Handmade leather. When you read those words, what comes to mind?
The quality, the amount of time and work it takes, or the overall classy look that a piece of handmade leather often exudes?
It’s no wonder that handmade leather products are often quite expensive since it takes quite a lot of craftsmanship to sew with leather.
If you want to up your sewing game by working with leather, you’ll want to know all the characteristics of leather as well as all that’s required to work with leather.
But can any sewing machine sew leather? Leather is difficult to work with, so it is best to use a sturdy, industrial sewing machine to sew it. You can manage to sew leather with most sewing machines, but you will want to be sure you use one with a strong motor and which allows you to control your working speed.
There are some tricks to sewing leather with regular sewing machines, too, which we will go over. In this article, we will help you become familiar with the types of sewing machines that will work well with leather and what you will need to sew leather using a sewing machine.
What Type of Sewing Machine Do I Need to Sew Leather?
Leather, or even faux leather, is notoriously difficult to work with.
Sewing with leather is especially unforgiving because leather does not heal, which means that once you’ve poked a hole in it with a needle, the hole stays there forever.
This means you cannot make any mistakes when sewing with leather, because even just one wrong stitch can show up quite prominently.
Leather is also quite stiff, sticky, and difficult to push through a sewing machine, so you will need a walking foot that helps the leather glide smoothly through.
It’s also recommended that you use a leather needle, which can puncture several layers of thick leather without breaking.
If you are looking for a sewing machine specifically to sew leather, you should look for a sturdy, industrial machine with a strong motor. This will ensure that the machine is strong enough to work with leather for an extended period of time without any problems.
You should also look for an industrial sewing machine that allows speed control.
When working with a thicker fabric, it is best to select a lower speed, which will give you more control over the fabric to make sure that the stitches are correct. When working with thinner fabric, you can select a higher speed, which will make your work more efficient.
When you work with an industrial sewing machine, it’s important that you provide regular maintenance, like adding oil to the machine on the regular basis to make sure that it will still run smoothly over time.
However, investing in a high-grade industrial sewing machine may not be the best option, especially if you are only a hobbyist and not planning on sewing with thicker materials every single day.
How to Sew Leather on a Regular Sewing Machine
Fortunately, if you already have a regular sewing machine, there are a few simple steps that you can take to convert your sewing machine into one that can work with leather.
Keep in mind that a strong motor is still required for these steps to work – the only thing you cannot upgrade on a regular sewing machine is its motor. These steps will not work if you have a mini sewing machine or any other variant that is only meant for household sewing jobs.
As mentioned, a strong motor will help you puncture the thick leather fabric more easily, so without it, there’s not much you can do to convert your sewing machine into one that can work with leather.
If you already have a sewing machine with a strong motor, here’s what you can do to sew leather with it.
Use a Different Foot
Working with leather is especially annoying because it sticks to everything, including the presser foot. A regular sewing machine that comes with a presser foot usually won’t work with leather for this reason – you won’t be able to feed the leather smoothly through the presser foot.
Fortunately, you can switch up the foot to help the leather glide smoothly through the sewing machine.
Depending on your preference and your type of sewing machine, you can use a Teflon foot, a roller foot, or a walking foot.
Teflon (also known as non-stick foot) and roller foot are both options worth considering, especially for a regular sewing machine.
However, it’s recommended that you stick with a walking foot, which is highly efficient when it comes to working with leather. It offers a tight grip on both sides of the leather and feeds it through the machine for you, so you can achieve even stitches effortlessly.
Adjust the Speed
If your sewing machine is usually employed to work with lighter materials, it probably operates at a higher speed. If you plan on using it to work with leather or any other thicker materials, it is highly recommended that you slow down the speed of the machine.
A slower speed will make it easier to control your fabric and maneuver it as you sew. Since leather is very unforgiving, it is best that you work slowly and cautiously to avoid any mistakes!
Adjust the Stitch Length
The stitch length should also be bigger when you sew with leather. Since leather doesn’t heal, sewing shorter stitches will create small holes right next to each other, likely causing tears.
Your sewing machine should have an option to help you adjust the stitch length, and we recommend using the longest stitch length possible, around 4mm, to make sure that you have nicely secure stitches that won’t damage the leather.
What Size Needle Do You Need to Sew Leather?
There are sewing needles that are designed specifically for leather, with sizes 70/10, 80/12, 90/14, 100/16, and 110/18.
These needles are usually very thick and strong with a sharper point that can puncture the leather with ease. The needle will need to be thick in order to work with a very stiff material such as leather. Regular sewing needles won’t be able to handle the pressure.
If you work with leather regularly, it is highly recommended that you change your sewing needles often.
The leather can wear out the needles over time, and a blunt needle won’t be able to create clean and nice holes in your leather. Refreshing your machine with a new leather needle will help you avoid this issue.
Additional Tips For Sewing With Leather
In addition to having the right sewing machine, you should also know some common tips and tricks that can help you sew with leather without damaging the materials.
Do a Test Row First
Doing a test row on your fabric is highly recommended with any type of sewing project, not just with leather.
However, since you may have to adjust a lot of things – the presser foot, the stitch length, the sewing speed, the needle size – it is best that you use a piece of scrap leather to test out everything as you make adjustments.
Testing the configuration first will allow you to get a feel of the machine and make any adjustments as needed, especially if the speed is still too high or the stitches are too small.
Only when the adjustments are perfect should you start working on the real project. This will help you avoid any mistakes when working on your project. Remember, leather is non-healing.
Use Synthetic Thread
Did you know that leather and cotton won’t go well together? It’s true – leather has natural tannins that can damage cotton, so if you use cotton thread, your piece won’t last.
Instead, use synthetic threads like nylon or polyester. These types of thread are not only stronger, but they will also last as long as the leather itself!
Avoid Sewing Pins
As we mentioned above, leather doesn’t heal. So, although sewing pins are effective tools to help you hold pieces together while sewing, they can permanently damage leather if you pin pieces of leather together.
Don’t use sewing pins if you don’t want your final product to have tiny holes in it!
Instead, you can use clamps or clips to hold your pieces of leather together for sewing. But be careful not to use any clips that have sharp edges that can scratch or damage your leather.
Another great option is using masking tape or even double-sided tape to hold the pieces together. Using tape is a bit more tedious and will require more effort to attach the pieces and remove the tape after sewing, but you can be sure that it will not damage your leather as there are no sharp edges to worry about.
Still, it’s a good idea to test the tape on scrap leather first. Leave some on your scrap for a few hours or longer before taking it off to be sure it won’t damage your work.
You can also try to only use the tape on pieces that will be folded over or which will be on the “wrong side” of your work.
Backstitching is a common method to end a row of sewing by going back and forth a few times with stitches at the end of the row.
However, this will not create a great look for leather, since any mistake or additional stitches can show up quite prominently.
As we’ve already established, creating multiple small holes nearby one another on leather may also cause tears. Therefore, you will need to find another way to secure the thread at the beginning and end of your row.
This problem is quite easy to solve – you can secure the thread at the beginning and end of the row by tying it in a knot. This way, the stitches will not become undone while still looking nice and clean.