Leather is always in style. There is a particular need for leather during the cold months, but some people will wear leather all year round.
Never tell a woman or Harley fan there is a season for leather!
Wearing leather is a favorite fashion statement, but the cost of leather products is not cheap. If you’re handy with a needle, it’s probably crossed your mind to make the clothes yourself, but many people would advise against it.
Sewing with leather is not as easy of a task as sewing with cotton or other basic material. Having said that, it is possible.
Have you heard the statement “you cannot sew leather with a standard sewing machine”? Chances are if you have ever picked up a sewing needle, you’ve heard that fallacy.
We want to derail this train of thought and show people an easy way to sew with leather. In fact, we think it’s so easy we’ll show you how to do it with your home sewing machine (we’ll leave the “by hand” stuff for the hardcore).
Many professional seamstresses would have you believe they’re the only ones that can sew leather, using their “industrial” machines. With the correct material, you will be on your way to making quality leather products from the comfort of your home!
Below is a simple guide for how to sew leather on a home sewing machine.
1) The Basics and Required Materials
This guide would not be complete without a list of materials. Although you can use a standard sewing machine to create leather clothing, you will need additional material.
We will assume that you’re starting with a basic sewing machine and general sewing materials (pincushion, scissors, etc…). If you do not have these supplies, add them to the list and buy while you’re at the store, you will need them.
When you purchase the leather be sure to pre-screen every piece for markings. The thickness plays a vital role in each piece of clothing, and it’s crucial you buy the correct kind.
The thinner leather is ideal for hats, skirts, and other stretchable clothes while thicker leathers are perfect for warmth.
When you purchase the leather be aware that leather thickness is measured in ounces. Two to three oz. leather is thin while 10 oz. is very thick (typically used for saddles or gun holsters).
All the products below can be purchased at your local crafts store (or online if you’re willing to wait for shipping).
- Leather Needles
- A new “presser foot” (you can choose either the Teflon Foot, Roller Foot, or Walking Foot)
- Polyester or Nylon Thread
- Binder Clips (or some related way to clip the leather)
- Double-Sided Tape
- Leather (the thickness is largely dependent upon the type of clothing you wish to make)
With all these products in hand let’s cover how to sew leather on a home sewing machine.
2) Preparation Before Making the First Stitch
Once you have the correct materials, you should lay out the leather and inspect it completely. Leather comes from wild animals, and it is not unnatural to have scars and other deformations in your material.
Next Level Idea: Plan the patterns of your product around scars and ugly parts of the leather. This will save you time during the creation with working around these unsightly areas.
The scars and ugly parts of the leather can completely change how you should approach sewing. This part is vital for a well-crafted final product.
In addition to checking for deformations after purchasing the leather, you should be extra careful when buying the material. Some clothing requires a thinner leather to accommodate stretching while others should be thicker and more durable.
After picking the correct leather and inspecting for sensitive areas lay out the material and plan the pattern. This is when you should use the binder clips (or another fastening item since you cannot pin leather) to hold the material together.
Keep in mind that leather does not hold a sharp crease very well when pressing your seams open. It’s a good idea to use double-sided tape to keep the seams open.
When making marks be sure to mark the wrong side of the fabric and consider using tailor’s chalk. This will keep your finished side beautiful and free of any markings while ensuring you sew in the correct places.
Once everything is marked and held together, we can begin sewing.
3) Making the First Stitch
Install the new Presser Foot (you could place a piece of tape over a standard foot if you wish) before you begin and always use a new leather needle, no matter how much you’ve used it. During your sewing, you may have to change the needle again if it begins to catch or miss stitches.
Your sewing will not look finished if the needle skips or misses any stitches. Also, you want to use a long stitch length and ensure you’re using the correct tension.
It’s not a bad idea to test your tensions and stitch length on scraps before you break into the real fabric. Use the scarred and deformed sections for testing.
Before you make the first stitch take an iron to the leather. Smoothing the leather flat will help with a better stitch and sewing easier.
When you begin, keep in mind that “slow and steady wins the race.” You cannot be in a hurry while sewing leather, it will ruin the finished product and possibly break something (pulling out bad stitches will leave a hole).
When you start (and finish) a row be sure to secure the row with a simple knot. Backstitching is not advised as sewing over the same area multiple times can cause cracking and tearing/splitting in the leather.
If you keep moving with a slow stitch speed, you’ll be on your way to creating a great product!
4) Cleaning Up the Final Product
Once you’ve finished sewing the material together, you can begin cleaning everything up. This is the final step in learning how to sew leather on a home sewing machine.
Cutting off the excess from your seams is a good way to make the final product look better and reduce bulkiness.
Run a topstitch over the seams to give your design a finished appearance. Although a special finish is not required for leather, the topstitch gives the leather a “completed” quality.
Anytime you must cut your leather ensure you’re using only the sharpest cutting tool. Clean cuts are required for a finished product, especially when dealing with leather.
Some people advise Exacto knives to cut soft leather and rotary blades for thicker leathers. You can also opt for using a sharp pair of scissors.
Once the excess is cut off, and topstitching is complete, you can attach any final accessories to finish the product. With that done you now have your finished clothing!
5) Final Points of Advice to Keep in Mind
- Finish out every seam with a topstitch. Even though it doesn’t require a special finishing, you should topstitch ever seam to reduce bulk and allow the seam to lay flat.
- Hammer thicker parts of the leather to help while sewing. Cover the leather before using the hammer.
- If you’re having troubles sewing near an unusually thick seam use a stack of fabric at the back of the presser foot to let the seam start easier.
- Use the strongest thread you can find. This ensures your product lasts longer and it’s easier for sewing the leather.
- Sewing with “soft leather” on your home sewing machine is advised, but you can handle thicker leathers on this machine.
- If your leather is sticking to the presser foot, you may consider buying a Teflon Foot, Roller Foot, or Walking Foot. An alternative to purchasing a new presser foot is placing tape on your current (stock) presser foot.
- Don’t be afraid to use the binder clips! They will save your life!
- Don’t take it easy on the leather. You may have to pull when first starting a row as the needle won’t always grab quickly. Once the stitch is started, you can loosen your grip, but a firm grip at first is advised.
Was it That Difficult?
There are many skeptics when it comes to using a standard home sewing machine to make leather products. As you can see here, it can be done quite effectively.
This method is much better, in my opinion to sewing with leather by hand! Now you know how to sew leather on a home sewing machine.
If you follow the steps outlined above you can begin with finding quality leather, planning around scars, hold together the pattern with tape or clips, begin the stitch, and ultimately clean up the clothing to finish the product.
Always remember to change your needles if sewing becomes difficult or you notice the threads are slipping. It is not uncommon to go through a few needles with each project.
Leather needles, sharp scissors (or another sharp cutting utensil), one of the three presser feet, and plenty of clips should be a part of your sewing project. If you don’t have these items, they can be purchased from your local craft store (a local grocery store will have some of the items as well).
If you’re opposed to shopping at a local store, Amazon will have these items. Don’t start the project without the proper tools, it’s too easy to come by the correct item in the current “2-day shipping” world.
Follow the prescribed guidelines, and you will master the task of sewing with leather while using your home sewing machine.