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This post is designed to provide instruction on how to recover a lawn tractor seat. The lawn tractor seat used for the documentation was off of a Simplicity Landlord Model 101 – other seats may differ. Before starting this I will recommend that if you want a professional job take your seat to an upholstery shop but if you feel brave and like working with your hands read on and learn how an original seat can be made to look nice again. Since I had no original cover to use as a pattern the seat cover I made is not entirely the same as the original but it is similar – all I had was two pictures I found on the internet of what appeared to be an original cover. I also took the liberty of using green thread which I feel accents the stitching. As you can see in the before picture below the seat pan and cushion are in good condition and I reused them – you can be the judge of how good a job I did and whether you feel comfortable tackling a task like this yourself. Before starting to recover your seat please read this post carefully all the way through to determine whether you feel this is a task you want to attempt – you may opt to let a professional make the cover and do the removal and install yourself which will save you money rather than having the job done completely by someone else. If you have a digital camera take pictures of your seat so you know how the material was sewn, folded, and clipped before starting to disassemble – you can refer to them later if something doesn’t seem quite right. Make sure you have a large enough work area that is well lit. Wear safety glasses when sewing and remember needles and thread rippers are sharp objects that will pierce and cut skin the same way as upholstery – SAFETY FIRST. While we are on the safety issue I will mention that if you are happily married and wish to remain so and in good health purchase your own sewing tools or check with your loving partner before deciding their sewing basket and the contents inside are an extension of your tool box and community property – your partner may not share your beliefs.

Here is what I started with and how it looked when I was done:




Tools I would recommend that you need for sewing which you may not have.
Seam Ripper - you can use a razor blade or utility knife but if you have to cut a seam open this little tool is a big help - you can get one for about $3.00 - $4.00
Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl and small needle for it - you can also use a sewing machine needle which is what I did - #16 for denim - got the Speedy Stitcher at the Hardware store for about $23.00 and a package of 3 needles at the dollar store for $1.00
Needle Threader - handy for threading the needle - picked up 4 for $1.00 at the dollar store
5’ Cloth Tape Measure - handy for measuring curves and uneven surfaces - got mine at the dollar store for another $1.00

You will also need some upholstery vinyl (I used about a yard of material designed for -40 degrees exterior grade called Wintersport), 1/2" x 18" x 16" piece of sponge foam to make the pleats ( the pleats are optional but look nice), some cloth for a backing for the pleats (I used a pillow case I got from the dollar store and cut apart) thread to sew the material ( I used a nylon thread spec # CSB-69(E) and some awning cord or starter rope approximately 3/16" in diameter to make the piping and welt at the outer edge of the cover (I used awning cord $4.00 for a package of 50 feet at the hardware store) You can probably get the vinyl, foam and thread from an upholstery shop or auto glass repair place that also does car interiors for about $25 to $30. The reason I am quoting prices is to show that this project can be done for about $50.00 to $75.00 if you have to buy everything – this is more than a new seat if you find one on sale but this cover will be something you can say you made and will allow you to retain the original seat which may add value to your tractor and you will have the tools and experience to redo it or another seat in the future for the cost of the material to make the seat cover.

I did use a sewing machine to sew the pleats but you do not need a sewing machine for this project and a regular sewing machine will not join two pieces of the heavy vinyl and cording together properly (they will be too thick) - it will probably frustrate you with broken needles and skipped stitches if you try. The seat cover I made had the join in the centre at the back and the pleats done with the sewing machine but the two seams at the front and the joining of the sides and front piece to the pleated piece were all sewn by hand. The pleats and the join in the centre at the back can be sewn by hand but it will take longer - if you have a sewing machine then by all means use it but it is not a must have for this project.






Here is the start of the pleated section – I started with a piece of vinyl that is approximately 24” long by 15” wide (I made it extra large as I had no pattern to go by and wanted to make sure I had enough material – it is easier to trim than it is to add on - This piece will get trimmed to about 13” long by 14 ½” wide when done). There is a piece of ½” thick foam between the backside of the vinyl and a pillow case that I bought at the Dollar Store and cut apart. The pillow case serves as a backing to hold the thread on the bottom side of the pleats. I used staples around the edges to hold the pieces together while I sewed the pleats but pins can be used as well - the pins will come out easier when you are done.




