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How to Repair Leather – Step by Step Based on Leather Type

My first introduction to leather craft was repairing leather shoes and boots. I knew nothing about leather then, and my repairs were basic. Through my journey with the craft, I learned various techniques that helped me tackle more complex repairs and extend the life of leather goods.

Repairing leather is restoring damaged leather goods in different ways, including patching, resewing, dyeing, cleaning, and conditioning. These are determined by the type of leather used and the damage to the item. Most leather items can be repaired at home with little to no cost. 

Learning how to repair leather can be a great tool to expand the lifespan of any leather item. Let’s look at various leather repairing techniques and when to use them. 

What Is Repairing Leather?

Repairing leather is restoring leather through various means. This may include structural damage that will need patching or resewing. Two techniques that require specific leather working techniques. As well as damage to the appearance of the leather, including cleaning, conditioning, and dyeing leather, which may be done at home with little experience.

Each repair job will have challenges based on the leather’s state and the type of leather being repaired. Due to leather’s longevity, basic repairs will likely occur during an item’s lifespan. With leather repairing techniques, an item can avoid the landfill and be enjoyed for many years.     

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • Reasons You Might Choose To Repair Leather
  • Variations or Styles of How To Repair Leather
  • How To Repair Leather Overview Table
  • Skill Level of How To Repair Leather
  • Tools and Supplies Needed To Repair Leather
  • How To Repair Leather Step by Step
  • How to Get Better Repairing Leather
  • My Personal Research on How To Repair Leather
  • Helpful Insights on How To Repair Leather
  • Key Takeaways
Holding a Leather Belt and a Piece of Leather - Repairing Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Holding a Leather Belt and a Piece of Leather

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

Although leather is a popular product known for luxury and durability, people do not always take the time to learn how to care for it properly. Too often, I come across “ruined” items that only require basic care to restore. Dried, cracked, or faded leather can be fixed with proper conditioning.

Leather is unlike many other materials, and the maintenance required can give the wrong impression. The material can seem destroyed when not maintained, but with routine leather conditioning, leather can outlast any item.

Most leather goods damaged from lack of conditioning can have their issues fixed and sometimes reversed. Before thinking a leather item is a lost cause, applying basic conditioning techniques to attempt to restore the leather may be worth it. 

Reasons You Might Choose To Repair Leather

The most common reason to repair leather is out of necessity. Like any other material, leather can develop holes, have stitches torn, or experience structural damage. In these cases, the leather item can become seemingly ruined.

By addressing the areas that need to be repaired, the leather can continue to provide years of use. Alternatively, the leather may be repaired for visual reasons. Color fading, dryness, and cracking are all areas of concern.

While the item itself may still be used, the leather may still require treatment to look its best and prevent further damage. Since leather is a durable luxury material, repairs can often add years or decades to the lifespan of an item, making it a good option rather than replacing the item.

Due to leather’s longevity, basic repairs are likely to occur during an item’s lifespan. With leather repairing techniques, an item can avoid the landfill and be enjoyed for many more years.

Variations or Styles of How To Repair Leather

Repairs can be separated into two categories, functional and visual. Functional repairs focus on areas of damage that impact the way an item works. This may include holes, broken seams, or other afflictions that prevent the item from being used as intended.

Functional repairs will typically require prior knowledge in leatherworking to be fixed, including sewing, punching, and hardware setting. Visual repairs are the most common damage reported with leather items. Visual damage includes fading, dryness, cracking, or other changes to the look of the leather while still being usable.

This damage typically occurs from exposure to water, excess sunlight, or neglect. Most visual repairs that are made to leather can be performed with little to no prior leather craft knowledge. By following restoration steps, many visual issues can be addressed or reversed. 

