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Leather Pattern Making – Ways to Easily Create Your Own

One of the most effective ways I have improved my leather projects is by having a detailed plan. Creating a pattern for each and every project has limited my mistakes and sharpened my creativity. 

Leather pattern making is the process of planning out the details of a full-sized leather project on a variety of materials. Patterns can range from small tracing pieces to large detailed pieces with marks for every hole needed in the design. Patterns allow new concepts without risking leather.

Let’s review the different leather pattern types and how they may benefit your leather projects. 

What is Leather Pattern Making

Making a leather pattern is planning the size, shape, and details of a leather project on various materials like paper, cardboard, or plastic. Every part required for a project will be preplanned and cut out to be traced onto the leather. A good leather pattern will take the guesswork out of a project, allowing each piece to be cut to the exact size necessary every time. 

Uses for Leather Pattern Making 

Leather patterns can be used for attempting new designs without needing to use leather. They can also determine the size, shape, and number of pieces required for a project. Bag gussets and other leather parts that need to be precise can be tested and pre-planned.

Lastly, hole spacing for stitching punches can be perfected, ensuring that your chisels will not come up short, resulting in a longer stitch. Thicker pattern materials can also be used as a wet molding surface. The leather is placed on top and held down as it takes the shape of the material.  

A Man Tracing a Leather Pattern Onto Gray Leather- Leather Pattern Making - Liberty Leather Goods
A Man Tracing a Leather Pattern onto Gray Leather

Types or Variations of Leather Pattern Making 

There are two main variations of leather pattern making, simple and detailed. As the name suggests, simple patterns focus on only the size and shape of the pieces needed. This can work well for seasoned crafters or less complex goods like wallets.

Detailed patterns are where this process shines. Intricate leather patterns will take the basic information and add additional information that may be helpful, like center marks, stitching holes, zipper placements, and so much more. A perfect detailed pattern will guide you through the entire process of the leather project, ensuring success.

Tools Needed for Leather Pattern Making 

Pattern making can be done with almost anything. Paper, acrylic, plastic, and cardboard are the most common materials in pattern making. Stiffer materials make for a more easily traceable and long-lasting pattern.

However, household items can make suitable materials as well. Cereal boxes and milk jugs can be flattened and cut in a pinch. The most important part of pattern-making is precision. Rulers, carpenter squares, compasses, protractors, and other precision tools can help create straight lines, perfect circles, and angles. 

In this video, Chuck Dorsett from Weaver Leathercraft discusses an in-depth process of pattern making, offering helpful tips along the way.

Leather Pattern Making Materials

Types of Pattern MaterialCostEasy to CutDurable
Notebook Paper$1 for 150+YesNo
Cardstock$10 for 100+YesSomewhat
Poster Board$8 for 10+YesSomewhat
Plastic$4 per sq ftNoYes
Acrylic$7 per sq ftNoYes
Types of Leather Pattern Making Materials

Skill Level of Leather Pattern Making 

Pattern making can be simple or complex. Precision and creativity are the only skills required. Once learning how an item is made, one can begin to recreate it with simple shapes. As more patterns are created, one will start understanding the production process and be prepared to make more significant changes or bold designs with their patterns.

Researchers Jing-Jing Fang and Yu Ding from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan, studied an automatic pattern-making program. They stated that perhaps in the future, we will be able to scan items and break them down with patterns generated with little to no skill involved. 

How to Make a Leather Pattern

While every leather pattern will be different, making them will be similar. To start, decide what item you will make, and write out the parts used to create it. The components will then be drawn onto the chosen material, with accuracy being key.

Any extra details, such as stitching holes, snap placement, and zipper placement, will be added at this stage. The final step in pattern making is cutting out the pattern. Like when drawing the pattern, keeping every cut as perfect as possible will result in the best pattern. 

A good leather pattern will take the guesswork out of a project, allowing each piece to be cut to the exact size necessary every time.

Tips for Leather Pattern Making

  1. Use stiffer materials such as cardboard and plastic.
  2. Measure often in the planning stage to ensure no mistakes when cutting. 
  3. Mark the center point on each pattern as they can be used for symmetry and aligning pieces.
  4. Fold the pattern pieces in half to make a single symmetrical cut on both sides.
  5. Plan for things such as leather thickness and where stitches will be placed by oversizing some sections.

How to Get Better at Leather Pattern Making

A good way to improve at pattern making is to look at others’ patterns. This can provide helpful insight into how to make an item and the planning involved. Another way to achieve this is to tear apart an already completed item.

