Tips for sewing leather garments

Last week I provided some information on buying leather for your dressmaking projects. Having bought a nice piece of pig skin I have been experimenting with sewing it, and have started to make up a skirt. I have sewn a few leather items previously – here are my tips, based on my experience, getting it wrong and experimentation.

Tips for sewing with leather

  • Make a toile or use a tried and tested pattern that fits you perfectly – you are not going to be able to move the darts or let out a seam
    1960s skirt (front view)
    1960s skirt (front view)
  • When laying out the pieces beware of small holes and imperfections in the leather and plan to avoid them
  • You can split your pattern pieces and introduce joins to make more economic use of your leather piece eg trouser legs can be joined above the knee
  • Lay the leather piece out so that the spine of the animal lies lengthwise and then place the pattern pieces as much as you can as if this was the selvedge grain
    Making a leather skirt
    McCalls skirt – laying out the pieces
  • Obviously you are not going to fold the leather so you may have to flip pattern pieces or cut out the matching half
  • If you are cutting a right and left side don’t forget to turn your patten pieces over so you don’t have two left sleeves (for example)
  • However once you have cut out the larger important pieces you can fit the smaller pieces at different angles if necessary
  • I secured my pattern pieces with magic tape (sellotape)
  • Sharp shears cut leather beautifully
  • Mark the back of the leather with chalk, pencil or washable felt tips. As you will not be using pins mark the legs of the darts to aid stitching
  • Choose a leather sewing machine needle as this has a little triangular blade that cuts cleanly into the leather with every stitch
    sewing leather
    Leather needles
  • Use a nice, strong thread. I used Gutermann extra strong (upholstery) thread
    sewing with leather
    Upholstery thread
  • You can wax your thread too if you prefer
  • Use a much longer stitch than usual – I used 3.6 and found this ideal although you could use a longer stitch. Stitching too close together risks creating a slash in the fabric.
  • I didn’t use clips or anything instead of pins when sewing – I just held the pieces together and this was fine
  • I used fabric glue on the waist band and hem, and to keep the seam allowances flat. I used a fabric glue but last time I used a rubber glue specifically for leather.
    sewing with leather
    Fabric glue
  • I pressed the seams open on the wrong side with a warm iron (no steam). I found my leather responded well to this although I hadn’t heard of this idea before.
  • I used an invisible zip which went in well. To secure it before I stitched I used wonder tape. took it through the waistband so I didn’t need any hooks or press studs. If I had I could have sewn them on by hand but even with a leather hand sewing needle it is hard work and not easy to be accurate.
  • I lined the skirt with thin silk.

Have you sewn leather? If so would you agree with these methods? Do you have other suggestions and tips?

Thank you.

 

11 Responses

  1. I’ve done a little sewing of leather and agree with your summary, nothing extra is popping out of the grey cells this morning. My leather was quite soft and easy to work with, it did press and also took fusible interfacing.

  2. I’d love to give this a go some day (using your tips). Look forward to seeing the skirt!

  3. You are such an adventurer! I think this is what makes your SWAPs so exciting.

  4. I found that my presser foot left marks when I sewed leather, did you see any of this? If I sew leather again, I will definitely refer back to your tips here and also try little samples.

    • No Maggie, not at all. I have seen people suggest a Teflon foot, or even using a bit of talcum powder, but my machine coped well, once I had the right thread and stitch length.

  5. I learned to dry press leather seams open with paper strips under each seam allowance and also paper as a press cloth so nothing shows on the front side. Then in thick leather like for motorcycle jackets, each seam allowance was glued down flat with rubber cement/glue. Your journey is so much fun to watch and read through!

    • Do you make Motorbike jackets Mrs Mole? Maybe some of your brides wear them as they jump onto the back of a Harley Davidson and speed off into the sunset. Or maybe you are a secret Hells Angel? I don’t think my domestic machine would cope with something really heavy weight. When I made gloves previously with very fine Pittard leather I hand stitched them, which was very satisfying.

  6. Sounds fab you’re going for simplicity in design and I think that’s the key with leather skirts. I remember buying one from George Henry Lee’s in Liverpool back in the day and being impressed by the assistant marking the hem in chalk and cutting right across leaving the hem raw. I wore that skirt for years, between wears I used to put it between paper underneath the hearth rug to keep it flat.

    I’d be interested to hear how much leather you needed, did you take your pattern with you? This post will be really handy if I ever take the plunge.

    • For a skirt I would say one leather piece. I didn’t take my pattern with me, but that is a great additional tip. Thank you. The pig skin I bought was £45-£50, so quite expensive. But if you make a classic style is a neutral or a colour you love it should serve you well for years.

  7. All excellent advice for working with leather. Those trying for the first time will find your tips very useful. You are so right about having the toile fit perfectly as there is no readjusting. I use a mid to heavy weight fabric for the toile as it mimics the fit and drape of leather better than a light cotton calico. As long as you have a perfect fit use the toile for the layout so you have two sleeves, two fronts, etc. Lay everything out before cutting and you’ll avoid missing a piece or cutting two left sleeves.
    Please post pics of the finished skirt.

  8. I’m yet to make a complete garment from leather but I have altered quite a number (and have turned down a few that just wouldn’t work, perforations you know!). I have had good results using Copydex rubber glue which is very widely available should anyone be having trouble getting a fabric or special leather glue.

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