Leather is luxurious, durable and versatile. The ability to sew leather will help you with craft projects ranging from fashion and home decor to car repairs or horseback riding. Regardless of whether you want to fix the seams of an existing item, add leather embellishments to a piece of clothing or create a new piece, you'll need basic knowledge about leather sewing to be successful.
Threads and Leather Skins
Choose your leather skin. Cowhide, the most heavy and durable, is good for upholstered furniture, boots, coats or horseback riding equipment. Mid-weight pigskin is the most versatile and is comparably affordable. Lambskin, delicate and soft, works well for fashion projects.
For assembly, choose a durable nylon or polyester upholstery-weight thread. If you prefer natural fibers, use waxed threads that glide through leather more easily.
Layout and Cutout
Create and make patterns for the leather pieces you will need. Australian bag designer Nicole Mallalieu recommends cutting patterns out of cardboard rather than paper, because you can’t pin the pattern to the leather skin without creating damage. Stabilize the cardboard pattern with weights or dabs of rubber cement while marking the leather with a pen or rotary cutter. Spread the hide on your cutting table and arrange the patterns on what is to be the invisible inside of your finished product. Use a razor knife, an X-acto knife or sharp scissors for cutting. Place cardboard or a wooden cutting board beneath the hide to protect your surface from scratches if not using scissors.
Pins leave permanent holes in leather skins. Use binder clips, butterfly clips, hem clips, double-sided tape or a bit of rubber cement glue to hold the pieces in place as you work.
Thick leather skins usually require a leather sewing machine or hand sewing, but most domestic machines can handle thin garment leather. Designer Mallalieu favors using a Teflon presser foot, but a walking foot or roller foot also works. Choose the lightest foot pressure along with the lowest thread tension and the widest stitch setting. If the leather sticks to the table, spread baby powder on your surface or apply Teflon tape.
Common stitches for leather assembly are the running stitch, saddle stitch and whipstitch. The profile of the simple running stitch resembles an even wave line and looks like a dash line from above. From above, pass the threaded needle through one hole, then back from the bottom through the neighboring hole.
A saddle stitch is essentially a double-running stitch; its profile resembles a horizontal number 8. Use a needle at each end of the thread. Both needles will pass through the same holes from opposite directions, so pre-punch all holes. Push one needle through the first hole and pull through until the threads on both sides are of equal length. Pass both needles through the second hole from opposite sides and pull the thread tight before proceeding to the next hole.
The whipstitch creates a spiral-shaped stitch profile that passes over the edge of your leather piece and is often used for decorative effect. In a circular motion, push the needle with the thread through the hide from the back to the front. Lead the needle over the edge of the hide and start the next stitch from back to front.
Tips, Tricks and Tools
A thimble will protect your finger from puncturing. Also, use a leather needle which facilitates penetration of the leather. If you are sewing thick leather, prepare your stitches by piercing the leather with a rotary punch or an awl.
Use stud prongs or spikes instead of seams to assemble pieces too thick for your machine.
Since you can't iron leather to set seams, place books or boards on the seam. To set corner seams, use rubber cement glue, then roll over the seam with a wallpaper roller.
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Based in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area, Alexandra Becker has been a full-time writer with a focus on sports, travel, science and health-related topics since 1996. Her work has appeared in a variety of national and international magazines, newspapers and online publications. She has won two journalism awards.