Top tips on SEWING LEATHER- by hand and by machine

leather sewing

You cannot iron leather, you cannot pin leather, your normal needle doesnot go through leather, and your pressure foot refuses to move. If this is not a disaster situation for a sewist, what is? But Just some precautions taken care of and you can sew leather like any other fabric. Well, almost.

If you are sewing with lightweight skins, you can sew leather with your regular sewing machine.

Cutting Leather

Use the sharpest of cutting tools to cut leather. A clean neat cut is necessary for a professional leather work. 

I use my Exacto knife to cut soft leather and rotary blades to cut other thicker ones. But if you have even a slight doubt about using rotary cutters, do use the scissors – but the sharpest one in your sewing kitty.

If you want professional looking leather sewn product you ought to invest in high quality cutting tools and keep them sharp always. 

Dos and Don’t on sewing with leather with a sewing machine

Stitching leather on a sewing machine

  • Do use the sharpest scissors you can find to cut leather.
  • Do use the sharpest needle to stitch leather. You can get leather needle in your sewing supply store – it is worth it.The machine leather needle has a small triangle shape at the tip which makes it easier to pierce the thick material and multiple layers. You can ask for a leather needle of size 90/14. 
  • Do use the strongest thread to sew leather. A nylon thread /100% polyester thread will be stronger and more suitable than the regular cotton one we use for sewing fabric. I have read that cotton thread will deteriorate over time in leather because of the oils present in it.
  • Do use a walking foot or teflon non stick foot or a dual feed foot. when sewing leather. One trick I have read about is to use scotch tape on the underside of the regular foot to make it non stick, if you donot have the above said feet.
  • Do use soft leather to sew on your home sewing machine.Your machine will thank you.
  • Do get an industrial sewing machine if you are thinking of sewing leather regularly and want to sew with thick skins. The thickness of leather will be impossible to sew through with a home sewing machine, even with the leather sewing needle.
  • Do use binder clips to hold edges together when sewing or cutting leather ; Pins are avoided when sewing with leather as the holes made by pins are very visible and mar the leather.
  • One problem you will encounter is that the seam allowance will not open up and lie flat. Open the seam allowance and press with a hot dry iron keeping a pressing cloth in between. You can also topstitch the seam allowance flat from the right side on either side of the seam. 

Related post – Please checkout this post on Leather – different types of leather  and how to buy the best for your sewing project

what is leather

How to sew leather by hand

Stitching leather by hand

You need the following tools to sew with leather

  • A multipurpose adhesive for all leather work. You need to keep the leather pieces  together as you cannot use pins.
  • Awl to make (pre-punch) holes for sewing.
  • Straight leather needle (2 numbers) You can use regular sewing needles if you are making holes before sewing. The leather needles have sharp triangular points at the tips for penetrating the leather.
  • Thick cotton thread (You can get waxed cord used for book binding). Strengthen the cotton thread it by passing through beeswax. You also get waxed cotton thread in the store. Waxed Linen cord is used to stitch leather.
  • You can use a pricking iron to make uniform marks. You can make these marks with the help of a ruler and awl as well or a stitching wheel if you have it.
  • Read this post on the 30 best hand sewing tools for leather here, for more details. 

All the cobblers in my area sew with an awl that has thread built-in. I have been fascinated by this process but have not tried my hand at this. 

For any project of hand sewing with leather, Measure the area to be sewn. Multiply by 3 . This is how much thread you should take on each of your needle; but make sure that the length is no more that 24 inches because it becomes difficult to manage longer than that. 

You need clean tight stitches which are evenly made. It is a good idea to mark even spaced markings on the stitching line to make the stitches. This gives a very professional look to the finished stitching on leather. Professionals use stitching wheels made for this purpose. You can use the awl to make these markings with the help of a ruler. 

Never pull the thread very tightly after a stitch is made. you will distort the leather or worse mark. 

At the end of the stitches remember to back stitch to the previous hole, make a knot and cut the thread closely.

Using the curved needle on leather – This needle is used where you cannot get in straight needles.  


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leather care