Sewing leather with a normal sewing machine sounds like a concept that’s hard to wrap your head around, doesn’t it? Because working with leather is not the same as working with cloth fabric; there is obviously a very large difference in thickness and texture.
However, it is possible to sew leather on a regular sewing machine by simply tweaking the sewing machine a little to make it compatible with leather. You will also want to assemble a few tools to make sure that the process is as efficient and smooth as possible.
This article will outline everything you need to know to help you start working on leather as your fabric of choice without having to buy a special sewing machine.
What you’ll need
Sewing leather is not the same as sewing clothes. This means there are parts of your sewing machine that you’re going to need to switch out. There are also some tools that you’ll need to buy to make the process more efficient. Here are some of the most important things you’ll need:
1. A leather needle
The regular needle is not strong enough to pass through leather and if you insist on using them, they will keep breaking. Instead, look for a set of leather needles. Another reason why you should switch them is that a leather needle has a tiny blade on either side of the eye. The blades are used to poke holes in the leather for the thread to pass through.
Get yourself a couple of needles of multiple sizes since these also break when passing through the thick sections of the leather. Although the tendency to break is normal, if you notice this happening too often, it might mean that thy Don’t forget to counter check that they’re labeled leather.
2. Sewing machine foot
When sewing through leather with a standard presser foot, you might notice that the leather keeps sticking to it or that it is not feeding through nicely. There are different types of presser feet that you can opt for instead:
· Walking foot
It is also known as an even feed foot. It is preferred for sewing leather and other thick fabrics since the presser foot on top of the leather move together with the feed dogs below. This way, the leather passes through evenly as you sew. Some of the other fabrics that can be used with a walking foot are vinyl, canvas, suede, and heavy quilts.
· Teflon foot
This sewing foot is sometimes referred to as a plastic foot. You are less likely to have skipped stitches and uneven stitches on your leather with this foot. It provides better security for leather and other fabrics that slip under a standard presser foot.
It is a more affordable alternative to the walking presser foot but it is more susceptible to wear and scratching. It also gets gouges on the side when the needle jabs at it, especially when sewing leather. You will have to replace it once in a while.
If you don’t have one of these, you can apply a strip of normal scotch tape to the base of the standard presser foot and it won’t stick to the leather as much.
3. Sewing thread
It is not advisable to use cotton thread to sew leather. This is because the tannin in the leather will break the cotton and your stitching will come apart with time. Instead, you should use regular or upholstery polyester, or nylon thread.
Alternatively, you can use heavy-duty thread. It is not a must but it makes the stitching look better. Also, ensure that the thread and the needle holes fit together to maintain the quality of your stitching.
Now that your sewing machine is all set, there are some essentials that you also need by your side. Chances are you already have some of these with you. If you don’t, you’re going to have to invest in them:
- Utility knife: This is what you will use to cut the leather. You could choose to use a rotary cutter instead, but it will get blunt faster.
- A cutting mat: Using your utility knife on a rotary cutting mat will ruin it faster. Get an art mat from the store or use the backside of an old rotary mat.
- Metal ruler: If you use a plastic quilting ruler, the chances of you spoiling the ruler and hurting your fingers are higher. Get multiple ruler lengths from a hardware store.
- Glue: A popular adhesive used with leather is water-soluble contact cement. It is preferred because it is easier to clean up and it has a low VOC.
- A mallet: You’re probably asking yourself, “why don’t I just use a hammer?” With a hammer, you are more likely to ruin your equipment like the hole punch and it is easier for you to get hurt.
- Hole punches: The hole puncher’s job is to bore holes into the leather to install rivets and snaps.
- You will also need a lighter to burn the ends of the thread to seal it.
- There are also a few extra tools that aren’t necessary but they will make the job easier. Some of these tools are:
- A cobbler’s hammer to flatten the thread without leaving any marks.
- An edge beveler to round the edges and beeswax can be used as an edge finish.
How to sew leather
You can now start sewing the leather. Here’s how to do it:
i. Source your leather
The type of leather you choose depends on what you are planning on crafting. Some of the types available in the markets are faux, suede, pigmented, aniline, and semi-aniline leathers. If you are working on a detailed item or a close-fitting garment, you should consider thinner leather since it is easier to stretch and your idea can come to life as you wanted. If you are making a heavy garment like a coat or a flat item like a mat, thicker leather is the way since it is more durable.
Since you aren’t using a heavy-duty industrial machine, you should choose thin leather. The thickness is measured in ounces and 3 or less is appropriate for your machine.
