How to Get Leather or Vinyl to Glide Smoothly Across Your Sewing Machine

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If you have ever sewn on leather, vinyl, or plastic you know how frustrating it can be to get the fabric to feed smoothly underneath the foot of your sewing machine. Over the last few years I've discovered three ways of tackling this issue; which one you choose really depends on how much sewing you will be doing and how visible the seam will be.


Note: I have not mentioned walking feet or Teflon feet as this article is geared more toward the base of your machine rather than the feet themselves.

  • Baby Powder

    If you are doing a highly visible seam but will be sewing only a few seams I would recommend using a cheap baby powder on both sides of the item you are sewing. A lot of people's first reaction to hearing this is concern about their sewing machines but if you apply it exactly as described below and then blow out any excess from the bobbin area after you've completed your item there really is no risk involved.

    Distribute a small amount of baby powder on a clean work surface (you can use a sheet of paper or a plate if you prefer). Pat your hand in the powder then transfer the powder to both sides of the leather along the area you will be sewing. Make sure the powder will extend a few inches on either side of the seam for best performance. Shake the leather to remove loose powder prior to sewing. Once finished, you can dust the powder off and you will only be left with a light fragrance, not all together a bad thing.

    When finished with your item, open the bobbin area and gently blow into the area to remove any loose powder that may have collected there. You can use compressed air if you have it on hand, but it's not really necessary.

  • Sheets of Paper

    If you are sewing a few seams that are not visible, you can use paper to help the fabric glide across your sewing machine. What kind of paper doesn't really seem to matter as far as glide-ability; I've used wax paper, notebook paper, and wrapping paper.

    Wax paper is best if you are using it on top and need to see through the paper to where you are sewing. I prefer notebook paper on the bottom as it slides easiest and is the most resistant to tearing.

    When you are finished you can simply rip the paper off the seams. However, I find that there are always small pieces of paper left in the seams and they do not always wash out.

  • A Paper Plate

    As I do a great bit of sewing on leather I took the paper theory and adapted it to a more permanent solution; a paper, actually cardboard, plate for my sewing machine.

    Lay a piece of paper over the area where material slides across your sewing machine. Trace a rectangle onto the paper to show the three edges of your base and two inches inside the needle position. Paper location represented by yellow square below, rectangle represented by red dotted line.

    Then trace the area where the feet sit and the thread goes through; represented by the blue line above. Move the paper to a flat surface. Take a ruler and straighten out your lines then cut out the pattern you have made. Trace this pattern onto a piece of cardboard and you have a paper plate. Put double sided-tape on the bottom and you can simple press into place when you need it. When you don't want to use it just pull it off and stick it to the side of your sewing table/machine for ease of retrieval. The tape does not leave a residue behind and when it starts to loose it's sticky, just add new tape.

    It works like a charm. It will immediately improve the length and uniformity of your stitches when sewing on leather, vinyl, or plastic. You should be able to make one in less than 5 minutes out of a scrap piece of cardboard; it's definitely worth the time.

Tips & Warnings

  • With these easy steps you can drastically improve the overall experience of sewing with difficult-to-glide fabrics. Check out my website at http://www.makethemyourself.com for more tips and resources for sewing on leather.

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