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Leather Repair – Learn Basic Fixes and When to Call a Pro

As a crafter with some experience, I often get asked for leather repair tips by family and friends. Usually, the solutions are simple enough for them to tackle at home. Though occasionally, there can be damage that requires an experienced hand.

Leather repair is the process of restoring damaged leather goods. Many leather repairs can be done with basic supplies ranging from $5–$30 and with little to no experience. Items may also be taken to professionals who can often fix any damage, allowing items to be repaired instead of replaced.

Learning basic leather repair can be a great skill to prolong the life of any item. Let’s look at some simple tasks you can perform at home and repairs that may require additional help. 

What Is Leather Repair?

Leather repair is the process of restoring or addressing any damaged leather item using various techniques. Regardless of how well an item is treated, wear and tear may accumulate, requiring action.

Luckily since leather is a durable material, the best solution is often to repair rather than replace. Repairs can range from simple maintenance that can be done at a household to complete rebuilding of leather items that may require a professional. 

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • History of Leather Repair
  • Leather Repair Overview Table
  • How To Repair Leather
  • How To Repair a Tear in Leather
  • Repairing Leather
  • How To Repair Torn Leather
  • How To Repair Cracked Leather 
  • How To Fix Ripped Leather
  • Leather Couch Repair
  • Supplies Needed for Leather Repair
  • How To Use a Leather Repair Kit
  • How To Repair Leather Furniture (including cracked leather)
  • My Personal Research Into Leather Repair
  • Helpful Leather Repair Insights
  • Key Takeaways
Repairing a Leather Chair - Leather Repair - Liberty Leather Goods
Repairing a Leather Chair

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

Leather repairs are often immediately passed onto professionals, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, there seems to be an ongoing misconception that leather repairs require specialized tools and a trained artisan. For the majority of common leather issues, this is not the case. Leather may be seen as foreign, but common techniques still apply.

Hand-sewing techniques used for other fabrics may still work for leather with slight changes. Any blown stitch can be repaired. Similarly, addressing dryness and cracking can often be as simple as rubbing a leather-specific product on the surface. While not everything can be tackled at home, those willing to try may be impressed by what they may accomplish. 

History of Leather Repair

Since early humankind, animal hides have been used in various ways, including for clothing and pouches. Around 40,000 years ago, some of the earliest leather tools were discovered, including supplies associated with leather repair. Deer bone leather slickers and needles were used to repair items crudely. 

Today repair technology and techniques have become much more advanced. Leather filler, vinyl patches, and industrial sewing machines often make quick work of damaged goods. With these advancements in leather and proper maintenance, the lifespan of leather goods only continues to grow, proving the sustainability of high-quality leather goods in a world of consumption. 

Leather Repair Overview Table

CharacteristicDetails
DrynessLeather conditioners can prevent dryness and potentially reserve some of the damage caused by it.
Color FadingPigmented leather creams, leather dyes, or paints may all be used to restore color to leather. 
CrackingPigmented leather creams or leather filler can address various sizes of leather cracks but may require additional coloring supplies.
TearsSmall tears may be fixed with a leather filler, but larger ones may require a patch or need to be replaced entirely.
Broken SeamLeather can be machine and hand sewn to repair various seams using a heavy or waxed thread.
Leather Repair Characteristics

Here is a helpful walkthrough of the main types of repairs where you can see which is most like what you might need:

How To Repair Leather

The first step in leather repair is to identify the problem and, if possible, the leather type. This information will help guide you to what techniques and supplies will be needed for the repair. When repairing leather, it is best to start with the most straightforward answers if they apply. 

For example, if the goal is to remove minor scratches, attempt to buff them out with a matching leather cream. Often leather issues can be fixed with simple applications of various leather products. Unfortunately, not all damage can be repaired with leather conditioners and creams. In the cases of larger damage, such as tears and peeling aftermarket repair kits may need to be used. 

At this stage, those not up for a DIY project may contact a professional for further assistance. A leather repair kit will consist of various supplies and detailed instructions on how to treat the damage. This often entails a few hours of prep, application, and finishing details and 24 hours for ample drying time for different products. 

