Here she is, transformed.
She started out as this (we'd already taken the headrest off, sorry), not too offending but nothing special. The worst part being how dirty it was.
Here's a gross story. I gave Catie a drink of water while she was in the car and the water spilled a little onto the neck strap cover. When we took her out of the car she had a huge, gross brown spot on her shirt. Filthy stuff had leaked out of the strap when it was wet... super gross, I know.
I took the seat apart and stripped it down to this.
The last seat made me a little smarter, I discovered on that one, unexpectedly that the fabric was glued directly to the foam meaning if you want to re-use the foam (which I did) then you have to cover up the old fabric instead of removing it. I expected the same on this seat so before I started I threw the seat, the neck straps and the seatbelt into the washing machine. I used the gentle cycle and cold water and I didn't put it in the dryer, this time I had a nice clean seat to start with and wasn't just covering up that filth. One other tip that comes out of this, since you're covering up the original fabric your new fabric should probably be something dark so the old doesn't show through the new. The fabric on the last car seat had quite a bit of white and I felt like it ended up looking not as crisp because the dark fabric showed though slightly.
Once my seat was clean I started unpicking. I could tell pretty quickly that this seat was a little more complicated than the last so I started by unpicking one side only. I left the other in tact so I could use it as a reference (this photo shows the one side unpicked as well as a piecve on the bottom).
A brief pause to talk about my fabric. As I drove to Fabric Addict I remember thinking that I really need to make sure I don't choose something that's directional, it would be really difficult to work with. That thought disappeared when I grabbed the stripes to go with that awesome gold-y brown. I love the combination and I had visions of carefully cutting my fabric so the stripes were all going exactly the same way. I spent nearly an hour trying to make this happen before I decided that the shape of my pieces made that impossible. I was right that the stripes were hard to work with but I'm not unhappy with my choice.
After finally giving up on lining up the strpes this project went much quicker, I doubled my fabric so the two sides would at least be the same and then I used my foam as a pattern.
Occasionally when I'm working on a project I'll do something that adds time but really improves the quality and when I do it I often wonder if other people would think I'm crazy, I'm going to share one of those moments. Since I've done a lot of re-covering I've decided that when working with foam or batting, no matter how carefully you cut out your pieces it's really difficult to make sure your fabric lines up just right once it's all sewn together. I was always trimming away a little bit of foam or batting making the new piece slightly smaller than the original so once it was re-covered it would fit a little snug. To fix that I've started cutting out my piece a little too big, like this.
I then sew the fabric to the foam, really close to the edge (of the foam) using a large stitch (I use a large stitch because I tend to make mistakes and a big stitch is much easier to unpick than a little stitch). There are going to be other seams to re-enforce so this step is just to secure the fabric temporarily. I sew really close to the edge to make sure this seam is covered up by your following seams so it's never seen. Once my fabric is on I trim it to be exactly the right size. This means I cut things twice but I get a really good fit.
I also decided on this piece to not remove any of the elastic. It has elastic to hold the seat snugly on the frame and it was attached to the back of the foam and I knew I'd need to re-attach it anyway so I just left it on, it made a couple pieces tricky to work with but I liked not having to unpick.
Once my new fabric was all sewn on and trimmed I re-assembled my side pieces, using the still intact side as a guide. I tried it on the frame and it looked like this, pretty good start hey?
I unpicked the second side, used my already cut out fabric to end up with this
Originally I had thought I would put fabric on both the front and the back of the foam but the back had a nice black coating and looked fine as is so on all the pieces except one I only covered the front. The piece I changed was the one in the very middle because there was no way I was going to unpick those 8 button holes.
Now we'll talk about the odd design of this car seat...I have no idea what the purpose of it is but the middle piece flaps forward (circled in white), the top of it isn't attached to the piece above it (so hard to explain). That meant that there were 4 seams that were hidden (the 4 red arrows).
Since I don't understand the usefulness of this design I wasn't willing to change it, what if one day I figured out what it was for but I'd made it not work anymore? (I've since discovered that the cut out allows for the headrest to be secured, it's a good thing I didn't change the design.).
To re-create this piece I used the original as a pattern to get my size and I cut out 2 rectangles, making sure to leave seam allowance where the seams were hidden. Then, putting right sides together I sewed up those 4 sides where the arrows were. I trimmed the top two corners to make them turn better (in hindsight I sort of wish I hadn't, I think rounded corners would have looked better). You can see the two sides that I left open.
I turned it right side out and stuffed the foam in through the openings on the side.
Before I stuffed in the foam I measured my button holes to know just how big they were, this helped later.
To make the button holes I used my finger to feel where they started and marked it with a pin. Since the foam is cut you can feel the original, I used that as a guide and drew a line with a sharpie, using my ruler to mark how long they should be. I only marked two at a time knowing that my fabric would shift a bit as I worked on them.
Sewing 8 really long button holes takes a surprisingly long time and I wish I'd used a thread that coordinated with the fabric better, I just didn't think of it at the time and I'd used black everywhere else. Also, you should probably only put in a couple pins in at a time, I put a pin at the start of all 8 button holes and ended up gouging myself so good I needed a band aid.
For the bottom piece I was able to unpick the black covering (not the button holes though), tuck it up out of the way, sew on my new fabric and then untuck and re-sew, all so I didn't have to unpick those 3 button holes. I didn't measure these holes first, I just used my finger to feel how big they were. I did make the centre one (the one the buckle comes out of) bigger because I had a heck of a time getting the buckle through it when I took the cover off.
For the remainder of the pieces I just used a basting stitch to secure the new fabric then I re-attached everything and added some black bias tape (possibly the worst part of the entire project, it was so awkward). I then re-assembled everything. So now it looked like this.
At this point I put the seat in the car and we used it for two weeks while I waited to come to Calgary to pick up the headrest (we first started using it when we were in Calgary and she seemed too little for the headrest and we forgot to take it home). I then took my time re-covering those two pieces (they were not fun to do) and finally attached them back on. She looks far more comfortable with the headrest and I love the way it looks.
Here are a couple more before and afters (most of the afters are without the headrest because those photos were much better).
This one shows the fabric combination close up.