Here I have marked out where the first pleat will be sewn. The next picture shows three pleats I sewed with the sewing machine – I use a Raymond treadle machine built in the early 1900’s and have converted it to a hand crank – this lets me control the speed easily and I find it easy to use but like most machines it can be finicky. I had been using a thinner vinyl on my previous project and as a result the first two seams have areas where the stitching is not tensioned properly. I will have to rip the thread out of them and resew them now I have the tension adjusted. The lesson here is do a few stitches on some scrap material the same as what you will be sewing to make sure everything is working properly. A word of caution - mark one pleat and then sew it before marking the next pleat. I made each pleat one inch apart but it will take more than one inch of material in between. If you mark them all first and then sew them the spacing between the pleats will be get closer together with each pleat sewn and by the time you are done instead of one inch spacing you will be down to about 3/4" apart.





Here I have started to rip the thread back out to resew the first seam. If you have to do this take a little baby powder and wipe it over where you sewed once you have ripped the thread out - it will let you see the holes where the needle went through the first time so you line them up with the needle when you sew it again so that you reuse the same holes. Also if you use baby powder on the vinyl where it goes under the presser foot on the sewing machine it will slide through easier. If you are hand sewing you will not have to worry about this. Make sure you have wide spacing on the stitches when sewing - about 1/8" to 3/16" between the holes where the needle goes through. If you space them too close together the holes will act like perforations in paper and let the vinyl rip easily where it is sewed.




Seams resewn again and moving on - what the backside should look like.




Centre piece with twelve pleats and a test fit to see how it looks on the foam. I had hoped it could form the upright in the centre at the back but as you can see it is puckering at the bend where it starts to go up the back of the seat so it will get trimmed.




Here I have marked with chalk where the two side pieces will join the centre piece – leave a ½” border around the outside. I included the ruler and tape to give you an idea of the size if you were making the same cover.




Here is what the width and length will be – when you mark out the border and where it narrows at the back try and keep both sides the same so it will look symmetrical when done




Sew around outside edge about ¼” from where the piece will join to the sides and then trim the excess material on the ½” border mark.




I made the two side pieces next – I used the vinyl material as the instructions will indicate but you may choose to use something less expensive such as plastic sheeting, a clear garbage bag, or tissue paper like they use for clothing patterns to make patterns for your side pieces. You can take a piece of cardboard or plastic to trace the size of the pleated section on and that way if you make a mistake it while laying everything out and cutting you can start over and you have not wasted any of the vinyl. Once you get your patterns figured out you can cut them out and mark them on the backside of the vinyl.
Next cut a piece of vinyl to make the left side( when I refer to left and right it will be as if you were sitting in the seat) of the cover and do the same for the right side and lay the right side on top of the left side at the back as shown. Make sure you overlap both sides enough so that you will have 1” of material at the bottom in the centre of the join going towards the front under the pleated piece which will be set on top. In the pictures below there is not enough overlap so I had to slide everything towards the front of the seat about an inch.




With the pleated centre set in place I will emphasize again that in the middle at the back you want 1” of material from the sides under the centre piece – ½” where they will be sewn together and ½” of extra material for strength and lining up the materials to be sewn which should become clearer as we go. Now we need to figure out where the join will be going up the back – you want it to look straight and centered in the middle at the rear. The mark in the picture below is the centre of the pleated piece and the solid mark up the centre at the back is where the side pieces will be sewn together. The two chalk marks on the right are where the right piece will be cut.




The right side is marked with a cut line. Flip it back and determine where the left piece needs to be marked to have it line up with the sew mark you made on the right piece. Mark ½” in further on it as the cut line so you have a ½” overlap – double check that you have marked them correctly before cutting or you may need to start over.




