Quilting is a common craft hobby across the country. For centuries, women and men have made quilts by hand. Although they were originally made by hand sewing, we now have sewing machines that make quilting significantly easier.
While quilting may seem like a difficult task, it can be straightforward once you get the hang of the steps and have the right tools. Most quilts are made with light, thin fabric such as cotton, because it’s easy to layer with the batting and liner fabrics when you sew them all together.
A fabric that isn’t used as often for quilting is leather. While leather may seem like an odd choice for quilting, many people don’t realize that quilted leather is used quite frequently for handbags, wallets, and other leather accessories.
So, how do you quilt on leather? Quilting on leather can be a breeze with the right tools. You need to make sure you’re using thin leather of 3oz weight or less, a sewing machine equipped with a leather needle, synthetic thread, and your usual quilting materials such as your batting and liner.
Quilting on leather may seem even more daunting than quilting with cotton fabric, but keep reading this article and you’ll feel ready to tackle a quilted leather project.
Supplies For Quilting Leather
If you watch videos of people quilting leather on YouTube, you may find that many of them use large, industrial sewing machines for quilting on leather.
Fitting a large, industrial sewing machine in your home, or finding the money in your budget to sink into such a big investment, isn’t feasible for most home crafters.
It may come as a relief to you, then, to know that you can quilt leather on most home sewing machines.
To learn more about the best ways to go about it and tips and tricks for quilting on a home sewing machine, check out our article Can Any Sewing Machine Sew Leather?
The fact is, you can use your home sewing machine to quilt on leather. While most sewing machines can handle this with the right tools, such as a walking foot and a leather needle, we do recommend using a heavy duty sewing machine.
Heavy duty sewing machines are made to work with thicker, more difficult fabrics that may jam up other home sewing machines.
It’s also important to know that when quilting leather, you have to use the right leather weight. The weight of the leather refers to how much a single square foot of the leather weighs.
For best results, you need to use a leather that’s less than 3oz in weight. Any heavier than 3oz and you’re going to run into issues with your needle jamming and the leather not allowing the needle to pass through.
A good rule of thumb is to look for leather that’s upholstery-grade or garment-grade. Each of these types of leather tend to be thin enough for quilting. We’ll provide two options for leather fabric in our list below. One option is a cheaper piece of leather from Amazon.
Although advertised as natural cow leather, it may actually be faux leather. However, faux leather works for quilting just as well and this is a cheaper option than our other recommendation.
The other recommended product comes from United Leather, a company that sells high quality authentic leather. While the price may be higher, remember that you get what you pay for.
If you intend to make quilted leather products to give or sell, it may be worth it to purchase the higher quality leather to have best results with your project.
Another tip when it comes to the supplies is the type of batting you use. For a smooth, traditional look, we recommend you use cotton or cotton-blend batting.
However, many luxury handbags have a plush quilted leather look. The squares of the leather look puffed-up, and you won’t achieve this look with regular batting. To get this kind of look with your quilted leather, you’ll need to use sew foam.
It’s also important that you don’t forget your liner. While preparing your leather fabric and batting, it can be easy to forget that there’s a third layer required.
Batting, or even sew foam, isn’t comfortable against the skin and doesn’t look nice on the inside of a handbag. You’ll need to add a liner to your quilted leather before it’s done.
A good liner fabric is simple cotton or cotton-blend, since that’s what most clothes are made from. However, you can also use a silk or satin fabric to give your quilted leather a softer, more luxurious feel.
There are other supplies you’ll need as well, so check out our total list of needed supplies for quilting on leather below:
- Thin leather fabric (Amazon or United Leather)
- Heavy duty sewing machine
- Quilting rulers
- Cotton-blend quilt batting
- Sew foam (optional for a more plush look and feel)
- Liner fabric
- Leather needles (Ensure you purchase the right needles for your sewing machine. The product we’ve linked here is an example, but it may not work right for your sewing machine).
- Walking foot (This usually comes with your machine, but if you’re buying it separately, ensure it’s compatible with your machine).
- Synthetic thread
- Fabric marker
- Glue stick (optional for stabilizing)
- Fabric scissors
How To Quilt On Leather
Once you know the quilted look you’re going for (plush or smooth) and have gathered all your materials, you’re ready to begin quilting on leather.
- Cut your leather fabric to the size that you want. It’s always best to cut it a little larger than your ideal size so you have room to trim.
- Line up your batting with your leather and cut the batting to be slightly bigger than your leather.
- At this point, you’ll want to stabilize your leather. Leather stretches quite a bit, and you don’t want it pulling or bunching as you sew. You can stabilize by gluing the batting to the back of the leather piece with your glue stick, or sew a stabilizing zig-zag stitch around the edges of your leather. You can even try doing both.
- Once you’ve stabilized your leather, you can trim the excess batting so that it lines up with the leather edges. Now it’s time to draw your quilting lines on the batting.
- Using your ruler and fabric marker, draw your quilting grid. Remember that your leather should be laying on the table with the batting facing up. This grid can be squares or diamonds depending on personal preference. Make them as small or large as you want for your quilted leather.
- When your grid is complete, it’s time to get sewing. Make sure your sewing machine is equipped with the compatible leather needle, walking foot, and synthetic thread. Sew a straight stitch along every gridline, keeping the batting face up. You want to sew with the batting on top so you can see your gridlines.
- After you’ve sewn over every gridline, your quilted leather is complete! Cut your pattern pieces out of the quilted leather, then be sure to sew your liner in place. You can secure your liner with a simple stitch around the edges of the pattern piece.
Although quilting leather can be a lot of work, it’s no more complicated than any other sewing project. The biggest thing to remember with quilting on leather is to have the right tools. Not every sewing machine and not every needle is fit to work with leather.
