Sewing Leather, Faux Leather, Suede and Vinyl
Updated: Oct 16, 2020
If you’ve ever jumped right into sewing with leather, faux leather, suede or vinyl without doing a bit of research first, you’ve probably hit multiple mishaps.
There's a veritable laundry list of issues people face when sewing these fabrics, well-read into the subject or not. These basic tips and tricks may help you to avoid some of them!
Choosing Your Equipment:
The first thing to note is what type of sewing machine you’ll be using. Is it a heavy-duty machine? If not, it may not be able to handle heavier fabrics like genuine leather or upholstery fabrics.
Most modern machines have plastic parts that will wear down easily when working with leather, the older antique machines that are made entirely of metal parts will power through most large leather projects. Faux leather is a lot more friendly to your sewing machines and your wallets, so most cosplayers use faux leather and vinyl.
If you try to power through with a machine that's not equipped to handle these materials, you could throw off your machine's timing (which will earn you a costly trip to a sewing machine repair shop) or worse, strip the plastic gears inside your machine.
These materials tend to stick to the typical metal presser feet, making it really hard for your machine to feed the fabric through. It can cause bunching, skipped stitches, a hell of a lot of aggravation, and more than a few tears shed.
Using a teflon foot (or a roller foot) will all but eliminate the difficulty your machine has pulling the fabric along. I highly suggest going online to purchase your presser feet. For the teflon foot specifically, you can get one for as low as five dollars on Amazon, (purchasing one in a sewing store can cost 20 dollars or more).
If you’re really tight on time and money, you can always use a bit of scotch tape and layer it over your presser foot. It’s not as effective but works in a pinch.
Unfortunately you can’t sew these fabrics with the standard universal needle. You get the best results when you use a leather or microtex needle. Thankfully these needles are pretty accessible in most sewing stores, Walmart even carries them.
Never use cotton thread when working with actual leather, The tannin in the hide will eventually break down the cotton thread over time. Its better to use Nylon or polyester threads.
Picking Your Fabric:
When I first started working with faux leather, it wasn’t as easy to get a hold of, or it was markedly too expensive for me. I would have to go and look through the red tag aisles and hope some garment faux leather was marked down or, in extremely dire situations, I would look through the upholstery aisles.
In recent years garment faux leather has become easily accessible to consumers. It has more elasticity than the upholstery leather and real leather and comes in a variety of colors and textures. One of my favorite lines of garment faux leather is the Yaya Han 4 way stretch line.
If this is still too expensive, I recommend looking into online fabric stores. It’s important to order a test swatch of whichever faux leather you’re looking to use. Pay attention to how the fabric moves and feels.
Working With Your Fabric:
These materials are very different from others, in that once pinned that hole will always be there. To avoid damaging your fabrics you can use scotch tape or double sided tape to hold the pattern to the fabric. You can also trace your pattern pieces onto the fabric using tailors chalk (or regular chalk there isn’t really a difference).
While pinning pieces together for sewing you can do one of the following
Use double sided tape to hold the edges together, double sided tape from a small dispenser usually works best
Use tiny sewing clamps or clips, available at Joann’s and online.
Or, If you’re not too concerned about the tiny little holes being noticeable, you can always pin close to the edge so any holes will be hidden by the hem or seamline.
Stitching and Sewing Techniques:
Since you can't iron these materials, in order to strengthen and reinforce your stitching you may need to use one of these two stitching techniques.
Edge stitching: sewn between 1/8″ and 3/8″ away from an edge at a regular stitch length. It can be both decorative and vital to keep the garment together and seams from shifting.
Top stitching: sewn 1/4″ away from an edge and usually has a longer stitch length than the rest of the garment. Top stitching can also be both decorative and functional.
Tips and Tricks:
Keep a swatch of fabric for test stitching: Always test your stitching before starting the project or after you've paused on it for a while. Nothing is worse than having surprise tension errors and multiple lines of holes around a seam or hem.
Sew slowly: Avoid making mistakes and you’ll be more likely to notice if your tension is off before you’ve done an entire seam or hem.
Chalk is your friend: Using chalk to mark your pieces works well in the short term, it’s easier to wash off of faux leather and leather as well. I use pencil sometimes for marking dots or darts. Both wash off pretty easily with warm water.
Pay close attention to your thread: nothing is worse than your thread snapping and you keep punching holes in the garment. accomplishing nothing.
Remember to change your needles often
As always, I hope this was helpful!