Mark the sides around the pleated piece and then measure in one inch from this mark towards the centre and make a new mark – this will be your cut line for the bottom of the sides. You need one inch because you will be sewing ½” in for the join and the other ½” is overlap for strength. When you are marking the vinyl and it will show when the cover is finished use chalk or something that will come off – if you use ink or marker it may be a mark that you cannot remove when you are finished



Join the two side pieces together at the rear after you have cut them out and sew them together on the line on the inside. Then sew a second seam on the outside about ¼” away from the join. The last picture shows what it looks like on the inside when sewn – the second seam makes the join stronger and the material lay down flat on the inside.





Next join the two side pieces and the pleated section together. I used piping in between the pieces. Piping (or cording) can be bought or made – I made mine. It is just a pieces of 1 ½” vinyl wrapped around a piece of awning cord that is about 3/16” in diameter ( starter rope or a piece of vacuum hose would work as well and it is an option but it covers any stitching that might show where the pieces are joined and gives the cover a finished look – you will need about 60 inches of piping so you can sew two pieces of vinyl together or put in two sections of piping like I did – the piece down the sides and around the back is all one and the piping across the front is another piece. I sewed a seam to hold the cord using a zipper foot on the sewing machine but you can sew it by hand or just clamp everything together and sew the pieces. I used paper clips to hold everything together and if everything has a ½” border around the outside and you line the outside edge and sew on the mark it should turn out fine. Make sure you centre the join at the back with the centre of the pleated section at the back. I started sewing from the centre at the back and did one side and then the other. As I stated earlier you cannot sew this thickness using a regular sewing machine so it was sewn by hand.




Here is the start of the hand sewing – I have the needle through the pieces of material and the thread pulled though. The instructions on how to use the Speedy Stitcher come with it or can be found online at http://www.speedystitcher.com/ssinstructions.html . In the next picture I have gone about 4” along (using a lock stitch the same as a sewing machine would do) and the loop formed and the thread through the loop and am ready to pull the needle back through. Follow the line you have marked and space the stitches about 1/8” to 3/16” apart. This sewing should not show when you are done so spacing is not super critical. Anywhere that the sewing will show you can use a piece of masking tape as a guide for the seam and mark it to get nice even stitching as I will show later when I do the front seams.




Here is what the top side should look like where you have sewed it.




Work your way along the sides to the front until you are done - then when you reach the end sew back about three stitches – this will keep the stitching from coming undone. Here is a picture illustrating how thick the material was that I used.




You will probably have to cut some slits in the material like this where the corners are – the slits will help it lay flatter against the seat foam. The second picture shows the one side from the top view with the piping and pieces ready to be clamped together




Once it was sewed I did a test fit on the seat using the paper clips to hold it. Here you can see I originally had the piping going all the way down the front. I later felt that there should be piping across the front so I ripped the seam back and added a new piece at the front with piping. If I was doing it again I would have left the piping as it was and then added the new piece with piping across the front – hindsight is a great thing.




It seemed to fit pretty good at the back so I moved on to the seat pan. If your cover is intact and can be used for a pattern you may want to do the pan lip first, remove the old cover, cut it apart and mark new pieces and then sew them together. Since I had nothing left of the original cover other than the welt under the lip and was not sure if I could make a cover that would look good I waited until I had the cover made before tackling the seat pan.




Here is the tool I made out of a worn out pair of vise grips to bend up the edge of the seat to remove the welt that held the original cover on. I welded two pieces of 1/8” angle iron on to the jaws and sharpened the top one with a grinder so it will act like a chisel tooth and go under the pan lip. You could also use a chisel and hammer I suppose but this tool worked well for me.




Here is the tool in use – as you squeeze the jaws together the tooth part goes under the lip and then you can pry the lip up a bit at a time. Work your way around the seat and open up the lip a bit at a time – I found the corners were the hardest but take your time and they will open up without tearing the metal or marking it up.




Here the lip is getting wide enough to reveal the edge of the old cover. I have removed the foam at this stage. I think it was glued originally to the seat pan and where it was still stuck I worked a putty knife under it to get it to break the bond.