Pattern-making skills come from a thorough understanding of how an item is made. Mastering the basics of an object lets you experiment with various shapes and styles without compromising the utility of an item. 

As more patterns are made, one will begin to understand the process of making items and be more prepared to make more significant changes or bold designs with their patterns.

Examples of Leather Pattern Making

Leather pattern making can come in different forms. Simple patterns can be created using basic shapes. A bifold back pattern can just be a rectangle with no marks for simplicity and consistency. Detailed patterns take this idea and improve it to make difficult goods easier.

I like to think of bag making because people often struggle with gussets. Detailed patterns marking stitching holes ensure that everything will line up perfectly each time. 

Technology in Leather Pattern Making

Traditionally, patterns were made by hand, but with the understanding of design programs, technology allows us to make more precise patterns faster. Lines will be perfectly straight, angles can be measured to the exact degree, center marks are simple, and perfect symmetry is only a few commands away.

On top of all these benefits, utilizing specific programs will allow you to use 3D printers to create a durable pattern. Technology is not entirely perfect, though. There is a learning process for each program, and it may become difficult to visualize the size of your pattern. Larger patterns may need to be divided and printed on multiple sheets.

Details such as stitching holes become more difficult to draw out. However, the equipment’s investment cost usually prevents some people from trying digital patterns. Technology may produce better leather patterns but require much more skill and equipment. Though as technology advances and prices fall, 3D printing is becoming much more accessible and can become invaluable to leather crafters in the future.

Research by N. Shahrubudin, T.C. Leea, and R. Ramlan published in The International Conference on Sustainable Materials Processing and Manufacturing with Science Direct looked into the future of 3D printing and its uses in various industries and found that leather crafts can design thin plastic parts to be printed with every precise detail for use in pattern making. 

How Leather Pattern Making Benefits New Crafters

As an experienced leather crafter, I understand the importance of a good pattern when beginning a project. However, I wanted to see how much a pattern could benefit a new crafter and if they could produce a multiple-part project on their first attempt. For this, I got a friend who has never worked with leather and challenged them to make a long wallet with a snap.

To start this process, I gave them some insight into the craft and showed them the final product and the pattern I had made myself. I attempted to keep this project as hands-off as possible, especially during the pattern making. They began by loosely drawing the four pieces necessary, the main body, a “t” pocket, a cash pocket, and the final front part.

Despite the pieces not being cut out perfectly, they were able to recreate the wallet with the poster board. Layering one piece on top of another until they understood where every piece went and why. I then asked them to cut the pieces perfectly square and properly sized. This process did take some time, as they wanted to rush through, leading to lopsided pieces.

On the third attempt, I stepped in, slowed them down, and explained how the paper they make now is the project they get in the end. They now had a workable piece. They were eager to get to crafting it, but I guided them through adding two things; snap marks and a centerline. Having understood the importance of precision, they were now taking their time.

They measured out the center on both sides and marked the holes for the snap as best they could. At this point, I wanted them to get more creative, so we folded the body piece in half and rounded the corners. Now, the pattern was finished. When working on the leather, things went almost flawlessly. I instructed them to trace and cut the pattern out, which was not an issue.

The wallet simply needed to be put together. They quickly took to it, gluing the pieces on each other using marks made from the pattern. They only needed help with techniques they’d never learned, like setting the snap, punching holes, edge beveling, and stitching. After demonstrating and instructing them on these final steps, things went smoothly. In the end, they made a multilayered snap wallet that looked great.

Discussing with them afterward, they were satisfied but said that not having stitching holes planned made things confusing. I believe my guidance helped this project a lot despite trying to take a hands-off approach. However, I feel like my friend was able to learn quickly and, most importantly, work out mistakes by making the pattern before trying leather.

Related Insights

Can you make a leather pattern on the computer?

Yes, various design and CAD programs allow for creating patterns to print for use. In addition, 3D printers can be set up to make more durable patterns with flawless precision. 

How do you use leather templates?

Leather templates can be held down on the leather while they are cut or traced. It is important to ensure no movement happens during this process. Any additional holes needed can be marked with a scratch awl.

How do you cut leather templates?

After tracing the leather template, you can cut along the marks made to create a leather piece. Alternatively, you can hold the template down and cut along its edge without the need to trace. If the pattern is paper, it can be taped onto the leather to ensure no movement occurs.

Final Thoughts 

Learning how to design and use leather patterns has helped me become a better crafter. Having the patience, and coming prepared for a project, ensures your best work every time.

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