When of the first questions I always get when I mention my leather sewing to others is “but where do you buy it?!” Living in a small town means I am limited to Jo-Ann Fabrics (which doesn’t carry leathers) and the internet for my fabric shopping. Fortunately, “the internet” has more and more options popping up every day.
Lack of knowledge can be one of the most intimidating parts of shopping for leather. I hope that I can help you with that with these few tips, before I send you off to some of my favorite leather shops.
Watch the weight.
There is a wide variety of thicknesses of leathers and most of what is available is only appropriate for an industrial-strength sewing machine. However, there are still plenty of leather options out there. The key to finding them is to know the leather’s “weight” or thickness.
1 oz is about .4mm thick
2 oz is about .8mm thick
3 oz is about 1.6 mm thick, etc
(from chart by Tandy Leather)
The weight or thickness of the leather will be available in the product description. I have a Brother computerized sewing machine, and the thickest leathers I have successfully sewn are 2.6oz leathers. However, I have heard the recommendation “less than 3 ounces” for domestic machines. So yours might be able to handle a little more or a little less. Get your hands on some leather swatches or scraps and try them out!
Know your type.
In my searching and experience, I have found “garment” leathers and “upholstery” leathers that are appropriate for my sewing machine. Garment leathers, like lambskin, are going to be very soft, with beautiful drape, but they are also more delicate. Upholstery leathers will have a stiffer hand and are very durable, but they also sometimes come in thickness that are too thick for domestic sewing machines. So you have to be careful to watch the weight/thickness when ordering.
Always Always Always try test a swatch before ordering a hide.
Buying a hide is a big investment. You wouldn’t want to be stuck with a large amount of leather that your sewing machine hates, or you don’t like the feel. The Better-Than-Basic Bag has one small section that requires sewing through three layers of leather. If your machine can’t handle sewing two layers easily and three layers successfully, don’t get it!
Buy the right amount.
Unlike fabric which is sold by the linear yard, leather is sold by the hide. Depending on the size of animal, hides will vary in size. Cows are huge, their hides are huge, and consequently their prices are huge. Lambskin hides are significantly smaller. Shops will sometimes sell partial-hides or remnants, which is ideal for smaller projects. The product listings will give the amount of leather in square feet. The Better-Than-Basic Bag only needs a piece of leather 2 feet by 2.5 feet.
Ready to start shopping? These are the internet shops that I have had experience working with.
The Leather Hide Store
I reviewed the Leather Hide Store last year. [see the review post here] Since then, most of the leather projects you have seen on Sew Fearless have been sewn with their leathers. They specialize in upholstery leathers and always have a nice stock of leather “remnants” available. They are happy to send free swatches of their leathers, which I have always appreciated.
Sew To Grow
Sew To Grow is an Australia-based business specializing in lambskin hides for the domestic sewist. I reviewed this shop in my last post and was very happy with the product I used.
Tandy Leather is the grandaddy of leather stores. They have brick and mortar stores all over the US and also a website and catalog. They stock every type of leather and leather tool imaginable. I have yet to sew a complete project with their leathers, but they did send me some samples of leathers that would be appropriate for sewing the Better-Than-Basic Bag – their Minelli Sides and Tundra Sheepskin. I tested those swatches on my machine and think they would be a suitable and good quality options. I am likely to buy one of their Minelli Sides, in an appropriately sassy color, the next time I get an itch to sew myself a new bag.
Brettuns Village Leather Craft Supplies
I ordered a sheepskin hide from Brettuns Village to make the “Manly Poppins” bag. It was a very very lightweight leather, which made it easy to sew, but it unfortunately was not very durable. I haven’t ordered from them since.
Your Local Thrift Shop
If you want a budget friendly option for leather, check out your local thrift shop. A leather jacket can be cut down for a smaller project and isn’t as scary a purchase as buying a large leather hide.
Have you purchased leather before? Where did you get it?
Would you like to win some leather? Be sure to enter the Better-Than-Basic Launch Giveway before this Friday, June 5th, 2015! And take advantage of the launch week discount!
Linda Galante says
really informative post…Thank you!
Very useful , Thank you !
Dennis Mullins Sr says
Thank you your post is very helpful now I know how to buy my leather. I bought remints before by the pound but the company went out of business. So now I know where and how to buy.
Heather Creech-Widener says
I have never sewn with leather, but my step-dad does and LOVES Tandy Leather! I would love to sew myself a leather handbag, as I can never find a leather bag that I like very much.
Tandy offers leather sewing machines in their stores but your best bet is finding an old Singer. They will see leather and heavy denim seams
Try theleatherguy.com for a variety of skins and finishes.
It’s actually theleatherguy.org
Mary Vincent says
When I was in high school, I received a piece of brown suede leather as a gift. I made a zippered vest out of it, and lined it with a light-weight fabric. I loved that vest and received lots of compliments. The only problem is that little pills of suede rolled onto my blouse sleeves inder my arms. After asking around for advice, I finally sprayed the sides of the vest with hair spray. That cut down considerably on the pilling.
I wore and wore that vest. I also accumulated a few food spots on the front. Alas! My mom finally made me give away my vest because it was no longer pretty. I think she said something about “a cowboy vest.”
Mary Vincent says
I just remembered a suede dress I made for a lady when I was in high school in the 1960s. “Margaret” had bought some medium-weight suede. She and her husband asked me to copy a “hip” leather dress in a fashion magazine. The dress was basically strapless, with an upper and lower panel front and back. It was held up by a leather strap around the neck, halter style.
I think I lined the dress with lightweight lining. The dress was put on over the head, then the strap was fastened.
When Margaret and her husband came home from the party that night, they said the dress was a hit. There was also a slight “wardrobe malfunction.” The weight of the leather stretched the strap and pulled the dress down farther than intended. I hadn’t sewn the strap around basic cording.
Hello, my wife and I have purchased leather from a company in Texas called, of all things, Frogjelly. They are reasonably priced and good quality. Shipping is usually free and new subscribers to their newsletter receive a $10 discount on the first order. Hope this helps
Just an FYI-if the leather is too thick where the two layers of leather meet, you can thin the leather down with a skiving knife. I started sewing with thin leather on my home sewing machine and now have graduated to an industrial leather sewing machine. You can find the skiving knife at Tandy Leather. It puts at lot less stress on a home machine if you can thin the leather out a bit.
Can you recommend a workshop to gain experience in design and fine finishes, i.e. hand stitching and covering buckles. I found one in Wales, but my hubs says I need to build my craft closer to home… that being US based.
Churchill J Barton says
ordered a sheepskin hide from Brettuns Village to make the “Manly Poppins” bag. It was a very very lightweight leather, which made it easy to sew, but it unfortunately was not very durable. I haven’t ordered from them since.
We advertised that leather as a garment leather. Your post almost accuses of us selling inferior leather. We’re sorry you haven’t returned to visit our website; we’re always happy to help our customers zero in on the proper leather for their project. A heavier (thicker) leather that was tanned and finished to avoid abrasion may have helped.