Sewing leather can seem daunting - it’s a thick, coarse material that looks like it could be difficult to work with. Fear not, though! You don’t need an industrial sewing machine to work with leather at home. Whether you’re looking to stitch up a tote or are working with leather for a jacket, your craft can be completed from beginning to end, right in your living room. A regular beginners sewing machine can handle relatively thick leather with only a few minor adjustments.
As with any material, there are settings on your machine that are better suited to leather. There are close considerations to make regarding the length of your stitches and the placement of your thread as unpicking any work in leather leaves holes! Before you approach working with leather at home, here is a handy list of dos and don’ts to support your venture.
Do: Use a leather needle
One of the first steps to working with leather is ensuring that your equipment is suited to your material. A leather sewing needle is heavy-duty and shaped like a spear, differently from a regular needle so it can pierce cleanly through your leather.
Leather needles also come in a variety of sizes. Number 120 will work through thick leather, where a standard 110 would struggle. Be mindful about changing your needle where necessary, switching each out when you suspect it is wearing down. Leather is an expensive material, and you don’t want to ruin its quality with blunt needle holes.
Despite being created with leather in mind, leather needles can still break when working through thicker parts of your material. Make sure you have extras on hand so that you don’t have to pause your work for a trip to the craft shop.
Don’t: Leave your sewing foot
With being a smoother surface material, leather can occasionally stick to the presser foot of your sewing machine. Your thread must feed through properly while working with leather, so changing for a sewing foot that keeps your material moving smoothly is essential.
A great place to start is a Teflon foot. This foot can be referred to as an ultra-glide or a non-stick foot, perfect for working with leather. As the name would imply, a Teflon foot is often white and coated in Teflon, allowing for various materials to glide through your machine without sticking.
A second option is a roller foot. This foot can be made with a combination of metal or plastic and typically consists of three rollers - one large at the very front and two smaller toward the back. These rollers help guide your leather’s movement and guide it under the foot as you sew.
Do: Take your time
Due to the nature of leather as a material, any stitching work is permanent, and all holes will be visible as soon as they’re created. There is no need to rush with leather, and it’s much better to be cautious and plan your movement thoroughly. This way, you’ll avoid making any mistakes that you may not be able to rectify later!
Your garments can’t be held in place with pins that will dent your leather, so instead, you can to utilise double-sided tape for structure. Be considerate with the placement of your double-sided tape, because any tape on your stitching line could get fed into your machine.
Practice a steady hand and slow movement for a clean result, working in small sections where possible so any mistakes would only affect a small area. Test any patterns or threads that you’re unsure with on a piece of scrap leather to preserve your proper project.
Don’t: Use cotton thread
Bonded nylon thread boasts strength and durability, and usually runs much thicker than cotton threads. For a secure leather garment, avoid sewing with a cotton thread. The chemicals used by tanners to preserve leather will erode cotton thread over time, actually reducing the lifetime of your craft. A thicker thread can add a more rustic look to your leather pieces as well as being more functional, so consider the outcome you’re trying to achieve while picking your thread too.
Do: Plan Ahead
Knowing what you want to achieve before you start working with leather can save you a lot of wasted time and money in the long run. If you’re working on a larger project such as a jacket or other garment, through planning, you can work out how many pieces of leather and how much thread you’re going to need.
This also means your finished product can look more professional. By having enough material in the beginning - your leather sewing projects will have a consistent look and feel.
You don’t need to be an expert to achieve beautiful garments when working with leather. Your sewing machine is more than capable of stitching through leather material, and results will be smooth when you equip yourself with the correct needle, sewing foot, and thread.