Well as you can see, there wasn't a great deal left here to work from. When I bought the car, everything was upholstered in shiny black vinyl, no pleats, no pockets, no hidem, nothing to add any statement to the bald vinyl. It had been stretched over foam and glued to the side panels and door trim, which in turn had been glued to the timber frames, and traces of glue still remained now; but of the trim itself there was nothing. I had reupholstered the seats myself in tan-coloured vinyl, before they'd had the long rest. I can't now remember what machine I used, and I know I cut corners, not knowing any better, but I thought I'd done a pretty good job of making pleats. Although it was a long time ago, I thought I remembered pretty well what I'd done, so I was surprised to find that the springs had been stuffed with dry grass, shredded paper, and bits of plastic. And then I realised that of course I hadn't done it, but some little creatures had made their home there, possibly the same ones who had eaten my wiring harness. And so, like so much else, I had to start from scratch.
My mate Paul (again) enrolled me in the Automotive Upholstery course at tech, so I had no choice but to go and learn how to do it properly, using a proper industrial machine, with walking foot, for sewing leather. Although back-sewn fluting wasn't in our course, I made enough of a nuisance of myself that the tutor gave me a private lesson.
So having done the course, then I had to decide: buy a kit, or do it from scratch. Well, I thought it would be an appalling cop-out if I bought a kit. I was worried about the colour match: the quarter panels are done in vinyl (used to be rexine), while the seats and bits of door trim and pocket trim are done in leather, and I knew I wouldn't be able to match the colours. I thought about using contrasting colours on the quarter panels and piping, etc, but I was persuaded that a couple of shades off would be better than contrasting. But the colour of the leather is different in different lights, and different angles, and the more I looked, the more I was convinced that even kits don't have perfect colour matches. And in any case, I've seen a few cars done from kits: although the sewing is exquisite, yet because every car is different, the kits don't always seem to fit so well. So I decided to do it myself. I thought, if it works, I'll have spent a few thousand dollars on a machine, but saved almost exactly the same amount on the kit, and at the end, I'll still have the machine. And if it doesn't, I can sell the machine for almost what I gave, and buy a kit, and I'm no worse off. And if it does work, I'll have the satisfaction of having done it all myself.
Well, I was lucky enough to acquire a machine from a manufacturer who was standardising on a more versatile model. I upholstered the Lotus seats using black vinyl with two different textures, and I think it looks pretty good - better in any case than the seats I bought with the car. So encouraged by this, I set out to upholster the MG.
It turns out I made my first mistake right at the beginning, in my choice of material. I wanted a light tan colour to go with the green body, but my supplier had stopped sourcing the standard material. Instead he offered a what he called long-grain material, in the same colour. Now the long grain has some advantage: it looks like leather, but more importantly it can stretch or even be made to shrink a bit, and even quite gross mistakes can be camouflaged to a large extent by the grain effect on the vinyl. But on the other hand, it certainly doesn't look like rexine, which may be a good thing because as far as I can tell rexine has only two virtues: firstly, that it was the cheapest material available at the time, and secondly, that it's virtually impossible to source now. Short-grain vinyl looks more like rexine than long-grain, so if you're looking for originality, its a better substitute.
At tech we had been told to use bitumen board for panel trims, but unfortunately none of the suppliers knew what it was. They offered me something called panel-trim-board instead. It looks like heavy duty cardboard, and in fact you could peel it off layer by layer, like cardboard, if you had a wish to do so. I found that it has some advantages, but also at least one disadvantage. It's easy to sew through, and contact adhesive sticks well to it. Its cardboard-like texture means you can shape it around curves by wetting it and gradually bending it to shape. But this is also its disadvantage: its not stable, and that is something of a worry to me - it does seem to me that a sports tourer is going to get wet from time to time. Since I have no choice, I've made the best of it, and screwed it firmly into place, so even if it does get wet, I think it can't move far.
I was amazed how much material it took, although conceivably I could have done it all with slightly less. I measured it all carefully, and bought 3.5m of vinyl, and 1 panel-trim board. A couple of days later I went back and bought another panel-trim board, and another 2.5m of vinyl. Out of the first 3.5m, I covered the rear shelf etc, and the side-screen box, and the front and rear quarter panels, plus the hidem banding for the front and rear quarter panels. I made both rear quarter panels, and one of the front quarterpanels, out of the first sheet of trim board, and I made the other front quarter panel trim, plus the two door trim covers, from the other board. It took about 6.3m of piping for the trim that goes all round the car from the dashboard to the rear, and because I hadn't thought this out clearly enough and had cut the 3.5m vinyl, I had to cut three strips from the 2.5m vinyl and make a join on each side. Although this seems unfortunate, yet it let me show off my virtuosity in piping joins. In fact I would have had to make a join anyway, and it would have been right in the middle of the dashboard, whereas now there are two joins, just at the bottom of the doors, and I challenge anyone to find them without a minute inspection. I used just over 1 kg of contact adhesive just for the panel trim and door trims, but because I made a couple of false starts, it might be slightly less, and I imagine if it had been sprayed instead of spread it might have been significantly less. It took 2m of hidem for each of the doors, and a bit under 2.5 m of hidem each side for the front and rear quarter panells combined.
more to come...
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