If you're like us, you're always eyeing leather skirts, leather pants, leather jackets, leather bags — leather everything — and thinking: Could I make that myself? The answer is yes. Believe it or not, sewing with leather is much simpler than it looks, even if you've never done it before.
Chances are, most of the leather you're seeing in stores and online is fake. But hey, if it feels real and looks great, there's no shame in going with the faux stuff. It's also just as easy to work with as real leather. Use it to sew an entire outfit, or to make parts like sleeves, peplums, collars or anything you can dream up.
Whether you want to work with real or faux leather, you have tons of options to choose from. Real leather, if you stick with the lightweight versions (i.e. the 3-ounce variety or lighter), won’t strain your sewing machine and won’t require serious leather sewing tools. As for the imitation versions, you'll still want to go for the lightweight options, which perform almost exactly like legit leather.
Either way, the sewing techniques you use will be a bit different from what you're accustomed to. Not harder, just different. Here, some tips to set you up for success.
1. Do all your fitting beforehand
There are no do-overs! Every stitch will leave a permanent hole.
2. Use clips or tape instead of pins
Pins leave holes, so they're pretty much out of the question except within seam allowances. Instead, use regular paper clips, binder clips, hair clips or invisible tape. You can also look in fabric stores for those special clips designed for quilting (they work just as well for leather).
3. Cut out pattern pieces one layer at a time
You might find it's easier to trace your pattern pieces on the wrong side, and use a rotary cutter for most of the cutting.
4. If you're using patterns, transfer all markings on the wrong side of the fabric
Stay away from traditional transfer paper and marking wheels. Go with marking pens or tailor's chalk instead.
5. Forget about added seam finishes
Because the raw edges of leather won't fray, raw seam edges can stay unfinished. Exposed edges make a great organic look, too.
6. Consider a bunch of seam options
Lapped seams, faux flat fell seams, single or double topstitched seams, or just plain seams: You can use 'em with real or imitation leather. It all depends on the look you're going for. If you're using plain seams , glue the seam allowances down with leather adhesive and seal them shut with a wallpaper roller.
7. Use a new needle in your sewing machine
Pick one that's designed specifically for leather, whether you're working with real or imitation.
8. Put Scotch tape on a universal foot so it glides easily
Leather tends to stick to the throat plate and/or presser foot when you're sewing, so use either a roller foot or a Teflon foot — or you can just place a small piece of tape over the bottom of a universal foot to help it glide smoothly. Use a longer stitch length, too, to make a strong and secure seam.
9. Test first!
Try all your stitches on a scrap of leather first, then dive in!