How To Repair Leather Overview Table

Area of PreparationDetails
TechniqueHow To Repair Leather
Overall Level of Skill (1–5)3
Time to Complete (minutes/hours)Dependant on damage
Workspace NeededWorktable or larger 
Skills NeededPunching, sewing, hardware setting, cleaning, conditioning, and dyeing  
Tools and Supplies NeededLeather soap, conditioner, dye, horsehair brush, hole punch, needles, thread, and hardware setter
Key Helpful TipRoutinely conditioner leather items to prevent, and repair damage caused by daily use
How To Repair Leather Characteristics

Here is a helpful video that walks through the main repair types, and which you might need:

Skill Level of How To Repair Leather

The skill required to repair leather can range from none to advanced knowledge. To address dryness, simple tasks such as cleaning and conditioning the leather require no previous knowledge. Repairs begin to become more complicated when dyeing leather is involved. In these situations, it is important to understand the dyeing process and follow the steps necessary for a uniform color. 

Repairs that require further knowledge include patches, resewing, or swapping hardware. Each task will require leather working techniques, tools, and supplies that may exceed what a novice feels comfortable doing. In these cases, taking a leather item to a professional is the best option to ensure no mistakes are made during the repair process. 

Tools and Supplies Needed To Repair Leather

Each repair job will require different tools and/or supplies. Repairs that address leather cracking, fading, and dryness, will use simple supplies such as leather soap and conditioner. After cleaning the leather with a horsehair brush, these are applied with a clean cloth. More specialized tools will be needed as the repairs become more challenging. 

It is best to thoroughly research the necessary tools and techniques before attempting to repair any leather item to understand what the process will require. For example, patches, broken seams, or hardware replacements will require:

  1. A hole-making tool 
  2. Needles
  3. Thread
  4. Proper hardware setting set

Nikola Mihajlovski and Konstantin Bahchevandjiev, from the Faculty of Design and Technologies of Furniture and Interior, in Skopje, Republic of North Macedonia, detail the different supply possibilities when treating dry leathers. Finding that conditioners with high traditional wax, oil, and fat, work best for keeping the leather flexible, helping prevent cracking. 

How To Repair Leather Step by Step

  1. Inspect the leather thoroughly to determine necessary repairs and create a supply list.
  2. Clean off the leather using a horsehair brush to prepare the surface
  3. Address any holes or broken thread by punching holes in the leather and sewing a replacement patch. (Or resewing a seam)
  4. Wash the leather with specialty soap and a clean cloth.
  5. Once dried, condition the item with a leather conditioner till fully hydrated.

How To Get Better at Repairing Leather

There are a few different ways to become better at repairing leather. The first is to improve at identifying the problem and leather types. Each type of leather may require other methods to repair an issue, and understanding the situation will allow the matter to be better addressed.

Techniques themselves can be improved by practicing them on scrap leather. This includes dyeing, sewing, and hardware setting. However, the best practice will always be repairing leather items. Doing so will provide the most unrivaled hands-on experience when learning to repair leather.  

My Personal Research on How To Repair Leather

My first dive into leather crafting was through basic repairs. I would purchase damaged boots and shoes and attempt to extend their life. While I try to share my information with anyone needing leather repair advice, I thought this would be the perfect platform. For my research, I will address a few common leather issues, how to treat them, and the skills and supplies needed for each repair. 

Dryness/Stiffness/Cracking

The most common issue I encounter with leather is a mixture of dryness, stiffness, and cracking. This can be a result of neglect or found in older items. Luckily, this issue is one of the simplest to address. Leather conditioner and a clean cloth are all it takes in most cases. Dry leather most likely lacks moisture, and this can result in the leather cracking or becoming stiff. 

A leather conditioner will rehydrate the leather and help prevent the damage from worsening. Leather conditioner will be applied in small amounts over the entire leather item with the cloth. Dry leather will soak up the conditioner. The item should then be left to dry. 

This is repeated until the leather is soft or the conditioner sits on top rather than soaking in. In most cases, this will be enough to reverse the damage; however, some wrinkles or cracks may remain. The leather conditioner may also darken the leather surface, so testing a small area can help prevent this color change. 

