Leather is probably one of the most precious materials out there. And not just because it’s natural and durable. It’s also unforgiving. If you’ve tried sewing with even the smallest piece of leather, you know that once you pierce it, the hole stays there. It’s impossible to hide or fix it, unlike most other materials. Make one wrong move and the entire piece is destroyed.
So, your stitch has to be perfect – even, regular, consistent. That’s very hard to perform on a regular sewing machine for a number of reasons.
- Leather is thick and stubborn. It won’t easily cooperate and surrender to your ideas, even if you’re a seasoned sewist. You will need a higher presser foot and a powerful machine that can handle the pressure without getting tired easily.
- It stick to the presser foot. There are ways around this problem – such as putting a strip of scotch tape or even some baby powder on the foot, so the material would glide nice and smoothly. But if you sew leather on a regular basis, you will need a permanent solution. Be on the lookout for a machine with a walking or Teflon foot.
- It needs longer stitches than your average textile. The seams need to be secure but not too tight. Thin leather can handle 4-6 mm long stitches, but thicker requires 8-10 mm stitches, which are usually only available with industrial machines.
- Fast isn’t always good. You will want to be very careful, especially around the curves or in other small areas. A monster that devours thousands of stitches per minute will be of no use here. This means working with leather tends to be slow. Don’t be afraid to use your hand wheel from time to time. Everything is better than screwing up a sensitive part of your project and having to start from scratch.
- Faux leather isn’t any easier to deal with. It has nearly identical features and preferences, so the fact that it’s faux doesn’t make it less of a leather.
How to Choose a Good Leather Sewing Machine
If you’ve never tried working with leathers, test your machine with tiny scraps of different types of leather. This will help you decide if your regular machine will do or if you need to make a new investment. If you opt for a new machine, take a look at some of our best picks below. Note that there aren’t that many options on the market, so you will want to get fully informed before making the decision.
Note that domestic machines can only handle basic leather projects. A thicker leather (more than 3-16 inches) will require an industrial machine, which can do longer stitches and work for many hours without heating up.
But this is where things get subtle. An industrial machine won’t be better by default just because it is more powerful. If you only work with thin leather or combine leather with textile, a domestic machine will probably be a better choice due to its versatility.
Janome HD3000 Heavy-Duty Sewing Machine
If you haven’t had a chance to work with a heavy-duty machine, you’re in for a very pleasant surprise. This will be a smooth, powerful and hassle-free experience. This machine will handle leather as well as other heavy-duty, thick materials such as canvas or denim. It will also make your life easier when it comes to conventional sewing projects, as well as quilting. It features 18 built-in stitches and a hard case; one-step buttonhole, built-in needle threader, foot pressure adjustments, automatic bobbin winding, manual thread tension adjustment. The reinforced straight stitch isn’t adjustable, if you use it at all. Good for beginners and experts alike.
Dimensions: 10 x 19 x 15 inches / Weight: 23 pounds
- Versatility – it handles light and heavy-duty materials equally well
- Powerful – it will easily sew through multiple layers
- Comes with a great user’s manual
- The reinforced straight stitch isn’t adjustable
- Won’t work as good with needles that aren’t Janome’s
Singer Heavy Duty 4432 Sewing Machine
This machine sews up to 1,100 stitches per minute and has a 60% stronger engine than your standard sewing machine, and comes with a number of features such as built-in needle threader, top drop-in bobbin, built-in 1-step buttonhole, snap-on presser feet, on board storage, adjustable presser foot pressure control, built-in reverse, adjustable stitch length, three needle positions and drop feed for button. It’s a free-arm model, allowing you to easily work with parts that would be difficult to reach on a flatbed model.
Dimensions: 15.2 x 6.2 x 12 inches / Weight: 17.25 pounds
- Very affordable – this is one of the cheapest options out there
- Versatile – there’s a variety of stitches, with 18 decorative, 7 stretch, and 6 utility stitches, as well as 4 presser feet
- Very lightweight
- The speed isn’t adjustable enough
- Some customers complain about the thread and bobbin jamming up
JUKI TL-2000Qi Sewing and Quilting Machine
Even though this semi-industrial machine is primarily built for quilting, it could easily become your best choice for leather sewing too. It’s very well equipped for thick materials thanks to the walking foot and speed selector. If you’ve ever tried sewing leather, you’re well aware of all the advantages of sewing at lower speeds, so your stitches would come out even and beautiful. Setup can be a little bit tricky if you’re a beginner. Features LED lights for working at night, one pedal operation, as well as up to 1,500 stitches per minute. Automatic needle threader and only straight stitch. Great feature for quilting – extension table that comes with this good leather sewing machine.
Dimensions: 17.8 x 8.6 x 13.8 inches / Weight: 37.8 pounds
- It has speed selector, allowing you to easily reduce speed when you work with tricky parts
- Walking foot makes it great for working with leather
- Setup is not easy
- There is only one stitch available
Sailrite Heavy-Duty Ultrafeed LSZ-1 BASIC Walking Foot Sewing Machine
If you are only working with heavy-duty materials, this machine could be the best choice. It will handle 10 layers of sailcloth, heavy canvas, denim, and upholstery fabrics easily. If your the flywheel on your previous machine wasn’t powerful enough, this monster balance wheel will be at least twice as powerful. It features an extra wide presser foot with built-in piping tunnel and high foot lift. Make sure to buy leather needles instead of using the default ones that come with the machine. It comes with a comprehensive user’s manual in print and on DVD, the lack of which is often an issue with other machines. The walking foot takes some time to adapt if you’ve never worked with it before, but it’s great for sewing multiple layers. The machine itself is very sturdy and stable – also very heavy, which can be an advantage when it comes to stability.
