Sewing Leather & Suede.

Sewing Leather & Suede.

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Selecting the right leather for clothing.

Leather and suede fabrics, because of it’s nature, allow ventilation, absorption and evaporation of moisture.  Leather is strong wearing, easy to clean and very comfortable to wear. I love the drape and dare I say, how easy to work with when you have the right information.

Small skins, such as goat, calf or lamb (suede) are usually sold whole. Calf runs from 9- 15 square ft and sheep from 5- 9square ft. Because leather is not manufactured as is fabric, it is less uniform. Each piece is unique. When buying you will find that most dealers often use ounces to determine the thickness. One-ounce leat her weights 1 ounce per square foot, and so on. One-ounce leather is aprox 1/64 inch thick. Sometimes you will see a leather market 7/8. That’s because weight and thickness of each piece varies slightly and that means the weight is between 7 or 8 ounces per square foot. Handy conversion tool if you want more details.

Leathers are also graded by sight and feel. You will find pieces graded as 1,2,3,4 or AB,C,D.  What means is that the higher number have more imperfections, holes, stains, scratches etc.

Patterns will be calling fabric in yards or metres while leather is sold by foot. My advice is to take the pattern with you unless you want to practice your math skills.

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Equipment and supplies:

Awl. A sharply pointed instrument to pierce holes. Sometimes your leather is too difficult to hand sew and you can use your awl to point trace making your hand stitching even and easier.

Ball-point pen and Tailors chalk: You can use any marking tool for the wrong side. That’s just my personal preference.

Beewax: To add strength and keep thread from tangling.

Cutting tools:

  • Razor blade: Single-edge razor blade to cut heavier leathers and reduce the bulk of seams.
  • Furrier’s knife:Holder for your razor blade.
  • Scissors.
  • Leather knife.

Glue: Good quality leather or rubber glue. It is used to flatten seams, darts, buttonhole pieces and hems.

Mallet: Hammer like tool to flatten seams.

Needles:

  • Glover needle: Size 4. ( 5 and 6 for very soft and delicate leathers)
  • Sewing machine needles for leather. (Lightweight size 11, mid-weight size 14 and heavy weight size 16.)

Brown paper or pressing cloth:Use it to protect when pressing the wrong side.

Presser foot: To avoid the leather sticking a plastic or teflon coated presser foot.

Sandpaper: When shaving the leather. When you are covering buttons you need it to make it less bulky.

Thread: Silk or rayon, heavy-duty mercerised cotton.

Sewing patterns.

Most patterns are easily adapted. You may need to omit facings and make it fully lined. Just select the same size as you normally would. I highly recommend making a muslin because leather shows every mistake. I normally would reduce the seam allowance to 1 cm.

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Laying out, Cutting and Stitching.

Grain in leather other referred as the outer layer of the animal’s skin. It’s similar to warp or lenghtwise grain fabric.  The pattern pieces may be placed interchangeably with the top of one piece up and the bottom piece up.  Not SUEDE. It will shade.  Don’t cut pattern pieces on the crosswise grain unless you want it to stretch.

Before cutting, look at your leather and examine for week spots and imperfection. You can “fix” (improve) them by pressing iron-on mending tape on the wrong side.

Take your time for cutting. It required a bit more attention and mistakes aren’t easy to correct. Check if the pieces are positioned correctly (lengthwise grain aka parallel to the backbone). All the duplicated and fold pieces are cut from a traced piece as one. Place one hand on the pattern and cut around to the right. All notches should be cut outward. ( peaking little triangles).  You can pen trace the pieces on the wrong side since pinning is not indicated.

Adjust the length of your machine by testing on a scrap. You want to check the pressure. Leather and suede are spongier than fabric so the presser foot need to be loosen a bit. (Less pressure). Take your time on this stage as I mention before leather doesn’t like being unpicked.

When stitching my advice is to sew from the highest to lowest point or from the widest to the narrowest. I don’t backstitch because weakens the leather. I tie my threads instead. To avoid stretching you can stabilise with rayon seam tape.

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  • Tanya

    Rachel, that 3/4 length leather coat is absolutely gorgeous! ! I love, love, love the pattern on the back of the coat – where did you get that patterned lather from? Or did you do the stencil design yourself? If so, what did you use? Also, what pattern did you use to make your coat? And l noticed that the sleeves are so well set in. Can you say more on how you did this withoutgathers, considering leather can be a rather thick fabric to work with!! Yes, l have asked a lot of questions – but please tell!!! Thanks

    • It’s a mix of stencils and free hand drawing. Check the first post of this series as I answer a lot of your questions, the others will be answer in the post next week.

  • Too gorgeous to be true. Did you create the floral design or did you strike gold in the purchase. I absolutely love this style of coat – a true hero piece.

    • The design is a mix of stencils and free hand drawing. I’m writing the how to for next week.

  • Leather is not something I’ve been brave enough to attempt yet. Your post is inspiring me to give it a go! x Allison

  • Tomasa

    This is just so gorgeous and the gold design is very beautiful. You are so talented!