Sewing machine feet showdown: roller foot vs. teflon foot
Leather is going to stick to the bed of your sewing machine. Period.
This can lead to all kinds of problems from topstitching that’s too close together to uneven seams.
You can combat this problem with the right sewing machine foot. Your two best candidates are: a teflon (also called an ultraglide foot) or a roller foot.
Do NOT use a walking foot with leather. It’s tempting, but that little arm on the walking foot that keeps stuff moving through will leave icky stretch marks on the leather.
To decide which foot is best, you really need to practice on scraps. I like the roller foot when the layers are right sides together, but I found the roller got stuck when I was topstitching.
The teflon foot is wonderful for topstitching, and mostly okay when stitching a seam. It has a tendency to skip stitches, especially when going over a seam intersection.
Do you fitting before
If you’re sewing leather into an actual garment, make sure you know exactly how your garment is going to fit.
Leather in general is a high risk fabric because you really can’t unpick seams. If you’re making a jacket, do a muslin beforehand so you know exactly how those seams are going to fit.
Easy cutting for leather
Use full size pattern pieces for real leather. If you’re using faux leather, you can probably get away with cutting it on the fold if it’s not too thick.
A rotary cutter will help you get a razor clean edge when you cut. Use pattern weights and a large cutting mat.
If you need to mark anything in the cutting stage, use a fabric pen or pencil. On faux leather, it’s usually easiest to mark on the wrong side.
Interfacing for leather
You can totally use fusible interfacings for leather, but you just have to be a little careful. Knit interfacings or a fusible weft are good here.
Your best tool here is a press cloth. With the press cloth between the leather and the iron, it’ll be harder to damage the leather. I double or triple fold my press cloth and press on top of that.
Also test interfacing on a scrap. I’ve melted faux leather before, and it’s really sad after you’ve put in the work!
Stitch length for leather
Leather needs longer stitches so that you don’t make too many holes and weaken the fabric. Use 3-3.5mm stitch length for construction and topstitching.
Sewing leather seams
Don’t use pins on leather–EVAR!!! Ok, that’s dramatic, but also pins + leather=sad face.
The pins are going to damage leather. The best preparation for learning to sew with leather is learning to also sew without being dependent on pins. Here’s my tips for how to sew without pins. It’ll help create a practice that’ll position you to be really really good at handling leather.
That being said, clips are your best friend with leather. Clips will hold layers of leather together without damaging the leather in any way. Will they slow you down? Yes, but when you’re sewing leather, going slowly is not a bad thing.
Leather requires a lot of concentration, and slowing down is going to keep you from making mistakes that could ruin your project.
To finish off a seam, press it open with a leather roller and use double sided tape to keep it in place. Alternatively, topstitch from the right side about 1/4″ away from the seam.
You see topstitching on leather all.the.time. It’s popular because it works.
Practice your topstitching on a scrap so you can get the feel of how to move the leather and adjust your stitch length and tension to where you want it.
A little practice with topstitching is also going to help you get nice clean straight lines. Topstitching can be nerve-wracking on leather, so any work you put towards building your confidence here will pay off.
How to keep stitches from skipping when you’re sewing with leather
Skipping stitches is one of the most frustrating things you’ll deal with when you’re sewing leather.
You get one pass at sewing a seam and one to topstitch it. More than that, you have extra holes in your fabric that are permanent.
Introduce a skipped stitch in their and you’ll want to throw things.
Save a scrap of your leather and keep it by your machine all throughout construction.
When you start a seam, fold the scrap as many times as needed so that it is the same thickness as the start of your seam. This will get a good starting stitch and keep the needle from getting stuck.
When you’re topstitching leather and have to go over a hump, again, fold the leather scrap. Place the scrap under the back of the presser foot so that the foot is level as it goes over the hump.
If you find that the presser foot is uneven to one side, place the fabric scrap along the edge of one side of the presser foot as you stitch to even out the the foot. This is especially helpful when you have to topstitch around corners.
See how to do this more clearly in the video below:
How to press leather
You can press leather, just don’t be super aggressive!
The main thing here is to never let your iron touch the surface of the leather. A hot iron will damage real leather and it’ll straight up melt faux leather.
Just like with interfacing leather, use a press cloth between the leather and the iron, and fold it a couple times if you’re nervous. Use a moderate temperature with a little steam, and a clapper to get the steam into a seam to help flatten it.
Only press, do not drag the iron across the surface which can stretch it out ugly style.
Tie, don’t backstitch
Backstitching is going to weaken the leather. Instead, leave long thread tails and make a nice sturdy square knot at the end of any seam that’s not going to get crossed with other stitching.
How to fix damaged faux leather
So let’s say you did everything right but your faux leather still got a tiny damage mark somewhere on your project.
Don’t panic. Grab a scrap of your faux leather. Pull on it to separate the coating from the backing. If your damaged spot feels rough, gently sand at it with ultra fine sandpaper.
Cut a piece of the faux leather coating slightly bigger than the damaged spot. Add some leather glue right on the surface and press the coating to cover. Let it dry fully. I used Aleene’s Fabric Fusion which is one of my favorite glues and another good choice for leather. You can wash this stuff!
My faux leather got damaged at the store towards the selvage ends and I missed a couple micro spots when I was cutting. This fix was an easy way to save my jacket and because the print is so dense, you’ll never ever know!
Let’s say you don’t have a scrap of extra fabric to fix a flaw. Grab some leather paint. Angelus Leather Paints are one of my all-time favorite specialized sewing supplies. It bonds to leather and faux leather in a way that you seriously can’t tell that the leather wasn’t that color to start out with. They’re what I used for my painted Rose Tyler cosplay jacket, and I love them for sprucing up an old pair of shoes!
So those are just a few of the things you can do to make your leather sewing adventures a little less panicky!
Hopefully I’ve inspired you to give leather a try. The more comfortable you become with sewing leather, the more you’ll discover just how versatile it can be.
If you liked this tricky fabric guide be sure to check out:
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.
6 thoughts on “Simple tips to make sewing with leather less stressful”
Thanks for the tips! Leather is definitely a textile that I’ve completely failed to conquer, despite how long I’ve been sewing. The last attempt was trying to put some leather toggles on a coat, and that seriously drove me to tears. I had so many skipped stitches, it looked awful, and I ended up having to use pliers and hand sew about 3/4 of it. I have a project in mind for some stashed faux leather that I bought for a cosplay that ended up not happening, but I’ve been nervous to do it. I’ll have to try these tips for sure!
I’ve been there with leather too Becky. “Sewing” with pliers hurts–I had to do that to replace a zipper in a favorite pair of boots and it was no fun! But it’s definitely worth a try, especially if you can find a cheap bit of leather to practice with. The folding technique to keep the stitches from skipping has been a gamechanger for me!
What a great guide for sewing with leather as well as faux leather! Love all the tips!
Thanks Carrie! Indeed they’re both a little different but also similar in how they sew up!
Great tips Elizabeth!! I have some faux leather that I bought over a year ago for throw pillow covers, but I’ve been too intimidated to actually use it. There are so many tips here for things I didn’t even think of. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Emilee! And throw pillow covers are a great first project for faux leather. It’ll teach you so much about handling it. Use those clips!