If you caught my post earlier this week, you may have spotted my Clare Coat with leather sleeves (aka the coat of my dreams), and as promised, today I am going to share some tips on how to sew leather and faux leather. Spoiler alert: it’s totally possible on a regular sewing machine.
WHERE TO PURCHASE LEATHER
I have a wonderful supplier here in Montreal (Cuir Boilard if you’re local) but there are a number of places online as well. The one important thing to note is that real leather is sold by the hide, and is mostly priced by the square foot rather than by the meter or yard. There are many different weights of leather, but for most garment sewing I don’t think you’ll want to exceed 2 oz; anything heavier than that is probably better for bags and accessories.
If you’re squeamish about buying new leather for ethical reasons, you might want to consider recycling it from thrifted leather jackets and skirts. I have a few pieces i’ve been hoarding for just this reason!
- Tandy Leather
- Leather Hide Store
- Waterhouse Leather
- Fashion Leathers Intl
- Leffler (Australia)
- Artisan Leather (UK)
TOOLS FOR SEWING LEATHER
If you’d like to experiment with simply adding leather accents like I did, or if you want to go whole hog (um, literally) and sew a complete garment in leather like a bag or purse, it’s important to equip yourself with a few key tools and supplies.
Most important is probably a pack of leather needles. While you may have decent results with a sharp microtex needle, leather needles are specifically designed to puncture leather and faux leather without tearing the hide. They shouldn’t be used on regular fabric because they have a slight cutting point, and they should be changed frequently to avoid skipped stitches.
Since leather will cling to a regular needle plate, you’ll have better success using a teflon foot or a regular walking foot. Alternatively, I’ve had good success by just putting a piece of frosted Scotch tape on the bottom of my regular foot, which helps it glide across the leather.
Depending on how you’d like to finish your seams, you may also need an adhesive and roller to flatten and secure your seams (more on that below!)
TIPS FOR SEWING LEATHER
- Practice on scrap before you start to find which stitch length and thread works best for your project before starting on your final pieces.
- The most important thing to keep in mind is that you do not want to put unnecessary holes in your leather. This means no pins! Use wonder clips, bulldog clips, or hairpins instead to hold your seams together.
- Be mindful that if you make a mistake and need to rip out your stitches, you can’t sew over the same spot since you will be weakening the seam with additional holes.
- You cannot backstitch with leather! When you are done your stitch line, pull your thread to the back and hand knot it to secure your stitching line.
- I found leather could be gently pressed using low heat, no steam and a press cloth.
- Leather can and should be interfaced around areas where it can stretch out (specifically around the back, front and shoulders of coats). I used higher heat , a touch of steam and my pressing cloth when I added interfacing and it worked a treat. I would suggest a fusible weft interfacing rather than a traditional non-woven one to maintain the leather’s drape.
- For bulky areas like seam intersections, a hump jumper will make it much easier to sew even seams without skipped stitches.
- Use durable polyester thread; topstitching thread can make pretty, pronounced stitches but you may also what to experiment with upholstery thread.
- Leather doesn’t have traditional grainlines like fabric, so you are not necessarily required to honour the grainlines indicated on your pattern pieces. However, it does have a nap which may be more pronounced on things like suede. I used a very finely grained lambskin so cut my pieces out pretty willy nilly (I also didn’t have a lot of hides to play with) but be conscious of that nap if you’re cutting anything with a strong texture.
- Make sure you thoroughly inspect your hide before laying out your pieces to identify any flaws or weaknesses in the leather. You can stabilize weaker areas with interfacing if there is simply no way to avoid them.
- Cut your pieces on a single layer. I prefer a rotary cutter but you can also trace your piece on the wrong side with a marking tool and then cut it out with scissors (remember, NO PINS!)
- Mark all notches on the wrong side of the hide.
- Leather is more stable in the center of the hide, less so around the borders, so you may want to group the most important parts along the middle of the hide (you can read more about this on the Fashion Incubator blog).
SEAM FINISHES FOR LEATHER
There are a few options for finishing your seams. Since there is no chance of them fraying, you don’t need to worry about serging or pinking, but you do want to create nice, flat seams.
Sew your seam and press open with your fingers or using low heat and a press cloth with your iron. Then secure each seam with a row of topstitching on either side of the center seam. You can then trim the seams to reduce bulk. This treatment also works if you have a dart in your leather, as you can see below.
This is what it looked like on the wrong side:
For a cleaner finish, you can use adhesive to glue the seam flat and open. There are leather adhesives available like this one, or you can use contact cement for a very strong seal, or rubber cement for a more temporary one. You apply it the seam (sometimes both sides depending on the glue you’re using), and then flatten the seam with a roller like this one. Use the glue sparingly since it will spread out out from the seam once you’ve pressed it flat.
When I made my leather Clare, I used a combination of option 1 and 2, since once the sleeve was sewn closed I couldn’t topstitch along the entire length of the second sleeve seam.
In the end, leather truly isn’t that difficult to sew. I actually loved working with it and have a few fun projects percolating in my brain for the pieces I’ve been collecting overthe last few months. A little prep and consideration before you get started will do most of the work for you.
Any leather sewing tips you’d like to share?