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UPHOLSTERY, Upholstery 101 - Seat Covers

Discussion in 'Tech Archive' started by oldcarmike, Mar 11, 2007.

  1. oldcarmike
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    oldcarmike Member

    Alright, I’m usually good for a few smart-assed answers here on the HAMB, but to assuage my guilt, I’m actually going to be constructive!!! (‘Bout damned time Mike…)

    How about a tech piece on the fine art of upholstery? Great, let’s layout some parameters here. This is going to be a basic pleated seat for a ’38 (if I remember right) Ford truck. Nothing fancy, but I’m going to go through what it takes to cover a bare spring & frame set with padding, and finally a cover.

    There are certainly different ways to go about covering any seat, but this is how I did this one. If your seat still has padding and a cover in place, keep them!! These will be invaluable for making patterns for the new cover. I was doing this seat job blind – the frame came to me bare and I didn’t have the truck for reference – but having your old cover and padding will help guide you.

    TOOLS REQUIRED
    You’ll need basic hand tools and few specialty items. I’ll point them out as we go along, but here’s a quick checklist:

    * Scissors. Bigger is better here and a good set of professional shears (as we call them in the trade) are essential.
    * Hog rings and hog ring pliers. Hog rings are steel clamps that affix the covers to the frames. (In case you’re wondering, they’re called hog rings because farmers would put on in the end of a hog’s snout to keep them from rooting around and tearing up the farmyard.)
    * LONG metal straightedge, at least 36”, but I regularly use 60” and 72” ones. I don’t use wooden yardsticks because they warp and I use the straight edge to cut vinyl with a razor blade.
    *Spit pencils or grease pencils. These are used for marking materials and the lines can be removed later with water or solvent.
    *Pins. T-style or regular push pins will work.

    Grab a bubbly beverage of your choice, sit back and follow along while we cover a seat. Let’s go!!
  2. oldcarmike
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    oldcarmike Member

    [​IMG]

    ^ Here is the bare frame as Henry made it and time & usage have ravaged it. Take a good look for broken struts, broken springs, bent pieces etc. The most damage and wear is usually on the driver’s side so look at the passenger side for guidance as to how things should look.

    [​IMG]

    ^ This strut needed to be reattached, so a quick spot weld will take care of that. (See finger and screwdriver for guidance)

    [​IMG]

    ^ Broken here…

    [​IMG]

    ^ and here…

    [​IMG]

    ^ and here!! This damage is simple to fix, but it’ll need some reinforcing to compensate for weakness that caused the break. Also, at this time, remove any of the steel mesh that covers the spring bed. This mesh is supposed to support the padding so the springs won’t cut into it. The mesh is usually broken and rusty, and I have better solution. More on that after we repair the frame.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Take some steel brake line that has an inside diameter as close to the diameter of your frame as you can get, and cut a 2-3 inch section of line to act as a sleeve. Clean all rust and paint off the frame and slide the brake line sleeve over one end of the break in the frame, line up the broken ends and center the sleeve over the break. Now braze or solder the line in place over the break in the frame. Be sure to use flux to get a nice tight bond.

    [​IMG]

    ^ This is the finished repair. I crimped the steel line with side cutters to hold everything in place while I soldered it in place. Repeat these repairs as needed until the frame is done. Take another long look at the frame and straighten any bends. If the springs are sagging in any spot (usually directly under the driver’s ass) they can be pulled out gently to realign them, giving your springs a uniform height. This is now the foundation of your seat so take the time to get this right. If the frame is distorted in any way, your final job will be distorted as well.

    Repeat all these step on your backrest frame as well. Now, on to prepping the frames for padding.
  3. oldcarmike
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    oldcarmike Member

    After you’ve repaired the frames, measure them side to side and mark the frame at the center line. Everything we do is from the center out to the edges. You’ll be marking frames, panels, padding, and such. These marks are crucial so make sure your measurements are accurate.

    Now that the frames are repaired, we need to cover the bare springs with something that’ll keep the padding from becoming damaged or cut. I use a sheet of vinyl, something relatively stiff. It’ll still stretch and allow the springs to work. If you use something like hardware cloth, the springs become unitized and don’t work as well.

    [​IMG]

    ^ This is a hog ring in the hog ring pliers.

    [​IMG]

    ^ By squeezing the ring shut, you fasten the vinyl to the seat frame.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Lay your vinyl over the seat frame, and start in the middle of a long edge. Hog ring one side using 1 or 2 rings, and repeat on the opposite side. Now go to the remaining short sides and do the same.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Once the middles of all 4 sides are done, you can move on to the corners. Pull the vinyl snug but not too tight. Continue putting hog rings around the perimeter of the seat frame, spacing them about 2-3 inches apart. Once it’s all secured, trim the excess off, but not closer than ¾” from the edge.

