Tips for Sewing with Leather

My leather handbag has been coming along, but slowly. For my first foray into sewing with leather, I’ve been pleasantly surprised how well it’s gone. I have already deviated from my original design a bit. I find it so hard not to experiment and change patterns during construction, whether they’re my own or not!

So far I’ve got the straps finished:

I’m still figuring out my flap design, but all the pattern pieces are cut out. I’m hoping to finish it this week, fingers crossed. In the meantime, I hope you all have been searching for your own leather jackets to cut up! Leather isn’t nearly as scary as it seems.

For anyone wanting to try their hand at sewing leather, below are some tips I’ve gathered from the web, books and experience. (These tips also apply to pleather, and vinyl.)

  • Don’t use pins, the holes they make won’t close up. Instead use binder clips for seams ready for the machine, and double-sided tape or rubber cement for details that can’t be clipped together.
  • Use tailor’s chalk or a sharpie to mark pattern pieces on the wrong side of the leather.
  • Purchase special leather sewing machine needles, these are sharper than regular needles and will pierce the leather with each stitch.
  • To make it easier for your machine to move the leather, use a walking foot, or teflon foot. I have also read you can stick scotch tape to a regular foot, trim it and it won’t stick to the leather, but when I tried it I saw no difference.
  • Use 100% nylon, or 100% polyester or rayon upholstery thread. To test thread for adequate strength hold 12 inches taut between your hands and pull, if it doesn’t break it will probably work okay.
  • Don’t use tiny stitches, it’s possible to rip a seam if the holes are so close together they perforate the leather.
  • For the same reason as above, don’t back-stitch, knot the end threads instead.
  • It is very likely that the tension of your machine will have to be adjusted to sew leather, test everything out on scraps first! I had to lower my upper tension a bit, to get nice stitching.
  • Don’t use an iron on leather, pound open seams with a rubber mallet, and glue with rubber cement or pound open and top stitch on either side of the seam. You can use fusible interfacing, just remember to use a pressing cloth.
  • For hand sewing, use a hand sewing leather needle. I didn’t, and ended up breaking several. It’s also advisable to use a thimble, or the needle just might go backwards into your skin, instead of forwards through the leather. I also found it helpful to use a small pair of pliers to help pull the needle through.
  • One last tip, use sharp scissors to cut through leather. If you are cutting through seams to take apart a jacket like I did, don’t use your nice fabric scissors. After taking apart the jacket, my scissors could barely cut thread.

Good luck with your leather projects, hopefully next time I post on the subject I’ll have a finished bag!

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