Fixing auto upholstery in a 1998 Honda Civic EX

The mighty civic has been through a lot. Its been backed into three times just on the drivers side. It was hit twice on the passenger side. Still the might civic plods on! 36-42 mpg with its mighty v-tec and 5 speed manual. Yes it is a clown car for me as I am almost 6′ 3″ but it is a blast to drive.

So onto the upholstery. The front driver seat was torn between the side panel and the main seat panel. Well since I have that handy dandy Kingmax industrial sewing machine I might as well put it to use.

First, I gathered materials. Colorado Auto Trim and Supply in Denver has bought the end runs from all the manufacturers. Though this is a 1998 there was none left but being they had hundreds of samples we found a great match.WP_20130703_001

Now I remove the front seat, very easy to do in the civic. I remove the hog rings with a pair of pliers. Now make sure you have a pair of hog ring pliers if you ever work on older car seats , to put them back together or you will be making it a lot harder than it is. I was able to get the seat cover off without taking the seat apart. Note, this would be a great time to put in heated seats had I been thinking ahead. You see that little ring of metal in the middle of the picture.  That is a hog ring.  The pliers wrap that sucker in a circle around the embedded wire in the seat cushion/base.  Without these your seat will not be snug and will look like crap.  Don’t even try channel locks, order a pair of hog ring pliers from amazon if need be.  McGuckin Hardware had them in stock in Boulder.

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When it is apart the seat looks like this:

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I take the panel apart with a knife which I found to be easier than the seam ripper I tried and broke on the seam.

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The seat was pretty worn out as it was the driver seat on 167K mile civic so I also decided to change the side panel as you can see its almost disintegrated on the back side of the panel.  You’ll notice some plastic supports to be sewn back in, this is not problem for the Kingmax but it is for a home machine.

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I used the old panels as a template and sewed it up on the Kingmax with 69 bonded nylon. It didn’t take that long. A few seams, making sure to sew over the junctions and get it all back looking like a cover.

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Time to stretch the cover back over the seat and re- hog ring it.  Then I installed the seat back in the car. Still working great to this day. Notice that fine toolset in the photo, on loan from Kristen.

 

Next up as we are doing well so why stop with the seat!  Onto the armrest.  It is toast, worn to the threads.

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This is easy, no sewing machine involved.  Just 3M spray adhesive  77 and some fabric.  First we remove the covering.

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That was quick, pulled right off.

Spray the fabric and spray the armrest, let dry. I use a mask and do this outside, I also use safety goggles no need to have a errant spray in the eyes.  Gloves are good as well as this stuff doesn’t like to come off.

Wrap that fabric slowly as this is contact cement and it holds well.  So work it from the middle out and we get the final product.

 

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Screw back the various hinges and hardware and we are done.

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This was early July 2013.

So you want to sew some webbing together! You need an industrial sewing machine

I had some webbing I wanted to sew together for my Pilates reformer.  Specifically foot straps and some foot straps for my pole system.

Extra heavy duty webbing is 3/32 thick, two pieces stacked is 3/16 and a triple stack used on my straps is around 5/16″ thick.  So this means you are not sewing this on your girlfriends or wife’s Janome!!! This requires an industrial sewing machine.  What is an industrial machine?  How about we start at what it is not?  The old singer in the table you see on eBay or at a flee market is not an industrial machine.  If it has a tiny motor you can fit in your hand it is NOT an industrial machine.  Yes there are old industrial singers, they have larger gears, and large motors to drive them and they can work fantastic, but make sure you educate yourself before you buy.  I recommend the sewing machine forum on leatherworker.net. Most of the contributors on leatherworker.net have several machines and can help.  You can try your luck at Craigslist if you know what you are looking for.  Make sure it can sew a sample of what you need before you buy.  If it can’t sew, skips stitches, etc don’t buy it as it can be expensive to fix.  I recommend buying from a dealer if you can.   Ralph’s Power Sew in Denver has been great as has Nicko Sew who I have personally worked with as well.  Both of these dealers have great service departments and back up their sales! Go cheap at your own risk, having a good dealer to support you when you machine breaks is priceless.

I picked up a clone of the Consew 206RB by KingMax GA206. WP_20130614_001 They clone all the big machines, you’ll see them marketed by many places as they copy everything overseas.  Consew, Juki, Brother, PFAFF, etc are the main companies.  You’ll see the clones a lot cheaper.  But a lot of the clones are made in the same factories and are pretty much identical inside.  Talk to a dealer that will back up your machine for what will work for you!  This is a big deal as there are lots of parts and they can be difficult and expense to work on if you don’t know what you are doing.  I picked up a used  needle feed walking foot machine.  I can run up to 208 thread on the top though I usually only run up to 92 and 69 regularly.

The needle feed walking foot allows for thick layers of fabric, webbing, vinyl, etc to be fed through the machine as one unit.  The needle is in the fabric/leather/etc while the foot moves the entire set forward for the next stitch.WP_20130614_013  A walking foot is needed at a minimum for thick webbing and leather, needle feed in addition is very handy. Check out the many videos on youtube that show the differences between feed dogs, walking feet, and needle feed walking foot before you purchase!

NOTE:Industrial machines are generally single purpose tools! You may need more than one as they don’t multitask like home machines do. I have a post-bed (for shoes and lots of other stuff) machine in addition to the needle feed walking foot. WP_20131024_005 A straight stitch machine can be useful as well, it depends on what you are doing.

 

You’ll notice below the industrial machine come with a table, you can’t see the motor below.  I had Ralph’s swap out the clutch motor with a servo motor where I can better control the speed.  There are also speed reducers available to really slow things down.  They can be found on eBay and at dealers for around a 100 bucks.

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With this setup I can sew pretty much any upholstery, webbing, leather etc that can be done on a flatbed machine.  Now if you do a lot of bags etc then a cylinder machine might be a better route as you can slide the bag over the base.

The Kingmax sewed through the extra heavy duty cotton  webbing straps like a hot knife through butter.  The needle feed walking foot is the right tool for this job!  92 thread and this machine on a short stitch makes these pretty much bombproof.  The fabric would fail before the thread most likely.  Thread strength varies by size.  A good table to that shows this can be found here.  92 thread is about 15 lbs per stitch.  A few extra passes and this piece of webbing  is solid.

 

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So you say wow that is too expensive for me to buy!  Well this maybe true but you have other options!  Contract sewers in your area will sew up stuff for cheap.  Look for them on craigslist or at your local industrial sewing supply house or upholstery supply.  Another option is a design incubator.  Denver Design Incubator has packages that allow you to use their machines for a small fee.  Don’t skip the project because you don’t have the equipment, someone out there does and can do it usually for a fair price.  Or you can break into upholstery 🙂 and pay of your machine that way which I what I did for Pilates gear but that is another post.