How To: Repair fabric upholstery

A 2-in. curved needle or a 33-gauge straight needle is essential for cab seats. Most experts rely on heavy duty upholstery thread or nylon thread. Don’t waste time on worn-out fabric, though, because “thread is only as good as the material, which is often rotting or old,” says Ron Marshall, owner of New Creations Upholstery Repair in Bellingham, Wash. Needles and thread, as well as foam backing, if needed, are available at fabric stores.

Heed tips from the experts, and you may save some money on do-it-yourself fabric seat repairs, especially if you fix tears within a week or two after they start. The key is to be gentle handling the material, says Arnett Fields, of Fields Auto Care in Tuscaloosa, Ala., who demonstrates this repair on a 1995 Toyota Celica GT.

Simple tears no longer than 5 or 6 inches along seams or worn spots can be repaired easily and expected to hold up to three months before needing more work. Experts warn to avoid glue or upholstery tape for any cloth repair.

Repairs on larger sections of worn cloth or padding that may be sticking through upholstery most likely require professional expertise. Professionals charge about $35 for seam repairs. Recovered sections of seats range from $85 to $150, and entire seats can be reupholstered for about $400.


  1. Replace any missing foam padding by cutting a piece large enough to fit under the tear without edges showing. Trim frayed edges with scissors and brush any debris from seam.
  2. Thread the needle with a double string, enough for an arm’s length. Knot at end.
  3. Start the needle on the inside out at end of torn seam. Go through the material twice, on both sides of the tear.
  4. Pull the needle all the way through the material to prevent the knot from pulling through. Then you can go through two thicknesses.
  5. Keep the joints no more than /-inch apart. If a long cut, sew 2 to 3 inches before you pull the seam together tightly to prevent tearing the cloth.
  6. Push the seam and padding together with your hands to reduce pressure on the cloth.
  7. Pull the stitching tight. Knot the thread and take the needle back between the seam. When you pull the needle out, the knot will be on the inside and will protect the stitching.