Dimensions: 18.5 x 17 x 15 inches / Weight: 55 pounds
- The unique Posi-Pin clutching system provides full power transfer from balance wheel to the needle
- Very sturdy and strong
- Comprehensive user’s manual
- Threading and winding can be a bit complicated
Consew 206RB-5 Walking Foot Industrial Sewing Machine
This high-end industrial machine would be perfect for leather, canvas, denim, upholstery and other thick materials. It comes with table and servo motor, which reduces the noise and energy consumption. It’s especially good for thick materials because of the triple feed and high foot lift, allowing you to work even with thickest leather. It only does straight stitches – good enough, considering these will make up to 99% of any leather project. The bobbin is extra large. Just like most industrial workhorses, it’s pretty expensive. But it will pay off very fast. Doesn’t come fully assembled, and some customers complain that assembly isn’t easy.
Dimensions: 50 x 45 x 20 inches / Weight: 200 pounds
- Has all the features that are essential for working with thick materials
- It is pretty quiet considering the power
- Comes with table
- Not a good choice for beginners
Singer Quantum Stylist 9960 Computerized Portable Sewing Machine
This beauty features whopping 600 stitches – basic, stretch and decorative; plus, five fonts, automatic needle threader so you can thread everything in minutes, 13 built-in buttonholes with underplate. Its maximum speed of 850 stitches per minute is satisfactory, considering that this is not an industrial machine. One of its greatest strengths is versatility, allowing you to work on countless different projects, with variety of presser feet for zippers, hems, buttonholes, quilting, embroidery, walking foot. Even though it’s not the best solution if you work exclusively with leather, you can do some basic projects with it, provided you get adequate needles. Since it is computerized, it allows you to easily operate and quickly grasp its features. The display shows you everything, even the stitch type.
Dimensions: 17.2 x 8.2 x 12 inches / Weight: 20 pounds
- Large selection of stitches for different types of creative projects
- Very user-friendly due to all the presets and LCD screen
- An all-in-one kind of machine for beginners and experienced sewists
- Very good value for the money
- It won’t easily handle thicker leather
- You can’t use the quilting bar with the walking foot
- Doesn’t have a knee lifter
Toyota Super Jeans J15 Sewing Machine
Even though this machine is best for sewing with denim, it is equally efficient when it comes to leather and other thick materials. You can easily transform it into a free arm machine for working with hard-to-reach areas such as sleeves, cuffs, legs. The package includes an extension table, six presser feet (gliding, zipper, overcasting, zigzag, buttonhole, blind hem), as well as three packs of needles. Plus, automatic needle threader will spare your eyes and save you some time.
Dimensions: 18 x 14 x 9.2 inches / Weight: 14.9 pounds
- Comes with a bunch of accessories
- It can sew through any leather, even the thickest
- 34 built-in stitches
- Very lightweight
- According to some customers, it can be a bit unstable
Tacsew GC6-6 Walking Foot Feed Industrial Upholstery Sewing Machine
This is not an all-in-one type of machine, and that can be its greatest advantage if thick materials are your primary occupation. It only has walking foot, which is designed for thick fabrics. As you probably know, industrial machines need frequent oiling, but it won’t be a problem here since it has an automatic oiling function. It’s very frequently used in sewing factories, which speaks volumes of its durability. Its maximum speed is 1,600 stitches per minute.
Dimensions: 23 x 18.8 x 10.8 inches / Weight: 77.6 pounds
- Automatic oiling
- Top and bottom feed allow easy sewing through multiple layers of different materials
- Easy to use
- It comes with a clutch motor, which is noisy and consumes a lot of energy
Working with Leather – Tips & Tricks
- Before starting, you need to carefully examine the leather. Bizarre though it may sound, it used to be on an animal and can have a lot of strain, wrinkles and other irregularities that you should be aware of.
- Thread tension is extremely important here. If your stitch is too tight, the thread might break.
- Choose your threads wisely. You might be surprised to learn that synthetic thread will work better than cotton here. Some of the best options are nylon, rayon, or polyester. The explanation is simple: synthetic thread is more durable. You don’t want it to wear away before the leather does. Also, it may sound counterintuitive – but your thread doesn’t necessarily have to be ultra strong. Working with a finer nylon thread can bring amazing results.
- Get a huge menagerie of needles. Due to the leather’s thickness, needles will dull much faster. Change them regularly – it’s actually best to always put a new needle ahead of a new project. Plus, keep in mind that needles too thin tend to get stuck! Therefore, it’s best to purchase specialized leather sewing needles.
- Ditch the pins. You need to mark leather with stuff that won’t destroy it. Prepare different types of clips, invisible tape or even hairpins.
- When ironing, make sure not to use high heat and steam. Plus, don’t press the iron directly against the leather. Put a cloth in between to better protect the leather.
For more tips and details, check out this article about sewing with leather.