Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How to Sew Leather - Project 2 - Leather Pillow

I know everyone has been wondering would I ever get this project finished. Due to the drama I had over getting it closed, I'm way behind and I apologize for that. I'm over it now. Time to move on. In the end, I had to go to the hardware store for masking tape. Note... when you're having problems feeding your leather under the feed dog, cover the leather areas that are touching the machine with masking tape. It'll help it feed smoother. Especially when working with patent leather. You can also use talc as a last resort, but be careful of getting it off into the inner workings of your sewing machine. Please see my previous article before you start.

Two items not mentioned in the previous articles that I use specifically for making pillows are binder clips and synthetic fiberfill. Very easy to get at your local Wal-Mart and / or Office Depot. For sewing a pillow, you must have the  binder clips or something like them. You'll see why. Let's not be anal about the size. Whichever size you think will work for you. I prefer the 3/4 in size because sometimes gluing requires a bit of precision. Just not so much with a leather pillow.  For stuffing you can use synthetic fiberfill or down. I've worked with both and although down feathers are a hassle, the results are amazing. If you decide to work with down feathers, save yourself some trouble and do your pillow stuffing outside in a windless area. Then you don't have to worry about the clean up. (Down vs synthetic fiberfill. Over time synthetic will always compact. Down feathers will never ever compact. )

[caption id="attachment_791" align="aligncenter" width="242" caption="Binder Clips 3/4 in."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_794" align="aligncenter" width="294" caption="Synthetic fiberfill 20 oz."][/caption]

This project is for a leather pillow. I've made mine 16x16 which is 3 and half square feet of leather. Make sure you get extra due to the irregular shape leather comes in.  Remember, you  will need two pieces in what ever size you decide to make. My leather of choice is a red patent leather pigskin. Pigskin is usually thin enough to sew on a regular home sewing machine. The temper of my leather  is medium firm. The great thing about patent leather is that is super easy to clean. Just wipe off. Stain proof and spill proof. Short of dunking it in water, it's waterproof. The finish is waterproof . Don't try dunking it in water as it is not water tight. The bad thing about working with patent is that it is very tacky and may not move well under your sewing machine. A walking foot is a must, but even that is not going to help much. You won't have as much of a problem sewing it up before you stuff, as you will after you stuff it. But even so, it's going to stick. So for your first leather pillow project, I would say, skip the patent leathers. Here's the list of things I used.

leather sewing needle

2 leather squares 16 x 16 in.

contrasting white thread

Elmer's rubber cement

Aleene's all-purpose glue

10 binder clips

synthetic fiberfill or down feathers


Step 1) Cut out two pieces of leather in whatever size pillow you're going to make.

[caption id="attachment_780" align="aligncenter" width="430" caption="2 pieces 16 x 16 in red patent leather"][/caption]

Step 2) Glue suede sides together using the Elmer's rubber glue.  Why the rubber glue? This glue is permanent only when you want it to be. It will hold everything in place until you get your pieces sewn together. That's all you need right now. Without the glue, leather tends to slide and bunch up on itself when sewing it. Don't try to use the Aleene's glue. It's too strong. When you go to try to pull about the excess glued areas from the inside of the pillow,they aren't going to come loose. Pay close attention to gluing the corners and leave an 8 in opening on any one side so that you'll be able to stuff it later. Do not leave a corner open. Let the glue dry at least 3o mins before going to the next step.

[caption id="attachment_781" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Suede side of leather"][/caption]

Step 3) Sew around the entire pillow, starting at where you left the pillow unglued and work your way around to the other side of where you left your opening.  You need to use a leather needle. Set your tension to around 4 and adjust accordingly. I would suggest sewing a test piece first to ensure that your tension is correct. If you're working with pigskin start with a #4 stitch length. If you're using lambskin you can use a smaller stitch length. (Only go with cowhide if it's thin. No thicker than denim or your sewing machine may not be able to handle it.) As you take each of the four corners, be sure to make your turns with the needle down. Go slow. Take your time.  Leather does not forgive like fabric. You don't want to stitch a mistake because the needle holes are forever.

[caption id="attachment_782" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Stitching the corners carefully"][/caption]

Step 4) Be sure to leave an opening about 8 in wide on one side. Note... I put in a lock stitch at both ends of the opening to keep it from spreading while I stuffed the pillow. This is where you need to also take time to trim all three closed edges just to neaten it up. Not too close to the stitch. Run your hand along the inside to pull the glued areas of the pillow loose so that your pillow can be stuffed all the way to the stitching. Here is also the reason you've used Elmer's Rubber Cement. With a little pulling, those over glued areas of the leather will just come loose.

[caption id="attachment_783" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Area left open for stuffing pillow."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_784" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Cut edges to neaten it up."][/caption]

Step 4) This is where you add your stuffing of choice.  Stuff to the capacity that you feel comfortable with. Don't over-stuff it. You'll know if you've overstuffed it if you can't get it to close. An overstuffed pillow won't sit up.

[caption id="attachment_785" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Stuffed pillow"][/caption]

Step 5) Add Aleene's glue to the lip opening. Be neat about it. Once you close up using this glue, you won't have a way to pull apart the excess glue from the inside of the pillow. Use the binder clips to hold it closed until dry. Be sure there is no fiberfill sticking out as this will weaken that area and it won't be glue closed correctly.  Don't try to use the Elmer's glue. It's not strong enough to hold the pillow closed while you're sewing it. The Aleene's, once dry will be permanent enough for you to stitch the edge by machine without having the leather sliding on you. Wait an hour before going to the next step.

[caption id="attachment_786" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Glue at the lip of the opening"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_787" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Using binder clips to hold it closed."][/caption]

Step 6) Once the glue is dry, remove the clips and stitch that area closed either by hand or machine. I usually stitch it closed with the machine, but this is not always easy to do due to the bulk of the pillow. Use whichever method you think will work best for you. As you know, I was working with patent leather so I had a very hard time getting it closed. Ultimately, I had to use masking tape to smooth the feed. See my article on that particular update.

[caption id="attachment_788" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Trying to sew the damn thing closed!!!!"][/caption]

Step 7) If you got your closed easily and smoothly... well you're ahead of me. After screaming, throwing my hands up and turning my back on the issue for over a week, I finally got up the nerve to finish it. After you get it closed, be sure to trim that last side so it's nice and neat. Mine didn't come out as nice as I'd hoped, but the hell with it. I've got  other stuff to do! LOL!

[caption id="attachment_795" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Closed, trimmed and neatened up!"][/caption]

Project is done. As always, if I've forgotten to add something, please let me know. And to see the pillow, listed on Etsy .... Feel free to buy it! LOL!

Now that I've finally got that super easy project out of the way, I think I'm finished with my How to Sew Leather series for a while. Right now I'm working on a leather jacket. I bought this white lambskin leather direct from my contact, Fadi, in Italy a few months ago and never got around to working on it till now. Now that I've got it all cut out and I'm sewing the pieces, I should be finished in a week. I'll be sure to add pictures to my blog so that you all can see it for yourselves.


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