Leather shopping guide
Leather is a natural product. Leather has been used for clothing and accessories for centuries, and it has a range of impressive qualities. Leather is use for all kinds of clothing. Trousers, jackets, shoes, hats, bags and much more can be made from leather. We’ll show you what you need to keep in mind when handling, sewing and caring for leather:
Leather - a natural product.
Leather refers to an animal skin that is chemically preserved by way of a tanning process, which leaves the material’s natural fibres in tact. Leather is mostly made using the dermis layer of the skin.
Leather is one of the oldest materials used by humans, along with wood, stone, wool and fur. Leather was used for clothing during the stone age. During the hunter-gatherer phase, humans used the whole animal: the meat was eaten, the horns, bones and teeth were used to create weapons, and fur and leather were used to make clothing. This goes to show how good leather’s functional properties are: it’s robust, breathable, insulating and mostly water-resistant.
Even right at the beginning of car manufacture, leather was used to make seat covers and interiors for vehicles. Car interiors made entirely or even partly from leather usually come with a hefty price tag. If you’d like to enhance your interiors, you can choose from one of our car leathers. Due to demands like cold, heat, wet and sunlight, leather develops special properties when it comes to flexibility, durability, light-resistance and low flammability.
What different types of leather are available?
Any animal skin can be used to make leather. What qualities a leather has depends on the hide used. Of all leather worldwide, 95% comes from cows, calves, sheep, goats and pigs. These hides are by-products of the meat industry.
Nappa leather is particularly popular. It’s a soft, chrome tanned leather made from calf or sheep hides. Today, nappa leather is an umbrella term for any soft leathers made from any animal hides and for a range of purposes, such as upholstery. The natural surface with open pores allows water vapour perforation and optimal heat exchange. You can also buy pigmented nappa leather e.g. in black. The dye is applied to the hide using a binder to achieve an even tone across the whole area. These leathers are less breathable but more durable and easier to care for.
No rolls, just hides
If you want to buy some genuine leather for a sewing project, you don’t need to work out how many metres you need - you need to think in hides. You can buy a ¼, ½ or a whole hide. The cost depends on the quality and type of leather.
- Robust, breathable, insulating and mostly water-resistant
- Natural product preserved by a tanning proces
- 95% of leather is made from cow, calf, sheep, goat or pig hide: Soft nappa leather is a special kind of leather.
- Buying leather: leather is sold in hides and the price depends on the quality and type
Sewing leather - what you need to know
Leather has a natural grain. The grain lies crosswise to the fur, so left to right rather than front to back. The grain is important for tear resistance. You can rip furs or leather in line with the grain. However, good-quality leather is almost impossible to tear against the grain. For most sewing projects, like clothing and bags, it’s not too important to keep to the grain. You should, however, make sure that leather belts and straps correspond with the grain. Avoid cutting leather on the bias, even if it would mean saving leather.
Leather stretches more length-wise. That’s why you should always make sure that pattern pieces all point in the same direction. For example, if you’re cutting out sleeves or the front and back of a garment, make sure they face the same direction, even if this requires more leather.
You also have to keep the grain in mind when cutting suede. This should always run from top to bottom.
You can use tape or weights to attach your pattern pieces to the leather.
What you need to keep in mind when sewing leather depends on the thickness and other properties of your leather. Make sure you use special leather sewing machine needles. These cut a hole in the leather as you stitch, letting the thread pass through. As leather resists when sewing, you can put a layer of thin paper under your presser foot. You can simply stitch over it and rip the paper away when you’re done. Alternatively, you can use a special Teflon foot that prevents the leather from sticking to your machine.
Please note that you should not use your seam ripper on leather seams. The little holes from the needle will be visible. That’s why it’s not a good idea to use pins on leather. You can simply use leather adhesive on your seams, as you don’t need to finish the edges on leather items.
Make sure that you adjust your tension when sewing leather. If your tension is too loose, the top and bottom threads won’t attach properly. Sewing will be easier with a longer stitch length.
- Watch out for the grain, and make sure pattern pieces always face the same way
- You also have to watch out for the grain when using suede
- Leather needs special leather needles, and thin paper may help your leather through your machine more easily, or you could use a Teflon presser foot
- Seams could also be glued using leather adhesive
- A longer stitch length and the right tension makes sewing leather much easier
Our tip: To make sure your leather stays soft and supple, you should use a leather cream before sewing. We recommend wetting suede with a little bit of water. If your leather is already lovely and soft, you don’t need to do this step. This should usually be the case.
