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Upholstery Questions for a 1909 Locomobile Baby Tonneau


alsfarms

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I am about to embark on a project to install the leather into a 1909 Locomobile Baby Tonneau.  I have an idea what is needed but would like to get a few more ideas before I begin. My initial question is building the under-structure for the back rests of the back seat and the bucket front seats. Should I incorporate springs against the under-structure or simply build up with padding then stretch the leather over the top and tack down to the perimeter tack strip area? Please refer to the attached picture.

Al

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  • alsfarms changed the title to Upholstery Questions for a 1909 Locomobile Baby Tonneau

Addendum: I have been working over the mechanical needs for working with leather and found that my Bernina Industrial 850 sewing machine not real correctly suitable for leather but for fast and furious "industrial" sewing on fabrics.  Thanks to You Tube and Google I see that Singer made a walking beam sewing machine called a "patcher" that is the "cats meow" for working with leather, nice and slow to keep the stitches straight and in exact place. As luck would have it, I have located 75 miles from my home a Singer 29K60 complete with treadle and stand and purchased.  This machine was built in Scotland in 1943 and imported to the US landing in Utah during WW2. It has seen use but has been asleep for at least the last 35 years. I do not suppose that it is highly worn out and with a dismantle, clean, adjust and lubricate will be back in full functional condition.  I do not see much work for the Singer 29K60 for the back rests but will be used to build up the seat cushions. I will warm up to this Singer 29K60 by doing the pleated vinyl upholstery in a 1922 Dodge first. Any encouragement from your own upholstery experience is appreciated. Here is a picture of the Singer 29K60 "Patcher" machine.

Al

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Well,that’s an interesting project.  You’ll find that the simple look of those seats is misleading, difficult to do that inside curve and make it look nice, even moredifficult to keep it smooth if someone sits in it.

 

Yes, you need springs on the backrest.  One way is to use premade Marshal spring units, the original probably had individual springs attached to back of seat and tied together.

 

I would not use the “patcher” machine for upholstery leather, you really need a walking foot machine with feet flush to table.  You can try it but doubt you’ll be happy doing it.

 

Welcome to give you my advice, probably worth every penny since it’s free!  Do you have any original springs or upholstery?

Edited by trimacar (see edit history)
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My Locomobile body is a new duplicate of an original.....no springs anywhere zip! Dave here is another question. Is it proper protocol to stitch a horsehair mat to the back of the smooth leather cover before installing over the springs and stationary padding of the seat back. It seems that by so doing the leather would have a bit more body to hold its shape. I do appreciate the thoughts, ideas and opinions. Please share more on recommendations for building the springs for the seat backs, both for the front bucket seats and the larger back seat.

Al

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Ok David, based on your suggestion, I did a Google for Marshall seat spring units. My, they have quite a variety of spring gauges and heights and unit sizes. At this point, my lack of experience really kicks in. By experience, what is the best spring gauge and height to use for the backrests? Do the Marshall spring units lend themselves well to joining with each other in order to make one solid back spring? (As well as to shape for the back seat sides that fit under your arms?) I am guessing that each of the springs will need to be tied down, to what degree should the springs be tied down? What is the best method for anchoring the Marshall spring units into the actual seat assembly?

Al

Edited by alsfarms
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OK, new body, so I understand what you're working with.  

 

As to applying horsehair directly to leather, no, that's not common practice.

 

The cushions will be padded quite a bit, the backrest much less so.  If you wish to use Marshall springs for the backrest, 13 gauge would work well.  I would NOT recomment Marshall springs for the cushion, the firm ones are fine for furniture but not bouncing down the road.  Cushions should be made with individual springs of a substantial gauge, tied together.

 

There are spring assemblies for cushions, available, usually a bar which gets attached to a wood base, the bar has three or four springs mounted to it.  The Amish use these quite a bit, offhand I don't have a source but they're available.

 

The construction of the cushion base, for an early car, would be as pictures show, a base with wood risers on the front and sides, the sides slant down toward the back.  This construction makes it easy to install front and side panels, welting, and top.  The front of the cushion will have extra padding as a support bolster, this area divided by a piece of welting.

 

I have available some really nice horsehair, woven into a burlap mat, which makes a great cushion.  

 

Like most upholstery jobs, easy to show you in person, hard to explain with words.