Color Fading

One problem that is a little trickier to fix is color fading. This can occur from prolonged exposure to sunlight or improper cleaning techniques. The first step is to determine the type of leather the item is. To do so, add a small drop of water onto the surface. If it is absorbed, the process will be much simpler. For these items, a leather conditioner with color is the easiest method for restoring saturation.

Conditioners are easy to apply, and the coloring used will blend rather than overpower. Apply color conditioner, use a clean rag, and rub the conditioner into the leather in circles, focusing on the faded areas and attempting to blend them in around the edges. By using a colored leather conditioner, the leather will also remain hydrated. 

When testing the leather with water, if the droplet is repelled and simply rolls off, more extreme measures may be required. Water resistance is the sign of a leather coating. A coating will prevent products from penetrating the leather properly and must be treated differently. First, a deglazer must be applied to the entire item to remove the coating completely. 

Then, the leather can be colored with leather conditioner or leather dye. The leather dye will be more aggressive and is best used for highly faded items or color changes. The dye should be applied with a dauber or cloth, focusing on avoiding streaking. 

Let the color dry overnight before applying a finishing coat. The most popular choice is resolene, an acrylic finish that can be applied with a dauber or rag and locks in color. After the resolene has dried, a leather conditioner may be applied to rehydrate the leather. 

Patching

Repairing holes in leather is a more advanced technique requiring specialty leather tools, including a hole-punching tool such as stitching chisels, an awl, or a speedy stitcher, and needles and thread. The first thing to determine is how the leather has been worn. If the threads have broken, they can be easily hand-sewn or resewn with a machine. 

However, things become more tricky when the leather has torn. In these cases patching is the best solution for long-lasting strength. First, determine the size of the hole, and choose a larger patch. Line up the patch covering the hole, and hold it in place with glue or double-sided tape. 

Create sewing holes by using one of the tools mentioned above. Once the holes have been created, the patch can be sewn to the leather to repair the damaged area. Patches can be cut in fun shapes to help mask damage as a design element. 

Conclusion

Leather is a long-lasting product that should be repaired when it can be. By providing information on common repairs, leather items can hopefully be enjoyed for longer. Although repairing leather is a great skill, the most important factor is continuous maintenance. Many leather issues stem from dryness, so routine conditioning can help keep items free from damage longer. 

Helpful Insights On How To Repair Leather

Can damaged leather be repaired?

In most cases, damaged leather can be repaired, but a few exceptions exist. The type of leather and the extent of the damage can make leather unsalvageable. This is commonly seen in pigmented leather with surface damage. Since the surface of the leather is a plastic coating, there is no way to restore the area once it has worn off. 

How do you repair leather yourself?

To repair leather yourself, you must understand the damage being addressed and the techniques to restore the material. Most surface damage, dryness, or fading can easily be treated at home with simple products and limited techniques. Holes and structural damage will be much more in-depth, requiring some prior leather working knowledge. In these cases, it may be best to have a professional leather worker address the issues at hand. 

How do you repair fake leather?

Since fake leather is typically made from plastics, any damage is unrepairable. The coating used on the leather is only surface deep. There is no way to restore it once it has been worn through. However, artificial leather can have areas covered up to hide the damage to the leather. Leather paint or patches can be placed on the damaged area to hide it. These repairs will most likely mismatch the color or texture of the rest of the item but can make it usable again. 

Key Takeaways

  1. When possible, repairing leather is a great option for extending the lifespan of an item.
  2. Larger repairs, such as holes and broken seams, require specialized leather tools and knowledge of leather-working techniques.
  3. Most visual leather damage and inexpensive leather products can be repaired at home without prior knowledge. 

In Closing

Leather is an amazingly durable material, but it can still develop damage with wear. While most materials would be ruined at this point, leather is resilient. With various techniques, leather can often be restored to its former glory, ensuring any leather item can continue to be loved for many more years or decades. 

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