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How To Sew Leather – Techniques and Step-by-Step Approach

Learning how to sew leather was one of the most important parts of the craft for me. In doing so, I was not only able to create different projects but could add decorative elements to my work. Sewing leather quickly became one of my favorite parts of the craft and single-handedly improved my work.  

Learning how to sew leather is a vital skill in leather craft as it allows for pieces to be permanently bonded together. There are many ways to sew leather, including using a sewing machine or hand tools like speedy stitchers. Each method has its place in the craft and is useful for most projects.

Learning to sew leather is a big step in leather craft, opening up the possibilities for various projects. Let’s take a look at how to sew leather and the benefits of learning to. 

What Is Sewing Leather?

Sewing leather is the process of permanently binding two or more pieces of leather with thread. Needles with thread locked in place pass through the layers of leather and are pulled to tension, locking the pieces against one another. Leather is different to sew than other materials as it is thicker and often much more firm, requiring more strength to penetrate the material. 

This leads many to opt to hand sewing, as holes can be premade with tools such as a stitching chisel or awl. However, those looking to invest in the craft may purchase large industrial sewing machines that can sew multiple layers of thick leather. 

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • Reasons You Might Choose to Sew Leather
  • Variations or Styles of Sewing Leather
  • Sewing Leather Overview Table
  • Skill Level of Sewing Leather
  • Tools and Supplies Needed for Sewing Leather
  • How To Sew Leather Step by Step
  • How To Get Better at Sewing Leather
  • My Personal Research on Sewing Leather
  • Helpful Insights on Sewing Leather
  • Key Takeaways
Machine Sewing a Zipper to Leather - How To Sew Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Machine Sewing a Zipper to Leather

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

It is often said that leather can not be sewn with domestic sewing machines as the material is too thick and puncture resistant. However, this is only the case for some leathers. With the proper adjustments to a domestic sewing machine, such as changing the thread, foot, and needles, they have the potential to sew thin leather. 

The thickness a domestic machine can sew is based on the individual machine, with some being stronger than others. Test pieces should be used to gauge a machine’s performance and limitations. While an industrial machine is guaranteed to sew leather, modifying an existing one may be enough for crafters working with lighter leathers.

Reasons You Might Choose To Sew Leather

Sewing leather opens a world of possibilities for projects. By permanently attaching pieces of leather, items can be made. Sewing leather as a utility is the most common use. Sewing will be used on most leather projects, including items with a turned seam. 

In these cases, although the sewing will be hidden, it will still keep the bag together. Sewing may also be used in decorative ways. Adding a sewing line around a project’s border helps create a more professional look. Those more creative may also use sewing to add embroidery to a leather project, incorporating images or designs through sewing patterns.

Variations or Styles of Sewing Leather

A few different methods for sewing leather exist. Hand sewing is the most popular as it is accessible for most people without expensive machines. Hand sewing uses a hole-making tool to create all the holes required and then uses them to pass the thread through. 

Another option is using a speedy stitcher. This tool pierces the thread with a sharp point while simultaneously passing the thread through. The thread is locked in place when the tool is pulled out of the leather. Speedy stitchers may be efficient but lack the visual refinement of other options. 

Lastly, a sewing machine can be used for leather. Modified domestic or industrial strength machines push a needle through the leather while passing thread through. It is the most efficient way to sew leather but may require the most investment.

Sewing Leather Overview Table

Area of PreparationDetails
TechniqueSewing Leather
Overall Level of Skill (1–5)3
Time to Complete (minutes/hours)Dependant on project
Workspace NeededWorktable or more
Skills NeededHole-making, needle thread, and sewing techniques
Tools and Supplies NeededMachine, thread, hole punch, needles
Key Helpful TipBackstitch after finishing a sewing line to help secure the thread
How To Sew Leather Characteristics

Skill Level of Sewing Leather

While sewing leather is fairly simple to start, mastery will be much more difficult. After the holes are made in the leather, the thread must be locked onto harness needles. They will then pass through the leather overlapping each other to create a stitch on both sides. This is enough to hold together any leather project, but there are techniques to improve the look of a stitch further. 

By creating knots within the holes to force the thread into the proper position through a method known as “casting,” the stitches will become more slanted. To create a cast, a loop is passed over the first needle before pulling the thread to tension. 

To create the best-looking stitches, the casting method must be used, and thread tension must be consistent. Pulling one stitch tighter than another can throw off the final look. These variables are why mastering the art of sewing leather may be difficult.

Leather is different to sew than other materials as it is thicker and often much more firm, requiring more strength to penetrate the material.

Tools and Supplies Needed for Sewing Leather

The tools and supplies needed for sewing leather will depend on the method used for sewing. When hand sewing, you will first need a stitching chisel or awl to create the holes and needles and thread to sew the project. While needles of any kind will work, harness needles are recommended as they have a blunt tip that will prevent you from poking yourself as you stitch. 

If using a sewing machine for leather, most may come with what is needed. Aside from the machine itself, leather needles and thread are necessary. It may be beneficial for some also to purchase a walking foot, as leather tends to bunch up in the machine much more easily.

Chuck Dorsett covers a manual sewing machine in this video provided by Weaver Leather Supply, showcasing the tool’s uses and how to set up the machine to sew any leather.

How To Sew Leather Step by Step

  1. Glue or tape together the leather needing sewn to ensure they do not move out of place.
  2. Create a sewing line with a grover or compass to provide an equal distance from the edge of a project. 
  3. Use stitching chisels or an awl to create holes in the leather, keeping spacing as equal as possible. 
  4. Thread two needles and pass them through the leather at equal lengths on both sides.
  5. Push one needle through the leather, and pull it through to tension. Push the other needle through the same hole to interlock the threads. 
  6. When finished sewing, backstitch a couple of threads to lock the thread further, then cut, and lock the thread in place by burning or gluing it. 