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John, pictures are good. I appreciate the help in graphic form. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. With a picture, I  can at least see clearly enough to ask questions that I don't quite understand. I assume that the rear seat bottom could/should be built up from some form of box structure as the front seat bottoms? While looking for seat springs, Marshall included, I did see a source for three or four individual springs mounted on a bar. I will try to post a picture to verify that this type of spring assembly is adequate for use in the bottom seat cushions.

Al

 

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I would recommend looking for and at as many pictures of similar period cars as yours to see how they were done.

 

I believe that most use wood seat bases at the time and the seat backs used only a few springs which were often attached directly to the body. The construction of the seat spring assemblies varies. Some with a wooden frame base with wire frames to attach the springs to. Others used more of a wood platform base with the springs raised above the base. When the springs are above the base, then an edge wire frame needs to made and attached to the top of the springs. Later seat base spring assemblies moved towards all metal with metal lower frames or edge wire and then upper edge wire frames and the springs attached to both. Depending on the period and builder I think most earlier designs used open springs. I believe that Marshall springs, the ones enclosed in burlap or cloth didn't come into general use until later and mostly in medium and higher priced cars.

 

I would recommend a visit to an upholstery supplies shop if you can find one near you. They may be able to help with advice, materials and tools that could help you with your project.

 

Here are some pictures to compare. An original seat base from a 1905 Cadillac with original upholstery and the replica seat base that I made for mine.

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nsbrassnut, Thanks for the pictures. how much above the wooden box is the top of your springs?  I am trying to figure in my mind just what the real purpose for the tie-down string is. Could someone please describe. I assume that having the springs all tied together makes them all take/share the loading when a person sits on it.  How tall is your wood box for the front seat bottoms? Do you build the front a couple of inches higher or is that taken care of with the pull down of the springs? Where did you source your spring sets? How much "room" have you left between the bucket seat sides and the seat base for future upholstery?

Al

Edited by alsfarms
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1 hour ago, alsfarms said:

Here is a source for strap springs that should work ok for the seat bottoms.  They come in different lengths to fit the seat box.

Al

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Yes, the Amish use those, making a wood base to hold them for the cushion.  Usually early seats don’t have edgewire, just tied springs. Marshall springs are just an option, most early backrests followed carriage pactice and also had short, weaker, tied springs. There are numerous ways to do this, as evidenced by the comments! My other advice, use horsehair and cotton, no foam.

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Hello Dave,

As I have edged closer to upholstery in this Locmobile, and having had experience with foam in the past, I already knew that I was NOT at all interested in using foam anywhere on a brass era vintage automobile. Foam simply deteriorates in the dry heat/sun we have here in the west!  I have sniffed out a couple of sources for purchasing horsehair and in a couple of configurations. Once I get the seat cushion wood bases built, suitable strap springs installed and tied down I will certainly want additional information on the next step/steps.  But, here are a few questions I consider as I start on building the bases. How tall should the front face be and how much shorter should the back be? 4.5" front and 2.5" on the back? How much preloading or pull down should be put on the springs during the tying process? Should canvas or burlap cover the springs and be tacked to the wood structure? How much room should be allowed between the seat base wood structure and back rest structure for the back rest build up with springs, padding and leather? More questions as I think of them.

Al

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4 hours ago, alsfarms said:

Hello Dave,

As I have edged closer to upholstery in this Locmobile, and having had experience with foam in the past, I already knew that I was NOT at all interested in using foam anywhere on a brass era vintage automobile. Foam simply deteriorates in the dry heat/sun we have here in the west!  I have sniffed out a couple of sources for purchasing horsehair and in a couple of configurations. Once I get the seat cushion wood bases built, suitable strap springs installed and tied down I will certainly want additional information on the next step/steps.  But, here are a few questions I consider as I start on building the bases. How tall should the front face be and how much shorter should the back be? 4.5" front and 2.5" on the back? How much preloading or pull down should be put on the springs during the tying process? Should canvas or burlap cover the springs and be tacked to the wood structure? How much room should be allowed between the seat base wood structure and back rest structure for the back rest build up with springs, padding and leather? More questions as I think of them.