How To Repair a Tear in Leather

Repairing a leather tear will often depend on the size of the damage. A small repair may entail using a leather filler to cover the area. 

  1. The surrounding area should be cleaned and cut flush to provide an even surface. 
  2. Place a backing fabric in the hole for the filler to be spread on. 
  3. Apply filler until it is flesh with the rest of the leather and then color-matched to hide the repair. 

However, if the damage is large, a patch will be necessary. Patches are cuts of leather that are placed over the damaged area. Patches may have adhesive to stick to the leather, while others may need to be sewn on. Using a patch makes it more difficult to match the leather’s color and grain correctly. 

Repairing Leather

Wear and tear on leather items is inevitable, but one of the biggest benefits of leather is its repairability. Dryness, cracks, peeling, tears, or more, can be fixed. Unlike other materials that fall apart from damage, leather stays strong, able to be patched instead of needing to purchase a new item. The damage leather experiences can vary, but it is often dryness or a broken seam from wear. 

A good leather conditioner can help combat the damage and often reverse some effects. A broken seam can be replaced at home with a basic saddle stitch and heavy waxed thread. Since leather requires punched holes to sew, the repair can be done entirely by hand. However, those who wish to have a professional repair their items may look for cobblers or other leather workers in their area.

Feifei Liang, Tianyou Wang, Haojun Fan, Jun Xiang, and Yi Chen, with the Journal of Leather Science and Engineering, have discussed the possibility of self-healing leather. With this technology, leather would be able to be repaired by heat. Removing up to 80% of scratches with this technology. It is possible in the future that leather may be able to be repaired without the need for a leather repair kit. 

How To Repair Torn Leather

When repairing torn leather, cleaning up the surrounding area first is best. This includes dusting and washing the leather. The torn pieces should then be trimmed down to prevent them from folding or bunching up once the repair has been made.

This also provides a neat area to work in, allowing the leather filler to be applied more evenly. When using a leather repair kit, they will often include a reinforcement fabric. This fabric should be placed behind the torn leather, past the edges, and held securely. 

When it is time to apply leather filler:

  1. Spread small amounts onto the fabric backing and slightly past the edges onto the other leather. The key is to make the surface as even as possible. 
  2. Leave the leather filler to dry according to the product information. 
  3. Once dried, the leather can be painted or dyed to match the item. 
  4. A finishing coat may also need to be added once the color has been added to protect the repaired area and prevent color bleeding. 

How To Repair Cracked Leather

Cracked leather is often a sign of the leather becoming too dry. As the leather dries outs it becomes stiffer, and movement will cause it to crack rather than flex. Cracked leather can be repaired with basic leather conditioners or cream when caught early enough. 

A conditioner will rehydrate the leather, which may assist in hiding the cracks. A cream will offer the same benefits but may come in various colors, which can help restore a uniform look to the leather. 

If basic conditioning does not work, a leather filler will be needed to repair the cracked leather. Leather fillers are a combination of glue, leather, and sometimes dye. This product is like a paste that can be used to fill the cracks in the leather. Once dried, the leather filler can be colored, finishing the restoration of the leather. 

How To Fix Ripped Leather

Leather that has ripped can be repaired in multiple ways. The easiest method is to place a stiffening fabric behind the ripped leather and glue the piece back together when possible. This works best for rips that have created a flap rather than fallen off completely. 

When dealing with a large leather rip, a patch may be necessary. Self-adhesive leather patches are sold online and can be a quick solution, but they will be hard to color-match properly. Leather patches may also be made at home. A patch can better blend into the damaged area by purchasing similar leather or an untreated one.

Many leather repairs can be done with basic supplies ranging from $5–$30 and with little to no experience.

Leather Couch Repair

Most damage to leather couches is due to dryness. The leather on leather couches still requires routine maintenance and should be away from sunlight when possible. Sunlight can cause the couch to bleach, dry, and eventually crack. Basic leather couch repair should always start with cleaning. 

