How to Do Upholstery With Leather

By Pat Olsen ; Updated September 15, 2017

Things Needed

  • 1 cowhide
  • Heavy nylon thread
  • Leather sewing needles
  • Sewing machine
  • Measuring tape and ruler
  • Marking chalk
  • Scissors
  • Leather glue
  • 1/4-inch welting cord
  • 10 1/2-inch button covers
  • Tufting needle
  • Tufting twine
  • 12-inch pillow insert

Leather usually comes from cowhide. Cowhide has about 3 yards of usable material. If you want to reupholster a chair, you will need two or three hides that match in color and texture. These can be purchased from tanners. Your sewing machine must be able to do heavy work. You will need special leather needles. Try to tackle a smaller project first to get the feel of working with leather, but with a little confidence, you can take on a whole chair. Use the existing upholstery as your pattern. This project is a leather pillow with welting and button tufting that will get you started.

Find the straight grain of the hide, and mark it on the back side of the material. If you are using buttons, calculate a little extra yardage because the buttons pull the material in and shrink the project slightly. A 12-inch pillow with a center button and four more should be at least 14 inches to begin. Cut two squares. You will also want welting at the edges of your pillow, so cut 52 inches of hide on the 45-degree angle. Make it at least 3/4-inch wide. If you can’t cut a continuous strip, you can cut shorter lengths and seam them together. Allow an extra 1/4-inch for each seam. Cut round circles of leather to cover the buttons.

Use the instructions on the button cover packages to cover each button. Set the buttons aside. Use the walking foot on your sewing machine to make welting. Place the cording in the center of the diagonal welting strip. Fold it over wrong sides together, and seam it closed. Keep the walking foot snuggly against the cord as you run the seam line. Do not trim.

Sandwich the welting between the two squares of leather that are right sides together. Slowly seam through these layers around three sides of the pillow. On the open side, sew the welting to one side of the hide. Clip threads and excess material and run a line of leather glue inside the seam line for strength. When it is dry, insert the pillow form. Turn the raw edges inside and hand stitch the pillow closed.

Divide the pillow front into six sections for button placement. Mark the center of the pillow and the centers of each of the four corner sections. Use the tufting needle and cord to secure a knot in the shank of the first button. Pass through the leather, and come out at the marked center on the other side of the pillow. Pass through the shank of the next button, and pull it tightly to secure the button. Make a knot through the shank, and pass back through the pillow. Connect with the other shank, and knot at the base. Put a drop of leather glue on the knot, and hide it all under the button.

Place the next button in one of the four marked sections in the same manner. This will create a diagonal pleat in the leather between the center and corner buttons. Use your fingers to make sure it lies flat. Next, move to the diagonal corner from the last button, and put that button in place. Work to make the pleat look the same. Finish with the other two diagonal corners. Never work across the top corners; always work diagonally to ensure that the pillow doesn’t pull askew.

About the Author

Pat Olsen has over 35 years of experience as a professional journalist in California. She attended San Francisco State and Pacific College. Olsen has several published books, is a staff writer for Mill Creek Living Magazine, and currently writes for Demand Studio. She is a retired educator who still teaches twice a week.