Al

Wohl in Philadelphia sells horsehair by the pound, as does Mel Draper.  I used the wood form to determine where welting ends up, between front panel and top pad. Install top panel, then welting, then side panels.  Your dimensions sound about right. That’s just how I did it per pictures, there are other ways of course.
 

when tying springs you should feel about what’s right, maybe an inch or so compression.  Springs covered with burlap or heavy fabric, then jute, then horsehair, then a layer of cotton over horsehair.

 

 

Edited by trimacar (see edit history)
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38 minutes ago, alsfarms said:

What is your take on using horse hair matting that is about 1" thick, maybe two layers of it?

Al

You don't need two layers, the jute, one layer horsehair mat, cotton batting on top of horsehair, makes a great cushion.

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Hi Alsfarms

 

On my Cadillac I think I compressed the springs about an inch or so. Installed they are basically level with the top of the wood seat frame. The upholstery "cushion" installed on top is about an inch thick when the canvas/horsehair/leather sandwich is installed.

 

Here are some pictures of the metal upholstery fittings used. The one on the top is used to hold the mounting wire on the wood frame. The lower one (not used on that seat) is for either connecting springs to edge wire or joining edge wire. Notice how they are paper coated inside to reduce squeaks in use. Another reason to go to an upholstery supplies shop or website for materials.

 

In addition here are some pictures of a front seat bottom cushion from my '22 Stanley which still has it original upholstery. This one is also a wood seat base, but is the other style, a "flat" base instead of a "box" base. Straight edge wire is placed across the top side of the wood base, then the springs are clipped to that wire. With this design there is a formed square edge wire frame that is then clipped to the top of the springs to make the assembly. Hopefully you can see the edge wire in the close up view. The springs are also in this case chained to limit side to side movement. More commonly used are cord or wire clips. I haven't seen chains used before. 

 

I think that this style of base spring cushion is more common than the "box" frame like in my '05 Cadillac and became more common by 1910 or so and I think were in use as late as the early 1930s.  Eventually full all wire seat cushion spring assembly took over and the wood was phased out.

 

Long (wide) full width base springs of this style have some additional brace wires installed from the rear bottom base frame to the front top edge wire to help keep the front top edge wire straighter in use.

 

When installing the upholstery cover material on this spring it helps to partially pre-compress the spring using boards and clamps. I have seen old factory pictures where the used a special foot operated clamping device with the cushion assembly upside down on a table jig to the job.

 

Pre-compressing the springs when installing the material makes it easier to pull the material over the sides and tack them down evenly without pulling hard on the material and distorting or damaging it. Then when the compression is released the cushion forms up and is firmer with the springs slightly preloaded. By the way, this is done by turning the upholstery sandwich upside down, placing the spring in the correct location, then compressing it, then folding up the material and attaching it to the spring base. An example of this is in the last picture. That one is from when I was installing a Ford T kit cover on the all wire front seat cushion. It had to be pre-compressed to install the cover or it would tear during installation.

 

The process isn't difficult, but can be tedious. It helps to practice on some spare materials first to work out what works best for you.

 

Have fun with it.

 

Jeff

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Some comments on sizing the spring assemblies for the body. The amount of space to leave depends on how much padding you are considering for the seat backs. But at the same time, remember that the factory rarely put any amount of padding on the seat back where the seat cushion butts up against it. Why spend money on materials where they aren't needed.

 

I think I left about 2 inches between the seat frame and the seat back. But I still ended up with a fairly tight fitting cushions when they were installed. Some pictures of the rear seat cushion frame in the Cadillac body during a test fit. And one of the rear back upholstery after installation which may help show the spacing left for the seat cushion at the bottom.

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Here are a some photos of the 1912 Imperial Model 34 seats. There's a single row of springs for the front and a double row for the back.    

 

The car is 40HP & 5 litres. I haven't started the motor yet. It has a couple of issues I need to sort out.

 

I think Snyders the Model T people can make springs so they might be worth talking to.

 

https://www.snydersantiqueauto.com/

 

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Here is another original factory picture of a "New" 1909 Locomobile baby Tonneau to use as reference for the upholstery project. Shows top detail to be used at a later date when the top is built. I do have a full set of original "Dog Leg" top irons to use, I just need to steam bend the bows.

Al

 

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For comparison with the Imperial front seats. My Cadillac front seat backs only had three springs in them. You can see the witness marks in the back of the upholstery. These seats are similar single person bucket front seats.