    Now, it’s time to add foam padding. Foam comes in many different densities and thicknesses. The type of foam you use is up to your personal preferences, but don’t go too soft or too firm. Too soft and you’ll end up bottoming out onto your spring deck, and to stiff and you won’t have the support over enough of your body to allow a comfortable ride.

    [​IMG]

    ^ I made a pattern out of brown paper from the Big Box Home Center. All did was trace the seat frame and add an extra 1/2” to the perimeter. Clean up the pattern with a straight edge so that your covers will have a nice clean line to them. Fold the pattern in half and mark you center line, front to back. You’ll need this center mark later when you cut your pleated panels.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Lay your pattern on your foam, pin it in place, and trace the edge with a dry erase marker, chalk, a grease pencil or something similar. DO NOT USE A PERMANENT MARKER OR INK PENS!!! These will bleed from the foam, through the vinyl, and to the surface of your new seat covers.
  4. oldcarmike
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    oldcarmike Member

    Now you cut the foam to size. Foam can be cut many ways, but the low buck way is to grab a bread knife from the kitchen. An electric turkey knife works very well too, as does a bandsaw. When using a bread knife, cut with the knife at a shallow angle to the foam and draw the knife back smoothly. This will give you a smoother edge. Practice on some scraps if you can get some.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Glue the foam to the vinyl you’ve hog ringed earlier. Follow your adhesives directions for a permanent bond. Carefully place the foam where it should go, taking care to make sure it’s centered on the frame, side to side and front to back.

    [​IMG]

    ^ You can shape the corners of the foam with a sander and some rough grit paper. I knocked the edges off of these to allow a little smoother transition for the covers.

    Around the perimeter of the foam, you’ll need to make a series of marks. One in the center at front and back, one in each front corner (measure carefully so these marks are symmetrical). Make a mark about every 2 inches or so everywhere else along this edge. These are what will help you sew the top panel and the skirts together properly.

    Once you’ve got the foam ready, it’s time to start sewing up the covers.
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  5. oldcarmike
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    oldcarmike Member

    This cover is going to have 1 &1/2” pleats so we have lots of marking to do. I do layout BEFORE I cut the vinyl from the roll If you make a layout mistake I can erase the lines and start again on a full roll, not a cut piece that’s too small. Measure the dimensions of your seat and backrest faces and add 4” to the width of the frames. As we sew the pleats the material will be drawn inward. If you cut the vinyl to size and then start sewing, it’ll end up too short. It’s much easier to cut off extra than it is to add material.

    [​IMG]

    ^ I always start out with a square corner. Using a framing square and my long ruler, we layout some lines. Now start measuring your pleats.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Be sure to add correctly or you’ll screw up like I did and have a gap that’s too large. You’ll have to make your marks on the vinyl so you can see where to sew. Make sure what you’re using comes off the vinyl BEFORE you lay out your lines.

    [​IMG]

    ^ I laid these lines out so that I could cut the seat and backrest pieces out of one long piece. This way my pleats are lined up.

    [​IMG]

    ^ To make pleats, you’ll be sewing the vinyl to sheet foam. This foam is usually ¼” or ½” thick and it has a cloth backing. This is important because the cloth keeps the stitches from ripping through the foam and leaving the pleats flat.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Lay your vinyl with the pleat markings on the cloth backed foam on the side that doesn’t have the cloth on it. Fold the vinyl back on itself halfway. Now you’re going to glue it down. I like 3M’s Super 77 for this step.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Spray a LIGHT mist of glue on both the vinyl and the foam, and let it dry. Then you can lightly press the vinyl down. The idea here is just to keep the foam and vinyl from separating while sewing. If you use too much glue the foam will bunch or crease and show through the vinyl. Fold the unglued half back and repeat the procedure.
  6. oldcarmike
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    oldcarmike Member

    Are you ready to sew? Good, here we go. Start sewing your pleats. Be sure to hang onto your thread ends when you start a stitch so the threads don’t jam in the machine.

    [​IMG]

    ^ To sew straight pleats, don’t try to line the needle up with your lines. It’s difficult to do and will lead to wiggling pleats. Keep the pleat line you’ve drawn at the edge of your foot. You’ll be able to see the line and keep thing much straighter. Always keep the foot on the same of the line when you sew and all your pleats will be even.

