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sewing leather,help!

mary_baker | Posted in The Archives on

I’m hoping to sew a chair cushion out of elk hide. If anyone knows any tricks or warnings, please let me know. Or websites would help, too.


  1. Paula_White | | #1

    I sew a lot of leather, some is very heavy but most is nice and soft. I make custom designed and fitted jackets, vests, and chaps for equitation wear [showing horses]. I have used both smooth and suede in cow, goat, lamb, deer, calf, and pig. But I have never sewn with Elk.

    Three things are very important for the sewing; #1- a leather needle, this is a must, it has a special tip that will make a little slit through the leather rather than punching a hole. Is also has a deeper channel for the thread to pass in, without a leather needle you will break/fray a lot of threads. #2- a teflon foot on the sewing machine. #3- A sewing machine with a walking foot or an even feed foot. [I bought Pfaff sewing machines for this reason.] If you don't have either the teflon foot or a walking foot you might try a roller foot. Another way to handle the seaming is to stick the seam allowances together with 1/4" basting tape, double stick tape, [get the kind sold in the quilting section which will not gum up your needle.] To prevent the sewing machine foot from sticking to the leather you can lay paper on top of the leather under the foot and then sew through the leather and the paper, after sewing tear the paper off. This works but can be hard to see where you are sewing. I use adding machine paper for this.

    Seaming can be done with regular seams if you wish or with overlapped seams, overlapped seams would be the strongest especially for a chair. With regular seams you can then open up the seam allowances and use rubber cement, contact cement, or Jeans Mender to glue the edges down. The use of a rubber mallet is recommended. [On the soft pig suedes I always steam the seams open with the conventional method of using an iron! This works for me, but ironing and steaming is NOT recommended on leathers.]

    For threads I use # 69 nylon upholstery threads on anything that is heavy, will get a lot of use, or is exposed to the weather.

    It is not hard to sew with leather, but it is something to be proud of when you are finished. Happy sewing.

    1. Sheila_Jensen | | #2

      *I myself had trouble using leather needles, they skipped too many stitches. Someone at a sewing machine retailer suggested schmetz universal. They have worked great, in size 14 or 16 or perhaps larger, but I don't use that heavy of leathers. If nothing else the microfiber schmetz needles will work, but they are more expensive. Teflon foot works great. Good Luck.

      1. linda_linda | | #3

        *Sewing leathers is not hard to do, but Paula is right that the main things needed are a walking foot and/or a teflon foot, and a leather needle. Sorry, Sheila you are asking for trouble with using a universal needle, jeans-point would even be better. The universal needle is halfway between a regular-point and a ball-point for knits. The channel for the thread is not as deep, your threads will fray MORE. You are probably OK because you were only using softer skins rather than Elk.The leather point needle has a tricut that opens up a little hole for the thread and needle to pass thou.Also important, do not make your stitches too close together or you will weaken the leather, it is better to use a stronger thread.

        1. Leeanne_swanson | | #4

          *I am hemming a pair of dreamy-soft suede pants. The store where i bought them recommended going to a tailor who would cut and glue the bottom hems. the tailors here aren't very sophisticated and i don't want them to experiment on my pants with the wrong glue that would be too stiff and show through. What kind of glue would i use and what is the technique? what's with the rubber mallet? You mentioned rubber cement, contact cement and jeans mender? which is better (what is jeans mender)? Are these glues dry-cleanable? is there an alternative to dry cleaning that will bbe less expensive/chemicals and how do i keep from bagging out the knees?so many questions...i know, but you sound like the right person to ask!thanks for any help!

          1. Kilroywashere | | #9

            I wouldn't hem the suede pants - just trim them very carefully at the length that you want - the seude is heavy enough to hang right without a hem, and it won't ravel!!!   This is what I did with mine, and they look great! 

    2. pattyv | | #5

      i want to make leather belts. the fashion side is cow hide and the reverse side is pink leather. it's approx 1" wide. I'd like it to be sturdy, so I'm considering using belt facing.
      Should I use the double stick tape to apply the facing to the 2 layers of leather, then sew all three layers together. Or use leather glue and forget the stitching?

      1. Teaf5 | | #6

        I would be extremely wary of using double-stick tape, as it will gum up your needle and make sewing a mess. Leather is very stable; I doubt that you need any adhesives at all if you are stitiching the layers together. Use a leather needle, a very long stitch (short stitches tend to create tears) and practice everything on scraps first, as you get only one chance to stitch correctly!

      2. GoodFibrations | | #7

        You might also find a walking foot useful if you have one for your machine so that one of the layers does not migrate.


      3. KathleenFasanella | | #8

        If you *must* use "glue" of some kind, I recommend spray embroidery adhesive; it won't gum up your needles. I've been a leather pattern maker (pattern design governs the process of construction) for about 18 years and contrary to all the books out there, glue has never been used at any factory I worked at. If you're making quality stuff, you don't need glue. Seams can be pressed open and hems should be finished by sewing to the lining.Often, an inexpensive grade of leather is used as a stiffener.

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