Once you have the fabric, check it for any anomalies. Ensure it has no faults and the surface is smooth.
ii. Press the leather
You have to press the leather to ensure it can fit under the presser foot so that you have an easy time with the feed dog and the needle. You can do this by clipping the fabric or applying a temporary glue.
iii. Mark the patterns
The markings you make here will guide you as you pass the leather through the machine. This is one of the most important steps since it decides how you will cut the leather. Some of the tools you will need are press knives, a rotary cutter, a Stanley knife, cardboard patterns, and a tracing pen.
Start by making the patterns on the cardboard then transfer them to the leather. You should know that leather is a porous material so make sure you make the markings on the wrong side of the fabric.
This step can be done before or after you have pressed the leather. Once you are through you can start the cutting out process. Carefully cut through the pattern pieces and once you are all done, it is time to start sewing.
iv. Sewing the leather
During this step, ensure that the needle and thread are fit for use with leather. You should also change the stitch length on your machine. The stitch length used with leather is longer than that used with normal fabric. Sewing leather happens by making holes in it and if the stitch length is too small, then you might rip along the stitch line. Adjust the measurement to about 3.5, but this is not the standard measurement. The stitch length can be anywhere between longer than a normal stitch but shorter than a basting stitch.
You will also need to work on the machine’s thread tension. This is what is responsible for producing a balanced stitch on your work. Some sewing machines adjust it automatically but some don’t. A way to test this is by looking at a sample. Press the leather together and do a top-stitch. If the threads do not show, the tension is okay.
If you are a beginner, sew the fabric slowly and steadily. Leather is a heavy fabric and it may take its toll on your machine. Ensure that you guide the fabric straight through the machine and if you feel as though your machine is struggling, you can hammer the fabric.
v. Attach the interfacing cloth
After sewing, you might want to add interfacing cloth to conceal some of the seams and markings on the leather. This step helps to make the wrong side of the fabric appear neater and look better. Go for a thin fabric, preferably cotton, for this purpose because it is light and it will not make the leather look bulkier than it already is.
Pro tips for sewing your leather at home
There are some dos and don’ts and some extra tips you can pick up to make the whole leather sewing process a little easier and to ensure that the final product looks as good as you wanted it to be.
i. Do not use sewing pins
You might be tempted to secure the leather pieces together using sewing pins, but that’s a bad idea. Pins will make holes in the leather, which will be visible even after you take them out and are done with the sewing.
Instead, use sewing clips to keep the pieces in place. If some situations will require you to hold pieces together but you are unable to use sewing clips, you can use double-sided tape. This can be bought from stationery stores.
ii. Cut single layers
When it comes to cutting out the pattern pieces, do not cut multiple layers of the fabric at once. Leather has the tendency to crease and it is difficult to fold so you might be better off cutting them one by one. It might take you more time but it retains the quality of the project.
iii. Always perform a test
Unlike sewing with fabric, you can’t always use a seam ripper to erase any mistakes you make since the holes made in the leather are permanent. Before you get to work on your piece, test out the machine setting and thread on a piece of scrap leather. This way, you have no regrets if anything is out of order.
iv. Use knots at the ends of the threads
When we sew with fabric, we use backstitching to secure the thread. We can’t use this on leather fabric since a lot of holes in the leather might cause tears. In place of this, you can tie a knot at the end of each row.
v. Take your time
Leather is a tricky fabric and any holes made are irreversible. When making your project, concentrate on your sewing and pattern. This way, you are more likely to get a positive outcome. It might take you sometime before you are perfect at this but like in any other trade, practice makes perfect.
vi. No need for seam finishes
Leather does not have any loose threads, so there is no chance of it fraying. This means you don’t have to finish your seams. You can either leave them or glue them together with contact cement glue and seal with a wallpaper roller. To help the seams lay flatter, you should top-stitch them. This also helps to reduce the bulk of the fabric.
vii. Check the needles constantly
Puncturing through leather continuously will make the needles blunt and they will warrant a change. Check on them before you run your stitches. You will need to have several needles with you for emergencies.
viii. Iron lightly
The wrinkles on the leather can be removed by pressing on it gently. You will need a press cloth so that neither the iron nor the leather gets dirty. The setting will depend on the thickness of the leather, but it lies between the wool, linen, and cotton settings.
With these tips, you should be able to sew leather right at home without having to invest in any special machines. Being able to sew leather expands your skillset remarkably and opens you up to a lot of options and opportunities, supercharging your sewing journey.