There are several different factors to consider when planning on sewing leather. Will you be sewing by hand or by machine? Will the leather be thin or thick? Are you sewing flat pieces such as clothing, or shaped pieces such as repairing tears in upholstered furniture? The answers to these questions will help you determine the most effective techniques to use.
Before undertaking leather repairs, be sure you feel confident enough in your skills, especially if sewing something of significant value. You may want to obtain an estimate from a professional before deciding to do it yourself. For example, if you have a leather coat that needs a repair. A seam repair is probably a good candidate for do-it-yourself, while a gash near the lapel may be best left to a professional.
Sewing Leather by Hand
The needles you use to hand sew leather are generally stronger and larger than needles used for cloth, and are a different shape. Thread is usually waxed for easier handling. You can either buy pre-waxed thread, or use beeswax to wax each length as you use it. Other tools you may need are a leather punch, awl, and rubber mallet or small hammer to use with the awl, and glue, to temporarily hold leather pieces together while you sew them.
Sewing Leather by Machine
Using needles designed for leather will make it easier to machine-sew leather. It is possible to use regular sewing machine needles on some projects; however you may have problems with thread breaking and “drag”. You will want to use the largest possible stitch, as too-small stitches will weaken the leather. You may need to experiment with different size needles and different stitch widths on a piece of scrap leather to determine which is best for your project. You may also need to adjust tension, especially if leather is thick.
If the leather won’t glide easily, you can sprinkle a little baby powder on your work surface. Be sure to clean any excess baby powder from the bobbin when you’re done!
Sewing Thin Leather
For thin leather projects, you will use a small (3/16 inch) hole punch to punch lacing holes ¼ inch apart and ¼ inch from the edges. For even alignment, punch through both pieces at once. Make sure the holes are large enough to accommodate your chosen lacing material. After you make your choice of lacing stitches, lace the pieces together. Tightly knot the ends of the laces, and apply a drop of glue to secure the knot.
Sewing Thick Leather
For thick leather projects, you will need an awl to punch holes through the leather. A rubber mallet can help use the awl to penetrate the leather. You can rub beeswax into the holes to make stitching easier, or use waxed thread to stitch.
Repairing Leather Car Seats
As a rule, you will need to remove the upholstery to make a repair. Removing the upholstery will probably require removing the seat from the vehicle. If you need to replace a panel, it may be difficult to find leather to match in a small amount—many suppliers require a minimum yardage to order.
There are also leather “repair kits” that use a tinted plastic to repair small holes. However, this type of “repair” is often noticeable on large areas, and it may be difficult to mix the right tint. This type of “repair” often makes the leather look even worse.
Sewing leather is a project that can give you a great deal of satisfaction. Like most everything else, as your experience grows you will be able to complete more difficult leather sewing tasks with greater degrees of success. And with the right tools, and the proper care, it can also be easy and fun.