Helpful tips on caring for leather
There are certain ground rules when handling leather. As long as you keep these in mind when cleaning and caring for leather, you can’t go wrong. Most errors are made when cleaning leather. Even using the wrong cleaning products for your leather can lead to undesired results. That’s why you should always work out what kind of leather you have and always try cleaning or care products on a small section to avoid undesired changes. You should establish whether your particular leather is absorbent or non-absorbent.
Caring for leather
Coloured leather can mostly stand up to the use of leather cleaners and leather care products, as they are generally non-absorbant leathers. You can mostly get rid of stains and dirt using a damp cloth or a leather cleaner. Make sure that you don’t rub too hard or too long, otherwise you could damage the top layer of the leather. We recommend not using any solvent-based products, as the coloured layer of the leather could be damaged even more quickly.
Caring for porous leather
Watch out when dealing with porous leather e.g. suede You have to be very careful when handling these leathers, as incorrect cleaning can worsen the problem you’re trying to correct. Most of the time, even water is enough to worsen a stain.
If you spill something, you should use kitchen towel to try and remove it before it dries and draw the moisture from the suede’s surface. This is the best way to avoid a clear, noticeable stain forming. If you rub too hard, you could damage the surface. Special stain removers and other household cleaners generally won’t help, and could even add to the damage. Water-based products mostly result in a darker patch, and solvent-based or bleaching products will result in a lighter stain. Sometimes, it’s worth contacting a leatherware professional or cobbler for advice. Surface stains can be carefully brushed out.
Porous leathers should be regularly treated with waterproofing treatments. But watch out: Even if you use waterproofing products, suede will never be completely waterproof, and shouldn’t be worn in wet weather.
Garment leather can be washed using suitable leather detergents, but you should never use standard textile detergents. Otherwise, you could run the risk of your leather hardening and shrinking in high temperatures.
General care instructions
You should always leave your leather to air-dry. Do not use a hairdryer or dry in direct sunlight. This could make the leather shrink. And watch out: Leather needs air circulation, and benefits from humidity of between 40 and 60%. Humidity of 70% or more and a lack of air circulation can result in mouldy leather.
Direct sunlight or proximity to radiators can also damage leather. Leather can fade and dry out. You should avoid these circumstances wherever possible. We recommend using a leather care product with UV protection.
- Solvent-based products or excessive rubbing can create faded patches on the leather
- Watch out when handling suede: even water can leave stains
- To avoid defined stains: soak up spillages with kitchen towel; don’t rub too hard!
- You should treat porous leather with a waterproofing product and not wear in wet weather
- Garment leather should only be washed using a leather detergent at a low temperature
- Always leave leather to air-dry and protect from UV rays
Get creative with leather - sewing ideas
You can use a robust leather to design a whole range of creative sewing projects to suit your style.
Leather jackets and coats are back in fashion. Look for the right sewing pattern and get going - what about a biker jacket? High-quality nappa leather would be a great choice here.
Soft suede is perfect for making a modern mini skirt. Combine with a crochet top and you’ll rule the hippie trend. It’s just as easy to make a leather waistcoat - with or without fringing - and a matching leather headband. Choose a fine, lightweight leather, which will drape nicely and feel good against the skin.
Its characteristic grip makes leather ideal for baby shoes. You can either use it for the whole shoe or use the leather as a non-slip sole.
A backpack is a great modern alternative to a tote bag. Made from leather, it’ll be hard-wearing and add a special edge to your outfit. You can whip up make-up bags, pencil cases, book covers and place mats in just a couple of steps.
To sum it up...
If you’re looking for a robust natural material with a special finish, leather is perfect for you. Let us sum up what you need to keep in mind when working with and caring for leather:
- Leather is a robust, breathable, insulating and mostly water-resistant material.
- Decide whether you want leather or suede for your project
- You should use special leather needles, the right tension and a long stitch length
- Leather needs to be cared for: don’t use aggressive cleaning products - a damp cloth is usually enough; you can contact a cobbler or other professional leatherworker in difficult cases