Here you can see the lip is all bent back enough to start removing the old cover welt – you only need to bend the lip enough so that you can pull the old material out as the lip has to be bent back down once the new cover and welt is in the groove. I used a pick and a small flat screwdriver to remove the old material – it should come out without any resistance if the lip is bent enough. If you encounter a spot where you cannot get it out just bend the lip a little more. The seat pan looks rusty where the foam was glued but it cleaned up nice with a wire brush. There was one pinhole which I welded with a mig welder before I painted the seat pan.





Here is the old seat cover welt removed in one piece and the seat after I primed and painted it. I painted the outer lip here but I would recommend that you mask the outer lip (only paint the groove part and pan under the foam) and paint it after you get the lip squeezed back together. I marked up the paint when I was squeezing the lip back together and as a result I had to remove all the fresh paint and repaint it afterwards.




The foam was wet and had some rust scale stuck to it on the bottom which I cleaned off as best as I could before reassembling it. After about a day in the sun and squeezing the water out of the foam I finally got it dry.




Here is the cover and I did not like the first seam (closest to the front of the seat) as it was a little bit crooked and I wanted to have piping where the seam was so I cut out a piece of the front and sewed a new piece in with piping.




Here is the piping I have prepared to sew in and the section removed and new piece cut out to install.




Here is the size of the new section and where I am starting to sew it in – notice I am starting to sew about ¾” in from the side join and working towards the centre. After I have sewn to within ¾” of the other side join I will cut the piping back and cut the rope so I can flatten the vinyl of the piping and bring the end down so it appears to disappear into the seat from the top side view. A few slits cut in it will let you do a sharp bend down at the ends. If you leave the rope in where it goes down it will be too thick and look bulky where it goes down. If you go on to “You Tube” you can watch some sewing videos on piping which will illustrate this better than I can describe it (they will be on cloth and fabric but the principle is the same).




Here is how I clamped it and worked my way to the other end.




Here the rope has been cut and the vinyl notched to make the bend down. I also did the same with the side piping ends but as I stated earlier I should have left the sides alone and just added the front piece and piping at the front.




Here is the top view showing how the piping appears to disappear into the seat.




Here is a picture of the piping sewing ripped back and where the rope has been cut to let the vinyl flatten and how the cover now looks from the top.




I sewed the front piece and the sides with the sewing machine first but after a few more trial fits I found I had to rip these seams back apart and cut the vinyl on about a fourty five degree angle and resew them.




The other thing I didn’t realize was that I think the foam on the two front corners came up a little bit at the outer edges originally and had been worn away over the years. If I had figured this out I would have cut a couple of pieces about 2” wide x 3” inches long and 1” high to add on the top before I put the new cover on – I would have just used masking tape to hold them in place – once the cover was on it would trap them and they would not move – again hindsight is a wonderful vision.




Next I did another test fit – I put a socket set on the pleated piece to simulate a bit of weight on the cover and then worked the awning cord (rope) I used as welt around the edge into the groove to hold the material to figure out where I should trim the outer edge. First make sure the cover is centered and positioned where you want it. Next work the cord against the material into the groove around the outside edge where the old welt was you can use a flat screwdriver or putty knife against the rope – DO NOT PUSH ON THE VINYL AS YOU MAY MARK OR CUT IT. As you work the welt in you can use the paper clips to hold it in place as you work your way around – you want to have as few wrinkles in the cover as possible and it will take a bit of trial and error but you should be able to work (pull) the vinyl one way or the other and get a nice looking fit.




Here you can see I had a few wrinkles but I was able to work them out with a bit of pulling




Here is where I figured out I needed to redo the front seams on an angle and resew them. I will have to rip the seam back out and bring the outer edge in about 3” on each join so that the cover will fit down nicely in the front corners without puckering.




Here the corners are clamped and ready to be resewn which I will do by hand.




Here the inside seam is sewn and a trial fit of the modified corners.




They looked good so I worked the welt in all the way around and marked where to trim the outer edge with a marker. You want to have enough material to surround the welt but not enough that it comes back out from under the pan lip – if there is too much it will have to be trimmed. Note: where there is a seam end the welting about ¾” either side of it. There is not enough room in the groove for the welting and four layers of material and this will result in a pucker at the seam under the lip. If you end the welting ¾” before each side of the seam the extra layers of material at the seam will do the same job as the welting.





