Sewing leather can be a tough task. Not only do you need to use a heavy-duty needle and more substantial thread, but the leathers are also heavier than many other fabrics. Plus, the thickness of the material makes it difficult to see what you’re sewing.
To sew leather with a sewing machine requires a few materials and tools. But these are easily found in any fabric store, craft store, or hardware store. This post provides instructions that can be followed by anyone who is at the beginner level of leatherworking or has any experience in basic hand-sewing skills.
This article talks about why fabric and knit materials are challenging to sew, what machine settings and needles to use leather, and the last steps in preparing leather for stitching.
Why Fabric and Knit Materials are Challenging to Sew:
There are a few reasons why fabric or knit materials are challenging to sew. One of the main reasons is because of their thickness. Many fabrics and knits, like leather, look thin and lightweight on the bolt, but they may be quite thick when set on a sewing machine. The thickness makes them hard to control—it’s difficult to see what you’re sewing through all that thickness.
The other main reason fabric or knit material can be challenging is the weave. The weave is the pattern created by crossing one thread over another and interlacing them. There are many different types of weaves, and just one type of weave can have many variations to it. Some weaves are loose, others are tight, and others may be a mix of both. Depending on where you’re sewing and what needle you use, a loose or tight weave can be easier to sew or harder to sew.
The looser the weave, the easier it is to see through. Some loose weaves that look great on a hanger or in a store window are not even strong enough to hold up to being worn or being laundered. It means they may look great on clothing, but they may start falling apart when you wear them.
How Different Machine Settings can be Helpful:
1. The right needle:
When sewing any material, you want to use a heavy needle to handle the thickness of the material. The best needles are made from surgical steel or other industrial-strength metals. You may be able to find these needles in your local fabric store or craft store (check with an employee). Just be sure the needle is for a machine and not hand sewing.
2. The right thread:
The same guidelines for needles apply to thread. You want to use a thicker thread that can handle the thickness of the material. Keep in mind that leather is different from other fabrics in thread thickness and needle usage.
3. The right needle upholstery setting:
It is an important feature that sets the speed of your sewing machine and how much pressure you apply to your stitches. You want to set the speed for a slow, balanced stitch and the pressure for a medium to light touch. The speed and pressure settings help create smoother and more even stitches on thick materials like leather.
4. The right stitch:
A straight stitch is a good basic stitch to sew leather or other thick materials. You want to make sure that your tension is loose enough so that you don’t create any puckering or ragged edges on the backside of your material when you sew it together.
5. The right needle leather upholstery setting:
When sewing leather, you want a setting that allows you to sew leather slowly so that the stitches aren’t seen on the backside. Depending on how fast your machine is, you may need to choose a setting that starts before you get to the fabric or stop at about 1/4″ or less from being on top of the material. If your machine does not have a needle upholstery setting, you may be able to adjust the settings for a regular needle to overlap the leather and then stop before you sew.
6. Extra presser foot pressure:
When sewing anything thick, like leather or other fabrics, you should set the extra presser foot pressure on your machine to get a strong and balanced stitch through all thicknesses of materials.
Preparing Leather for Stitching:
After you’ve gathered all the materials and tools, the next step is to prepare the leather for stitching. It involves machine washing leather that has been pre-treated or removing as much of the oils and dirt from it as possible.
You may need to pre-treatment your raw leather if it isn’t pre-tanned or treated. This can be done by soaking your raw leather in rubbing alcohol for several hours. The alcohol will dissolve any oils or dirt on your leather and make it easier to machine wash.
If your leather is pre-tanned, then you can skip the pre-treatment step. You can wash your leather with soap and water. If you do have to do a pre-treatment process on your raw leather, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for soaking and drying.
The next step is to remove as much dirt and oils as possible from the leather using a fresh towel or cloth. You don’t want to rub too hard because you could scratch the leather.
After the leather is clean, it’s time to bring out your sewing machine and set it up for sewing leather.
This article is a great reference for the novice leatherworker or any crafter new to sewing. It’s not too difficult to set up your sewing machine correctly, but it can be easy to make mistakes and spend unnecessary time troubleshooting problems.
You can learn everything you need to know if you approach it with a bit of patience and focus.