1980 Bernina Nova tackles 1990 Suzuki Samurai - how hard could it be? August 06 2014

Several years ago my dad gave his tow-behind Suzuki Samurai to our son, Michael, then 15. Dad promptly took him out to the airport in Kingman, AZ, to teach him how to drive a stick shift, which is a normal thing to do. We towed it back to Maine, and yes, the gas to tow it cost more than the car was worth. Still, the neighbors said it was a chick magnet. 

The Arizona sun and the Maine mudding took its toll on the upholstery, so this summer I thought I'd give auto upholstery a try, because since I sew hats, how hard could it be?

Michael picked out a grey and navy blue marine vinyl from Joann.com (50% off coupon). My husband, Shaun, found new supplies such as hog rings and hog ring pliers (shudder to think), and listing wires (costs way more than fabric). We learned new vocabulary. I tracked down V69 thread, which is surprisingly hard to find in coastal Maine.


Michael removed the seats and helped me disassemble them so that I could label the pieces and take lots of pictures for my rudimentary reassembly instruction. My trusty old 1980 Bernina Nova sewing machine was still running smooth and I didn't want to sacrifice my newer machines. 


July 3, 2014 Before and Disassembly



Perhaps I bit off more than I can chew. 

But the Bernina was a trooper. I went slow, went through seven size #16 leather needles and didn't put any through my fingers, although they did suffer much abrasion and pricks. A big discovery was that my wimpish hands are not suited for upholstery work. I hope this hat thing works out.


The results?

Well, Michael says the new seat covers make the rest of the car look bad. But upholstery is doable and I learned a lot about handling and sewing vinyl fabrics. So much so, that I'm starting to look into an industrial sewing machine. Not because I want to sew faster -- yikes a needle coming at me at 3000 stitches per minute? But because I want to sew very thick, dissimilar fabrics together: felted wool coats with, say, a pocket seam with a hat band and liner.


July 26, 2014 Before and After:


Update: August 30, Two seats installed:


Seeing the results, my husband sprung for an industrial machine--Consew 277R, cylinder arm, 1990s metal body, combo needle feed and walking foot (hears Tim Allen's gruff laugh). All the better to stitch through layers of fabric around hatbands and, he hopes, repair the seat covers on the boat. (Thank you my trusty Bernina.)





>>>  You never know when you'll learn something that will prove useful in the future.  <<<


Supplies & Tips:

  • Leather needles size 16, about 7
  • V69 thread from Sailrite
  • Marine Vinyl 6 yards
  • Micro tac tagging gun for holding pieces together without pins
  • Compress polyester foam (use a face mask or air purifier until it is covered)
  • Upholstery liner cloth, non-woven
  • Spray adhesive to adhere the foam to the vinyl and the liner cloth to the foam
  • Rotary cutting tools and mats
  • Hog rings
  • Hog ring pliers with three different angles
  • Listing wire or hanger wire (the listing is the fabric, folded and stitched to the vinyl, that holds the wire that makes the cushion-y design and holds the fabric to the frame)
  • Cutting pliers with wire-bending features to loop the ends of the listing wire so they don't poke out
  • Multiple strong hands to stretch the fabric - a fabric stretcher/vice would be handy
  • Large plastic garbage bags to help slip the finished seat cover over its frame, then remove the bag
  • Goo Gone and Q-tips to clean the needle after every 20 stitches when it sews through the adhesive spray.