Marking on back side on where to trim – if you start to mark and find you have to move things a little and then remark it like I did use a different colour for the second time you mark and you will make sure you cut the correct mark when you trim.





Cover marked and ready to trim – note the mark the rope left on the material where it was in the groove. Picture of the cover with the edge trimmed.




Here I am attaching the rope to the outer edge by sewing it to the vinyl – the original appeared to be glued. This will keep the vinyl from working its way out from under the lip. Roll the vinyl around the rope and clamp it with the paper clips as you sew it. You can do this with a sewing machine if you take your time or by hand with the Speedy Stitcher.




Last fit to see how it looks – see how the two front seams are being pulled on and you can see the thread. As I stated earlier I should have let the piping come down the front instead of ending it at the top but I will do a double stitch to strengthen the join. A picture of the Raymond sewing machine I use.





Here I am starting to sew the double stitch at the front seams. Here is how to make a straight evenly spaced stitch by hand. First take a piece of masking tape and mark it like this – I have stuck it beside the rear seam and marked where the holes will go but you can use a tape measure as well to get the spacing you want.




Now pull the tape off and stick it where you want to sew your new seam. Use the edge as a straight guide and the marks are where you will put the needle through for the stitches. You can do nice pleats by hand this way as well. Here is a picture of some I did on the bottom section of a car seat using the Speedy Stitcher.





Here you can see I am following the edge and spacing and the completed seam.





Cover clamped and ready to start squeezing the lip closed. Here is the tool I made from another pair of old vise grips to squeeze the lip down – it has two pieces of 1/8” x 1” flat steel welded to the jaws. You could also use a C clamp or some other method but this tool worked well for me. I do not recommend using a regular pair of vise grips as they will leave marks on the outer lip from the jaws.





Use a putty knife to push the welt down in the groove as you squeeze the lip shut – do a little at a time. I started on the left side.




Go to the other side, the rear and then the front. Check as you go that the material is trimmed at the edge of the rope. Here I have a little bit of material I will have to trim





After you have the sides, front and back secured you can work the corners down. Here are pictures of the sides as I worked. You may wish to put something on the pleated part (I used a pail of sand on top of a piece of cardboard) for weight to hold it down (it will simulate the weight of someone sitting on the seat so you don’t trap a bunch of air between the cover and the foam. Something else you may want to do if the cover is not staying down against the foam properly is to sew a ½” loop of vinyl on the bottom of the join in each corner at the rear. You can then put a shoe lace, some fishing line or elastic through the loop and feed the ends down through the foam with a large needle or sharp pick and tie a large button on the bottom of the foam. This will pull the cover down on the foam. I did not do this and the cover does pull up a bit from the foam when there is no weight on it.





Working the front and back in to the groove and squeezing the groove closed – note that the seam fits nice under the lip and where the welt stops on either side




Working on the corners




Lip squeezed together and starting to mask to repaint the outer edge. As I stated earlier if I was doing it again I would have masked the outer edge of the seat and as a result would have not had to clean the paint back off where I marked it up when I squeezed the lip. Do not squeeze the lip down too tight – you want to trap the welting but not cut the vinyl with the edge of the lip.




Here I have masked the seat cover using masking tape and a garbage bag (I would normally have used masking paper but I wanted to show you a substitute that is readily available and inexpensive – if you use a garbage bag spray one with the paint you are going to use first to make sure it does not attack or eat the garbage bag – you do not want to ruin your cover at this point with paint getting on it) and repainted the outer lip. The seat is now unmasked and ready to be put back on the tractor.




I was lucky as the foam for this seat was in good shape and reusable. If yours is not you can cut some out of foam sheeting and shape it with a knife or you can try and salvage some from an old car seat. I have included my mistakes and how I overcame them to show you that what seems to be a problem can be overcome with some thought and time and so that you do not make the same mistakes.
I hope you have enjoyed learning about how to recover a lawn tractor seat and it inspires you to give it a try - my thanks to “My Tractor Forum” for allowing me to share this information with you. Subsequent to this project I have also done a recovering of a Bolens 1050 Seat. Check out that thread here!
 
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