How to Sew With Leather & Suede

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Sew With Leather & Suede
Sew With Leather & Suede (Image: 2005 naama / Creative Commons)

Sewing with leather and suede is rewarding and cheaper than buying ready-made goods. These textiles require special handling when sewing, although normal machines handle them just fine.

Things You'll Need

  • Sewing machine
  • Leather-point sewing needles
  • Heavy-duty thread
  • Scissors
  • Pattern weights
  • Measuring tape
  • Masking tape or rubber cement
  • Tailor's chalk
  • Tissue paper or Teflon presser foot

Before cutting, lay out the skin. Like other textiles, leather has a distinct grain that runs lengthwise. Cut the pattern accordingly, with the grain arrow pointing in the appropriate direction as marked.

Use pattern weights to hold the tissue still on the skin when cutting. Never use pins, since they "scar" the fabric and leave small holes. Cut all fabric according to the single-layer layout supplied with the pattern.

Mark all darts with the chalk. Be sure to include all notches and clips to ensure proper fit.

Attach the Teflon foot to the machine. If a Teflon foot isn't available, layer tissue paper over the fabric between the foot and skin.

Adjust the presser foot pressure to "1" or "0." For thinner leathers, "2" will also suffice. The pressure control may be located in the box on the arm of the machine behind a hinged door opening, depending on your model.

To keep the pieces together without pinning, tape the edge of the fabric together with masking tape. Another option is to glue seams with rubber cement, since this can be rolled off of the hide without ill effect.

If using interfacing, avoid using fusibles. Instead, use a sew-in. There are special interfacings for leather; ask for recommendations at your favorite sewing shop.

Use only heavy-duty thread and leather-point needles for stitching. Leather-point needles are made to carve through animal hides, and have a three-sided point rather than a rounded or flat one. Use a 14 gauge needle for thin to medium weight leathers, and 16 to 18 for heavier skins.

Seams can be pressed out as you sew; use a pressing cloth and the lowest heat possible on thinner leathers. To flatten a seam in a heavier skin, open the fabric and place heavy, flat weight (books or boards are good) on the seam. Leave it for 24 hours to press out the bulk.

Tips & Warnings

  • When selecting a sewing pattern, pick designs that are simple and contain a minimal amount of seams. The more detailed the pattern, the thinner the recommended skin.
  • Don't rush your leather sewing projects. Mistakes on leather are permanent and will leave marks. Take your time and read pattern instructions thoroughly before starting any project.
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