Machine Sewing
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Machine Sewing Leather Tips

Here's a collection of notes to help you along.  This is just an intro.  Many places you where buy leather, you may also pick up a book on working with leather.

You generally don't want to pin pieces together before sewing. Besides being exceedingly difficult to do, it will leave holes that can be hard to hide, although this generally isn't much of a problem with suede. It's just going to be really tough to push pins through the hide without poking yourself several times.

A leather needle is used for stitching.  This is usually available wherever you get machine needles.  It is a three-sided point that cut through the material rather than puncture through it.

Which isn't to say you can't make holes ;-). I use a hand-stapler to hold leather pieces to sew a seam on my machine then pull the staples afterwards. The holes from the staples will be in the seam allowance and not seen. Just don't run over a staple with the machine needle!

For a hemmed edge where staple holes would be visible you can use rubber cement to glue the hem down or double-sided seamstress tape (I use some stuff that's 6mm wide and very handy). Or get handy folding the edge as you sew...

You may find yourself having problems holding pieces together while sewing, and you can't pin pieces together like you can fabric. What I usually do is glue pieces together first then sew them. You can try the outfit when it's glued to check sizing and pull it apart and reglue to adjust it before sewing. You don't want to be ripping seams and resewing a section as the holes from the machine needle will be very visible later.

Avoid the white "leather cement" available at craft stores or Leather Factory/Tandy. It's basically a modified white glue that will be slow to dry and stiff. If you foresee pulling pieces apart to make adjustments ordinary rubber cement works well and dries quickly. It will stay flexible, help make the seams water resistant (not usually a consideration for costumes, but there it is ;-), and shouldn't gum up your sewing machine. If you find the glue isn't sticking to the finished surface of the leather you can use a bit of acetone or nail polish remover to "de-glaze" the leather first. The glue will stick much better afterwards.

Adjust as light a foot pressure and thread tension as you can get away with and still actually sew the stuff; because leather and suedes tend to be much thicker materials than fabric they tend to stretch and distort more under the sewing machine foot pressure. And different parts of the hide are going to stretch more than others, so something that looked great glued together can wind up with huge puckering and distortions through the seam if you're not careful.

Use a fairly heavy thread, like a topstitch thread, and as little tension as you can get away with. A tight tension with a thin thread may cut through the leather, especially if it's an old, thin leather from an old garment or coat.

Avoid a double flat-fell seam if you can; the whole strength of the seam will be in the thread alone, which will likely fail long before the leather does.

Consider finding a Teflon foot and plate to avoid stretching/damaging the top surface of the leather; most of the strength of leather is in the topgrain, especially in thin garment leathers, and if it's damaged near the seam it can rip through with irreparable damage.

==Adam S.

Don't pin, use pattern weights.  The holes stay. 

Use a brand new leather needle each time you do a leather project. Have extras. Leather needles piece directly though the leather punching a clean hole with each stitch.

Depending on the weight of the leather you are using, you may also want to use a heaver weight thread.  Garment weight, you can probably use regular thread.

Use a utility pressure foot... whatever you would use to sew jeans.

Set your stitch length wider. If you can, adjust your pressure foot pressure lighter because the leather is thicker than fabric. Do a lot of testing to make sure you have all the setting right.

Be really careful and stitch just once.  The holes left by sewing will weaken the hide at the original stitch point.

You have your choice of a couple of types of seams where you attach lather together including just overlaying two pieces by 1/2 to 1/4 inch and stitching on the edge of each.  If you do that, remember to size down the seam allowance.

You can not iron leather in a conventional manner.  Putting it under a book works.  Seams are flattened by hand.  If you are going to use a top stitch, set you stitch even wider.  Otherwise use rubber cement (in a ventilated room) and pound down the seams with a mallet.

You do not need to finish the edges of leather like fabric.  They can be left raw.  Some edges will need special treatment or reinforcing but those tips will be the same machine or hand done.


I use a roller foot.  I put the the heavier thread in the bobbin; loosen the tension in the bobbin case (on most machines there is a little screw to adjust this)

On very heavy leather I have used button & carpet thread in the bobbin, and buttonhole thread in the top.


What leather weights are beyond a regular sewing machine?

5/6 oz. tooling leather will give domestic machines trouble. Some of the high end machines amy be able to take it slowly.

8/9 oz. undyed vegetable-tanned leather for the tooled sections. will probably require a really heavy-duty industrial sewing machine.  However, it can be hand sewn

== Adam S.

Hand stitching Leather

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Pattern Modification & Tips | Fabric Techniques | Fabric Embellishment | All About Armor | Leather Working | Vambraces to Gloves | Weapon Tips | Shoe Tips | Metalwork and Crowns | Working with Clay | Casting Belt Buckle | Casting Small Props | Pipe Making Tips

LOTR Home | Up | Terms & Definitions | Leather Weights | Estimating Leather | Patterning in Leather | Leather Tips | Aging & Distressing | Tooling Leather | Machine Sewing | Hand Sewing | Leather Etch | Gilding Leather Carving | Faking Leather

This page was last updated 04/22/08