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I have made several seat covers for lawn tractors over the last couple of years (pictures attached) and thought I would start a post and share some of the things I have learned from doing them in hopes it will help someone else who needs a new seat cover but does not feel they have the knowledge to tackle an upholstery project and does not have the finances to get an upholstery shop to make a new cover. While the seats I have done covers for are mainly from Bolens products from the 60's to the 80's a lot of the principles can be applied to other manufacturers (in fact some of the Bolens seats used in the 70's such as the seat on a Bolens 1053 are shared with Ford, Jacobson and Wheel Horse). If you are looking for an inexpensive seat for a lawn tractor you may want to purchase an off the shelf seat as they can do the job for several years but if you want a seat cover that will closely resemble the original in a restoration project then please continue reading this thread and, as time permits, I will update it and try and give you an in depth "how to" using a seat off of a Bolens 850 lawn tractor as the example. I would suggest that you read through the complete post a couple of times to determine whether you have the necessary skills to do this before attempting it. This post should also give you a better understanding and appreciation of the work and talent that is involved in making a cover and why upholstery shops who make their living doing this type of work charge what they charge.

Please note: THIS INFORMATION IS PROVIDED AS IS - USE AT YOUR OWN RISK
 

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Here are some pictures of what the Bolens 850 seat I will be using for this post looks like now - it has a cover that is basically intact but the material has some rips / cracking from years of use and while it still functions it would look out of place on a freshly cleaned up and painted tractor in my opinion. Note this cover uses a pull cord (sometimes referred to as a drawstring) around the lower edge of the cover to secure it to the seat pan.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
A Little Back Ground

I am not an upholstery person by trade but I do like working with my hands - my start to making covers was prompted by wanting to surprise my brother with a new cover for his Simplicity Landlord tractor as well as wanting one for my Bolens 1050. I did Google searches and found pictures to use as examples of what original covers looked like but had no luck in finding replacement covers that would look like the originals. I did find a replacement cover on ebay for the 1050 that was the correct colour but had no pleats and did not appear to fit as well as I wanted mine to look. I had nothing left of the original covers for either tractor so I began working with a few pictures of what the original covers looked like and I was able to produce a cover for each seat that resembled the originals to my liking. If you like to work with your hands, enjoy challenges, can read a tape measure and know how to use a square, a bit of time and not much money then this post may be for you.
 

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Tools You Will Need

While an industrial walking foot sewing machine is nice for sewing vinyl it is not a "must have" - until this summer all I had for a sewing machine was an old Raymond treadle sewing machine that I converted to a hand crank version. If you coat the vinyl material with baby powder it will let it slide under the sewing machine foot easier as you sew the material and not tend to stick. A sewing awl, such as The Speedy Stitcher, can also be used to sew vinyl. Yes it will take longer but a sewing awl can be used to sew seams, pleats and virtually everything else that a sewing machine can sew and can be purchased for about $20.00 U.S. There are several excellent videos on the "You Tube" and "Sailrite" web sites showing this tool in use for anyone who wants to learn more about it. I compare sewing pieces of vinyl together to building something in metal or wood - the thread is like bolts or screws holding pieces of vinyl together to form a cover - the vinyl and thread is just more flexible than metal or wood. A few other tools you may require are a yard stick, square, tape measure, cloth tape measure, pair of scissors, a thread stitch ripper, a few small paper clamps or clothes pins, a stapler, small flat screwdriver, utility knife and a few razor blades.

SAFETY FIRST - PLEASE PRACTICE SAFE WORK HABITS - ONE SECOND OF THOUGHTLESSNESS CAN RESULT IN A LIFETIME OF SUFFERING!

Wear safety glasses and remember - scissors, razor blades, thread rippers and needles are all sharp and can cut skin easily - blood does not look good on a new piece of vinyl. Lawn tractors that have sat neglected for a while tend to become homes to mice and other creatures of nature and seats can be their new living quarters / outhouse - wear a mask and work in a well ventilated area when taking a seat apart - no point in letting your new project make you sick.
 

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Materials - Vinyl, Thread, Etc.

