By: Jake Berlin
Sewing leather and fur do not differ too much from sewing other types of material. The key to sewing leather is to always try your stitch on a piece of scrap before you start the actually sewing and then make sure you have your pattern accurate for the piece you will be sewing. The reason this is so crucial is that once you have stitched leather, if you make a mistake and need to undo the stitch, the leather will be weakened and you will be left with holes.
Another tip is that depending on the thickness of the leather or fur, you want to lengthen your stitch to three or more. Obviously, the thicker the seam will be, the longer you need to make the length of the stitch. If you make your stitch too small, what happens is that the leather is punctured too close together, causing tears.
Another important tip is that you should always leave long threads at both the start and end of the seams so you can tie them off by hand. The only time you would use a backstitch is when the seam will be encased or crossed over by another seam. You can keep the seams together simply by placing a very small, strong in the seam allowance when sewing leather.
As you work with patterns, you will discover that leather garments have the same interfacing in the same locations just as you would find with other types of material. If you need to fuse your leather, an excellent product on the market called Leather Fuse is made specifically for leather. With this solution, the leather is fused quicker and at lower temperature settings, as not to damage the leather.
Now keep in mind that if you need to press an area of a pattern down, you can by using a small amount of steam. Since leather goes through a quality tanning process, there is no need to worry about shrinkage. Just be sure you place a brown paper press cloth in between the iron and the leather and never leave the iron sitting on the leather for very long.
If you are sewing leather with thick spots, you can use a rubber mallet to pound them out. However, you will need to protect the leather by covering it with paper or cloth to ensure you do not scratch or dent the leather.
If you are sewing leather that is more casual, you can use lapped seams. Simply topstitch to hold the seam allowance and then with a single-hole throat plate, you can stitch, which will keep the stitching nice and straight.
As you are sewing leather garments, you might experience skipped stitches. If this happens, do not stop stitching, just keep going. What you want to do is when you have finished all the machine stitching, go back, and stitch over those skipped areas by hand. Start by anchoring the needle between the layers of the garment and then bring it up through the first skipped hole.
Now, pass the needle over the thread of the floating thread that was skipped and then pull the needle back through the hole. Be sure you pull the stitch tight and do this for each skipped stitch. This way, you keep the integrity of the machine stitching in tact while providing reinforcement.
If you are interested in sewing leather clothing, crafts, or upholstery, you will need specific items that include the following:
Leather needle for the machine and Glover's needle for hand stitching
Thread that is 100% polyester - do not use cotton or cotton blend because the chemicals in the leather from the tanning will cause the thread to rot
Rubber cement or two-sided adhesive tape
Rotary cutter to cut clean edges
Wax chalk to use for marking
When sewing leather, you do not need a special pattern. You can simply choose a fabric pattern that you like and use leather instead of other fabric. Just be sure you choose the pattern carefully since some patterns will have multiple seams that do not work well when sewing leather.
Additionally, if the pattern has large pieces, chances are you will have to do some custom work in that the leather pieces will probably not be as large as the pattern. For example, if you were sewing leather pants, you would have to piece two hides of leather to create one pant leg. Now this can be done but just keep in mind that depending on the pattern you choose, you might need to get creative when sewing leather.
Always keep in mind that when sewing leather, muslin is crucial. The reason is that once leather has been stitched, letting out seams or making alterations is very difficult since the original needle hole will still be visible. By using muslin, once the alterations are complete, you can take it apart and then create a new pattern using a heavy type paper.
Sewing leather is not really that difficult but most people feel a little uncomfortable with it. If you want to create something using leather, you can always start with a small project first. Rather than starting out with a pair of pants or shirt, choose a simpler pattern such as a sleeveless vest. Once you have accomplished that, you will feel more confident and be ready to try making something a little more involved.
When sewing leather, choosing the right skin is very important. Be sure the leather is soft and supple. Each type of skin will vary somewhat as you will see below.
Since this type of hide is typically large, you will find that they are most often divided in two pieces called Sides. Because the hides are so large, they make a great choice for many patterns. The only drawback is that cowhide is tough by nature and therefore best suited for outerwear.
Pigskin is another type of leather that is typically found in larger pieces. With the leather being a good medium weight, this makes a great choice for many pattern types.
For lambskin, the leather is smaller and therefore is best used with smaller patterns. Because the leather is very soft and lightweight, this makes a great choice for skirts, jackets, and tops. The only thing you need to remember is that because lambskin is lightweight and thinner, it can tear and rip so use care when using it for sewing.
You will find that skins sold for sewing are pre-measured and sold by the square foot. For price, it will depend on the type of skin you choose as well as the tanning process used. Typically, a supplier will lay out a number of skins, sorting by color, texture, and size. If you visit a supplier in person, you will be able to choose leather skins that match best.
Additionally, when buying in person, you have the opportunity to look for damage caused by thin spots, tears, holds, folds, flaws, and so on. If you do buy from an online supplier, chances are you will receive quality leather. However, just to be on the safe side, it would be best to always buy from a supplier that offers a refund on uncut skin should you find it does not match or is damaged.
If you are not sure how much leather to buy, you can use the following formula to convert the traditional 45-inch fabric measurement:
Take the yardage required for the pattern and multiply it by 1.25 Then, add 15% for waste. If you are not sure you are buying enough, ask the supplier what their rule of thumb is.
Cutting / Marking
The way leather works is that the grain runs along the backbone of a skin. If you buy whole skins, you will find this grain running in the center of the skin. If buying a side piece of leather, then the grain would be located on the cut edge.
It is important to remember that the lengthwise grain of leather is not the same as with other fabric. For one, it will not stretch as much but it will be stronger. Therefore, be sure you always place the center fronts and backs along the grain. When you lay out your pattern, be sure you work with the finished side of the skin, facing up.
By using masking tape as a way of attaching the pattern pieces, you avoid poking unnecessary holes in the skin. Then with a rotary cutter, you will get a nice, clean edge. Just be sure you do not leave the masking tape on the skin for very long, as it can take off some of the finish.
For the markings, they can be transferred easily. For instance, for the notches and darts, clip very tiny pieces into the seam allowance. Then to mark the hem allowances, darts, pockets, buttonholes, and so on, simply use wax chalk, testing it first on a piece of scrap.
The dart points should be marked on the wrong side of the skin, piercing the pattern with a pin. Be careful that the pin does not go through the leather skin or you will have an unwanted hole. Now, gently lift up the pattern, make your marks with the chalk, and then draw the dart line for stitching with chalk and a ruler.
If you are working with a soft type of leather, you can use an invisible zipper to create a clean look. Just be sure you use a narrow piece of fusible interfacing as a way of securing the zipper. Rather than baste seams closed, you can tape them together and then just baste the zipper using rubber cement before you do the top stitching.
Another great idea for sewing leather is to use covered buttons. Often, by using an exposed button, the leather can be scratched. Choose a metal toothed button so that as you stretch it over the skin, it will grip and hold. Then to sew the buttons on, you can use dental floss, which will stop the button's metal shank from cutting through regular thread.
Once you have completed your first sewing leather project, you'll be amazed at how fun and easy it is. The key to success is working with the right type of skin, using the right type of tools, and taking your time so holes and tears are avoided.
About the author :
Jake's love of leather and the constant questions drove him to write everything down.
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