    [​IMG]

    ^ As you sew more and more pleats, you’ll have more and more material to stuff into the machine. Roll this up and secure it with clamps. This makes it easier to handle and helps you control your stitches for straighter lines.

    [​IMG]

    ^ CHECK YOUR BOBBIN REGULARLY!!! D'OH!! When you run out of bobbin thread in the middle of a stitch you end up with holes that have no thread. Now you’ve got to sew this again and hit all those holes with the needle again so your mistake won’t show. I’ve made this mistake enough that I’ve mastered the technique for fixing it.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Look at the threads at the back and pull out some stitches so both threads are in the back of the cover. Pull stitches until you have enough slack to tie a knot.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Tie a square knot (left over right, right over left) so the threads are secured.

    [​IMG]

    ^ When you’re ready to start sewing the pleat again, give yourself plenty of thread so you can repeat the procedure again. IF you don’t there’s a chance your stitch could unravel later.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Carefully place the needle into the first hole that doesn’t have a stitch showing. Hold your threads snug and SLOWLY advance the machine so the needle will hit every hole that was left open. After you’ve gotten past the last empty hole you can continue to sew the rest of the pleat.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Now go back to the long threads where you started to fix the pleat and tie the ends off on the back side, like you did when you ran out of thread.
  7. oldcarmike
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    oldcarmike Member

    Now that your goof-up is fixed, you can continue to sew the rest of your pleats and ask yourself “Why did I want to do this?” It’s taking longer than you thought, huh? Keep going and take your time.

    [​IMG]

    ^ When you’re done you should have something that looks like this.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Clean off all your lines, they’ve served their purpose. Now you can use the patterns you made for your foam to cut out the panels for the covers. DON”T CUT YET!!

    [​IMG]

    ^ Tape your pattern down to the pleated panel, making sure your center line is aligned with a pleat. Check both end of the pattern to see that the pleats are symmetrical. If you don’t do this now, you’ll end up with uneven width pleats on the ends of you seat. When you’ve got the pattern where you want it, trace around the edge with your spit pencil. Take the pattern off. DON”T CUT IT YET!

    [​IMG]

    ^ Sew around the edge where you’ve marked aligning the edge of your foot with your line like you did when you sewed the pleats. You must sew this step so that the pleats don’t unravel after you’ve cut the excess off.

    [​IMG]

    ^ NOW you can cut the excess off. Keep your cut about 1/8” away from your stitch and keep it even all the way around. This is now the edge of your cover and if it’s crooked you’ll end up with a crooked seam after you sew the skirts on.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Now that the part of the seat that your body will come in contact with is sewn, we need to add the skirts. (This is what this piece looks like after it’s sewn on.) Skirts are the parts that go around the side of a seat cover. The first one is the piece that will go under the backrest at the bottom and the one the goes at the back of the cushion. We’ll cut this piece 6” longer than the actual width of these sections. The extra will be used to secure the cover to the seat frame.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Cut this piece, fold it in half and nip a little bit out of the cover to mark your center. Don’t cut it any deeper than the amount of your seam allowance. Now you can align the center mark with the center mark on your pleated panel (you did mark center, didn’t you?), align the edges and sew it on.
  8. oldcarmike
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    oldcarmike Member

    Now it’s time to cut the rest of the pieces for the skirt. This series of pictures is for the seat cushion but the procedure is the same for the backrest. The front and side skirts of the seat cover will be in three pieces. We’ll have two seams, one at each corner of the seat, so mark your cushion foam at the corners, making sure the marks are the same distance from your center line. Mark the bottom of the seat frame in the same manner. These two marks will indicate where your seams will end up., top and bottom.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Cut a piece of vinyl about 2” longer than the distance between corners and 6” wider than the distance from the top of the seat to the bottom of the frame. Pin this piece to the foam so the edge of the vinyl is aligned with the edge of the foam. Put the pins close to the edge of the vinyl or you’ll have extra holes in you cover after you’ve sewn it together. Once you’ve got the vinyl in place, mark it where you’ve marked the cushion (including your match marks)

    [​IMG]

    ^ and the frame. Use a pencil for these marks.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Lay your vinyl down and connect your corner marks. Now add 3/8” for you seam allowance, both sides and top. Cut excess materials off, making sure your match marks extend into to vinyl that’ll be left.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Now you can fit the side pieces of the skirt in the same manner. Pin the pieces in place making sure you’ve allowed enough for seams at the back and corners. Mark your corner at the top. Do one and you can use this as a pattern for the other side.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Trace the top of the foam padding onto the vinyl. You’ll need to add your seam allowance (3/8”) to this line after fitting.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Mark your lower corner.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Connect your marks leaving the bottom long. We’ll deal with that in a little bit. Now take this piece and place it face to face (the color side of the vinyl) and use this as a pattern for the other side.
  9. oldcarmike
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    oldcarmike Member