There are many suppliers of vinyl, threads, foam padding, piping, etc. - I suggest you check with local upholstery shops first (best to support local business where you can) and if they cannot help you check out some of the online stores. Here in Canada I have dealt with https://www.jtsoutdoorfabrics.com/ which I find offer quality products and excellent service. One thing to remember is that if you live in a colder climate and use your tractor for snow removal like I do you will want a vinyl material that is rated for cold cracking and outdoor use - I have had good success with a vinyl product called "Winterfun" which they show in their snowmobile products section (Winterfun is the vinyl material I am using for this cover). Also you may wish to consider whether the material is fire retardant - Up In Smoke should remain the name of a Cheech and Chong movie and not your new seat project.
 

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Other Options for Sewing The Material

There are many videos on the internet that show sewing techniques and how to use a sewing machine - check out http://www.sailrite.com/easearch#!How-To-Instructions-Videos/Videos&ea_a=How-To%3AUpholstery which offers some excellent videos on how to recover a motorcycle and truck seat as well as many others. If you don't think you can sew the material yourself then here are some other options I will suggest. Contact a local high school that offers sewing classes either during school hours or as a night course or someone who does clothing alterations and see if they would consider sewing up your cover at a reasonable price if you supplied the materials. Scouts and Guides may also be interested in helping you out for the cost of a donation. A word of caution if you are considering using the family sewing machine and tools for a sewing project - if you are happily married and wish to remain so please check with your loving partner to see if is ok to use them as they may not share your views of what's mine is ours or have the same level of enthusiasm for a seat cover project.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Errors And Omissions

I will try and provide information as I do this project but I may bounce over a step or forget to include something - please feel free to point this out and ask questions and I will do my best to answer them. You will also find that I make mistakes (shows I am still human??) and I will post these as well so that you can learn from them and not make the same ones. Speaking of mistakes - if you do make a mistake please do not beat yourself up over it or get frustrated to the point of giving up on your cover - if there were no mistakes a lot of things would never have been invented. Sewing up a new seat cover is probably not going to be a quick two hour project but since it is January and cold (12 degrees Fahrenheit here today) this may be the perfect time to tackle a new project that you can work away at indoors when you get time.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Find A Work Area That Is large Enough

A fold up table (3 feet x 6 feet) or a homemade work bench (saw horses and a sheet of plywood) should give you enough room to lay out things and work on your project - smaller areas may be used but I find they can be cramped and little things tend to hide and others fall on the floor. Here is a picture of the temporary work bench I set up over my lawn tractor to work on things such as seats this winter - it is made out of some 2 x 4's screw nailed together and a sheet of 7/16" chip board on top with a few wood screws. Most vinyl is sold by the yard and is usually about 54" wide and it is nice to have a work area that you can lay the material flat on to mark out pieces. You may also wish to get a small plastic tool box to keep your new tools in - it can sit on your work table and that way you can find the tools easily.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Seats Scratch Surfaces

As you work on a lawn tractor seat you will be moving it around in various positions - the surface you are working on will probably get scratched up as you move the seat around and may mark or damage the upholstery - to help prevent this put a piece of cardboard under the seat so it can sit and slide on it. On the Bolens 850 seat it has two mounting studs that stick out the bottom and will catch and scratch badly - a short two by four scrap of wood with two holes drilled in it to cover the studs works well to prevent this - you may come up with a similar or better idea.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Take Some Measurements And Lots Of Pictures

Get a good feel or understanding for how the cover was made and put together - pictures and measurements will help you do this and provide a reference for later on after you have removed the original cover. Make notes of anything that you think may be important - pleat spacing, piping size, padding thickness, etc. - while you are only planning on recovering this seat now you may want to recover it again in the future or you may purchase an identical tractor model (I think it is a disease) that needs the same cover. If you are lucky and get a seat that is still in decent shape (like this example) the cover will provide an excellent pattern to make the new cover with.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Starting To Make Patterns

