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How to upholster a motorcycle seat with leather. DIY guide with pictures

I find working on my motorcycle a very satisfying and calming experience. Every time, I feel like I learn something new and develop a stronger bond with my machine.

It is so much more than a machine – we’ve had some adventures already, closer or a bit further.

It is my first geared motorcycle and every day it shapes the biker skills and features in me.

We fight through the city, winds, rains and sunny days together.

As with the lockdown, there were less occasions to travel and explore, I decided to take on a few projects and ideas I had for the bike – with minimum spending or reusing materials I already have.

I really like the aesthetics of cafe racers and classic motorcycles.

Luckily, I picked a bike which already ticked most of the boxes.

My Yamaha YBR125 Custom is a classic-looking motorcycle, which with only a few upgrades is really appealing, but still affordable.

I rescued a leather sofa pillow without an idea what I could do with it.

But it was a beautiful piece of full-grain brown leather with a nice patina developed over the years of people leaning their backs against the pillow.

I thought it is enough fabric to reupholster a standard seat on my Yamaha.

Initially, it was plain black vinyl, with a stitching around the back part of the seat.

As my upholstering skills were challenged only once (many years ago) I felt confident enough I would be able to complete this project as well.

I did some sewing in my life before, and principles are the same – it really doesn’t matter if it’s sewing denim or leather.

Sewing leather requires more tools, as it’s not easy to push the needle through thick material like leather.

So I got few basics for my project – I can use them in the future, too.

Tools I used:

  • Pliers / flat screwdriver (to remove old staples)
  • Craft knife
  • Sharpie
  • Overstitch wheel 4mm
  • Awl
  • Needle with a big head
  • Waxed thread for leather
  • Seam ripper
  • Staple gun

The process I followed was to reverse-engineer how the seat was built.

After disconnecting the vinyl from the seat construction (foam + plastic base) I investigated the seams and soon realised, that the part of the vinyl going around the padded back of the seat is too long compared to the given piece of leather I had on my hand.

But that’s no problem – having more seams on the seat will make it more unique.

After that, I disconnected all parts the original seat was made of and started planning on how to use them as a cutting template to apply on my leather pillowcase.

Make sure you're cutting on suitable surface underneath the leather. 

As the seat fabric was in separate pieces now, to make outlining the existing pieces on the leather (use the reverse side so the outside will stay nice and clean), I repeated the process of ripping all seams on the pillowcase, too.

This gave me a flat surface, ready to apply the templates.

Important note, leave yourself more elbow room around each template.
When you apply the cover on the seat construction, you have plenty of space.
Use staple gun and attach your case to the seat. 

After all the templates are on the leather, you are ready to cut.

Outer edges will be hidden inside the structure of the seat, so you will have nice smooth finish on the outside. Good stitching will make it look very professional, so even if the edges of your leather are not ideal, it will not affect the final design.

Cut on the “suede” side of your leather – the same side you mapped your templates.

Remember to put templates with the inside facing you, as you are mapping the template on the inside of the seat.

After all pieces are cut, you are ready to mark the stitching route with an awl.

Refer to the original seat and make a mark along where the original holes left after stitches are.

After you have a route, you can start using the over stitching wheel to mark where you will be putting your thread through.

Do it around every piece of leather you have ready.

Edges of the leather doesn’t need any finish, so you can leave them as they are.

After tracing with the over stitching wheel around the pieces of leather you have, you can start punching through those little holes with an awl – big enough for a needle to go through.

Be careful with not piercing your fingers, though!

To make it less mundane, you can swap between tasks and take regular breaks. There is a lot of skill in being able to sit still for a long time to finish the project.

It took me 3 days of honest work to finish the seat.

After all your pieces are pierced through, you can start threading!

I used beige waxed thread to match the natural hue of the brown leather.

Align all your pieces on the seat and pierce it through to have an initial idea, how the seat will look like.

Now the hard part begins, so stick with me.

Start with shorter sides so you can get the hang of hand-stitching leather.

If any holes feel too tight, use the awl to make them bigger. Holes also seem to “heal” a little bit and become smaller with time.

Stitching is the longest of all processes involved in making a seat.

After all your parts are assembled together, it’s time to attach the seat to the foam!

At this point, you’re probably tired and completely done with it, but there is an exciting blast of energy coming when you know it’s just so close to having your motorcycle seat back where it belongs.

Use your staple gun to attach the seat. Align it in the middle first and then start stapling on both sides evenly.

Start from the back and move onto the sides next – left, right, left, right…

Before you know it, it’s time to make sure the front is fitting tightly too.

Then it’s ready to put on the bike! Yay!

As you can see on the pictures, right after fitting it on the bike it looked a bit loose in the front part.

However, after the first few rides it tightened up beautifully!

It was a great little improvement and the bike looks great, the silver tank goes very nice with the brown leather which will age gracefully and add character to it.

Make sure you take care of your leather – treat it the same way as a leather handbag or any other leather. Wax it, to keep it waterproof and conditioned, do so more often if you leave your bike out in the sun regularly.

Enjoy your new seat!

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