Leather is one of those fabrics that is admired and equally feared by many people who sew. The following are tips from Stacy Campbell, Pattern Tester Group Member/Master Leather Sewist, who frequently sews with leather. Stacy’s superpower? Check out her sewing work!
Different animals produce different kinds of leather products. Tandy Leather has a detailed explanation of weights and terminology. Here are some basics that I have learned.
Also check out this leather buying guide by Tandy Leather https://www.tandyleather.com/en/leather-buying-guide.html
Lambskin is the softest and thinnest leather available in commercial outlets. It is a common leather product and is generally dyed in various colors. It may also contain embossing (a pattern stamped into the leather). The hides are generally small. Lambskin is popular for making apparel due to its soft and pliable nature. It is also easier to sew with it due to the thin nature of the skin.
Pigskin is soft, relatively thin, and is usually a little larger than lambskin. Larger projects, such as purses, can be sewn from one hide. These skins are also dyed in many different colors and can be embossed.
Deerskin is very soft and large. These tend to be expensive due to the size of the skin, however, deerskin is very durable. These are generally found in more natural colors, such as brown and black.
Cowhide is probably the thickest and most durable type of hide available on the market. It is available in varying thicknesses (from those that can be sewn on a home sewing machine to those that require an industrial sewing machine). Because of the thickness of cowhide, it is the most difficult to sew. The more processed the skin, the softer and easier the skin is to sew, however, processing does not reduce the thickness of the skin.
Sewing Leather by Machine
If using a standard home machine sewing, you should not encounter any problems sewing the thinner leathers (Lambskin, Pigskin and some Deer hides). If your machine experiences difficulty sewing denim, it will likely experience the same difficulty sewing these types of leathers.
A few things to make sewing with leather easier is a high quality Teflon foot made for your machine, and high quality leather sewing machine needles. If you would prefer not to invest in additional feet, add a layer of tissue paper between the leather and the sewing machine foot. After completing the seam, carefully tear it off the paper.
A walking foot is also recommended in place of your regular sewing machine foot.
Suede may more easily glide under the pressure foot, however, it can be a sticky fabric, and more difficult to work with because of that character.
You may also need to decrease the presser foot pressure. See your Sewing Machine Operator manual for how to do that.
Under normal circumstances, use normal weight thread when sewing with leather. For “heavy traffic” areas, it is best to use upholstery thread. Upholstery thread is much thicker and may require tension adjustment.
Use a longer stitch length (the longer, the better). This reduces the number of holes punched in the leather, thus reducing the likelihood of tearing the leather fabric.
TIPS & TRICKS—SEWING WITH LEATHER
- You can iron leather—NO STEAM (water can cause permanent stains)
- When ironing leather, use a press cloth so the iron will not stick to the leather
- Use a hammer or mallet to pound down seams, creating a flatter seam (this makes it easier to get your work under your pressure foot)
- Do not use pins. Use Clover Clips or paper clips to hold in place. The pins will puncture holes in the leather.
- Use glue or Wondertape to stabilize or bind your work before stitching
- Leather stretches. This is something to keep in mind for bag handles. You can use interfacing (including iron-on interfacing) to keep them from stretching out too much. Twill tape or ribbon sandwiched between layers to keep things in place is also helpful.
- Leather can be washed, but some types of leather hides respond better than others to washing. Using a color catcher in the wash the first few times will ensure the dye does not “bleed” onto other garments. The leather will lose some of its softness when washed.
- Dry clean jackets, skirts and bags, although leather accents such as leather patches or can be washed in cold water and hang to dry.
- Lighter colored leathers are predisposed to staining. To prevent staining, seal your fabric.
- Never wear a new pair of blue jeans with your natural colored leather handbag!
- Unless you are interested in tooling leather, stay away from the vegetable tanned leather hides. These are usually heavier in weight to account for the tooling/stamping that happens with these unfinished hides. They are fairly hard and not recommended for garments. They can work for handbags, but will likely require hand stitching. (Tooling leather is a different type of craft that requires special tools and equipment.)
- If you are using rivets or studs for the leather, be aware that they come in different thicknesses. Thin leathers require rivets and studs with shorter shafts (or rods).
- Thick leather sometimes requires hand stitching. Industrial sewing machines designed specifically for sewing leather are very expensive, so unless you plan to sew lots of leather projects, have the extra room and are willing to make a substantial financial investment, a sewing needle and thimble (which is a must) will be sufficient. Use a high quality hand sewing needle specifically designed for sewing leather, linen waxed thread, and a leather hole punch for making the job easier.
Article written by Stacy Campbell
Edited by Angie Hebert
Please visit Stacy’s blog @ http://www.stylinstacy.com.
Stacy has been sewing for over 30 years and is a master of leather sewing.
Stacy’s work is amazing! (She did a pattern test for me in leather!)
Photo and sewing credit, and article content credit: Stacy Campbell
Our Lovely Stacy: Member, Writer, Photographer, Leather Master
Stacy, wearing that gorgeous smile and leather belt!