How To Get Better at Sewing Leather

Sewing leather using any method will require practice to improve. The best way to do this is to sew scrap pieces together in various ways. This can be as simple as keeping a stitch line straight and consistent. When practicing, focus on the details of each step, perfecting the look of the stitch before attempting to increase the speed. 

Once proficient, practicing sewing situations, such as corners, turned edges, or binding, may be worthwhile. More experience gained through practice will ensure better stitch lines when used on any leather project. 

Dr.Eman Rafat Saad, a Lecturer in the Apparel Design & Technology Department, Faculty of Applied Arts, at Helwan University in Cairo, Egypt, also discussed the importance of using the right equipment when sewing leather. Everything from the needle shape to the thread type can affect the tension required, potentially affecting the final look of a sewing line. 

My Personal Research on Sewing Leather

Industrial sewing machines used for leather crafts can be a significant investment. To better understand the different machines and what they offer, I researched popular machine types, producing information on how they may be helpful in a leather shop.

Domestic/Regular Sewing Machines

People often ask if they can use traditional household sewing machines to sew leather. Typically the answer is no, but it may be possible with certain machines and limited applications. Basic machines may not have the power to go through multiple layers of thick leather but may be able to go through soft, thin leather like: 

  1. Deer
  2. Goat
  3. Calf
  4. Pig 

These leathers may be possible to sew with a regular sewing machine with the proper attachments on the machine. This includes a leather needle to pierce the material and heavy-duty thread to ensure the seam is strong. 

A walking foot may also be a good addition as it can allow the leather to pass through more easily. If attempting to use a basic sewing machine, start small and slow, allowing time to see how the machine will operate with the leather you are using. 

Manual Sewing Machines 

Manual sewing machines come at various prices, but all have the same feature of using a hand crank to plug the needle into the leather. Their popularity soared when crafters began testing a budget sub $200 machine. These machines have their problems and require a lot of fine-tuning to get them to work, but they can sew leather when dialed in. 

Higher quality manual sewing machines will provide a more ready-to-use product with an overall better finish. Some benefits of a manual sewing machine are its weight, freedom from electricity, and quietness. However, these machines are slower and can struggle to sew thinner leather. Manual sewing machines may benefit those who do not need to sew as often. 

Industrial Sewing Machines

Similar to manual sewing machines, industrial ones will have many prices. However, unless they are purchased used, they are thousands of dollars. This alone is enough to put off a lot of crafters as it is a large investment.

These machines are the perfect tool for the job; they can easily go through any thickness of leather with much more efficiency. The machines can be tailored to your needs when paying the premium price. Power, thread sizes, and features all become selling points to consider within a budget.

Overall industrial sewing machines will be more powerful, quicker, offer more features, and be more adjustable. However, they are extremely large, loud, and expensive. An industrial machine is best for those working in a large production environment.


Buying a sewing machine can be a large investment with many variables. By understanding what the machine will be used for, one can set a budget necessary for them. In some cases, a sewing machine may not be necessary, especially for smaller leather goods that will take less time to hand sew, reducing the benefits of the machine. 

Helpful Insights On Sewing Leather

What do you use to sew leather?

Many things can be used to sew leather, including sewing machines, speedy stitchers, and hand tools. Each method has its own pros and cons, with no best method. Leather thickness must be considered when deciding how to sew it, as multiple layers of thick leather may not work with small sewing machines.

Is it hard to sew leather?

No, while it may seem intimidating to sew leather, the skill can be picked up quickly. The tough part of sewing leather is becoming more consistent. Each method has its own techniques that will improve the final look of a stitching line. Creating equally spaced stitches with consistent angles and equal distance from the edge will take practice. 

What tension should I use to sew leather?

While tension will vary depending on the leather’s thickness, machines typically need to be set at around 3.5–4.5. A too-low tension will have extra slack, leading to leather not holding together well. With an overly tight tension, the leather may become marked or begin to bunch together. When hand sewing leather, ideally, the thread is pulled until it ends with slightly more tension added to ensure the project is securely snug. 

Is there a special needle to sew leather?

While any needle can be used to sew leather, it may be easiest to use a harness needle. Harness needles have blunted points, a smaller eye, and are more durable. These characteristics help the needles pass through the leather much more easily and prevent them from bending or breaking. The blunted points of the needles help prevent injury since the holes for leather goods are often premade. 

Do I need a heavy-duty sewing machine to sew leather?

While a heavy-duty sewing machine is a great tool that benefits leather, it is not always necessary. Hand sewing is a popular option that requires no machines. Holes are punched with hand chisels and sewn with needles and thread. Additionally, very thin leather can be sewn with various other sewing machines. Although if using a machine, a heavy-duty device is required for most projects. 

Do I need a walking foot to sew leather?

No, a walking foot is unnecessary to sew leather with a sewing machine; however, it is a helpful attachment. A walking foot will help keep all the pieces of leather in unison, keeping everything aligned. It may also help if bunching is an issue. Leather may not glide through machines as easily as other materials and may benefit from a walking foot. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Sewing leather differs from other materials and will require specialized tools to pierce. 
  2. Hand sewing is a popular option, but sewing machines and other tools can be used.
  3. Sewing leather is the best way to attach leather pieces, as it creates a permanent bond.

In Closing

Sewing leather is a crucial part of leather crafting that continuously elevates any project. Not only does it open a world of possibility, but it also provides visual interest to items. Regardless of the sewing method used, mastering the task will help define your skills in the craft. 

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