It’s intimidating, I get it. It was once alive. It is considered luxurious. Once you sew on it, the holes are permanent. Plus, how do you really even conquer the whole sewing on leather ordeal? Will your machine take it? Are your hand stitches precise enough? Where do you start?
I had all these looming thoughts too (even after learning a significant amount about leather through this job). But FRET NOT, I am going to hopefully ease some of your fears and motivate you to dive right in because guess what – it’s surprisingly easy to work with leather. I will even go as far as to admit that I was a big scaredy-cat, and it turns out that leather is an amazing material to work with that is not at all difficult or scary. Plus- an added bonus in case you weren’t already sold: NO SEAM FINISHING!
So first of all, there are so many types of leather. Where do you even start? Lambskins are super thin, stretchy, and soft, making them great for apparel and linings. They’re (usually) buttery and luscious and you sort of just want to wrap yourself up in them. Then there’s goat and sheep, which are still thinner, but better suited for things like shoes and other small accessories. Then you have your cowhides and there are so many variances between those, it’s crazy. My personal favorite is a soft, mid-weight cow that’s ideal for making cute handbags (think like Marc Jacob’s soft handbags or a nice Coach bag). Then they get thicker from there – the thickest one we have is a 5-6 oz veg tan that is ideal for molding. Wrestling that baby is a feat in itself because it is so thick and stiff. Then, you have your bison/buffalo hides that are even thicker and stiffer. Those are for utilitarian projects, like knife covers, satchels, or furniture. On top of all of the animal variations, leather also has endless surface manipulation possibilities. Solid, glazed, matte, nubuck, suede, patent, embossed, laser-cut, perforated, pebbled…. You name it, it exists. This is enough to make anyone’s head spin, and we haven’t even discussed sewing with leather yet, however, it’s to your advantage that there are so many types! Odds are you’ll find one you love.
As you can see, leather comes in all shapes, sizes, thicknesses, and finishes!
A good way to test the thickness of the leather is holding up a coin to compare – this is a cowhide. Goat, sheep, and lamb will be thinner and bison will be thicker.
Now onto sew
Breathe. It will be okay. I was the biggest baby when it came to leather and I made it through with no tears and minimal curse words.
So in order to sew these leathers, you have a few options. If you have access to an industrial machine, like a Juki or a Mauser, those are going to be the ideal machines to sew with since they were designed to sew on leather. If you’re like me and don’t have a couple of thousand dollars to shell out on a machine, don’t worry. Your home machine is surprisingly tough and can handle thinner leathers (I haven’t experimented past a medium weight cow on my home machine, but please share your experience if you have!!). All you’ll need is a leather needle (link to leather needle), a tougher thread (topstitching works great, upholstery or button is good too), and some patience while you play with the tension on your machine. Then Voila- you’re ready to go. If you don’t have a machine at all, leather is still for you! Get an awl, some waxed thread, hand stitching needles and you’re all set! Hand stitching on leather is fun because you can do basic stitches, or fancy it up and do more intricate stitches that will show off all your hard work. Don’t even want to touch a needle? I’m not sure how you stumbled upon this blog but don’t worry, I got you covered too. Rivets and leather glue are great alternatives to stitching. Regardless of which method you’re trying, you don’t have to finish your seams! You may choose to use contact cement to “press” your seam down, but leather doesn’t fray and I promise that alone is worth the fuss of learning how to sew it.
Now you can literally make anything with leather – key chains, book covers, drawer pulls, wallets, purses, totes, catch-all containers, clothes, shoes, you name it. I started with baby moccasins and let me tell you, they were perfect. Took about 2 hours and $10 for leather. The mom-to-be who received them cried because she liked them so much. Obviously, a winning idea if you’re looking for a gift for an expecting mother. But in all honesty, if I can do it, so can you! I’ve even picked some of my favorite starting leathers if you need that extra nudge to try.
Finished Baby Moccasins – Don’t worry, I’ll talk more about these soon!