Sewing with leather pt.1

Ah, the beginnings of a new sometime series, useless to all but a few. It’s rather strange that I’ve never written about this considering it is my pattern making specialty. Hopefully you will learn to enjoy it and be inspired to try sewing with leather. It’s wonderful to work with, easier than fabrics in some respects and it’s a lot less costly than Ultrasuede.

Speaking of cost, the price of leather can vary a great deal. Pig suede is the least expensive running $1.65-$2.25 a square foot. The average size medium short ladies jacket takes about 25 square feet. I make most protos in pig suede because it’s the equivalent of muslin. I’ll pass on further discussion since there is so much on the topic on the web.

Leather, whether sueded or not, has a nap. It is more obvious in suede but smooth (“grain”) leathers have hair pores that are directionally aligned. You want to be sure to cut pieces like CF and CB right next to each other on the hide mirroring along the CF/CB lines. I’ll illustrate that tomorrow. Here’s an illustration of nap on the typical hide.

The flank areas of the hide If you notice, leather actually has two naps (one reason cutting is a challenge and costlier than fabric cutting). Remembering nap is easy if you think of it in terms of petting a dog or a cat. The fur runs down the spine (nap down) but nap also runs down each side of the animal.

Think of these as armpits, they are. These areas are stretchier, usually rippling. Cutting in these areas requires some thought in pattern piece placement. More on that in a minute but for now is an illustration.

Areas of the hide
Below (last illustration on the page) is an illustration of a hide, broken up into blocks A-C

Area A: This is where you put your nicest pieces. There is a priority of piece placement. Fronts, backs, and then sleeves. Fronts and backs should be right next to each other for the best matching because the hide color can vary in different areas.

Area B: This is the belly of the animal and it is usually stretchy. This area is inappropriate for collars and facings most of the time. If you must lay a CF facing or lapel there, the CF lapel edge should face inward towards the center of the hide. The side of the facing that is sewn to the lining can go to the outside edge of the belly.

Area C: The head and butt are easy to find with nap. If you’re using a grain (smooth leather) and can’t read the direction of the pores, the neck leather is usually thicker (and more scarred) than the butt. The butt is softer and stretchier. The neck (C)is good for top collars provided the area isn’t scarred and looks nice.

Area D: The butt is good for undercollars. You probably should not put top collars here, a long CF facing won’t fit so I don’t have to worry you’ll put one here but collars do tuck in nicely. You can also put undercollars along the belly. This of course presumes your top and under collars are cut to different sizes; undercollars being the smaller of the two and stretched a bit to match the top.

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  1. Faye says:

    Yes! My ears perk right up when you talk about leather, Kathleen, as I’m starting to gather leather and supplies for some ideas I have. Looking forward to part 2.

  2. Cynthia says:

    Thank you so much for this series! I’ve been contemplating what to do with 2 hides that I have. After reading part one, I realized I would have incorrectly laid out the pattern pieces. Thank you for saving them from my ignorance.

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