Recently, I’ve begun sewing with leather. I know venturing outside of cotton can seem daunting for a beginner sewist or casual quilter, so I decided to share my 13 favorite tools and tips for sewing with leather on your sewing machine for the first time. Hopefully, these tools and tips will make your journey into sewing with leather much more successful!
This post contains affiliate links. I may receive compensation (at no added cost to you) if you make a purchase using these links. My sewing machine sponsor is Baby Lock and this post is part of our ongoing collaboration. All opinions and thoughts are my own. Additional materials for this post were generously provided by Cricut and Fiskars. Camera was generously provided by B&H Photo Video and Pro Audio.
Ever since I started using the Baby Lock Jubilant last year, I’ve been sewing much more regularly than I have in the past five years, and I’ve been experimenting with new materials and tools. (You can read my Jubilant review and watch my unboxing video here.) During these explorations, I noticed that Cricut now sells leather on their website. Naturally I was intrigued, especially after coming across some really cute Cricut Maker sewing projects using leather. I wanted to try sewing with leather but I knew it wasn’t quite as straightforward as sewing with cotton quilting fabric, so I’ll admit it — I was intimidated! It turns out that as long as you have the right tools, know a few tricks, and yes, develop some patience, you will be able to successfully make projects with leather. Here are my tips and tools for sewing with leather on your sewing machine.
But first… where do you find leather for sewing?
Since leather isn’t technically a fabric, it isn’t sold in many of the online or brick-and-mortar stores you may be used to visiting when shopping for fabric and sewing supplies. I’ve been using the leather from Cricut because I have a relationship with them, it’s available in beautiful colors and small quantities, and you don’t need to know “which type” to buy to get started. In other words, it’s beginner-friendly!
I’ve heard great things about Tandy Leather and if there’s a store near you, I would recommend visiting and asking questions about which types of leather to buy for your intended project. If not, you’ll need to educate yourself about what to choose when shopping in their online store. You can also find leather for sewing on Amazon and in Etsy’s leatherworking category of craft supplies.
Now, on to the 13 tools and tips for sewing with leather!
8 Tools for Sewing with Leather
Pattern Cutting Tools
Unlike fabric, you will not want to pin leather to a paper pattern before cutting it because the pin pricks will damage the leather. Instead, you can use Clover Wonder Clips to attach the pattern to the leather, or apply ScotchBlue Painter’s Tape to the wrong side of the leather to attach it to the pattern.
If you use painter’s tape, be sure to pull the leather slowly away from the pattern (instead of pulling the pattern away from the leather) if you want to keep the pattern piece intact to use again.
Make sure your fabric scissor or shears are sharp and you are not working with dull blades before you start cutting.
If you’re concerned about cutting leather — because let’s face it, it isn’t as forgiving as fabric — you may want to use an electronic cutting machine like the Cricut Maker if your pattern has lots of turns and edges. You can read more about how precisely the Cricut Maker Rotary Blade cuts fabric, leather, and other materials in this post. (Spoiler alert: I’ll be sharing some leather sewing projects made using the Maker on the blog soon.)
Leather doesn’t glide smoothly through your sewing machine like fabric does, so you’ll want to change your presser foot. I recommend a teflon foot, which is a non-stick foot that lets leather glide through just like regular fabric. You can also use this foot for vinyl, suede, plastic, and other “sticky” fabrics.
I use the Baby Lock Teflon Foot (ESG-TF) but if you have a different machine than the Baby Lock Jubilant, be sure to check which teflon foot is best for your machine. You can check the compatibility of presser feet to different machines on Baby Lock’s website here, ask your local sewing machine dealer, or read your sewing machine manual if you aren’t sure which one is right for your machine.
Apparently, the chemicals used to tan leather can erode cotton thread over time, so for the most durable projects, you’ll want to use a polyester or nylon thread. For this project, I used Madeira Aerofil Polyester thread, and I chose a color that coordinated with the leather.
While eventually you may want to choose a contrasting color of thread for decoration, remember that at the beginning your seams will probably not be “perfect,” and a coordinating color will help make mistakes less visible.
Not only will you want a fresh needle for sewing with leather (not whatever’s been hanging out on your machine for the last many projects), but ideally you’d actually use Leather Needles. Follow your machine’s instructions for changing the needle, and, for your own sanity, be sure to cover the plate when changing needles so your old one doesn’t fall into the bobbin area.
Spare Piece of Leather
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that one of my sewing tips for beginners is to always ALWAYS (another always!) try out new settings, needles, feet, tools, etc. on a “spare” piece of fabric before going to your project. The same is true for leather.
It’s worth the money to keep aside a small piece of leather to test new settings and to make adjustments before sewing on your project.
Now that you have your tool (or tools) for pattern cutting, and your teflon or non-stick presser foot, leather needle, polyester or nylon thread, and your spare piece of leather, let’s talk about the tips!
4 Tips for Sewing with Leather
Change your stitch length
Adjust your stitch length to use a longer stitch with leather. I used 3.5 with a straight stitch, but you can adjust longer if you’d like. Just test it out on your spare piece of leather to be sure you like the look before sewing onto your project.
If you’re using the right tools, your leather will actually move through your sewing machine at a quick pace, just like fabric. But… it’s really not as forgiving as fabric as you can see from this picture below.
Slow down your machine using your sewing speed controller. I make 2 or 3 individual stitches, and then use the Jubilant’s reverse stitch button to go back 2 or 3 stitches to reinforce the seam at the start and end of the project, too.
I also recommend gently lifting the foot with your finger before placing the needle down to start so you can be sure that the needle is in the right location on your leather.
Think about your seams
Because leather doesn’t fray like fabric, you can leave your seams exposed and unfinished. You can also use decorative seams. Plan ahead for the best look for your project.
You will probably not be a perfect leather sewist on day one (sorry!). But if you get the right tools and sew slowly and thoughtfully, you will improve a little with every stitch and every project until you feel confident sewing with leather.