 

The back cushions don't need to be very stiff or have too many springs. They only take a small load when you lean back. Unlike the seat cushions which have to hold your full weight when you sit down.

 

And a word of warning. You will end up using a LOT of horsehair in the padding. Its very light and fluffy as delivered and it compresses a lot before you start to get a good cushion. I spent as nearly as much on the horse hair for padding as for the leather on the seats.

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For the smooth leather upholstery, as in the Locomobile pictures above, the woven horse hair mat is probably a very good choice. It has been suggested to me to maybe use two layers of the woven matting. Dave suggests one is adequate. Here is a question on the padding build up on the back rests.  Once the support springs are in place and tied down appropriately, probably burlap over the springs then is the padding manually stitched to the burlap to hold the padding in place and before the leather is stretched and tacked in place? I need to evaluate my body and make sure that I have good locations for tacking and stretching and if not, I need to install some additional wooden members. I will try to add a few pictures of my body but it is not stored in a place that is conducive to good pictures.

Al

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Although the sewing machine you showed has a nice long reach, you will want a walking foot machine for sewing leather.  It needn't be fancy.  I bought a 1955 vintage Singer 111W155; a beast of a machine and a widely copied design.  It shouldn't be hard to find one.  It doesn't reverse stitch, but I don't think that is essential unless you're in the upholstery business.  

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Mike post a picture of the Singer you purchased. I understand the rationale behind a walking foot machine. I also have a commercial Bernina 850, walking foot etc, but from what gather it is for speed and specific stitches one of which is not sewing leather. I understand that the Singer 29K60 with a press foot moves leather just fine and more than one layer, but may leave tell tale tracks caused by the press foot. I am learning!

Al

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Sure.  To be honest, I never tried press foot machine and so can't comare them from experience.  I can say that for someone who had never before oerated a sewing machine, this one was pretty forgiving.  It only does straight stiches but you can vary the number of stitches per inch.  The walking foot and 'dogs' under the material being sewn, really help move the material along.  I've tested it on multile layers of leather up to around 1/4" thick and it punches through.  The machine had a clutch style motor on it, which was very hard to go slowly with, so I did convert the machine to a servo motor which offers much better control for a beginner.

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Edited by MikeC5 (see edit history)
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Nice unit. What vintage is your machine? I am real green also and particularly with leather that needle better drop exactly where it is supposed to go. I am bless as my wife is a skilled seamstress and is willing to assist and give pointers. How slow can you stitch now with the servo without getting nothing but a hummm?

Al

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Your Singer is a BRUTE.  That would be a nice one to own for sure. An interesting item on the 29K series industrial sewing machines is that, even though, they also do not reverse, you can rotate the press foot to go in either or any direction. Where did you source your servo drive unit for this modification?

Al

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Here is a picture representative of a 1911-12 Locomobile Model L Baby Tonneau, shared by another Locmobile friend. The main difference between the 1911-12 and the 1909-10 is that the 1911-12 models have front doors and the 1909-10 models do not have front doors. The upholstery is very similar in styling, however. This Locmobile looks to have a bit more stuffing than is shown on a Locomobile Baby Tonneau at the Locomobile factory in 1909, shown above. However, the seat looks vastly more comfortable in this 1911-12 version.  What are other takes? I can see the best place to make seams which is at the arm rests. These east bases are built up using the box method discussed above and they look very appropriate. I also note the "dog leg" top irons that appear to be wrapped in leather. Is that typical to leather wrap the top sockets/bows?

Al

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My 111W155 machine is from 1955 but i'm not sure when Singer started making the 111W models.  I'll have to look for the receipt on servo motor but I think it was an Ebay seller (there are tons of them on there).  It took a little doing to get the speed reduction pulley and jackshaft set up but I can literally make the machine crawl now.  

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On the top sockets, yes, very common in early high end cars to have sockets wrapped in leather and stitched.

 

You’ll find that fitting backrest leather with a seam that low on the armrest will be very challenging around the top side corners, usually a seam is right in the middle if the curve, often two seams to get the extra leather needed to go around the top curve.

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Dave, how is the best way to approach the build up of the seat cushion? The dog leg irons I have are actually the type that have the top bow directly fastened to an iron, not the socket style. The style actually looks nice with the polished wrap around T bolts.

