Hints and Tips - Fabric Bodies

From: Ian Grace
Sent: 05 April 2001
To: british-cars-pre-war
Subject: Fabric bodies


I am just about ready to fabric my Minor 2-seater. I have never done any fabric work before, so I'm looking for any helpful hints, do's or don't's.

The job LOOKS straightforward, except for the slightly convex panel over the rear tail (the body is similar to an 'M' Type MG, but the bood lid doesn't open).

In particular, what should I use as wadding under the fabric? I have some old blankets (courtesy of Pickfords), which look as if they would be suitable.

Secondly, how tight should the material be stretched?

Thanks in advance,


From: mike tebbett
Sent: 05 April 2001
To: British-Cars-Pre-War
Subject: Re: Fabric bodies

The right fabric is leathercloth, i.e. non-stretchy type with a black, cotton woven backing, do not be tempted to use the stretchy vinyl type - they are not waterproof !

I imagine your car has an ash frame with a plywood covering over the complete body. In this case a layer of wadding is first required onto the plywood to give the subtle shape required and to cover any small blemishes.

Note that the plywood should be as smooth as possible, no nail or tack heads, all butt joints smooth. If there is any blemish or bump it will show!

The wadding is available off the roll, and is I think cotton based. It comes off the roll in a layer about 9-10 mm thick, but soft and workable. Extra layers can be added where there appear to be hollows, and it can be teased away on the high spots. This is all a bit like art at this stage! The wadding will not need huge amounts of glue to hold it in place, either no glue sat all or an odd spot here and there is all that is needed. On top of the wadding goes a layer of calico which holds it all in place and gives a final shape and finish to the bodywork. This is held in place with tacks on the returns i.e. do not tack it on the outside as the tacks will show under the fabric. The calico holds the wadding in place when the fabric goes on top, if you omit the calico you will find that the wadding can ruck up under the fabric as you tack it down. The fabric is also tacked on the returns, although some bodies also had tacks hidden underneath trimming made from half inch or so half round brass (and usually also fabric covered!) applied on top - usually on the waistline on saloons. Now the fabric appears to have no stretch in it whatsoever! However the application of a little heat will allow the fabric to take up convex shaped reasonably easily. I have heard of people using very hot water for this, and an old chap once told me that they used flat irons in the 1920's for this operation, but I have had most success by doing the job outside on a nice hot sunny day (some hope with UK weather at the moment!) .

If your car does not have a plywood sub-structure but only the ash frame, then you start by a layer of calico and/or hessian which in turn supports the wadding that gives the final shape.

At all costs avoid the "over-stuffed" look - I have seen several cars spoilt this way - usually by an over-enthusiastic amount of wadding. I would not recommend the use of anything other than the proper wadding, it can be teased into shape easily and will then lie flat nicely under the calico/fabric layer.

My supplier for all things trimwise is William Marston Ltd., 70 Fazeley Street, Birmingham, B5 5RD, UK . Tel. 0121-643-0852/0372 Fax 0121-643-9534. They are always excellent on price, advice and delivery. Leathercloth with them is currently GBP4.00 per metre, wadding GBP7.70 per packet of 20 metres, calico in various qualities from GBP1.00 per metre. I have no connection with this company other than as a satisfied customer.

I have covered a few cars in the past (starting with my "Mulliner" Austin Seven in 1965!!!) - but all other listers are free to comment and criticise......

Mike Tebbett

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