Tuck-and-roll automotive upholstery

Two ways to craft this classic look

Tuck-and-roll refers to hand-stuffed channels that are typically used to form a decorative panel in automotive interiors. Classic tuck-and-roll is time consuming to fabricate because it entails hand stuffing individual channels. The result is a luxurious crown, and a seat with extra cushioning.

Faux tuck-and-roll takes less time to make because there is no channel stuffing involved. Instead, face fabric and padding are sandwiched together and pleated, resulting in a flat pleat with minimal cushioning.

Materials for faux tuck-and-roll

  • Leather, vinyl or woven face fabric
  • Scrimback foam or sew-foam. Scrimback is foam that’s available in sheets one-quarter or one-half inch thick that are glued to a non-stretchy backing. Sew-foam is glued to tricot backing. For heavy-duty applications, you can construct your own pleat-filler by adhering a sturdy material, such as canvas, to a sheet of foam.

Materials for classic tuck-and-roll

  • Leather, vinyl or woven face fabric
  • Muslin or light canvas
  • Cambric
  • Cotton or padded felt
  • Two large spring clamps
  • Aluminum or wooden yardstick

Faux procedure

Scrimback accommodates pleats of any reasonable length, as long as the foam/face fabric sandwich doesn’t become too unwieldy to sew straight. Shorter, narrower panels are easier to manipulate; a width of 24 inches or narrower is the easiest panel width to fabricate. Size is limited by whatever size roll of scrimback fits easily under your sewing machine arm.

To ensure straight, smooth pleats, use pencil-drawn lines and a carpenter’s square to square face fabric, as well as all other fabrics used in this project, before cutting or sewing.

Determining panel width

Measure the size you’ll need to cover with your faux panel before patterning.

For a panel 10-inches-by-14-inches wide that contains seven pleats, each two inches wide, allow a one-half inch seam allowance for each pleat on either side of the panel.

Add one inch of width just in case, for a total panel width of l9 and one-half inches.

To determine panel height, add one inch to the up-and-down length of pleats. You will end up with a total height of 11 inches.

Cut a scrimback rectangle that’s 11 by 19 ½ inches.

Starting from the left edge of the foam, use a pencil or felt-tip marker to draw parallel stitching lines that are parallel to each other, and to the left and right sides of the panel. In this example, the stitching lines are parallel to the 11-inch dimension. The first line should be three-fourths of an inch from the left edge, then every two inches across the width of the panel. Set scrimback aside.

To calculate face fabric dimensions, give each pleat a three-fourth inch stitching allowance.

In addition, allow a three-fourth inch seam on either side of the panel.

The width of the face fabric will be three-fourths plus three-fourths plus (seven by two and three-fourth inches), for a total of 20 ¾ inches.

Determining panel height

Panel height is the same as for scrimback. Cut a rectangle of face fabric 11 inches by 20 ¾ inches.

Turn face fabric face down. Beginning on the fabric’s right-hand edge, pencil a parallel line one-half inch to the left of, and parallel to, the cut edge. Proceed leftwards, drawing lines every 2 ¾ inches.

Sewing pleats

The first step is to make a sandwich of scrimback and face fabric. Begin by placing the left side of the fabric face up on top of the left side of the scrimback. Align the top left side of the fabric with the top left side of the scrimback.

Stitch a line from top to bottom, one-fourth inch from the cut edges. (Note: If too bulky to fit under the machine arm, turn the sandwich around and stitch this first line from bottom to top.)

Fold the fabric to the left on its first pleat line. Align this fold along the next line on the backing. Topstitch one-fourth inch to the left of the fold. This seam width keeps the machine foot from sliding off the face fabric.

Stitch successive pleats. Sew any remaining fabric flat to the scrimback, keeping the stitching line near the right edge of the scrimback. You now have a panel.

Stretch the panel, if necessary, to match the 11-by-19 ½-inch dimension you are aiming for. Stitch across top and bottom ends of pleats, three-eighths of an inch from the panel’s cut edge, and your panel of faux tuck-and-roll is complete.

Classic procedure

This calls for one inch rather than one-half inch seam allowances on either side of the muslin backing, and the addition of two inches rather than one inch to the panel’s length.

Face fabric measurements remain the same as for faux tuck-and-roll. The only procedural change, other than sewing face fabric to a muslin backing instead of to scrimback, is the way in which pleats are filled. Pleats are more properly called channels in the classic method because they’re individually stuffed.

Make a test strip to determine how much cotton you’ll need to create a pleasingly plump pleat. Doing so will also tell you the width of cambric required to encase the yardstick and cotton in a roomy enough space so that the cotton will not tear as it moves along the channel. Once you have a satisfactory test strip, cut one strip of cotton to those dimensions for every channel. Cut a strip of cambric for each channel, too, but note that the cambric strip must be six to eight inches longer than the strip of cotton, for a reason that will be explained shortly.

Stuffing Channels: Clamp the bottom of the sandwich to the edge of your work table, by placing one clamp on either side of the channel you’re going to stuff.

Move clamps and muslin slightly together to enlarge the channel. Use a yardstick (one to two inches wide, depending upon the width of the pleats) as a spatula to convey the cotton into the channel.

Load a cotton strip on the yardstick, flush with the leading end of the yardstick. Swaddle the cotton and yardstick with a strip of cambric, lapping six to eight inches of cambric over the leading end of the ruler. If you’re using a wooden ruler, tap a tack through the cambric into the leading end of the yardstick to secure the cambric.

Scrunch the sides of the cotton to fit on the yardstick, snug the cambric to the underside, and push the yardstick into the channel until it exits at the top of the pleat. Remove the tack if you tapped one into the yardstick. The channel should be uniformly padded. If not, pull the padding out and start over.

Remove yardstick. If necessary, adjust padding by tugging cambric up or down. Leave cambric in the channel. Stuff remaining channels. Instead of cambric, you can encase cotton and yardstick in plastic, such as a strip cut from one side of a shipping tube. But removing the plastic from the channel—a must—can prove difficult.

Tuck in or tear off excess cotton at both ends of the channels, and sew across the panel from side to side, three-eighths of an inch from the panel’s cut edge, while stretching the panel to its original backing measurements.

Claudette Sandecki is a retired upholsterer in Terrace, B.C., Canada.


Comments are the opinion of individual posters and do not reflect the views of Upholstery Journal or Industrial Fabrics Association International.

  • Tino Flores
    Tino Flores


    Love-it. The pictures are great. I use that technique every week. Wanna see some pics? People love the look and feel of e channeled seat and back. POST more! Great job.

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