I would suggest you make patterns of the original cover - check to make sure it fits the seat nicely and has not shrunk with age. I find that clear plastic garbage bags are inexpensive and work well to draw on to get the shapes of the various pieces where they are joined if you have an original cover to work with such as in this case. If you do not have an original cover they still work well to lie on the seat and see how the vinyl will fit - if the plastic lays without wrinkles or puckers the vinyl should as well. Since they are clear you can see where the joins are in the old cover or, if you do not have an original cover, where you would like the joins to be using the seat as a reference point. You could also rip the old cover apart at the seams with a thread ripper and then use the pieces to mark out new pieces but I find this is time consuming and can be tricky if you are dealing with some old, very brittle vinyl. Using the plastic also leaves the original cover intact to use as a reference. Split the garbage bag so that it can be cut apart and provide a single sheet of plastic big enough to trace each section onto using a marker or ball point pen. Lay the plastic on the section with as few wrinkles and puckers as you can. A few pieces of masking tape will hold the plastic in place - if you are working on an edge piece a few paper clamps or clothes pins can be used to hold the plastic in place as you mark the seams. In this example I am marking out the front lower piece of the pleated section using a marker - a ball point pen would work as well. I have marked where the centre of the pleat is and where the material folds at the edge as well as the actual edge that is folded underneath. As you will notice in the close-ups of the right and left side the distance between the pleated piece and the seam join is different - the left side is longer by about ¼". Something I have learned is that upholstery is not an exact science and as a result when you sew two identical pieces together you can get slightly different results as to where things join. I am pointing this out now so that you will be aware of this when we make the actual paper pattern for this piece. Once you have the plastic sheet marked out you can remove it from the seat - be careful that you do not stretch the plastic and distort things where it was taped - leave the masking tape on the plastic if it will not come off easily.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Transfer The Plastic Pattern To Paper

Lay the plastic piece over top of some paper - I use masking paper but ordinary printer paper, graph paper or even light cardboard (such as a cereal box )will work ( you can tape or staple pieces together if they are not large enough to make the pattern). You can then slip a pencil underneath the plastic and draw out the pattern onto the paper making sure the plastic doesn't move as you draw it out. Once you have transferred all the markings you can remove the plastic.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Make Your Pattern Equal

In this example I want the top and bottom edge to be straight and parallel and the left and right sides to be mirror images of each other. The first thing I did was to make the top line straight and then using a square mark a centre line at a right angle to the top line using the centre mark from the pattern as a guide and verifying that it is in the centre between the left and right side edges. Once this was done I now had two lines of reference to lay out the rest of the lines for the bottom fold and edge, the top and bottom points of the side edges and the point where the taper started just down from the top edge. Where the ¼" discrepancy between the left and right side was I adjusted the pattern so both would be the same - the left side shorter and the right side longer. Next I added a 3/8" seam allowance along the top edge and down both sides - remember the drawing was where the seam was and the 3/8" seam allowance lets you sew at the join and give enough extra material so that the seam will not rip or tear. I cut the paper pattern at the outside of the seam allowance and now I had a paper pattern to mark out the new vinyl with and wrote what it fits on it - once you have the pattern you can save it and use it over again to make another cover should the need arise (the cover you make gets damaged or you purchase the same model tractor and it needs a new cover as well). As a final test to make sure the pattern is the same on both sides you can fold it in half on the centre line and see if the edges line up - if they do not and something is out of whack it is easier and cheaper to make another pattern out of paper than to find out after you have cut out a piece of vinyl that isn't the right shape.
 

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You can now continue marking out the paper patterns and cutting them out - make sure you transfer any reference points you marked on the plastic (where the pleats start, where a bend is, where the material is folded over and sewn such as along the bottom edge, etc. Also make sure you add a 3/8" seam allowance around the edge where the piece will be joined to another piece. Where you need a left and right piece that are mirror images of each other you can use one pattern and flip it over to make the other side. Double check the patterns where the pieces join to each other and make sure they are the same size by holding them against each other - if the paper patterns are not the same size then correct them so they match - again it is easier and less expensive to make a new pattern than to waste vinyl by marking and cutting out a piece wrong. If, for example, where the left lower piece joins the back filler piece and the filler piece is 2-1/4" wide with the seam allowance and the lower side piece is 1-7/8" wide then they will not match up - see Picture 6 (it shows the two pieces of vinyl sewn together but originally the paper pattern was off by the amount I mentioned so I had to modify the lower piece pattern so they would match up). You can simply use masking tape and tape on another piece of paper where the pattern is wrong, remark the pattern and then trim the new paper to the correct size. Please note that this cover originally had pleats that were heat pressed into the vinyl. I cannot duplicate the heat pleats so I sew the pleats in using 1/2" sew foam as a back to form the pleats. As a result you cannot lay the plastic over the pleated section, draw it and then transfer it to paper. The size will be correct but when you sew the pleats the material gets shorter each time you sew a pleat - in this case we have 10 pleats which are spaced 1-1/2" apart and the length of the finished section will be off by about 3/4". I will show you how to mark out the pleated section next. I will also mention that originally the front lower piece and the pleated area were all one piece of vinyl and the rear of the pleated section was sewn to the rear upper piece - I am making the pleated piece separately and it will be sewn to the rear upper piece and the front lower piece which makes laying out the pleated piece easier - the cover will still look the same but there will be one extra seam at the front where the pleated piece ends.
 

