Working with leather – part one, sourcing and cutting

You may think that working with leather is a very specialist professional type of work and as an amateur sewist, it’s not something you can have a go at. But actually it’s not as hard to work with as you may think and it’s a lovely medium to work with. Leather comes in all sorts of thicknesses, sizes and finishes. The really thick leather is hard work and your domestic machine will not like it one bit but some of the finer leathers are easy enough to work with.

I’ve actually got quite a bit to say so I’m going to write a few posts of tips to get you started.

Where do you buy it from?

You can buy leather from all sorts of places, I’ve noticed leather scraps in the remnants bins in local fabric shops. However if you want to get a sizeable amount to make something then you need to visit a specialist shop or buy online. You can buy random designer deadstock pieces from places like New Craft House. And you can also buy multiple skins from companies such as Pittards, AA Crack & Sons and G H Leathers. All great suppliers

What type of leather could I use?

I think for amateur sewists, the best sort of leather is sheep or goat skin. Your sewing machine can handle it without groaning. This could be a really fine, soft suede or a firmer textured/foiled skin with some body to it.

Recently I bought a mystery 20 skin bundle from G H Leathers. I chose to buy this bundle because leather can be pricey but this bundle means that the price of each skin is considerably less. I love bag making so it seemed good value because I will always want to try out ideas. Also if I’ve spent less, I won’t be so precious about any mistakes I make. This bundle cost £50 but they ended up throwing in a few extra skins because some came up a bit small, so I was sent 25 skins. This worked out at £2 a skin. Bargain!

It was great because there was a little box I could fill out and put what sort of colours/finishes I liked. The yellow patent skin instantly called out to me and I’m going to make a rucksack from that but also the blush pink is ear-marked for a mini holdall pattern I’ve got my eye on.

How do I know how much to buy?

Really tricky to gauge. I bought a few skins to make myself a bike style jacket a few years back. However once I laid all my pieces out I found I was a few skins short, so had to buy a couple more. It ended up costing over a £100 which isn’t unreasonable for leather.

Note the slight variations of colour between each piece despite all from the same dye batch

Each skin is slightly different as well, the colour tone can vary slightly. Sometimes there’s little faults or holes so you can’t just lay them on top of each other and hope they’ll be exactly the same. Each skin is unique and that’s part of the charm.

How do I figure out the grain?

This is the best bit. There is no grain so you can pack your pieces as close together as you like and any which way. The thickness of the skin will vary slightly across the piece. It tends to be tougher where the spine of the animal was. So when you’re laying out your pieces just be mindful of the function of each pattern piece and do you want a thicker or thinner bit in that area of the garment.

Cutting it.

Don’t use your nice scissors, it will blunt them or make them dirty. Use scissors you’re not so fussy about. You can also use a rotary blade and cutting mat. Leather doesn’t fray so you can use pinking shears and have seams laying over each other to make features which is always quite a satisfying effect.

I used scalloped pinking shears and top stitched for this zip finish. I’ll have more about this in my next blog

Interfacing it or not?

Leather can stretch and distort when its being sewn. Depending on what you’re making, you may want to consider using a fusible interfacing. For my jacket, I used a fusible canvas for the collar and lapels because I wanted the shape, however I didn’t for the rest as it felt too tough. Then I had a nightmare job of gluing the facing because when it was bagged out, the piece without the interfacing had stretched (this was because the leather was so fine). I had to try to ease it back in by gluing it little bit by little bit and I had issues with having to peel bits back and then I ended up with little gluey lumps (you can see them if you look closely) which was annoying.

For a Trekoda bag I’m making at the moment, I haven’t used any because it feels quite tough already and I’m using bosal foam so the contents of the bag shouldn’t distort it. At end of the day, you’re the designer so it depends on what you like or want for each project.

Come back for next post

In my next post, I’ll talk about how to sew with leather, the extra equipment and tricks you need to a successful sew.

Thanks for reading.

Rosie xx

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