A question that pops up frequently in the bag-making world is “can I sew with leather or vinyl on my home sewing machine?” and I am here to tell you YES you absolutely can! As the resident pattern hacker at Andrie Designs, every pattern hack you see is sewn on a simple (and cheap) Brother Sewing Machine that I got at Walmart! So with the skills I have obtained over the years sewing on a basic machine, I am going to share with you the best tips and tricks for sewing leather and vinyl. I believe anyone can do it so let’s dive in!
Patience & Prep-Work is Key
Before we get into the nitty gritty of tools, supplies and notions, let’s talk about patience. Sewing these thicker materials do require a lot more patience. Have all your supplies prepared before you begin! Have all your bobbins wound and make sure your machine is clean and well-oiled. You have to move slower and be prepared to stop at thicker spots to accommodate the space so you don’t want to have to stop mid-sew to fix or oil anything. Sewing leather and vinyl is not done quickly on your home machine so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to complete your project for the highest rate of success!
The most important item to have on hand (next to patience) is the correct needle for sewing leather and vinyl. The best one to use is a leather needle. The shape of this needle is designed to create a slanted hole to prevent creating a straight perforated line. If you look closely at the needle, you can see that the tip is twisted slightly. A denim needle can also work but they are created with more of a ballpoint tip which can sometimes cause tears in heavier leather. While I have never had an issue using denim needles on leather or vinyl, I do find you get a cleaner look with a leather needle!
Sewing Machine Feet
After needles, the next supply you will need to invest in is sewing machine feet, more specifically non-stick ones! A non-stick or Teflon foot is a lifesaver for sewing these stickier materials. These feet have a coating along the underside to prevent sticking to your leather or vinyl and help you sew with ease. Many bag makers also like to use walking feet while sewing leather and vinyl. While it does work, the underside of those feet has little teeth and that can leave indents on your materials. It’s best to not use a walking foot when topstitching your leather or vinyl. I also find that walking feet take up a lot of space under your machine and you need all the space you can get when sewing these heavier materials!
When sewing with leather and vinyl, you can use any thread you choose but if you are creating something that is going to get a lot of wear, a heavier thread is what is best! Many thread manufacturers make heavier thread specifically for materials that have heavy stress points. When sewing on the gussets of your bags, use a thread that matches as there is a higher chance to see that seam because of the bulkier materials naturally. Using a topstitching thread on your final topstitch gives a beautiful finish to your bag. I do want to point out that some machines can struggle with thicker threads. Do not fret! You are still able to sew with all-purpose thread, just know that you may have some visible seams on stress points like boxed corners where it is thick but it will still be ok!
When sewing materials like leather and vinyl, you can’t use pins to hold things in place because the hole stays forever. In place of pins, you will want to use clips. Wonderclips are an excellent resource to keep on hand. If that isn’t in your budget, that’s ok too! You can get packs of binder clips from the dollar store that work just as well (and sometimes better!). You will also want to invest in a jumper or a “hump jumper”! This incredible little tool slides under your sewing machine foot when you get close to a thick area and helps you sew with ease! This is also great when sewing with foam stabilizer! The last notion you will want on hand is leather tape or fabric glue. When creating straps, tape or glue will allow you to use fewer clips and help to prevent your material from wiggling around. You can find leather or double-sided tape from most alteration supply stores online. Wondertape works wonders too!
Interfacing and Stabilizers
An important note to include when sewing leather and vinyl is the types of interfacing or stabilizers that you will and won’t need. You won’t need the mid-light weight interfacing you use on cotton as your material is already strong enough. You also cannot iron directly on the right side of these materials or they will melt or burn. This means that if you need to add some foam or fleece stabilizer, you can try to fuse from the back with a cloth over top. You can also choose to baste your stabilizers instead. OR my favourite option, spray baste! Available at most quilt shops is a spray adhesive meant for layering quilts but it works incredibly well for adhering your stabilizer to any leather or vinyl! This is also a great alternative for cotton if you can only get sew-in interfacing!
Bonus: you will often find that your seams get extra bulky with thicker stabilizers so make sure to trim as much of your fleece or foam out of your seam allowance for a cleaner and easier-to-sew finish!
Patterns to Try:
- Reusable Grocery Bag – Great to sew an unlined leather tote for your first try!
- Classic Market Tote – Little to no hardware and simple pockets
- S & S Tote – Perefct tote to start sewing a gusset with leather and vinyl. Also doesn’t need a stabilizer if you don’t want it!
- Creative’s Tote – Great for mixing larger pieces of vinyl or leather with fabric
- Good-To-Go Messenger Bag – Free pattern to get started with boxed corners
Have you ever sewn with leather or vinyl on a project? Or do you have more questions? Let us know in the comments below!