The front seat upholstery repair on a 1996 Saab 900 (should be very similar on other Saabs too). The previous owner left a huge tear on a side bolster, and the condition of the seat back in whole wasn't the best, so it seemed like a good idea to reskin it. We used fabric instead of leather to provide superior back support during the club's driving events. It is possible to pull the upholstery while the seat is in the car, but it's much easier if you remove the seat first.

Tools and supplies:

  • two pairs of strong needle nose pliers: to bend the staples;
  • long flat screwdriver: to remove the headrest sleeves and lumbar knob;
  • upholstery fabric and thread;
  • soft foam backing of fiber-fill;
  • general sewing supplies.
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The seat

Here's the seat after I brought it home. You can see that the left bolster surface is worn badly and has a huge hole in the middle.
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Head support sleeves

First, remove the headrest and its support sleeves. Insert a screwdriver a couple of centimeters down along the sleeve, press a tab and pull the sleeve out.
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Staples

On the bottom of the seat back, there are five staples that hold the ends of the upholstery together. The staples are rather thick, you need two pairs of needle nose pliers to handle them.
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Tension rod

After the staples are gone, pull the fabric apart slightly and disconnect the tension rods from the seat frame (there are two of them).
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Lumbar knob

Remove the lumbar support knob. It comes right off if you give it a good pull.
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Inside out

Starting from the bottom of the seat, turn the edges of the skin inside out and pull it upward to remove from the frame.
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More staples

You will encounter more staples on your way. They connect the tension rods to the thick wires attached to the seat frame.
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Last staples

The last couple of staples at the next seam, and the seat cover is free. Memorize the locations of the staples, you will have to put them back later.
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Rear view

This is how the lumbar adjustment mechanism looks like.
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Leather skin

The skin is finally removed from the seat. Looks rather untidy.
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The seat

The seat without its backrest upholstery. If your seat heaters do not work, it's a good time to inspect the heating pads for torn wires (they are the two grey squares in the middle).
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Seams undone

I'm only replacing the front surface of the seat, so the back remains untouched. Undo the seams and note how everything was put together, including the tension wire.
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Layers

It helps to sign the parts on the back. The original upholstery consisted of two layers: the leather top and the foam backing.
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Ribbons

These ribbons work as sleeves for the tension wire. Ironing them should help later when you will be sewing the fabric back together.
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Fabric

Here's some thick matching upholstery fabric from BouClair. We bought a bit more in case we'll need to do the other seats in the future.
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Cut to shape

Use the old pieces of leather to cut the fabric to the desired shape.
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Singer

An old trusty sewing machine.
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Thread

A spool of strong unholstery thread.
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Layers

We did not want to reuse the old smelly foam backing, so we used a layer of polyester fiber-fill covered with thin fabric.
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Helga

The essential element of the whole adventure. Helga agreed to help out despite having a cold and a sore throat.
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Stitching

It is a two-step process. First you sew the upholstery fabric to the backing, and then stitch the pieces to each other with the tension wire sleeves on the back.
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Front complete

Here's the front section finished. Do not forget that strip at the bottom with a wire on it.
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Back side

Now you need to attach the new front section to the leather back.
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Hand stitching

I'm doing it by hand, using the perforation of the old seams in the original leather parts.
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Dmitry

It took me over an hour to do it the right way, but now I can brag that my car has "hand-stitched leather" ;). And make that "sport seating surfaces" too.
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Top finished

Here's the renewed skin finished, waiting to be put back on.
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Bottom

The bottom is much easier, it is smaller, and there are less staples.
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Undone

The only difficult part is the plastic trim around the edge. It makes it much harder to saw the side section on later.
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New fabric

The fabric is cut to the shape of the old parts.
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Bottom finished

The new parts are sewn together.
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Fitting the top

Fitting is the reverse of the removal. Start with the top, fit the headrest sleeves to hold the fabric and work your way down restoring the staples and making sure the tension wires follow the grooves in the seat foam.
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Done

The job is complete. The fabric fits the seat nicely. It also holds you better in sharp turns and feels more friendly in very cold or hot weather.

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