Secrets to Automotive Upholstery Success

Tracy Weaver of Recovery Room Hot Rod Interiors in Nebraska is a master of automotive upholstery.  As a leader in the field, his innovation and creativity are inspirational. Tracy continues to put his stamp on the industry and shows no signs of letting up or slowing down. Just when you think he has done the most incredible interior job you have ever seen, he continues to raise the bar.

As a loyal Garrett Leather customer for over 20 years, Tracy spoke to us about his craft.

How did you get your start in automotive upholstery? What drew you to the car business?

I got my start working at another shop that did everything from repairs to commercial work.  Whenever anything came in that needed some creative work or when a custom car came in, I was the one who would do it. I found that my love of art and love for cars had paid off. I had a knack for design and could use the sewing machine pretty well. When the owner of that shop wanted to open another type of business, I started doing automotive upholstery on my own in a rented bay. Word that I was doing custom work on my own spread around town (Omaha, Nebraska) and the customers just started coming. We would win Best Interior awards every week at shows and it just took off from there.That was 26 years ago and I haven’t slowed down yet.

1930 Model A

1930 Model A

Where did you receive your training?

My training was more of an “on the job” type of training. I just started taking stuff apart and learning how things went together. Once I found I had a knack for doing the detailed style of work and had the patience to complete the work, I stuck with it. I love the challenge of completing a project from start to finish.

Why do you think people are drawn to leather for their automotive upholstery?

I think that people really are drawn to leather because of its look, smell, and mostly feel. Leather is a timeless material. It has been used since the beginning and will always be around, I imagine. It’s always been my first and only choice to use. Garrett Leather has always been one of the best in the industry and that’s why I always show my customers their samples. There is no substitute for leather. Besides, it’s just a cool material to work with.

What was your favorite project?

I don’t really have one specific favorite project. All of the projects we have worked on have had something unique about them that has made them fun to do. The show cars that are going after the biggest awards have always been the most fun because of the freedom to create something that the customer has envisioned.

Describe the most creative work-related project you completed.

Some of the most creative jobs are the ones when I’ve combined different materials together to create a custom look. Whether it be leather mixed with suede, metal, a patterned woven leather, or a combination of any of these materials creates such a remarkable look! Lately, I’ve been using my new laser to cut and engrave on leather. I’m really excited about the possibilities that can be created while using new technology with old world craftsmanship. I’m starting to venture into the home interior market with custom head boards and really enjoying the creativity that can be used to complete specific jobs.

Automotive upholstery in Native Cherokee

1930 Model A with Native Cherokee

Is it difficult to find young people interested in automotive upholstery?

It’s tough to find good help. Just about every shop that I speak with is looking for someone to hire. It’s a highly skilled business/trade to be in. A person needs to have a very different and broad set of skills including sewing, pattern making, fabrication, and some good design skills to know when something doesn’t look right. Patience and a good eye are very important.

As an auto upholsterer, what do you believe is your best asset?

The best asset in our trade is the ability to see something in your mind in its finished form before you even start on it. That way, you know what steps you need to take to get to that finished form you envisioned in the beginning.

Have you always specialized in hot rod interiors or did you start off as an upholstery-repair shop and over time shift focus?

I started out doing anything anyone wanted to have done. Whatever it took to pay the bills and gain experience in the industry. I knew that if I got better at my trade, it would result in being able to charge more for an hourly rate! Once I began to gain attention in the custom car world and we started to get cars from all over the country, I quit doing repair or small jobs and just do full interiors. It’s been that way for the last 16 years. I have been blessed to have had the right customers come to me to do the type of work that has won all the major awards and have been published in all the trade and car magazines.

 

Automotive upholstery in Native Cherokee

1930 Model A with Native Cherokee

How large is your staff and what qualities do you look for in team members?

Right now, I have two of us full-time and one part-time person helping. Its tough sometimes to keep up, so I’m looking for another full-time person to join the shop.

On average, how many interiors does your shop complete in a year and how long does a full interior take for you to complete? Does your shop have a waiting list? If so, how far in advance must customers book?

I have a waiting list that can be anywhere from 9 to 12 months. Most of the Pro builders that build the car before I get it know that time frame and schedule with me at the beginning of the build. That way, I am part of the interior planning from the beginning. Simple interiors can take 150 to 200 hours on certain types of cars. Most of the projects we tend to get are usually between 250 to 400 hours to complete. We constantly keep 3 cars to work on in the shop at all times. I try to complete 12 to 13 cars a year.

Automotive upholstery in Berkshire Auburn

1956 Chevy with Berkshire Auburn

Do you prefer that your customers know exactly what they want or do you like to have full creative control over the look and feel of the interiors you customize?

Most customers bring me their car because of our ability to match the interior to the car’s style and design. Certain types of cars have a specific style or look to them and installing the wrong interior can do more to hurt the finished look of the car. I will either design the interior for the customer or work with the customer to see what they want and figure out a way to incorporate their ideas or needs into the whole package for them. Some customers work with different artists and designers around the country to style the whole car including the interior. I work with them to come up with a design that works not only on paper, but in the actual car as well. There are some very creative designers in the car world that I enjoy working with.

What do you consider to be the most memorable moment in your automotive upholstery career?

I would have to say the most memorable moment for me was the first time my work was featured on the cover of a national magazine. It was something very special at that time. To this day, I still get excited every time that happens. Winning interior awards for my customers is always the best feeling. It shows we did the job we were hired for and the owners are 100% satisfied.

Is there an automotive upholstery shop (other than your own) that you find yourself impressed with the quality of work that they do?

Another shop that I have always admired is Paul Atkins interiors in Alabama. They have been turning out great work for years and always have a killer look to it! Sid Chavers in California is another interior shop that has been around for a while now and turns out some of best traditional style interiors that continue to be a standard for the industry.

“Thanks for asking me to be part of this interview.  I use Garrett Leather because of the quality and service I receive.  I’ve been buying from you for 20 years now and will continue to do so.”

-Tracy Weaver Recovery Room Interiors

5 thoughts on “Secrets to Automotive Upholstery Success

  1. Charles

    a very informative and honest interview. I concur that leather is a timeless material and fits in great in classics as well as recent models of cars. To have the perfect interior creativity of the designer is key but also they have to ensure that they use the best quality materials. The quality of the interior really changes the driving experience.

    Reply
  2. Michael Lee

    First of all, the pictures of the cars that you have worked on look beautiful. I never knew how important the upholstery is until now. I just got an old firebird that I am restoring. Originally, I wanted to go with the stock vinyl seats that it came with but now, I want so custom stitching done with leather seats so it can look as well as some of your other projects.

    Reply
  3. Stan

    Is there any good upholstery shops in Antioch California I need my 55 Chevy done and I can’t seem to find anybody who is any good in someway let me know where I could get go who I could talk to you thank you Stan and Teach 925- 783 – 8169

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