Al

 

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On 1/16/2024 at 5:37 PM, alsfarms said:

walking foot etc, but from what gather it is for speed and specific stitches one of which is not sewing leather.

I can't speak to the Bernina, but a walking foot is what you want for upholstery, period. You can do without, but I don't recommend it. The learning curve is steep. I learned on a Singer 31-15 (no walking foot) in an upholstery shop I worked in when I was in my teens. The man who taught me said "if you can get good results with this, you can sew on anything". He was right and I am glad I did it, but learning to manage it while also learning to control a clutch motor, manage multiple layers, selvage, welting, keeping the seam straight, go around corners where nothing wants to stay aligned etc. was not what I would call easy. It definitely wasn't quick. No regrets here, I was doing it for a living and working my way up as fast as possible. I really do cringe when I think of hobbyists who might only want to upholster 2 or 3 cars potentially sleepwalking down this path because the machine without a walking foot is a little cheaper. It comes up in threads here every now and then.

 

On 1/16/2024 at 5:37 PM, alsfarms said:

I understand that the Singer 29K60 with a press foot moves leather just fine and more than one layer, but may leave tell tale tracks caused by the press foot. I am learning!

 

That machine is a whole different animal, and is generally speaking not for upholstery. I wish I owned one. When I was young I used to see those and similar machines in shoe repair shops. I imagine it is good for that as well as harnesses, straps, and other heavy leather work. There are times I could really use that extra access. The last time I made a shift boot, I was really wishing for a machine like that. Recently, I saw a similar machine being used in another thread here on some brass era upholstery in a tight spot

 

Marking the material, especially if leather, is always a concern. I think I may have occasionally used something slippery or some tape with the old 31-15 but not usually. Marking from the feed dogs was much more of a concern. Sometimes the good face is down. It's unavoidable. For some machines, feed dogs are available in different levels of aggressiveness. As for the presser foot, at some point the 31-15 got a Teflon foot, but not when I was learning on it. Roller feet also exist. I wouldn't really trust any of these not to mark, you just have to be really careful when working with material that might mark easy.

 

On a machine without a walking foot, if you take 2 pieces of material, upholstery leather or not, that are the same length, and sew them together when you are getting close to the end you will notice they are no longer the same length. The bottom fed significantly more material than the top. That won't do. You manage this by pulling forward on the top piece, but that would make the feed dogs lose control of the material, so you also have to pull back on both layers. Now, since you are pulling back, you have to pull forward on the top even harder so you are not moving the material. Now, as the dogs feed the material, move both hands at the same speed the dogs are feeding without varying the tension on either layer. That is for 2 layers, but you probably have a piece of welting in there too, and maybe multiple layers. Of course some part will walk out of place, or you will come to a corner, and you will stop, and need to restart at exactly the same hand tension on all the parts. If you miss a tiny bit, the stitch length will be uneven. Miss a little more, and the machine will tie a knot and break the thread. Someone with experience juggling cats might pick this up a little quicker than I did.

 

 

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One caution about Singer 111w. There are a bunch of versions, and if you are thinking of buying one, be sure to look up the original specs for the exact model that you are considering.

 

Some 111w can handle more total thickness of material than others. By handle I mean if you lift the presser foot up does it go up high enough to insert the giant stack of material you had in mind. Even the best versions of the 111 will have less space there than you probably think. I don't think I have ever seen a 111w with reverse. I doubt they made one, but can't rule it out. Reverse is desirable, but not nearly the big deal it might seem.

 

I once drove about 3 hours to look at a 111w at a university surplus sale. Only one picture was posted and no exact model number. As it turned out it did not have a walking foot. Yes, Singer made a version of this world famous walking foot machine with no walking foot. Caveat emptor.

 

How good is the 111w? Good enough that it spawned a bunch of clones. In fact several different machines in several different brands you might see in an upholstery shop today are based on the 111w. The Consew 225, 226, 206RB and several Jukis, for starters. There are others.

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Thanks for sharing real life experience. That certainly is good for thought as I work towards upholstery. I wish the Bernina would do leathers comfortably but as a novice I don't want to try a speed machine that came out of a sewing factory where speed and completed piece count is how you get paid. Being a beginner, I see a bigger deal with slow and steady when it comes to stitch placement.

Al

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