Which stitch is right for me? – Custom vs Stock upholstery

To go along with any restoration many questions may arise. One of which will be the decision to go with a handmade interior, or a pre-sewn ready made parts.  Quality on upholstery, just like everything else, can cover the spectrum.  Weather you are looking for custom car upholstery or a factory stock  interior, knowing the benefits and down falls of both will help you decide “Which stitch is right for me?”

Many classics, muscle cars, and antiques have companies that make seat covers, headliners, and many other parts in large quantities from patterns that they may have had for years.  Just like many things that are mass produced, getting  top notch quality can be hard to come by. That being said it is not impossible to find good quality parts that will fit and last.

Even though the combinations are limitless, there are three basic ways to go when it comes to the upholstery work during a restoration.  Factory Stock with ready made parts, factory stock with custom sewn parts, and full on custom are the areas that I will cover.  It will be up to you to decide what you want to do.

Factory Stock with ready made parts – The restoration world is abundant with manufactures of readymade parts.  These parts are either mass produced or made to order.  They are usually based upon either factory specification, an old cover or part that has been used to make patterns, or from patterns made from scratch using a test vehicle.  These parts (baring any blatant mistakes) will usually work for their intended purpose with one major down fall – QUALITY!

            Ready made parts serve a great purpose in the restoration industry, they are (by comparison to other things) fairly inexpensive, usually pretty easy to get a hold of and will usually look just like the factory did.  As these parts have not been made to fit your exact seat, or your exact car variations of patterns and fit can arise. Ready-mades can be baggy; they can be too tight where they won’t fit, they can be sewn wrong and not line up.  This is not always the case but it is a risk that one will run when deciding to go with the ready made parts. 

Loose fitting and uneven coners from a ready-made seat coverCommon bunching on a ready made seat cover.




 1969 Mach 1 Mustang with ready-made interior

            Custom sewn factory stock – This is a great option for the person who wants a top quality interior and wants to keep that factory look.  Differing from ready-made parts, stitching up covers to fit your seat, your foam, your roof, and not every other one like it ensures the best fit possible.  Foam in seats can break down and seat covers can shrink so making patterns based off of these old parts would not do any good.  When new covers are made each panel or piece is cut and fit individually.  This ensures a snug, even, and “factory fit.  Doing this eliminates wrinkles do to loose covers, eliminates mis-aligned corners as the cover is patterned of what is there, not something down the road. It also eliminates crooked lines as the covers and parts are made to fit not made to ship. 

            As each part is made individually and sewn by hand it requires more labor, which in turn leads to more cost.  Other than cost, another down fall of having a factory cover custom made is finding the right person to do it.  Top level upholstery work is hard to come by, and getting the fit, quality, and look you want may not be a job that any upholsterer can handle.  So when getting this done make sure you have vetted this person thoroughly to know that the extra cost involved in having these made will be worth it in the end.

Custom sewn factory stock cover for a 1975 Cadilliac Eldorado


Full on Custom – Oh the possibilities!!  Full custom is whatever you can dream up.  Styles from elegant to wild, and every color of the rainbow in any material that you wish.  Full custom can be anything you want, but it does not mean you have to go to extremes.  A full custom interior may keep the same shapes and basic form as a factory stock interior but may have things like, different material, different patterns, or different foam density.  These seemingly small changes can make a huge difference when it comes to the look and feel of an interior.

            Custom interiors are awesome and look great but it may not be right for your application. If you wanna keep things stock making these changes may not be the right way to go.  Depending on your taste it may not be something that is universally liked so when you decide to do a custom interior, think of your long term plans. As with anything custom, time is money.  Making parts, pieces, and a design from scratch involves extra time that will require a larger budget.

describe the image

To sum things up here are the pros and cons of each. 

Factory stock with ready made parts – The pros:  least expensive option, usually readily available, less time involved.   The cons: chance on poor fit, color options can be limited, and lower cost may not be worth it

Custom sewn Factory stock – The pros:  high quality fit, larger array of colors and materials.  The cons:  cost will be higher, may be a longer time frame

Full Custom – The pros: have it they way you want, one of a kind look.  The cons – most expensive option, may not suit everyone’s taste and may make a tough selling point.