Posted on

How to tackle complex leather repairs

In truth, there’s more than one way to tackle complex leather repairs. In this guide, we will show you the method that we used to repair a large star-shaped tear.

Let’s face it; accidents happen. Pets, moving, children and all manner of other situations can lead to leather damage. Left unrepaired, rips can deteriorate making a bad situation worse. Thankfully, it is possible to not only slow further damage but also to completely conceal it with a well-executed repair.

The repair process

There are 4 main steps to a repair:

  1. Clean and prep the surface – remove any silicons, waxes, oils, and soiling that may prevent optimal adhesion
  2. Anchor the edges of the tear
  3. Fill and smooth any remaining gaps and surface irregularities then texturise to mimic leather grain
  4. Refinish – recolour to blend with the surrounding areas

Equipment

Here are the tools we used to repair the multi-directional tear on the rear panel of a Chesterfield sofa.

BEFORE

Measuring approximately 10cm x 10cm x 2cm the damage included a 3-way tear, surface scuffing and missing foam padding.

Our repair method

STEP 1

Clean the area thoroughly using Spot & Prep (No.4). It is important to remove any factors that might compromise adhesion.

Replace any missing padding.

Anchor the tear into position with stitching. This can provide the strongest foundation for repairs especially when the leather is torn in multiple directions. Pierce holes in the leather first to make stitching easier. Use a curved upholstery needle and strong thread.

STEP 2

Stitching is complete. This was not a load bearing repair so a few stitches were enough. In a load bearing location, more stitching may be prudent.

Optional: We did not use a sub-patch on this job but it can be helpful when the leather needs stabilisation from behind. Glue it in place at the edges. Suitable sub-patches include, leather, vinyl, mesh, silk or interfacing.

STEP 3

Apply some leather glue into the gaps and allow it to dry. Some of the glue will seep behind and between the edges further reinforcing the join. Repeat as needed.

Using a palette knife, lay in the first thin layer of leather filler. Don’t try to fill the gaps fully. Apply pressure to push this first layer into the gaps.

Allow the filler to dry. A hair dryer can be used to speed the drying process.

STEP 4

Using a sponge or palette knife, commence building thin layers of filler to cover the tear and stitching. Experiment with wiping, scraping and dabbing methods of application.

Tinting the filler with colour is optional. It can make it easier to achieve coverage when finishing and is less aesthetically jarring should another scuff occur to the same area in the future (Let’s hope not!).

STEP 5

Continue applying coats of filler, allowing drying time between each coat.

As coverage builds, try going back to using a palette knife and white filler to more easily locate the troughs. For the next couple of applications, concentrate on filling the pits to level the repair site.

STEP 6

Sand to smooth and highlight any low spots or bumps. Run your hand over the area to detect any unwanted irregularities.

Hand sanding using 400 – 600 grit sandpaper or an electric palm sander with 120 – 240 grit pads is ideal for a job like this, where the leather is flat and taught.

STEP 7

When you are satisfied that the repair is adequately filled and smoothed, apply a final layer of tinted leather filler using a stippling motion to texturise the area.

Allow drying. Sand by hand (not machine) to render a smooth grain effect that is ready for finishing.

STEP 8

It’s time to add colour to hide the repair! Using your Leather Repair & Recolour Kit, first, apply leather primer, then a few coats of matching colour. Allow drying between coats. When the colour is completely dry (after a few days), apply 2 coats of matching clear topcoat. Blend the new coatings with the original to achieve a seamless result.

AFTER

The final result! Chesterfields are two-toned. An antiquing effect was applied to match the surrounding areas. This repair will last as long as the lounge lasts or longer (or until another major bingle occurs). It blends well and along with other repairs has helped to save the entire lounge suite from the scrap heap.

The finished lounge suite.

Tips for using leather filler

  • Filler is laid down in very thin layers. Each layer must be dry before applying the next. This is the slowest part of any repair and requires the most patience
  • Drying can be overnight or assisted by sunshine or a hairdryer. Filler is dry when it sands well. If it balls or crumbles when sanding, it’s not dry yet
  • Filler can be tinted using a small amount of leather paint or dye (depending on your job)

Factors that affect repair results & durability

  • THE LOCATION of a tear or rip may influence the durability of a repair. If the tear is in a non-load-bearing location, repairs can be extremely successful and remain intact indefinitely. If the tear is in a load-bearing location, the performance of the repair is less easily predicted
  • THE CONSTRUCTION of the piece can impact the ease of repair. If the leather is stretched taught, repairing can be easier than when it is baggy or loose
  • THE CONDITION of your leather has a direct impact on the ease and durability of a repair. If leather is strong and intact, results can be very satisfying and the repair may deliver excellent longevity. If the leather is a highly compromised state (thin, strained, damaged, oily or brittle), pleasing results may be achievable but the leather may lack the integrity to hold the repair.

Sometimes, the best possible outcome is that the damage is repaired so that the chair or lounge looks good again but is placed in a location where it is no longer used as seating.

A bit of DIY ‘magic’

Repairing is merely a process. There is nothing ‘magic’ about it. Instead, it is a matter of securing open edges, filling pits and troughs, building coverage, refining, and smoothing, and finally, concealing the damage with professional-grade leather finishing products until it blends well.

When you look at a large tear in leather, it’s easy to think that it’s all over; that the sofa cannot be rescued. However, with some patience and the right materials, incredibly satisfying results can be achieved.

For lots more information about leather repairing, leather finishing and which products are best for your job, visit https://leatherhero.com.au/resources/