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Marking Out The Pleated Section

I measured the width of the pleats at the front, the bend and the rear of the pleated section and using this information established the width of the pleated section. I checked that the taper from the front to the bend and the bend to top was uniform and found out it was not - the taper from the front to the bend was different to the taper from the bend to the top. I then began to mark out the pattern on the paper adding 3/8" at both sides for the seam allowance as well as 1/16" in the centre for when the centre vertical seam is sewn as the vinyl gets a little bit smaller every time a seam is sewn with the ½" sew foam. When you are working with tapers make sure you mark the width at the point where the seam will be sewn and not at the outer edge of the seam allowance- depending on the amount of the taper this can affect the proper width of the finished piece. Knowing this and that the original pleats were 1-1/2" spacing I marked out the pattern with the help of a square and yard stick with a spacing of 1-5/8" between each pleat and added a 3/8" seam allowance at the bottom and the top. This may sound a bit confusing but there are several videos on you tube that show what I am talking about - here is a link to one

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Please Note that the 1-5/8" spacing is not a fixed number - in this case I knew what it was because the pleat spacing was the same as the 1050 cover I already had a pattern for. The spacing distance will vary depending on the spacing of the original pleats and the thickness of the sew foam. You can figure out the amount that the material looses for every pleat by sewing several test pleats side by side using a small width of vinyl and the sew foam. If you do not wish to do this you can mark out a pleat and sew it and then measure to see how much it shrunk and mark out the next pleat and sew it and see if it worked out and adjust the distance accordingly - using this method will result in a slight variance in the first few pleats but to the naked eye you probably will not notice the variance unless you measure it. If you do use this method make sure you leave extra material at the end to make up for the shrinkage as the pleats are sewn - I would recommend sewing several test pleats on a scrap piece of material. Once the pleats, tapers and seam allowances were marked out I cut the paper pattern out and folded it in half to verify that things were square and symmetrical by matching the pleat lines at the outer edges - nothing worse than angled pleats unless they are supposed to be that way. If you look at Picture 7 you can see how much shorter the pleated section is after the pleats are sewn compared to the original paper pattern underneath it.
 

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Those Pfaffs are fine machines, not as touchy as the Consews and other Singer knockoffs. Those and old 111W Singers are hard to beat. I was in the upholstery business for 37 years before closing up and retiring, only to go back to work as a service manager at a dealership for their final 2 years.
You do nice work! I rarely made patterns from paper, I usually took measurements pinned the vinyl on the part I was making,marked and cut it on the seat, but for beginners your way is great and let's you duplicate it on the next identical seat. I use to measure the insert, cut it slightly bigger, sew in the pleats, then pin it on and make my final cuts.
However, I'm not giving you advice in any way, just telling my way, you're doing great! Keep it up.
 

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Thanks for the kind words and input - always nice to know how people in the trade do it - all comments / opinions welcome as this is how we all learn. As I stated I am not a professional upholsterer and am trying to pass on to others what I have learned, what works for me and some of the mistakes that I made because I didn't think three or four steps ahead and see how doing something would cause problems as I started to sew the cover pieces together.

You are correct the Pfaff is an awesome sewing machine - it has yet to miss a stitch other than due to operator error. My brother picked it up for me in the city this summer as it was priced to sell - sometimes it pays to sew up seats for relatives. It came with a clutch motor which I tried and could not control so I got a new Sewquiet servo motor from Reliable Corporation which has lots of power and lets me control the speed down to about two stitches per second.
 

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That is a great write up, thread needs to be a sticky.

I would need the stitch ripper....to tear out all my mistakes haha

My sister does seamstress work as a part time hobby, she can sew some amazing stuff. I keep razzing her about making me a seat cover for the old sears DB
 
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