How to Reupholster a Vehicle Bench Seat

Updated on January 17, 2019

If you have a bench seat that needs reupholstered, or you would like to learn how it’s done, then this is the place for you. It is actually a lot simpler than it looks, and you will have a professional-quality custom interior. Your friends, and even strangers, will be in awe, asking, "Who did your interior? And how much did it cost?"

The photos you will see here are from a 1983 Cutlass Calais, but many seats are similar, especially in these older vehicles. You can use the same concepts on just about any seat you come by.

Materials

  • Fabric (approx. 3.5 yards should do)
  • Heavy duty thread
  • Eyelets (metal eyelets can be found at any craft store)
  • Scissors
  • Cloth measuring tape (this is important to measure the curvature correctly)
  • Ruler or yardstick
  • Hammer
  • Zip ties or hog ties

Step 1: Remove the Seat

Remove the bench seat from the vehicle. The bottom portion of the seat in most vehicles can be very easy to remove, and should just pop right out. The top portion can be a little more difficult, it usually has a release point in the rear of the seat that may need to be loosened with a screwdriver. Once you remove the top and bottom portions of the seat the real fun begins!

Might be a good time to clean under the seat as well!
Might be a good time to clean under the seat as well!

Step 2: Measure the Material

Measuring your material. Using the cloth measuring tape, measure the dimension of the seat: the top and bottom portions may not be identical. This is the key step to make your seat look crisp and professional. I create a drawing of the seat, with the dimensions written, to refer back to when needed. Measure the front, and the sides. For this particular seat, I chose a blue marine vinyl fabric which is waterproof and has the traditional look of leather.

Step 3: Cut Your Material

It's not necessary to stay perfectly straight when cutting; save your energy. When you sew your edges together, that is what will make the crisp crease that is needed. After you have your material ready to go you may jump into creating your masterpiece.

It's better to cut a little more than you need. Excess material can be trimmed off later.
It's better to cut a little more than you need. Excess material can be trimmed off later.

Step 4: Sewing Pleats Into the Fabric

This is what makes a custom interior look really professional: the pleats. Sewing pleats is fairly easy because you will be sewing straight lines. Chose how many pleats you would like, and space them evenly. On the back of the fabric with a ruler and pen you may draw lines to follow to ensure your pleats are perfectly straight I chose to sew six pleats on each side with one inch in between, and larger pleats in the middle to accent them. I suggest doing the pleats on the top and bottom portions first to make sure they line up correctly with each other.

Pleats will give the seats more dimension and make them look more professional.
Pleats will give the seats more dimension and make them look more professional.

Step 5: Sewing the Pieces Together

You will sew your sides on to the main pleated pieces. Remember to make sure the fabric is facing the right direction when sewing them together. The corners can be tricky; you have to turn the material as you go.

Step 6: Securing the Edges

This is an important step to ensure your material will not rip when being stretched over the seat. I use a canvas material which is durable and can withstand more pressure. Cut strips about 3.5 inches wide, and then fold the material over to double up the edges. Sew this edging along the bottoms of your main pieces.

Carefully stretch the material tightly around the edges before securing it to get a cleaner look.
Carefully stretch the material tightly around the edges before securing it to get a cleaner look.

Step 7: Inserting Eyelets

This step is to also ensure that your seats will not rip. The metal eyelets are very easy to install. Around the canvas edging you will cut small x’s into the material and insert the eyelets. Personally I space the eyelets approximately 3 inches apart. These eyelets are very inexpensive and come with a tool to hammer them together. Once your eyelets are in, you're almost done!

Step 8: Stretching the Material

Stretching the material. You may stretch the material over the seat like I did here, or you may completely remove the old material and replace with your own. On this Cutlass I installed the new seat cover over top of the existing upholstery, in case the car is sold and the owner would like to make it original.

For this step you may need a friend or assistant to help. You want to pull from opposite sides starting from the middle and working your way out. As you pull the material tight, start inserting the zip ties into the eyelets and securing them to the frame of the seat. Zip them tight and remove excess waste. Make sure the material is nice and snug-fitting to smooth out any wrinkles.

THAT’S IT! HOPE YOU ENJOYED.

The finished product, just before installation!
The finished product, just before installation!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

  • Where do you buy the material to reupholster a vehicle bench seat?

    You can buy it at Jo-Anne Fabrics, Hobby Lobby, Michaels, or any fabric store. Possibly online if you are savvy, I like to see it myself. First, it can usually be found in the Upholstery Section in big huge rolls.

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