Leather chair restoration
October 17, 2007 7:00 AM   Subscribe

How do I repair a leather chair with a hole and significant cracking?

Someone recently gave me the World's Most Comfortable Leather Chair with one small problem: the leather is ripping in the middle and is cracking a lot (Link for picture). The leather is soft and while the holes/tearing is not uncomfortable, I am concerned with things getting worse.

Two questions- and assume I know nothing about this subject:
1) Is there any good way to repair the tear already in the seat? I don't care about looks and am only concerned with comfort. I don't want this to continue tearing over the next couple years to the point where I'm just sitting on foam.
2) For the existing cracking, I'm aware of this thread. Will the suggestions there help prevent further cracking and ripping, or do I need a new approach since the cracking is already so prevalent? I'm fine with the present cracking so long as it doesn't get worse.

Also keep in mind I got this chair for free and don't have a lot of money to blow on restoring it so bringing it to a professional is out of the picture.
posted by jmd82 to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have that chair. Well, I have a very comfortable leather chair with a cracked seat. My solution was simple: Because the cushion (although removable) is not upholstered on both sides, I bought a large pillow cover from Ikea, stuck the cushion inside that, and had a chair with a decorative seat cover that hid the cracked portion.

If your cushion isn't removable, you can still throw something over the chair. We routinely keep a thin cushion or folded blanket on the seats of most chairs in our living room, mostly to keep them from becoming cat-hair land mines for unsuspecting guests.

For repairing the crack, well, I successfully fixed a tear in the back of the chair using nylon suture thread. It looks a little Frankenstein, but isn't very noticeable as it is on the back. For a seat cushion it could work so long as you are careful to keep the knots inside the opening, using a whip stitch or similar to pull the edges together evenly. There are patching compounds you can buy that could be used to seal the edges of the cracks, and could potentially plug the hole once you've stitched it into some semblance of repair.

One note: Our chair is now semi-retired, due to lack of space in the living room. We did have it in regular use for years, with a similar tear and cracking in the seat area, with no appreciable increase in damage despite taking no action to fix the seat. The cushion cover was only done within the last few months, just prior to replacing the chair with a smaller new piece of furniture. Given my experience, if you do nothing, the chair is not likely to become much worse.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:15 AM on October 17, 2007

Yikes! Aside from reupholstery, I'm not aware of a way to fix leather in this condition. (Unless the infomercial leather product from years ago actually works.)
posted by TauLepton at 7:15 AM on October 17, 2007

Best answer: There are "leather doctors". They can repair rips and stains and match existing upholstery. They are expensive.

I would buy a curved upholstery needle and sew the rip. The curved needle makes it easy to sew this kind of tear on a flat surface. It's not difficult and you can find these needles in a any fabric store. You will have holes where your needle enters. Not huge, but know that the holes stay put, and leather does not "heal" like other fabrics. Also, if it's very brittle, be cautious, because it may rip more, but from the looks of it, it probably won't.

Before you sew you may want to lubricate the area a bit with a leather conditioning product. Then throw a folded or cushion over it as caution live frogs suggests.
posted by LoriFLA at 7:54 AM on October 17, 2007

Leather repair (fixing holes/cracks without replacing the entire panel) is a magnitude more complicated than vinyl repair, but probably cheaper than taking it to an upholstery shop.

I would not even try to describe how to do it yourself, as it involves multiple steps and your expertise (or lack thereof) at EACH STEP will make significant difference in the quality of the repair (strength AND appearance).

Step one is to remove any dirt or silicone/polish from the leather. Acetone on a rag will do this well, but will probably also remove color. This is not a terribly big deal because the last step is to refinish/spray the color over the affected area but you normally want to keep the area to be refinished to the smallest area possible. A light sanding with a wet/dry sandpaper (600 grit works well) will help everything (including the color) to adhere well.

For a hole, it needs to be underpatched first. (A piece of vinyl with the underside facing UP) is pushed through the hole and centered underneath the hole. Once flat, you can move it around with a needle. Draw an "X" at the center of the patch before poking it through so you can tell when it is centered. It is held in place with an adhesive applied around the underside edges of the leather hole.

Step 2: After that is set you need to fill the resulting crater. This same filler can normally be used on cracks. Some materials will allow you to sand smooth, others will depend upon your "troweling" ability to determine the smoothness.

Step 3 (for some repair materials) is to put a "skin" over the top of the filler material.

Step 4 is to spray the color back over the affected area. Odds are there is no way that readymade colors will match your color exactly. I would custom mix colors to match, but that is a skill that takes a certain aptitude (and having in stock all the requisite base colors for mixing). Then you need an airbrush (I used a Preval) which is available at most good auto parts stores in the body filler section.

Complicating things is the fact that a lot of leathers are actually a mottled color (not a single solid color). An experienced repair person can simulate the mottled look by skillfully spraying two colors.

Suffice it to say that this is not really a do-it-yourself project. People are not happy with the infomercial type products so don't waste your money. This site looks like it sells the materials to do it right, but buying the kit doesn't give you the necessary skill to pull it off, any more than buying paint and body filler makes you competent to do your own accident repair.

Also, leather failure is an ongoing process. Even after the repair you will probably see new cracks show up in other places. If the hole was caused by wear, chances are you will continue to wear the same spot, and leather repairs aren't titanium, so should be considered temporary at best.

If I was in your position, I would probably look for an attractive way to COVER the problem until I could replace the chair. When shopping, remember that not all "leathers" are created equal.
posted by spock at 8:12 AM on October 17, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far.
One problem, though: I've never sewed in my life! Any suggestions on easy to understand instructions for complete n00bs?
posted by jmd82 at 8:25 AM on October 17, 2007

Best answer: 1) Use the curved needle recommended above. A decent fabric store should have a pack like this.

2) Use transparent fishing line (not thread). It doesn't have to be terribly thick. Seems like I used a 12 lb. test.

3) Use plenty of thread. If the rip is 3" long, I'd use 18" of thread. Thread the line through the needle so the needle is hanging at the halfway point. Fold the thread at that apex so the ends come together. Tie a doubleknot near the thread ends. This knot will be under the leather to anchor the first stitch.

4) Proceed like this: illustration. This page contains the text describing the "hidden stitch".

5) You finish by making a very small stitch and tying it off around the last "real" stitch. You don't want this to show, but it should be buried down in the seam you are creating by the stitch.

The other thing is to make sure you are taking a good "bite" for where you plunge your needle. If you try to pull the leather together too near the edge of the hole the stitch will rip out.
posted by spock at 9:47 AM on October 17, 2007

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