Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sewing With Leather - Part 1

I initially said I would write an article on how to sew leather, so here is Part 1. I decided to do this in parts to first give you an idea of what you will need, why you will need these things, and where you can go to get them. Also there are things that you must know before you decide on what you want to work with.


There are so many different types of leather out there. More than I can go into in one little article. So mainly I'll talk about lambskin and pigskin. These are the two types of leather that are usually thin enough to be sewn on a regular home sewing machine. Some cowhide has been split and may be thin enough, but for the purpose of learning I'll stick with the other two leathers. Lambskin is usually soft and luxurious feeling. It can often feel rubbery in its strength. It's not easily torn. Pigskin may come thin, but that doesn't always mean it's soft. We call that the temper. Pigskin could be thin as paper, while the temper is that of....plastic sheeting.  So if you choose a pigskin make sure that is has a very soft temper. Also worth noting about pigskin. No matter what the temper, if it's thin, when sewn, those little holes can behave like perforations and it could potentially split where you put the stitching. Starting to make lambskin sound like the leather of choice, right? So for the sake of the rest of my instructions, we'll assume you've chosen lambskin.


Leather is measured and sold in square feet, not yards. So if you wanted to make a leather jacket and needed 3 yards, you would need to have 27 square feet of leather. Sounds simple? Not. Animal skins don't come out of the tanneries in nice squared measurements. It's in irregular shaped pieces with a lot of funny edges that you won't be able to use. So I usually recommend hedging up quite a bit. If I were going to make a leather jacket and I needed 27 square feet of lambskin, I would probably order 50% more. So I'd order about 40 sq ft.  Lambskin usually comes in 5 to 12 sq ft increments. So if I can find 5 skins that are at least 8 sq feet, that should be enough to do the job. What's the use in learning how to sew leather if you can't use this knowledge to make yourself something awesome?

Where to buy.

Ebay is a wonderful source for leather if you can't afford some of the larger tanneries here in the US.  Remember to make a leather jacket , you're going to need 40 square  feet of lambskin that all has the same color, texture, temper, grain and skin size. For that much leather, we may have to go to Italy! You'd have to be living under a damn rock not to know Italy's well deserved world-renowned reputation for fine leather.

[caption id="attachment_390" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Rolipel Italia's Metallic Purple Lambskin"][/caption]

My most favorite seller for leather in Italy is Rolipel. I have personally dealt with him since he started selling on Ebay. He will be the one to go to if you decide to tackle a big project such as a leather jacket. If you need more than what he has listed on Ebay, all you need to do is contact him and he will try to get you what you need. Price wise, he's not that much different from what you can find in the states, but as far as uniform quality, he's the best I've encountered in my 7 years of working with leather. He also goes out of his way to keep shipping affordable.

[caption id="attachment_391" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Leatherwise - Teal Cowboy Motif"][/caption]

But what if you're doing a smaller project? I've got just the supplier for you! Ross at Leatherwise located in Santa Cruz, California is your man. I'll just be honest with you and say, I never would have learned leather so easily and seamlessly without Ross. Seven years later and I still go to this man for advice. He sells in smaller increments. He always has a lot of exotic pieces and once again on Ebay, he's quite accessible.

Okay, say we've chosen our leather. What else will we need?

[caption id="attachment_392" align="aligncenter" width="217" caption="Elmer's Rubber Cement"][/caption]

Elmer's Rubber Cement -  You can't pin leather, and you can't sew it if it's not pinned. Without something to hold it in place the finishes will rub and slide on you when you attempt to sew it.  We only use this glue if we're sewing grain to grain because once dry the excess just rubs off. (Must have this glue when sewing leather clothing, handbags, and such.)

[caption id="attachment_394" align="aligncenter" width="138" caption="Aleene's Tacky Glue"][/caption]

Aleene's Tacky Glue is used for gluing leather to leather, grain out, like for a belt or pillow. Get both types of glue and you'll be ready to sew anything you want to make.

[caption id="attachment_395" align="aligncenter" width="187" caption="Schmetz Leather Needles"][/caption]

The Schmetz leather needles are a must!  The head is large and sharp enough to pierce leather where other sewing machine needles can't.

Rotary Cutter or super sharp scissors. I prefer a rotary cutter for cleaner edges than you get with scissors. I would recommend a scalpel, but they tend to dull very quickly when cutting leather.

Lastly, you will need 100% polyester thread. No cotton. The acids in leather will eventually eat away at cotton thread, weakening it over time.

So here's the list.





Sharp Cutters of your choice

I have also given you sources where you can go to find all of these items. Just click on the pictures as they are direct links.  And if you have other sources in mind other than those that I've mentioned, please feel free to use them. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. I have been working with leather such a long time, so I may well have missed something that I've long since started taking for granted. I'll wait a couple of weeks before writing the second part. This will give most of you enough time to get your supplies together and also decide on what you'd like to make. For my demonstration, I think I'd like to make a belt. Once I've come up with a design, I'll write an article on the exact items I will be using. Stay tuned!


ps Here's a pillow that I made with leather for my leather shop. This is a silver lambskin. Metallic Silver is the rarest of all leather colors, hardest to find and probably the most expensive to buy. Notice, I even managed to surge the edges without busting up my machine!

[caption id="attachment_404" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Metallic Silver Lambskin Pillow"][/caption]

Useful conversion chart -


Ross at Leatherwise said...

Hi Friends of Sharon,

Thanks for the shout out and we're more than happy to help any of her customers with their Wild(or not-so-wild) Leather needs.
Yes, we have lots and lots of leathers, many in the Holy-Cow-That's-Amazing category.
We have lamb, pig, goat, deer, elk, buffalo, moose, cow, snake as well as hundreds of quite remarkable Designer Leathers.
You can always go to our ebay site( to see many of the cutting edge leathers we offer.
Or contact us anytime at 831-425-3560 in Santa Cruz, CA
Happy creating.

Fine-Threadz said...

Thanks Ross!!!!