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Porsche 911/928/944 Leather Seats Upholstery
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Pelican Technical Article:

Porsche 911/928/944 Leather Seats Upholstery

Cyrille de Brebisson


10-12 hours






10mm, 15mm socket, 3.8mm Allen key, 3 razor blades, two pairs of pliers, large flathead screwdriver, scissors, double-sided tape, rubber cement, small paper clamps, spray adhesive, sewing machine (with a normal and a zipper foot) and a bunch of 100/16 or 110/18 leather sewing needles (you will break a few of them), a chalk line, a ball pen, and a wax pen (best) or pencil (not as good),

Applicable Models:

Porsche 911 (1965-89)
Porsche 912 (1965-69)
Porsche 930 Turbo (1976-89)

Parts Required:

65-square feet of upholstery leather, upholstery thread, 1/2-inch foam, cheap fabric for backing the foam

Performance Gain:

Newly upholstered front seats

Complementary Modification:

Replace your shifter boot with new leftover leather


So, your 30 year old leather seat looks like crap and you can't get yourself to shell out the $1200 for the leather kits. Therefore you are thinking about doing it yourself... Well, I did, and this article relates my experience.

Note: this was my first time working with leather and pretty much my first time using a sewing machine, so if I can do it, you should be able to do it to.

Figure 3: Tools

Tools you will need: 10 and 15mm socket, 3.8mm Allen key, 2/3 razor blades 2 pliers, large flat screwdriver, scissors (rotary cutter), (double sided tape), rubber cement, small paper clamps, (spray adhesive), sewing machine (with a normal and a zipper foot) and a bunch of 100/16 or 110/18 leather sewing needles (you will break a few of them), a chalk line, a ball pen, and a wax pen (best) or pencil (not as good).

You will also need some upholstery thread and around 65 square feet of upholstery leather. It is possible to find a skin large enough, but you probably will be better of with 2 smaller ~40ft² skins. This will give you enough for possible screw-ups and extra leather for redoing a wheel, shift lever, handbrake and maybe even back seats. Leather price vary a lot, so be careful, don't assume that 2 similar skins on the same rack are the same price per square feet and verify/control everything. I paid around $2.8/sqfeet, around $200 for the seats... All together, you can do the project for <$300... You will need some 1/2 inch foam and enough cheap fabric to use as backing for the foam.

About sewing machines. Your wife $150 sewing machine from wall mart will be able to do quite a lot of the work that you will need to do, however, some of the work will require you to saw through over 4 layers of leather plus some foam. And your cheap sewing machine might not be able to do that. Thanks to JoAnne from Rider Rags (http://www.riderrags.net) who was nice enough to let me use one of her professional sewing machine to do some of the stuff that I could not do at home. The 3 main differences between a "real" machine and a cheap one are the "heavy duty" factor (bigger engine, stronger needle, metal all around), the large flat working surface, and, most importantly, the "walking foot". On a normal machine, the foot just pushes down on the material while a puller mechanism at the bottom pulls it. On a "real" machine, there are 2 feets, and they also participate on the pulling action by "walking" on the material and pulling it at the same time as the normal puller. This makes all the difference in the world in term of material control.

Figure 4: Tying seams.

Another thing that your wife's machine might have difficulty doing is backward sewing. Backward sewing is used to stop/start a seam. A small back and forth puts enough friction on the thread to stop it from ripping. On my wife's machine, every time I tried to go backward I would bust the needle. If this is a problem, it means that you will have to hand tie each thread strand pair at the beginning and end of each seam. To do that either make sure that the seam start/stop as close to the border as possible or pull the top thread down the bottom side (through a needle hole) and do the tying at the bottom.

Leather stretches and its top side is fairly smooth. This means that if you try to put two pieces of leather together to sew them, you probably will run into troubles (stretch, moves...) to solve this problem, fix the two pieces together prior to sewing with double sided tape (great on the smooth face) or rubber cement (back side). I only used rubber cement as I did not find about double sided tape until later in the project. If you put rubber cement in a spot where you don't want it. Wait for 10 minutes and you should be able to rub it out. Don't try to remove it straight away.

Ok, you now have all you need, material, tools and advices, and are ready to get cracking!


