Leather Upholstery DIY By Willie Sandry


How many times have you wished the stools at your kitchen island looked a little nicer?  Maybe they could be a little more plush or a little more inviting.  If the old fabric or vinyl needs to be refreshed, consider leather upholstery for a tasteful upgrade to the look and feel of your home. 

The small size of this project makes it pretty manageable, and since you only need two leather panels for each stool, a leather remnant just might do the job.  If you have several stools to re-cover, consider getting a full hide.  There’s just something about working with real leather that’s so satisfying.  In fact, I actually find leather easier to work with than synthetic vinyl. 

How Thick is the Cushion?  The first question we need to ask is what’s the combined thickness of the seat base and foam?  If it’s 2” or less, you may be able to stretch the cover in place with a “No-Sew” technique.  Check out the Leather Hide Store blog on dining chair re-upholstery for that technique.  Today, we’re working with a thicker cushion so a sewn technique will work better.  We should also decide what type of seams make the most sense for this application.  I chose a “single felled” seam with a visible topstitch for this barstool.  Single felled or “flat felled” seams offer extra strength compared to blind seams, and help to manage bulk when sewing with leather.  The short vertical seam in the boxing will be a simple blind seam.              



Cutting the Leather.  Now that you have sizes for the round top panel and boxing strip, lay out the leather suede-side up.  It’s important to accurately cut the circle of leather, so the finished product will look uniform.  To that end, I take the time to make a “beam compass” to draw the circle.  The pattern tells me the original cover was 17-1/8” diameter, and this number already takes into account two ½” seam allowances.  However, if you’re switching from cloth or vinyl to leather upholstery, I recommend subtracting a factor for leather stretch.  I generally subtract ¼” for every 10” of panel size.  Since the top panel is between 10” and 20”, I subtracted 3/8” for leather stretch.  This gave me a top panel diameter of 16-3/4.” 



Form-Fitting Cover Eliminates Wrinkles.   Most leather upholstery projects involve wrestling the cover in place to manage excess material.  This invariably results in unwanted and unsightly wrinkles.  To avoid the problem from the start, we’ll make a sewn cushion cover. 

Start by sewing the round panel to the boxing strip with a simple blind seam.  I use a ½” seam allowance and a magnetic guide on the sewing machine.  Make sure your machine is up to the task by testing on some leather scraps. 



Terminating the Boxing.  Cut a small notch in the top panel to indicate where the seam in the boxing will land.  Then transfer that location to the boxing, and mark a line ½” beyond for your cut line.  Once you’ve marked both ends of the boxing, go ahead and trim the ends to the final length.  Then it’s just a matter of running a short blind stitch to close the boxing.  Finally, open up the seam allowance and complete the main perimeter seam to close the back of the cushion. 



Prepare to Topstitch.  All that’s left at the sewing machine is a topstitch around the perimeter of the cushion.  Often, I’ll swap the sewing machine foot to a zipper foot or special topstitching foot, but in this case I kept the ¼” cording foot installed.  Increase the stitch length to about 5-6 stitches per inch for a more decorative look. 

Lightly stretch the seam open as you sew the topstitch.  The goal is to lay the stitching about ¼” from the seam and sew the double seam allowance to the boxing side.  This will yield the cleanest look once the cover is installed on the cushion base. 



Install the Cover.  The only work that remains is affixing the cover to the cushion base.  If your measurements were accurate, and your cuts true… the rest should be a piece of cake.  Draw a reference line ¾” from the edge of the wood, which will help keep the cover centered on the foam base.  Flip the cover down over the foam, keeping it roughly centered as you work.  Start with four cardinal staples to anchor the cover in place.  Then add one staple midway between two cardinal fasteners.  Next work opposite that spot, to keep things even.  Repeat this process of adding a staple on the near side of the cushion, followed by the far side.  





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