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Leather care

Published: 21st Feb 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Leather care
Leather care
Leather care
Leather care
Leather care
Leather care
Leather care
Leather care
Leather care
Leather care
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Hell for LEATHER

Leather trim is great – until it starts to age, that is. Robert Couldwell gives advice on how to help your hides back to life and, importantly, keep them like new

Having successfully restored the interiors of a Bristol 411, Lancia Flavia Zagato, MGC, Alvis TA14 and a Jaguar V12 E-type, I took on my biggest challenge yet. The difference was that all the cars I had previously restored had darker upholstery; red, black and dark grey. My latest project was the beige seats of an E-type which I knew would be more difficult.

It all started when a friend announced he was restoring his father’s Jag which had been laid up for many years and needed total restoration. Having spent £25,000 on the bodywork he was about to have the interior re-upholstered.

I suggested that was a shame as he should surely keep as much as possible of his father’s car – ‘patina’ I think they call it.

I still have the previously renovated seats in my loft awaiting the completion of another friend’s restoration and was able to demonstrate that they looked perfectly patinated after restoration. I warned him, however, that his light seats would be more difficult but he had nothing to lose; if the result of my process was not satisfactory he could always re-upholster them.

There’s no shortage of leather restoration kits on the market from the likes of Gliptone, Leather Forever, Furniture Clinic and Leather Repair Company to name a few. And I am sure they are all good but having always used Woolies successfully I stuck with what I knew. Woolies of Market Deeping, Peterborough, produce a water-based dye so that it can be sent by post and it also has the advantage that if properly applied after correct preparation, it is absorbed into the leather and does not look like the rather artificial Connollising which sits as a coating on the surface and, over time, cracks.

The Jag’s seats were not in good shape and suffered tears and abrasions and in places the original colour had worn through to the base leather. It also appeared that there were large spots of black paint on the surface which would need to be removed before dyeing.  I repaired the tears by placing pieces of leather underneath and sticking the torn parts down using two-pack superglue which works very well. The paint spots did not respond even to cellulose thinner so I carefully scratched them away with a scalpel leaving bare, un-coloured leather which actually dyes well.

The Woolies kit comprises a deep cleaner, the dye, some lint free application cloth and a small tub of sealing paste. To achieve the right shade a piece of original colour leather needs to be teased from the bowels of a seat and sent to Woolies who do their mixing every Thursday. In the case of the E-type, Bill Lyon’s cost control was such in the 1960s that there was no spare leather whatsoever on seats or centre console. My friend therefore checked with Jaguar Heritage to establish the exact colour of hide used on his car and asked one of the well-known tanneries to supply a sample of that colour which was then sent to Woolies.


The key to any restoration project is preparation and seat renovation is no exception. The seats and any other parts of the upholstery should first be vacuumed and then should be treated with the cleaner provided which will not only clean but also penetrate, soften and feed the fibres actually strengthening the leather – which ironically if they had been so treated wouldn’t have got into this state! There again leather specialists tell us that the hides on moderns won’t last anything like as long as those on this Jaguar as they are much thinner to reduce costs…

The cleaner should be applied with a cloth and a soft toothbrush to get into the crevices between the pleats. It is a good idea to gently scour the leather’s surface with wire wool to ensure the removal of any polish or paint on the surface and to also provide a key. Thinners can be carefully used to ensure the surface is ready for the dye but go careful.

Once the leather is as clean as possible it should be thoroughly wiped over with a clean, water-damped cloth to remove excess build-up of cleaner and dirt.

The next stage is to apply hide food by cloth and after 48 hours remove any surplus with sparing use of the cleaner which should soften the leather. Hide food will have no effect on vinyl by the way. Dye coverage is obviously better with darker colours, particularly black and if your upholstery is really light such as white or magnolia, Woolies do supply a special base coat and this may enhance coverage.


The first coat of dye is the most important and if this is not absorbed, no amount of coats will create the desired effect. The dye should be shaken and a small amount put into a saucer. (I have made the mistake in the past of using the dye straight from the bottle and knocking it over!).

The first coat of dye should be applied with the cloth provided using a circular motion and should be carefully wiped to lose any cloth marks. It should be allowed to dry thoroughly and after an hour or more the next coat can be applied in straight lines. If a further coat is required, another hour should be allowed before applying in straight lines at 90º to the second coat.

Once the third coat is dry, the surface should be sealed with the sealing paste which should be applied sparingly with a soft cloth and gently buffed to a dull sheen.

Vinyl is a more difficult material to restore as it will not absorb dye. However, I found on the vinyl sides and backs of the seats and centre console that a light scouring with fine steel wool gave a key and the dye adhered well.


Having gone to the trouble and expense of restoring the leather and vinyl you need to go the whole hog and refurbish the seat metalwork. This will inevitably be rusty and it is important to remove all the rust, prime and apply two coats of gloss to match the original. It’s amazing what a thorough scrub with a normal domestic carpet cleaner will do for a set of tired but sound car carpets. It’s best to repeat allowing them to dry between applications. If they have lost their colour, carpets can be re-dyed. Every six months or so the seats and any other leather should be treated with hide food to keep the leather supple – and certainly do it before storing your car for the winter. With patience and a little luck, these repair kits could save you £££s in re-upholstery costs.

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