Unbolt the passenger side seat ONLY (keep the other one in to drive the car and as reference). To do that, push the seat completely back, use the 10mm socket to undo the 2 bolts, then push the seat completely forward and unbolt the 2 back bolts. Remove the seat and use the 3.8mm Allen key to remove the 2 runners. Set them aside. I usually put the bolts/washer back where they belong to avoid loosing them. Now, you will need to separate the 2 parts of the seat. This can be fairly hard as the bolts are "glued" in place. The side with a single "flat screw" is the hardest to deal with. I succeeded in undoing it by using pliers, but it was hard. Once you have the bolt turning a little bit, you can use your largest possible flat screwdriver. My bolt did get scuffed pretty badly.

On the other side, you need to pop the plastic cover of the seat adjustment mechanism. To remove it, you need to turn the metal spring relative to the plastic handle. Use a flat screwdriver/hammer to slowly rotate them. The two 15mm bolts come out pretty easily. The last part is to remove the cable. The best way, if you can get someone to help you, is to get someone spreading the metal clip (pliers or flat screwdriver) while you remove the tension on the cable. Else, just jiggle, pull and swear loudly until they separate. Put back the clip on the cable to avoid loosing it.

You are now ready to remove the leather. Use an exacto knife or box cutter blade to cut all the seams that you can see until things come apart. Some of the leather is held on the frame by rings, spears and staples. Save all of that. Removing the leather from the spears can be hard as the leather might have "glued" itself to the frame use the screwdriver from behind and/or flat pliers to help you. Remove all metal parts, clamps, staples and the metal "thread" and save them as you will need them for re-assembly. Try to remember where they go.

Leather Preparation

The next phase is to remove the backing fabric from the 3 seating parts of the seat on at least one of the seats. Keeping the fabric intact is not critical, but keeping the leather part is. This is the worst part of the job. Do not forget to also "harvest" the piping material (ie, the round stuff in the leather tube that sides the seating and back areas of the seat).

Ok, you now have one seat completely apart and you should have 16 pieces of leather in front of you. Put your cows skins upside down and start placing your pieces on top to see the best way to cut the pieces from the skins. I would advise first finding a good location from where to get the piping covers (long strips of 1.5" material), I used the chalk line to trace them as it seems the easiest. Although most of the pieces are symmetrical, or is the mirror image of another, be careful about the orientation as you place them. Also, since both seats are the same, you can prep the parts for both seats at once. Once you have a rough idea of where to get each piece, either cut the general shapes directly or do a rough/wide marking before cutting. Once you have all your "blanks", place each piece carefully on a flat surface, mark the original precisely and cut. Then use that "good" flat leather as a template to mark/cut the equivalent piece from the other seat and (if applicable) its mirror images.

You probably are now 3~4 hours in the project, you have 32 leather pieces, one seat in parts and one seat untouched. The wife is complaining about the mess and you are going for her sewing machine which she is afraid you will break trying to sew leather. You probably are also a little bit scared or at least apprehensions. If not, you either have some experience or are crazier than me. Now is time to get started at making!

Figure 5: French Seam.

Start Sewing!

First, do some training and adjusting on the sewing machine. Sew through one layer of leather, then two, then four. Do a practice French seam. (A French seam is the seam that is at the TOP of the back of the seat. It looks like two parallel seams on the right and left of the junction of two pieces of material.) To do a French seam, use the rubber cement or double sided tape to hold together the end of two leather pieces front to front. Then sew them together. Then "open" them and fold each piece along the seam. Use rubber cement on the under side of the leather. Put a small piece of fabric and now make 2 more seams, one on each side... once you have successfully completed this, do the 2 real French seams on the appropriate leather pieces. Also sew the metal rod return at the bottom of the headrest. This is the easiest first task to complete.

Figure 6: Three Layers.

The 2nd task will be to assemble the seating surfaces. These are three layers: Leather, Foam and Fabric. After rough cutting the foam and fabric, use the spray adhesive to lightly attach them together. And then cut to size. You now need to do the double horizontal seams. Trace 1 of the 2 lines for each seam with the wax pen (best) or pencil after careful measurement (they are 6 cm apart) there is no need to trace both. As you can use the first seam as a"guide" when sewing the 2nd seam. Make sure that the first line is parallel to the edge. Complete all 6 foam backed parts (seat, back and headrest; times two). Congratulate yourself. You should be around 5~6 hours in the project by now. Unfortunately, this part is the first sewing that you need to make, and is at the same time highly visible. I strongly recommend you to do at least 4 or 6 tests on various pieces of dropped of fabric before you start. The 2 things to focus on while sewing is regularity of the seams and straightness. If you break needles, it's probably because you are trying to push/pull your fabric too fast or not in sync with the machine.

