How to Sew Leather

Kate Miller-Wilson
sewing leather

Learning how to sew leather will give you more options when it comes to projects. You can add leather embellishments to fabric crafts or even create entire projects made of leather. From handbags to leather clothing, it all starts with some basic skills.

How to Sew Leather by Hand or Machine

Working with leather isn't like working with textiles. Many leatherworking experts describe it as a finicky material that is not particularly forgiving of cutting and sewing mistakes. However, learning how to work with leather can open up a wide range of craft projects for you to try. If you understand the process of sewing leather by hand and machine, you'll be far less likely to make mistakes.

Sewing Leather by Hand

If you're planning to sew leather by hand, assemble the following supplies:

  • Leather for your project
  • Awl or ice pick
  • Wood cutting board
  • Tape
  • Large needle
  • Strong thread
  • Thick gloves

Sew the leather as follows:

  1. Cut out your pattern pieces, and use tape to attach the first two pieces together. You can't pin leather, since the pin holes will remain in your finished piece.
  2. For lightweight leather, simply use a very strong thread and a large, sharp needle. Hand sew the leather as you would a piece of fabric. If you find you need to push the needle quite hard to get it to go through the leather, wear a pair of thick gloves to help protect your hands.
  3. For heavier leather, you'll need to punch holes in the leather before you begin sewing. Do this by placing the leather on a cutting board and using an ice pick or awl to make holes where you want your stitches.
  4. Stitch through the holes to attach the two pieces of leather together. You can use a simple straight stitch, or you can loop the thread around the outside of the leather to provide a decorative border. You can even use a blanket stitch to finish raw edges on some items.

Sewing Leather by Machine

You can sew garment-weight leather on a home sewing machine. If you're machine sewing your leather, assemble the following supplies:

  • Leather for your project
  • Sewing machine and thread
  • Heavy duty or leatherworking sewing machine needles
  • Teflon sewing machine foot
  • Baby powder
  • Binder clips

Sew the leather as follows:

  1. Cut out your pattern pieces. Instead of pins, use small binder clips to hold your leather pieces together. Lightly dust the wrong sides of both pieces with baby powder to help prevent them from sticking as you use your sewing machine.
  2. If you're working with very lightweight leather, you can use a universal sewing machine needle for your project. However, if you're working with thicker leather, install a leatherworking or heavy duty sewing machine needle to prevent needle breakage as you work. Install a Teflon sewing machine foot to keep the foot from sticking to the leather material.
  3. Working slowly, sew the seam as desired. Set your stitch width as wide as possible, and avoid decorative stitches that require more holes in the leather.

Helpful Tips for Sewing with Leather

Working with leather can be tricky, but the following tips will help:

  • With leather, good planning is essential. Choose a pattern you feel comfortable making, and consider practicing the design with muslin or another inexpensive fabric.
  • Choose a leather hide that is the right size and thickness for your project. Some areas of the hide may be thinner or thicker, and many hides also have small holes. Lay out your pattern pieces on the leather hide, avoiding any imperfections in the surface.
  • Don't pin the pattern pieces to the leather. Instead, use pattern weights to anchor it to the surface. Then use a ballpoint pen to carefully draw around the pattern pieces. You won't be able to erase the pen, so work carefully.
  • Cut out the pieces using scissors or a rotary cutter. Work slowly to avoid cutting mistakes. For heavyweight leather, you may have to use a sharp craft knife.

Special Tools for Sewing Leather

If you find you love working with leather, you can buy special tools to help make the process easier. These include leather punches, erasable pens, and other specialty items. The following Internet retailers specialize in leatherworking supplies:

Beautiful Leather Projects

Many seamstresses get intimidated by sewing leather, but the process is really simple. Prepare carefully, take your time, and get lots of practice. Soon, you'll be creating all kinds of beautiful projects featuring this exciting material.

How to Sew Leather