Cushioning the Shock
by Mike Rooth
The black vinyl seating fitted to S11 and 11A Land Rovers, (The so-called "Standard" seating) is pretty hard wearing and, to my mind, practical, but there comes a time when age and usage tells. In my case both driver and passenger seat cushions were not only a disgrace to the eye, but were depositing muck on whatever was worn when seated, with consequent complaints from the Domestic Authority. Clearly, something Must Be Done. Now, the current price of seat cushions is around 13 pounds each, and having seen one example, I'm not too sure that this isn't plenty to pay. In the event, I got in touch with a friend "in the know", who gave me enough black vinyl, of vastly superior quality, to do the job myself. Whilst the result is obviously not up to professional standards, it looks fine, (I'm told I tend to be over critical of my own work), is certainly comfortable, and due to the quality of the material, will probably outlast the ready made version. Further, its a job you can! do in the dead of winter, indoors, without incurring the wrath of the D.A. Unless of course, you break the sewing machine! Costing the job is, of course, very much up to you, but I venture to suggest that you could probably afford to buy a better vinyl than you would normally get, the job is out of the normal run of greasy finger maintenance, and its good fun. Plus, you get a virtuous glow through working on your vehicle all nice and cozy when its minus brass monkeys queuing at welding plants outside. We will draw a veil over my attempts to overhaul the old hand driven Singer stored in the garage for years, suffice it to say the thing did work eventually, and I'm convinced sewing machines are inventions of the devil! You will need a needle suitable for leather, and thread to match. In effect, I threw myself at the mercy of the local sewing machine shop, them what I was doing, and they supplied the needful. If the cushion needs "bolstering" a bit, you will need some foam, but try and get some hard stuff. Have a look at what's in there, and get something about the same consistency. I reused the existing stuffing, and added a layer of thin stuff on top. Remove what's left of the old covering, by carefully easing out the staples from the seat base. You'll need them out anyway. Beg, borrow or steal a staple gun. This item is essential. The seat base may look like junky fibreboard, but in practice, its so hard I'm surprised it hasn't been used as armour for main battle tanks before now! Anyway, you can't get a nail into it, so don't bother trying to tack it up. It will have to be stapled. With the original cover removed, measure up. There are three pieces to each cover, the top, (you sit on that bit), and two sides. Get the length of the top, back to front (don't forget to allow enough to tack to the base) and the width, plus an inch or so either side. For the sides, make a paper template, one will do, but when cutting out, DON'T forget they are handed. Again, allow an inch or so round the edges. As with most things, the rule is "Measure twice, cut once". Take the top piece, and on the reverse side, mark the width of the cushion more or less exactly. Fold the excess you have allowed, up to the lines, and pin it. You will be making the thing inside out. Now, on the two sides, again on the reverse side of the material, mark the exact outline of the sides. This is the shape of the cushion, and will be the line to which you sew. Its a good idea to pin the bits together, and remove the pins as you sew. The pins are a sod to get through the vinyl, but it makes life so much easier, and the pinholes disappear when the pins are removed. You will be sewing through THREE layers of vinyl. The top, folded, is two, and the side is the other. This is so that there are no cut edges showing on the finished job. Work with the reverse side towards you. Go slowly. Start at the back. When you come to the "corners", that is where the finished cushion top goes from vertical to horizontal, take a "pinch" of material towards you (from the back, don't forget), lay the pinch flat on the seam, and carefully machine over it. This gives rise to a "tuck" in the finished job, but it isn't unsightly. You DO have to be a bit careful, though, because at this point you will be sewing five layers. Now do the other side. It can be a bit of a fiddle to get all the stiff material under a normal domestic sewing machine (That's why upholsterers have big ones), but it can be done. When finished, turn the whole caboodle right side out. Take the seat base and filling, and pull the completed "envelope" over the lot. Work on the floor, here. Make sure you have enough overlap all round to take the staples. Start by stapling the back, or front, doesn't matter which. Make sure the corners go where they are supposed to, more or less. This is a matter of eye, and common sense, really, its much easier to do than explain. Pull tight, and staple the opposite edge, front or rear, whatever. Pull the sides tight, making sure the seam is more or less straight and even each side. In practice, unless you are very good, or lucky, the seam will wander a bit, mine does, but it really isn't so noticeable in use. The whole thing should be tight over the stuffing with no creases. If you have removed the leather locating strap, replace it, and refit the seat. This strap is removed by poking a thinnish screwdriver into the middle of the plastic "snod" that fixes it to the seat base, until the snod centre disappears into the guts of the cushion. The strap can be pulled off, and the little centre retrieved from the other side. Use plenty of staples. Land Rover did. In fact, my passenger side seat cushion was a complete write off, and I made a new base from half inch ply, with wood battens on the underside to locate it fore and aft. Large air holes were drilled in the base. I used some genuine Dunlopillo (from an old bus seat) for stuffing. The passenger has now gone up in the world by at least two inches! Don't make my mistake of making the stuffing higher in the middle than at the sides. The effect is quite alarming. You want it level.
I haven't done the seat backs. They are a different kettle of fish by the looks of them, although I don't see why it should be possible to recover them, too, given some thought. The problem really is the metal backs to the squabs, and how to fasten the new vinyl into these. One method that springs to mind, is suitably cut bits of hardwood hammered into the channels round the edges. I've got enough vinyl left, so I may try that one day. In the meantime, it's about time that centre seat was done.
Reprinted from the OVLR Newsletter, December 1994