This guide to sewing with leather is written by Rebecca Eaton who runs The Rebecca Jane Design studio an eco conscious design label and sewing school. The sewing school is run from the design studio in the idyllic location of Smithbrook Kilns in Surrey find out more by visiting: http://www.rebecca-jane.com/
1. Make sure that you store your leather on a roll or flat is preferable, leather can easily mark when stored and it takes a long time for the creases to fall out. So treat it with respect and consider where you are going to store it first.
2. Before you mark out your pattern placement, examine the leather and look out for scars, holes and imperfections, avoid these at all costs you don’t want to waste any leather its too precious.
3. You can’t pin leather, so (unless you have a clicking press and press-knives), cardboard patterns and pattern-weights are the way to go. Trace around the patterns using an awl.
4. Once the pattern is marked onto the leather you can use either a rotary knife (circular knife similar to a pizza cutter) or a craft knife. Its best if possible to not cut with scissors and leave the leather flat on the table to avoid any stretching.
5.You can purchase special leather sewing needles, which will penetrate the leather more efficiently than normal machine needles and form a nice even stitch. It is also essential to use a Teflon foot on your machine to help the foot glide over the leather. You can also use silicone spray on the surface of the leather prior to stitching to help the foot give an even stitch.
6. Use pure nylon thread (if you can get it) or polyester upholstery weight thread. Any cotton content in the thread can deteriorate with age. Synthetics are strong and durable (and the raw ends can be melted into the seam end to seal them).
7. Personally I use a 1cm seam allowance. You then have the option with the seam allowance to decide which type of seam you would like. You can glue the seam open, flip the seam allowance to one side and topstitch on one side of the seam, or glue open and topstitch both side so there is a double stitch line on leather. All are design details and can be incorporated into the initial design stage.
8. Depending on the structure of your bag you will need to consider if you will require any stiffener in your bag to hold the shape you require. I use a heavy weight iron on fusing which gives the leather more body but does not stiffen it. Sometimes I don’t fuse the whole piece I just fuse up to the seam line so that there is not extra bulk in the seam allowance just the body of the leather.
9. It’s a really good idea to practice as much as possible before stitching your bag so that you feel confident when making the final bag. When stitching leather be aware that the needle leaves holes so practice as much a possible before sewing your final product as you don’t want to make any mistakes.
10. You can’t pin leather when stitching together so a few method to help you hold the pieces together when stitching them are using mini bull dog clips or double sided tape. Be aware that double sided tape can effect what you want to do with your seam so be aware of what you are using it for, always plan for the next stage.
Rebecca has worked with designers such as Givenchy, Stuart Vevers, Luella, Robert Cary Williams and Paul Seville and now specialises in making leather bag and belts. She runs regular courses teaching you how to sew your own leather handbag or belt in her studio in Surrey (pictured above) more details can be found on her website.