to anyone who works with leather. It will be apparent to you too, if you look carefully at what you're buying.

2. Leather cuts: there are a number of areas on the hides that shouldn't be used for seat cushions or backs. The armpits, tail, neck and along the edges of the belly are not suitable for high stress areas, they don't hold up as well as the choice cuts from the center of the hides. Again, many people do not notice till they see irregular wear on parts of their interior. Cutting the pieces from wherever the pattern falls can save quite a bit of money. This practice usually benefits the manufacturer more than the customer.

3. Material cuts: There are right ways and less expensive ways to cut pieces from yard goods. When goods are properly cut, proper orientation of the pattern is utilized. What difference does this make? Big difference: sometimes it means being able to use a given piece of goods to do the intended job, or calling the manufacturer back up to request more material (usually at your expense). You don't really know why you couldn't cover that part, the material just seemed to fight you. A properly laid out interior is cut out knowing what relationship each piece has to the whole kit, where they are to be placed and how they lay. It is possible to save quite a bit of manufacturing cost by cutting the pieces wherever they fit most easily.

4. Thread: There is not a lot of money to be saved by using nylon or monofilament thread instead of dacron polyester, maybe 3 or 4 dollars per interior. Dacron lasts much longer than nylon and does not rot when exposed to the sun whereas monofilament breaks. Why would anyone knowledgeable use nylon or monofilament? (Monofilament is fishing line)

5. Seat foam: Top quality foam rubber is expensive, but it gives excellent service for many years. The best foams are quite dense and heavy, with a lot of resilience. The soft and easily compressed foams are made up mostly of air and break down fairly rapidly. This is one time that Air is not free!

6. Craftsmen: Good craftsmen cost a lot of money. Someone who is able to make and fit patterns, upgrade them, do any type of upholstery necessary (including side curtains, tops, boots, seats, etc) is necessary and worth the cost. There is nothing wrong with semi skilled labor; there are many things in upholstery kits that they are capable of making.

7. Door Panel and Interior Panel Material: The best upholstery kits use plastic for these important panels (we originated this idea in 1973), the lesser kits use cardboard. Cardboard is fine for doing low budget restorations. Moisture affects cardboard, it makes the panels warp and the glue lose its grip. The best thing about the cardboard panel material is that is inexpensive.

8. Convertible Tops, Boot Covers, and Tonneaus: Many times these components do not come with an upholstery kit, or if they do; it may be an aftermarket mass produced product. It costs much less to purchase one of these tops than it does to supply a convertible that is authentic in all details and suitable for a high quality restoration. Most of the kits do not come with boot covers. These are difficult to make and take quite a bit of time to duplicate the details. Again, some of the upholstery companies do not have the capability of being able to make tops and boots. Several hundred dollars can be saved in this area alone.

These are the major areas where cost cutting hurts the consumer. Most people do not have the experience to realize what they are getting or not getting. Some people are perfectly happy to buy the least expensive product available while others are not.

This guide was written to provide working knowledge for the person who has an interest in what is going in his or her upholstery restoration.

Bill Bassett

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