    [​IMG]

    ^ After you’ve cut the 3 skirt pieces, you can glue them to a piece of cloth backed foam just like when you sewed the pleats. LIGHTLY spray the glue. Sew around the edges of the vinyl as close to the edge as you can. Trim the excess foam and your ready to assemble the 3 skirt pieces. NOTE- Some folks will not use the foam behind these panels but I do to help fill out the cover and protect the vinyl from the frame. It’s your call.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Lay one side piece face to face with the center panel making sure the top edges are aligned. Sew a seam with your 3/8” seam allowance. Repeat this with the other side. Now you can do your top stitches.

    [​IMG]

    ^ After the seams are sewn, you’ll lay the seam open to expose the color side. Your seam allowances will need to lie on the same side of the stitching. This is what the layers of the cover should look like.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Pull the seam apart and sew with the foot aligned with the seam. When you do the other side, make sure you lay your seam allowances the OPPOSITE direction of the other seam. This way the exposed top stitch will be symmetrical.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Here’s what your finished top stitch looks like.

    OK, now it’s time to attach the pleated top panel to the skirt. Here’s where your match marks will come in handy. You did transfer match marks from the foam to your panels, didn’t you? If not, now’s the time.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Lay the pieces on the foam, aligning your corner and center marks and then add the match marks you missed.
  10. oldcarmike
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    oldcarmike Member

    Now you can sew a piece of welt to bottom edge of the skirt. This will be needed to reinforce the vinyl where you’ll be hog ringing it to the frame. Align the edge of the welt with the bottom edge of the skirt. Sew it the full length around just the bottom edge; do not go up the sides where the back panel (the first one you sewed to the pleated panel) is.

    [​IMG]

    ^ In between the pleated panel and the skirts is something called welting but some folks call it piping. Whatever you call it, sewing this part can be tricky for a beginner as it
    needs to be sewn close to the edge of the ‘round’ part.

    Lay your pleated panel with the color up; lay your skirt on top. Match your marks up at the point where you’ll begin sewing. This will be the back bottom edge of the skirt and the corner of the back panel of the seat top. Not the pleated part, but the first panel you sewed to the pleated panel. It’s the one that runs the length of the back of the pleated panel.

    You should have match marks on the pleated panel as well as the skirts. As you sew these pieces together, look at the backs of each piece to make sure your marks are aligned.

    Start by stitching about 4” or so of just the welt by itself. Stop sewing and leave the needle in the welt, then align your pieces under and over the welt, making sure your edges are aligned as well. (65) (66) Hold everything tight, and start stitching all three layers together. Tack stitch (back and forth 2-3 times) to lock the threads and start sewing.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Sew until you reach your corner. When you stop sewing, make sure the needle is in through all layers of material – this will hold everything in place while you adjust the pieces. Shape the welt to the corner and make sure you’ve got control of all three layers. Corners get tricky, so take your time. Here’s how you sew a corner. The bottom layer (pleated panel and the welt) are the pieces that’ll get slid to allow the stitching to follow that contour. The top layer (skirt) will remain fairly straight. DO NOT try to pull the top layer around the corner – feed the bottom layer and welt so that the corner is “rolling” into the needle – you want the contour of the curve to be fed in to the needle and let the straight layer naturally feed into the needle. If you pull the top layer around the corner, you’ll stretch it. This will give you puckers in the cover as well as mismatched and uneven stitches in the corners.

    After the corner, check your match marks. They should be close, if not dead on. If they’re a little off, you can pull the ‘short’ piece as you continue to sew and even things out. If they’re way off – more than 3/8” – you may need to cut the stitches out and restart.

