You are working with an animal skin. It’s gone through a life, and likely will have a few of the scars to prove it. And then, it was stretched and tanned and dyed (no idea on the order of that, but it’s likely all happened). Before you lay out your pattern pieces, identify all the quirks and marks on your leather. Most flaws will be near the edges, where the rollers and whatnot in the processing would come in most contact with the hide. Some you might want to highlight, others avoid all together. Just make sure you know where they are so you can plan your cutting out accordingly.
When you go to cut out your pattern, don’t pin the pieces to the leather, since all those puncture holes won’t go away. And really, pins don’t go into leather so well anyway. As mentioned before, trace your pattern pieces. Another really important thing, don’t layer your leather. Cut each piece individually. I like to cut out one piece, then use it as the pattern for the matching piece. That way I make sure I’ve cut them both the same exact way, especially if I am having to add seam allowances as I cut (like with Burda or Ottobre patterns). With pieces that need to be cut on the fold, trace one side, then flip the pattern piece and trace the other side. Don’t actually cut on the fold. Leather is thick and moves and stretches a lot when cutting. It’s just better to not add to the chance of error by doubling down on the girth and risking having one of your matching set be all skewed and wonky.
Before you sew with the pieces you’ve cut, make sure to test your stitches on some scrap leather.
Test out various sized needles, threads, and stitch lengths to see what works best for you and the leather you’re using. I increase my stitch length to almost a basting stitch when sewing with leather. The two best tips when sewing with leather are a long stitch length and go slow. Seriously, slow down. You’ll break fewer needles (maybe even none!), get a better finished look, and be able to control the stretch of the leather better.
Yep, leather stretches. On my machine, the top piece stretches more than the bottom. I guess the drag of the foot causes the extra friction? To keep the stretching in check, I try to clip at “landmark” points (matched seams, center of piece), and make sure I stretch the lower piece with my hands to match the top, as the machine feeds things through.
Another thing I run into is that the smooth side of the leather, when together slips. So when I first start a stitch, if things aren’t secured well, the foot slips the top piece down about 1/4 inch from the top. Drives me insane. What I found best to stop this: clip the piece together at the top, as well as along the sides. And also, lower the needle into the leather by hand-turning the machine wheel before starting the real stitching.
Things can get bulky and unwieldy pretty fast with leather. To help reduce the bulk, you can angle the end of the seam allowances. This way, when you sew across the seam allowance, the distance with doubled-down bulk won’t be as long to cover.
Leather isn’t going to fray, so finishing your seams is more of an aesthetic issue than a durability one. You can totally leave your seams unfinished. You can glue them down with the leather glue mentioned yesterday. Or, my favorite, topstitch them!
My last tip is hammering or rolling seams. Here I’ve sewn darts into my leather. See how they aren’t very finished-looking and the leather doesn’t lay flush against itself inside the stitch line of the dart?
You can’t iron leather, so to get a pressed look, I grabbed a hammer and a thick cutting board (to protect the surface underneath). I hammered the dart on the right, not the dart on the left. See the difference?
Tomorrow, I get to show you what I’ve made!
And today you get to enter the giveaway from the LeatherHideStore.com again!
Special thanks to LeatherHideStore.com for sponsoring Leather Lessons.