Attach the headrest and back together.

Figure 7: "Arrows"

The 3rd task will be sewing the 8 "arrows" pieces that go on the right and left of each of your four foamed areas. First, position and attach them together using the double sided tape/rubber cement and secure them with the clamps. This is starting to become difficult as the 3D nature of the seats will start to emerge and as you try to sew more and more layers together. Use the ball pen to mark the sew line on the non visible part. Note that you should be sewing at least 1/4" more inside than the original sew line (ie, reduce the total width by at least 1/2" as the leather will stretch). Once this is done, start sewing. You should still be able to do that with the wife's machine, even at the hard point where the back and headrest part of the seat meet. When you get to this type of places, it might be easier to stop using the machine's engine and control it manually using the wheel.

Figure 8: Seat bottom.

Now, focus on the bottom part of the seat. You have three more leather pieces to work with here. The back semi rectangular part, including the side edges and the back edge where another metal rod will be inserted. And the two wired irregular side pieces. Sew all that together.

Figure 9: Piping

Prepare the piping. The piping are the long pieces of leather that contain the string/rope. I cut mine 1.5" wide (wider than the original to make my life easier). Use rubber cement to prepare the piping inserting the string and folding the material on itself. For my second set of pipes, I tried to just sew them together and it did not work as well as the glue... so don't bother trying it that way.

Figure 10: Finishing the seat bottom.

You are now facing some of the hardest sewing ahead of you. A minimum of four layers of leather plus some foam and fabric in places. If you start breaking needles, this is when a professional machine will really make a difference. Use the zipper foot in order to get the needle as close as possible from the pipe. Tack all that material together using the double sided tape/rubber cement and clamps, use the front/top of the seat as alignment point. Get sewing! By the time you are done with this phase, the bottom part of the seat should be pretty much finished (just missing some returns) and the top part will just be missing the back!

Figure 11: Prepare the seat top.

Prepare the back of the top part of the seats by sewing the bottom and the bottom part of the sides. Then sew it to the rest of the assembly (it will be inside out at that point). Once this is done, you can put it back on the seat! And congratulate yourself. You usually put things on the seat by "un-insideouting" it directly in place. As you do that, don't forget to re-attach the various metal parts as they were originally.

Figure 12: Side by side.

Sew the returns on the bottom of the seat. You are DONE with the sewing!

Put the bottom of the seat back on, re-assemble the seats and YOU ARE DONE!!!! Congratulate yourself, you have saved a boatload of money, had a great time and can be proud of yourself. OK, the end result is not as good as factory build stuff, but hey, it's your first time at it!

Improvements that you can do on your seats: Back pockets. It's very easy. Look at any "modern" car with leather seats and observe how they did it...

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Figure 1


Figure 2


Figure 3


Figure 4

Tying seams.

Figure 5

French Seam.

Figure 6

Three Layers.

Figure 7


Figure 8

Seat bottom.

Figure 9


Figure 10

Finishing the seat bottom.

Figure 11

Prepare the seat top.

Figure 12

Side by side.

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Comments and Suggestions:
JPSummers Comments: Cyrille, Excellent primer on Seat Sewing. Getting ready to sew up semi-custom upholstery for our VW Bus. Leather of course and have A LOT of repair work to do on our 924 & 944. We have a 1949 Singer 128 machine which will handle this type of work well. With Leather running as low as $100/ Side 1/2 a hide, doing the sewing yourself saves a ton of money on a high quality interior.
December 21, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional info. We appreciate it.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
LarryT Comments: Thanks for the article! You can probably smooth out those minor wrinkles by putting more padding under them. My 911 has man-made leather so the cost will be less and a mistake not so costly - although I may consider leather thanks to you. Ebay has "faux leather" which I may try 1st. Thanks to you I may give it a try! Thanks again...
December 25, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the input on this one. We appreciate the help.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
torero Comments: You are braver than most, certainly me, congrats!
Question: the cable to fold down the front seat broke.
Any idea where can I get a new one and how do I install it?
Many thanks. 1984 911 targa, btw.
February 5, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Sorry I haven't done this before. I will copy this question to the forms and see if anyone there has any suggestions for you. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  

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