Sewing With Leather, Yeah!

When I got back into sewing a few years ago, I was like a kid in a candy shop. Bras! Tailoring! Jeans! Handbags! I never imagined I’d end up sewing with leather but like so many finer aspects of sewing, it’s not as arcane or specialized as it used to seem.

And it’s so fun! My first leather project was this handbag from Hotpatterns:

It’s a bit lonely. There are other parts, including a strap and a tassel, but I can’t find them at the moment. It’s been a UFO for two years, mostly because I screwed up the binding inside the handles, ripped it out and never started over. Ahh, you know how it goes. But it was a good first experiment. I learned the hard way what kind of interfacing doesn’t work on leather. And I went crazy with the studs.

Anyway, I know there can be a bit of intimidation when approaching materials like leather or faux fur. Perhaps I can take some of the edge off for my fellow stitchers by sharing the process of my faux fur coat? Not out of expertise but jumping in, mistakes and all!

In my previous post about the coat, Sallieoh asked where one could buy these kind of materials so I thought I’d start by sharing a few of my findings, particularly with leather. I wanted black lambskin for my coat trim and serendipitously, Gorgeous Fabrics was selling a few when I started gathering materials. They were at a great price and are absolutely luscious!

The first place I look for leathers is ebay. I don’t live in NYC, sigh. There are gads of leather sellers on ebay, but here are a few places to start:

  • Leatherwise from Santa Cruz is my fave. Beautiful quality, colors and great prices.
  • Fashion Leathers. They sell scraps or small pieces as well.
  • Santos Leather at Etsy. (From Montreal.) Unusual and pretty surplus from a leather designer. She even sells grab bags of scraps that’d be great for little projects.
  • Fabric Mart sells quality skins every so often. I don’t have much experience with this shop but have heard good things.

As you can see by the top picture you can find all sorts of finishes: suede, metallic, distressed, matte, shiny, patent, what have you. Some leathers have finishes on both sides. The leather for my handbag, for example, was pearlized on one side with a gorgeous suede finish on the other. I love those kinds since they’re really versatile. Here are few things I’ve learned about size, weight, and cost:

  • Hides come in different weights, and are either described by weight (ounces) or thickness (mm). For example, my black skin is probably about 1 ounce. It’s very lightweight, almost paper thin, and drapey, and good for a more delicate garment or trim.
  • Skins are usually described in square feet or inches. Lambskin is going to be smaller, of course, than other types of hides like cow or goatskin. The skin pictured above is about 5 1/2 square feet–you can see by the yardstick that at its longest is about 32 inches. Because skins are irregularly shaped and the outer edges a little thinner there’s some creative cutting involved.
  • Prices tend to be higher for lambskins, anywhere from $15 to extremes like $80. You can get absolutely beautiful skins of a decent size for $20. Check to see if they are described as “second quality” or something like that. (Sometimes the lower quality will have dye imperfections or holes, which are still perfectly workable if cost is a concern.)
  • Goatskin and calfskin can also be lightweight and supple as well as less expensive–and give you more square footage to work with! High quality calfskins can be cheaper than ultrasuede or pleather so it’s not always more economical to go for the fake.

Now as for sewing, it’s sooo easy to cut! It’s really a dream to sew! But there are a few good tools to have around and I’ll save the sewing hints for the next post or two. Till then!

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