The good thing about quilting on leather is that the leather used is generally very thin. So you can always try a small piece and see how your sewing machine takes it.
Before diving in with any new project, it’s always good to test it out.
What To Make With Quilted Leather
You may be interested in quilting on leather as a new challenge or craft to try in your sewing room. But now that you’ve quilted on leather and have this piece ready to go, you may be wondering, what can I make with this? Quilted leather can be used for a variety of projects.
You can add a piece of quilted leather to a clothing garment to give it a big, statement look. A quilted leather elbow patch, for example, is common on tweed blazers and gives them a fun, edgy feel.
You could also make your own leather jacket, but use quilted leather for a specific section such as the back, sleeves, collar, or even the pockets to add a little pizzazz.
One last clothing idea with quilted leather is to use it to add an accent not just on an overall leather piece, but on a regular clothing item. You could add a quilted leather section to the bottom of pants, a dress, or even a shirt that’s made with regular cotton fabric.
Aside from clothing, you can also use quilted leather to make accessories. Quilted leather is common to use with handbags because it looks beautiful and feels soft.
Plus, since the leather is quilted, it gives the bag more structure and strength with all the stitching. You can make your own quilted leather handbag, or make a line of them and sell them online.
Quilted leather doesn’t just have to be on handbags, though. You can make a thick headband from quilted leather, or even try making a quilted leather belt.
A quilted leather belt would be thinner and not as stiff or sturdy as a traditional leather belt, but it would work great to add an accent piece on a dress rather than using it to hold your pants up.
Tips For Quilting On Leather
One big tip to remember when quilting on leather is that it stretches. We mentioned this in our how-to steps, but it’s worth repeating because it can make or break your piece.
The type of thin leather used for quilting stretches significantly. When working with it, be sure to stabilize it before you sew. As you sew, keep a close eye on the fabric. Make sure that you handle the leather fabric lightly to prevent bunching and gently to prevent pulling and stretching.
Another good tip is that leather is unforgiving when it comes to holes. Before you sew, keep in mind that once the needle pierces the leather, that hole is there forever.
Since you can’t repair or hide holes in leather, it’s best to know exactly where you want to sew before you get started. There’s no use to pulling out your seam ripper if something doesn’t go well, because the line of holes will still be there as a glaring reminder of the error.
Keeping this in mind, you want to avoid backstitching with leather. Just as the holes won’t repair themselves, if you put too many holes in the same place, you can cause tears in the leather.
Backstitching is a common stitch type to secure your seam, but it will look like a giant bunch of thread and stick out on leather. The repeated holes of backstitching over existing stitching can also lead to tears.
Instead, you’ll want to sew a straight seam all the way across your grid line, then, simply end the stitching. Cut the thread and tie the two pieces in a knot at the end of the leather.
For additional tips and tricks for quilting on leather, check out the video below. This video from Quilting Daily will give you an incredible amount of information from renowned quilter Cathy Wiggins.
Cathy creates intricate designs with her leather quilting, but her tips about the best ways to work with leather are incredibly helpful even with simple square or diamond grid lines.
Before you dive in with quilting on leather, we highly recommend watching her video. You can even visit her website for more information and inspiration here.
Can You Quilt Faux Leather?
Just as you can quilt on authentic leather, you can certainly quilt on faux leather. Quilting on faux leather follows many of the same guidelines as quilting on authentic leather.
For example, you’ll want to be sure you have the proper accessories for your sewing machine. This involves finding a leather needle, a walking presser foot, and synthetic thread.
You’ll also want to keep in line that faux leather will stretch just as much, if not more, than authentic leather. Faux leather tends to have issues with puckering when you try to quilt it. This is due to the fabric bunching together as you sew.
To prevent this from happening, be sure to stabilize your fabric. While we recommended simply gluing or sewing your batting, you can also try using an actual fabric stabilizer.
Fabric stabilizers adhere to the fabric and give it a stiffer, sturdier feel. Then, after sewing your batting, you can dissolve the stabilizer. This is usually done with water, so be careful about using these with authentic or faux leather.
Before using a fabric stabilizer, try it out on a small section of your authentic or faux leather to see how it works. This will give you an idea of how much it stabilizes the fabric, as well as how well it dissolves and how it affects the fabric when it goes away.
Can I Quilt On A Regular Sewing Machine?
Yes! You can absolutely quilt on a regular sewing machine. As we’ve mentioned throughout this article, the key to quilting on a regular sewing machine is ensuring you have the proper tools.
This doesn’t just apply to leather, but to quilting with any fabric on a regular sewing machine. While there are specific sewing machines that come with extra quilting capabilities, you can certainly still quilt on a regular sewing machine.
One of the best things you can do to help yourself as you quilt with a regular sewing machine is to invest in an extension table. If your sewing machine didn’t come with one, find its compatible extension table and purchase it.
The extension table will give you the extra working surface you’ll need to use when quilting.
It’s also a good idea to watch videos or read tutorials of quilting tips. Even though many of these tips will be designed for a quilting machine, you can usually apply them to your own sewing on a regular machine.
How Can I Make Lush, Voluminous Quilted Leather?
Adding that lush, voluminous look to quilted leather that you see on vintage leather upholstery or handbags is simple. Rather than using regular cotton batting, you’ll want to use sew foam.
Sew foam is a special layer of foam instead of batting that can be sewn onto fabrics. When used to quilt on leather, the foam will add volume and give each of your quilted squares or diamonds a soft, plush, almost pillow-like look.
You can follow all the same instructions as usual for quilting on leather. Be sure to get a liner fabric to cover up the foam layer on the inside too.
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