How to sew leather. a few tips
Many moons ago - in what seems like another life - I followed my heart to Ireland and made leather bags, purses and wallets for about 5 years. I don't think I ever enjoyed the leather-working process, but the results were always very satisfying.
My relationship with leather hasn't changed since then. I'm a textiles gal at heart, but sometimes I think something will look good made in leather. so I make it.
It's a quirky, tricksy material to wrangle - and completely unforgiving if you make a mistake. I'm not a fan. However, I'm often asked for tips to make the job easier, so here goes.
1. Before you mark out your pattern placement, examine the hide and look out for scars, holes and imperfections.
You have to remember that these hides were once on animals - walking around in fields (or barbed-wire-fenced paddocks, if you're in Australia) and scars are are random feature. You don't want to cut out a pattern piece, only to have a hole or other imperfection spoil it (and have no hide left to re-cut).
2. You can't pin leather, so (unless you have a clicking press and press-knives), cardboard patterns and pattern-weights are the way to go. Trace around the patterns with with a special silver pen (or. ummm. a plain ballpoint pen or rotary cutter, if you're as completely reckless as I am).
NOTE: Garment weight leather can usually be cut easily with a sharp rotary cutter or scissors. Some people use a stanley knife and steel ruler (but I've nearly lost fingers doing that, so I can't recommend it).
3. Garment-weight leather can usually be sewn on a domestic sewing machine - as long as there is not too much bulk in the seams. It's best if you use a walking foot. wheel/roller foot or teflon presser foot on your machine. (The teflon feet below are actually from my industrial machine - I don't
own a domestic version).
4. You can purchase special "leather" sewing machine needles. which will penetrate the leather more efficiently than normal machine needles and form a nice even stitch. Well worth it.
5. Use pure nylon (if you can get it) or polyester upholstery weight thread. Any cotton content in the thread can deteriorate with age. Synthetics are strong and durable (and the raw ends can be melted into the seam end to seal them).
6. Interfacing can be fused to leather if you need to add a bit of structure - use a rajah cloth to protect your iron and the leather. Cut the interfacing shorter than the seam allowances to reduce bulk.
7. Pressing seams open can be a bit tricky - garment leather generally doesn't hold a sharp crease well. Use double-sided tape to hold seams flat. (Although, try not to overdo the tape on areas that will later be stitched - it can gunk up your needle).
I prefer to flat stitch seams open from the right side of fabric.
. and then trim away the excess seam allowance to reduce as much bulk as possible.
8. Once the going gets tough - lots of converging seams, uneven bulk beneath the presser foot and layers of springy leather under the needle - you may find that your machine skips stitches. Try changing to a new (sharper) needle and use a teflon presser foot rather than a walking foot (I had to change machines in order to use the teflon foot).
9. If you have one of these little plastic gadgets (they come in different shapes and sizes and have different brand names), you will see just how useful it can be at moments like this. By sliding the plastic gadget under the presser foot, you can even out the pressure on the feed dogs of the machine, which will pull the leather through.