DIY Seat Covers and Cushions for the Willys Jeep
How to Make Car Seat Covers for your Old 4x4 Willys Jeep Seat Covers
The truth is, repairing or fabricating beautiful, high-end, leather-covered upholstery for your 4x4 is something that should be best left to the professionals. Real upholsterers don't charge that much if you develop a relationship with them. Chances are that any foray into DIY high-end upholstery will end in you destroying expensive materials trying to figure out what you are doing. The dirty little secret is that doing marginal, or even acceptable upholstery work on your old 4x4 isn't quite as difficult as it may seem.
At Home Upholstery
Old 4x4s from the 40s, 50s, and even some from the 60s have pretty simple interiors. You might be able to get factory seat covers, springs, or foam from the same places that sell you your carburetor kits. These can be installed using hog rings, snaps, screws, or the like. It's not that hard. In our case, the upholstery of the seats in our 1946 CJ-2a was long gone. The frames were in decent shape, and an internet search yielded several sources for pre-cut replacement foam and seat covers for our rig. Still, the seats are simple, and we like a challenge and spending $500 on foam and seat covers seemed excessive. A few hours at our local fabric supply place and $130 later, we had ourselves an upholstery project.
Finding Seat Foam and Materials
The fabric store we went to had long sections of foam for sale. When we asked to buy about 3 feet of the stuff, the lady behind the counter inadvertently gave us a very helpful tip. We asked her how they cut the foam to the customer's desired length, and she held up an electric carving knife. We grabbed one on the way home from the fabric store (we're out another $16), and the knife cut the foam to shape like a dream.
Cutting Seat Covers
We bought 2 yards of marine-grade vinyl intended for boat upholstery. Hopefully the color isn't too far off from what the original vinyl of our seats looked like when the Jeep left the factory, but because we don't really care if the Jeep is concourse correct, does it really matter? The seat bases were cut to fit the seat frames out of a scrap piece of particle board we had in the garage. We drilled holes to line up with the mounting holes in the base of the seat frames. Threaded inserts for wood from the hardware store and some bolts will secure the seat bottoms to the seat frames. The idea is to make inside-out boxes out of the vinyl to cover the cushions. Once everything is sewn together, you can invert the vinyl, stuff the cushions inside them, and secure the cushions to the seat frame and bases.
Pining the Seat Covers
Luckily for us, this author (and amateur upholsterer)'s wife owns a rather nice sewing machine and knows more about sewing than we do. With a little refresher on how to use the machine from her and a lesson on using pins to hold the material together before sewing.
Sewing the Seat Covers
With that new knowledge in hand we were ready to try sewing up the seats using the sewing machine. We used heavy-duty thread called denim thread that should help hold the marine-grade vinyl stitches together. We then followed the instructions that came with the sewing machine to set the thread tension in our material using the supplied heavy-duty denim needle using a test piece of vinyl.
Willys Seat Restoration
The end result are seat cushions that look pretty darn good, if we do say so ourselves. Not all the corners are perfect, and the cushions may not be perfectly square, but who cares? Also we don't know how long our seat covers will last, but this has us looking for a used heavy-duty sewing machine with visions of vintage style canvas tops and more.