It’s been a little while since I did a sewing lesson. You know, just a couple of years or something like that. It seems to me that it’s about time for me to learn some new sewing skills, and to issue myself a new challenge. So, thanks to the sponsorship of leatherhidestore.com, I bring you…
Edit: Here are links to the rest of the posts in the series
This week I’m focusing on my leather-sewing skills, and I’m dragging you, dear reader, along for the ride. I have been doing a ton of research, and even more practicing. I have some really fun stuff to show you, but first, including lots of tricks and tips I’ve compiled from all over the World Wide Web, and from my own trial and error. Also, all this information applies to sewing with vinyl.
Today, let’s go over supplies for successfully sewing with leather. Sewing with leather is a completely different, um, animal than sewing with other materials. (I probably just offended half of you. Sorry if you are sensitive to animal products. Those of you who are may want to take a break from reading here for the next week or so. xoxo) You will need to use some different products with leather than what you may normally keep in your sewing kit.
You can’t iron seams in leather like you can with fabric. According to the FAQ at leatherhidestore.com, you can, however, get some of the creases out of your leather pieces PRIOR to sewing. They suggest lightly misting the “wrong” side of the leather, keeping the iron moving, and going slow with as much pressure as you can. I have not tried this. But for getting your seams flat, for getting some of the girth out of thick areas of multiple-layers before sewing, a hammer or a heavy roller (I’ve used a marble rolling pin) is necessary. You can also use a denim tool to help you maneuver over thicker and uneven areas as you sew. It helps to balance the foot as you go over an uneven area.
Leather needles are a must. Leather needles’ point is triangular, which makes it pierce the leather, and not tear it. They’re super sharp and extra strong to get through tough, thick hides. Sometimes leather needles are marketed or labeled as glovers needles or wedge needles, and you can pick them up at pretty much any fabric/hobby shop. Keep your package of needles handy. If you’re like me, you’ll break a few, and it’s good to try out different sharpness of the needles to see which is going to work best with your leather.
A lot of the sources I found said to use upholstery thread. But I found it too thick for my machine without seriously adjusting the thread tension. You do need polyester thread, because natural fibers like cotton will wear faster than your leather and are more likely to break as you’re sewing with such a thick material. But I found regular old Coats & Clark All Purpose thread, which is 100% polyester to work best in my machine and for my projects. Here is a side by side with the upholstery thread and the all-purpose. See the uneven stitch lengths and skipped stitches?
It was even worse on the underside.
If you are unsure of the content of your thread, you can check its tensile strength (how much it can stretch and be pulled before breaking) by taking about a foot of the thread, wrapping it dental-floss style around your fingers, and stretching it. If it breaks, go for something else. You can also do a burn test. Polyester will melt. And this is also another good thing when sewing with the leather, you can melt the thread ends to more secure your stitches.
Once punctured, leather will always be punctured. So no pins. You can use regular old binder office clips, or I love these sewing clips by Clover. I think they are normally for quilting, but they work awesome with any thick, hard-to-pin project, including leather.
Studs and rivets are good cheats when working with leather. You can use them instead of sewing in some places. They are also great for reinforcing areas that you want a little bit of extra security. Use an awl or leather hold tool to puncture the leather, then set the hardware according to package directions.
Leather doesn’t always glide easily under a regular presser foot. It’s recommended to use a walking foot, roller foot, or a teflon foot. I have a walking foot and a roller foot. But honestly, my best friend when sewing with leather is my grandmother’s ‘38 Singer. I swear to you, nothing beats those old machines in terms of power and strength. Here is the thread comparison picture again.
That’s four layers of leather, baby. And the standard presser foot. So if you have access to a vintage, solid steel sewing machine, that’s what I recommend before any fancy foot. Plus, they’re pretty.
Leather isn’t going to fray, so you don’t need to worry about finishing seams too much. But to keep them in check, leather glue or leather tape is recommended. You also may want to pick up a dissolvable glue marker if you want to do appliqué or to help with holding zippers and the like in place, since you don’t want to use pins.
The final supply that is recommended is a silver pen (also sold as a leather marking pen) or grease pencil. Leather requires special cutting out, in addition to all the other specialness. You’re going to want to trace the pattern pieces onto the wrong side of the leather instead of pinning paper pattern pieces directly to it. Some sources recommended tailor’s chalk for this, but I couldn’t get it to show hardly at all on my leather. And I tried it on a few different types. Silver pens are made specifically for this, some sources mentioned grease pencils, but I’m a rebel and I just used a ball point pen. And I have no regrets.
And finally, you need some leather. You can pilfer leather from old purses or thrifted jackets. If you are wanting to do a bigger project, leatherhidestore.com sells amazing quality cow hide. That is where I got this gorgeous Ruby Red Slipper leather. They will send you swatches of any of their leathers, so you can see and feel which will work best for you. And their costumer service is awesome. It’s a family company, and they really care about making sure you get what will work best for what you want. They will even give you recommendations if you tell them what project you are wanting to work on, whether it be upholstery, handbags, jewelry, or maybe a leather jacket. They’ll even help you figure out how much leather you need. Leatherhidestore.com is awesome and I recommend completely.
LeatherHideStore.com is offering $50 to one of you (in the US or Canada.)! Tell your friends! Enter daily! YAY leather!
All right, you got it all? Are you ready to sew some leather? Here is the list again
Edit: Here are links to the rest of the posts in the series
Special thanks to LeatherHideStore.com for sponsoring Leather Lessons.
And a shopping guide of things I own and use, riddled with affiliate links to Amazon:
The leather hole tool I have and love HERE
Leather needles HERE (I use these on both of my machines, including my vintage one)
Awesome Clover Clips that I kind of want to kiss HERE
Denim tool HERE
Leather glue I own HERE