Sewing Leather on a Domestic Machine – Part 1 – The Basics

Have you ever wondered whether you can sew leather on your domestic machine?  Well have I got great news for you!  The answer is yes, and with a few easy to find tools, many of which you may already own it’s not difficult.  My machine copes better with leather than it does with a heavy denim.  For these tutorials I have used apparel weight leather, the kind you’ll find in leather jackets, skirts or pants.  I have sewn them on my ancient Bernina Favorit 740 which was manufactured in 1964.

First of all you’re going to need a few tools.  Most of this is pretty easy to get your mitts on, and it’s not expensive, unless you own a Bernina and need to buy a walking foot.  But don’t worry, there are work arounds.

Presser feet

You will need a Teflon foot, a roller foot or a walking foot.  The Teflon foot prevents the foot from sticking to the surface of your leather.  So far my Teflon foot has been working fine so I haven’t tried using my walking foot or roller foot yet.  If you don’t have these try applying a strip of Scotch invisible tape to the bottom of your regular presser foot, apparently it works like having a Teflon foot.

If you have difficulty with the leather sticking to your foot or the bed of your machine, or stretching when you sew it, you can place tissue paper underneath and/or on top of your leather pieces to help it slide through and tear it away after you’ve sewn your seam.

IMG_0987
Top:  Walking foot;  Left:  teflon foot;  Right: Roller foot.  This is a low shank foot with a Bernina low shank adapter. 

Leather needle

The leather needle has a triangle shaped point which cuts a neat hole with every stitch into the leather.  If you are doing any hand sewing use a glover’s needle which has the same shaped point.

Leather needle

Glue

Because you can’t iron leather to press it flat, you’ll use glue to stick your seam allowances down so they lie flat.  Professionals use white cement, Barge is a brand I’ve seen people use online but that’s not available in New Zealand so I’m just using Uhu glue and I’ve also got a tube of Ados contact adhesive from Bunnings.  They seem to do the trick fine.  You need a glue which is tacky when it’s applied so don’t use PVA or anything like that.  It’s super stinky so make sure you’re not getting high while using it, unless you like that kind of thing.  There’s no judgement here…

Professionals use an oil can to dispense the glue but I’ve gone with the low tech option of a cotton bud (Q-tip) to spread mine on.  I squeeze a thin layer out of the tube onto the underside of the seam first and then smear it around with the cotton bud.

There’s no need to go crazy here.  Just a little bit holds the seams in a lightweight leather.  Try to keep the glue away from the area where you will be sewing later so your needle doesn’t get glue on it.

My first sample was a very lightweight suede which moved around a lot when I was applying the glue.  In this case I found it easier to smear the glue onto the garment where the seam allowance will be stuck down.  When I put it on the underside of the seam allowance it flopped around a bit and I sometimes got some on the right side of the seam allowance.

Thread

For my samples I used standard Mettler sewing thread but if I was sewing a garment I would use a thicker stronger thread.  It would be very disappointing to have a seam break in a garment and this would be likely as leather does stretch and a leather garment may have a much longer life span than other clothing.  I’ve bought a thin but strong Coats Nylbond industrial thread for when I eventually make my daughter’s leather jacket.  I expect my domestic machine will have no trouble sewing with it, some thicker threads don’t work well in domestic machines, but this one is not much thicker than a standard thread.

I have seen a suggestion in a bag making book to use two strands of standard thread in the needle if you can’t find a matching colour for top stitching.  If you are going to do this feed the threads either side of the upper tension disc in your machine.

Hammer or Leather Seam Roller

I have a leather seam roller because I found one in a op-shop many years ago and bought it on the off-chance it might come in handy one day (it’s like I’m psychic), but if you don’t have one of these you can use a ball pein hammer or a rubber mallet to gently hammer your seams open.  I’ve got a hammer too as I think thicker seam allowances might benefit from a bit of bashing to lie flat.

Leather seam roller
Leather seam roller – image: Craftsy

Clips

You’ll need some clips to hold your seams together instead of pins.  You can’t use pins because they make holes and that’s very undesirable when using leather.  I use amazing clips from Made Marion and I have them in two sizes for different size jobs.  They come in super handy for all kinds of tasks so once you have them you’ll probably find other things to use them for.  They’re normally used for quilting so are easy to obtain from quilting shops.  Clover call them Wonder Clips.

Wonder clips

Now you’re ready to practise sewing leather by making some samples so head to the next tutorial – Part 2 – Sewing straight seams.

Please note:  I am a complete beginner at leather sewing.  I’m learning as I go and I’m just discovering these techniques and passing them on to you.  You might know a better way of doing the things I’m doing and I’m happy for you to share that, but I don’t know anything more than what I’m including in my tutorials because I’m not an experienced leather garment sewer.  Let’s all experiment together and share our findings.

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