    Continue to sew all the way around the pleated panel. When you get to the end, make sure to tack stitch to keep things from unraveling. At this point the skirt should be sewn completely to the back panel of the top up to the pleated panel, and all the way around the pleated panel, and back down the back panel again.
  11. oldcarmike
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    oldcarmike Member

    Now, it’s time to put the cover on the frame and foam. You’re getting close to seeing the fruits of your labors.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Getting the cover to lay the way you want it to involves a little bit of lubrication. I used a sheet of very thin plastic over the foam. This stuff can be bought at most places that sell upholstery supplies. It’s a very thin slick plastic; almost like the covers you get on your sweaters from the dry cleaner. (OK your wife gets the stuff but you know what it is) You can spray the cover and foam with silicone if you prefer, but something that’ll allow the cover to slip around a bit is essential.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Lay the cover, inside out, on top of the foam, aligning the center marks. Get the stitch right at the corner of the foam. When you roll the cover over the foam, you’ll want the layers of materials to lie against the foam and the skirt piece. When you look at the seat as it’s finished, these layers will point down toward the bottom of the seat. Make sure these layers lay flat against the vertical face of the foam all the way around. This will keep the welt straight.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Press down on the cover with your palm and with your other hand roll the front corner of the cover over the foam. Repeat on the other front corner.
  12. oldcarmike
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    oldcarmike Member

    Now you can do the same thing with the rear corners. Be careful here, as the rear corner will be under some pressure as you roll that cover over the edge. Don’t force it as you can rip the material if you’re too forceful. Then you need to fix that mess and it'll really suck because you’re almost finished.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Roll the cover all the way down all the way around the seat.

    [​IMG]

    ^ This is what it’ll look like when that step is done. Now you can secure the cover to the frame with hog rings.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Starting at the front center of the seat, pull the cover over the frame so it’s snug and hog ring the cover to the frame at the center. Now repeat this at the sides and rear of the frame, making sure the cover isn’t puckering along the skirts.

    [​IMG]

    ^ Working from the centers, continue to hog ring the cover to the frame.

    [​IMG]

    ^ When you get to the front corners, you’ll have some excess cover to deal with. Pull the skirt into a corner and hog ring them together, leaving the extra folded against itself. Now you can tuck that extra bit into the frame.

    [​IMG]

    ^ The rear corners may need to be handled differently, with a cut being needed to eliminate or fold and tuck the extra materials up into the frame. DO NOT cut the stitching. DO NOT cut so far that the cut will be visible on the outside after you’ve hog ringed everything into place. Make sure you secure the cover so that the pressure of the cover is not on the cut portion or rips will happen.
  13. oldcarmike
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    oldcarmike Member

    A few notes on final fitting of the cover: You may need to ‘convince’ the cover to move where you want it to be. This can be done by slapping with your palm in the direction you want the cover to move. This method is used to align seams with the corners of the foam padding, move the cover to pull out small wrinkles, or to fine tune the fit.

    If you have wrinkles in the cover you can use a heat gun or steamer to remove the wrinkles. If you use a heat gun, keep it moving or you’ll burn the vinyl. Apply heat to the wrinkled area sparingly giving the vinyl time to relax and move around. Combine the heat treatment with the slapping method and you’ll get the fit you want.

    Step back, look at your work and realize you still need to do the backrest!!

    Your finished product will look something like this. v


    [​IMG]


    There you have it, upholstery made easy. :rolleyes: :D It's not as easy as it looks but not as hard as you may think. Remember, like any job, if you take your time, plan the steps ahead, and think about how to do it, you can do it.


    Class dismissed!!!
  14. wrenchbender54
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    wrenchbender54 Member

    Mike,
    Are there any places online that sell upholstery supplies? My local fabric store wasn't much help when I asked them.

    Phil
  15. oldcarmike
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    oldcarmike Member

    Yes there are but I don't know of any off the top of my head. Do a google for "upholstery wholesale" and you should come up with some places that'll ship out to you. Try your local upholstery shops too. They can get you almost anything you need in the way of materials and supplies.
  16. seldom scene
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    seldom scene Member

    Hey Mike, why didn't you show how to "spit " hog rings so that you can pull material with one hand and hog ring with the other? A little danger never hurt anyone.
  17. oldcarmike
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    oldcarmike Member


    OK , let's just slow down a bit. This is merely Upholstery 101.

    We'll get the the advanced stuff like spitting hog rings, breaking a windshield when doing a convertible top, and running the sewing machine needle through your thumbnail later. :D
  18. SanDiegoJoe
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    SanDiegoJoe Member

    Wow, excellent tech. Thanks for the time and the great pictures.

    I'm asuming that you are not using your granny's Singer sewing machine... What kind of machine are you using?

    thanks agian.. I'll bet that after this post you are sure to find someone that has a truck to swap!.

    - Joe
  19. oldcarmike
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    oldcarmike Member

    Thanks for all the kind words, guys. The machine I use is an industrial machine, a Pfaff 1245 with a walking foot. It's definitely not Granny's old Singer. There's been several posts about industrial machines in the past few months. If anyone is interested, a search should be able to find them.

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