The following article and illustration are reprinted with permission from Sandy Scrivano, author of Sewing With Leather and Suede, and Creative Surface Design.
Leather is measured by weight in ounces per square foot. Garment leather or suede in the 3/4 to 2 1/2 oz./sq. ft. range can easily be sewn on a home sewing machine. Hides with a soft, spongy texture are easier to sew than firm, stiff ones of the same weight. Leather is sold by the square foot rather than the linear yard, so you’ll need to convert yardage requirements to square feet. A convenient formula to use is 1 yd. of 45-in.-wide fabric equals 11.25 sq. ft. of leather. Add 15 percent for irregularly shaped skins. Ideally, take the pattern pieces to the dealer and lay them out on your chosen skins to be certain of adequate footage.
- Adjust your pattern for fit.
- Layout major pattern pieces with grainlines parallel to the backbone of the animal. Use a napped layout for suede.
- Cut out as a single layer only; rotary cutters are ideal. Don’t cut on the fold. Use the best matched pieces for front and sleeves.
- Transfer pattern markings to the wrong side of the skin using a ballpoint pen, chalk, or a hera marker.
- To sew successfully on a household machine:
- Don’t exceed 2 1/2 oz./ sq. ft. weight suede or leather.
- Lower the presser-foot pressure if you can.
- Lengthen stitches, more for heavier leathers (1 1/2 – oz. weight uses 8 to 10 sts/in.).
- Use a leather needle. Schmetz 90/14 NTW is a good choice for garment-weight skins. Thin, lightweight skins can be sewn with size 80/12 universal needles.
- Use a Teflon foot. Some machines have an even-feed foot feature that works well.
- Never trim closer than 1/8 in. from a seam.
- Use small bulldog clips instead of pins to secure garment pieces for sewing. Glue stick or double-sided tape in the seam allowance also work well as basting, but don’t catch them in the seam.
- Polyester or poly/cotton blend thread works well. Don’t use 100 percent cotton.
- For handwork, use a glover’s needle in the smallest size that will penetrate your hide.
- If joining leather and textile, place the leather on the bottom. Don’t backstitch. Hand-tie thread ends.
- Finger-press seams open and tap with a rubber, wood, or rawhide mallet to press. Spread a thin layer of permanent contact cement (such as Barge) under the seam allowance. Finger-press into position and tap again. Hide thread ends in cemented seam allowances.
- Use sew-in polyester or poly/cotton blend interfacing or underlining in a weight consistent with the drape you’re looking for. Always try a sample first.
- Leather and suede don’t ravel, so edge finishing is unnecessary. Beveling the edge gives a flatter finish. Hems may be stitched or glued into position using contact cement.-S.S.
The following experience in straightening suede skins that have folds has been provided by Faith Evans from Cambridge, Ontario:
I have successfully flattened the skins, but you have to be careful with the whole process. I used an iron and a wet terry washcloth, placed the fish skin on one section of the facecloth and folded the facecloth over the skin (only because I was worried about colour bleed) and quickly ironed it, which worked. However, one must be careful to keep the iron set on low as it seems too much moisture and heat curls the skins and hardens them a bit (especially the ones that are a bit thicker and firmer already). When that happened, I wet the skins under running water, pressed them between a towel to get out the excess water, played with the skin to stretch it back out a bit and then lay them on a flat surface with a weighted plastic container over top. This flattened them, tho sometimes the scale pockets got flattened the wrong way, but that can be fixed as well. The one thing I’d caution against is that the occasional skin changed colour if it got too wet. Seems to work best with damp cloth not wet, and low heat done in short spurts…….this flattens without changing (or very little) texture or colour.
Some tips on making fish leather belts have been posted on LinkedIn.