To address the dryness of the leather and potentially cover small cracks follow these steps:

  1. Apply a leather soap to the couch
  2. Allow it to fully dry
  3. Condition 

When adding color back into the leather due to sun bleaching. Leather creams often come in various colors that can add small amounts of pigment back into the leather. Pigments do not add saturated color like paint or dyes, making applying it much easier.

However, other products may need to be used if the cream does not produce the desired results. It is often best to contact a furniture repair surface to fix the color issues, as improper dying can lead to a blotchy product.

While most small scratches will be removed with the leather conditioner, a leather filler may be necessary to address bigger areas of damage. A leather filler fills in the scratches, cracks, and small tears, creating an even surface. Once the filler has dried, color can be added to the areas to hide the repair areas. 

How To Repair Leather Furniture (including cracked leather) 

Leather furniture will see a lot of wear and often ends up damaged over time. The most common reason is dryness, which can lead to further damage. To prevent this, leather furniture must be conditioned periodically. 

To condition leather, follow these basic steps:

  1. Dry dust with a soft brush or cloth
  2. Apply a leather conditioner on the furniture using a clean cloth. (This may slightly darken the piece but may lighten when dried. If this concerns you, test the conditioner on a small area before coating the furniture.) 
  3. Once the conditioner has been applied, it should be left to dry overnight.

A leather filler or patch may be necessary for more intense damage, such as scratches, cracks, and tears. A leather filler is a paste that will fill the grain of the leather to produce an even surface. 

For leather damage that requires a patch or filler:

  1. Apply the filler in the damaged areas
  2. Allow the filler to cure fully
  3. Add color through paint or leather dyes, making sure to color match to provide the best finish. 

Supplies Needed for Leather Repair

Each leather repair job will require different supplies. Identify the damage requiring repair to ensure the right items are purchased. Regardless of the repair job necessary, starting with a clean item is always best. 

A horse hair brush, leather soap, and conditioner are useful in removing any dust or debris on an item. This will help uncover the damaged area while providing a better surface for adhesives, or paint, to bond to. 

Other common supplies include leather filler and patches. These products are useful for addressing cracked leather and holes in the leather. Leather filler is best suited for smaller damage, while a patch will cover big holes in the leather. Afterward, a dye, cream, or paint is needed to match the color of the leather, hiding the repair sites. 

Replacement leather is often needed for leather items that may require total restoration. In these cases, a trained leather worker will use special tools to cut, punch, and sew leather in various ways. While a complete restoration of a leather item is a possible DIY project, it is both labor- and supply-intensive. 

Depending on the damage, supplies needed to repair leather may include:

  1. Horse hair brush
  2. Leather soap
  3. Leather conditioner
  4. Leather filler
  5. Leather patches
  6. Leather dye, cream, or paint
  7. Replacement leather

How To Use a Leather Repair Kit

Leather repair kits are often filled with various glues, fillers, and adhesives used to fix cracking or peeling leather. Each kit will contain a step-by-step process that should be followed. In general, these kits follow a few basic steps. 

  1. Sand the leather smooth using fine grit sandpaper to help with adhesion and remove any surrounding damage.
  2. Apply a leather filler such as a patch or paste. Each has its own application method but covers the damaged area to make it uniform.
  3. Color match the damaged area using paints or dyes.
  4. Apply a finishing coat. Some kits may provide a finishing coat to add to the repair to help set and protect the area.
Various Leather Patches - Leather Repair - Liberty Leather Goods
Various Leather Patches

My Personal Research Into Leather Repair

When repairing leather, knowledge is key to producing the best final look. For my research, I decided to test repairing methods, offering unique insight on how to best perform the task. In addition, I will share tips from the crafting community on how to tackle common leather repairs.

Personal Insight

The best advice I have regarding leather repair is to familiarize yourself with the damaged area and the leather type. This dictates what supplies can be used, as well as techniques. A thick full-grain leather, for example, may be easier to repair since the surface can be sanded without fear of creating a large hole. 

Finding the proper supplies will require testing. Each leather conditioner, cream, dye, and any other product will work differently. Finding products you trust can make the process smoother. Anytime a leather item needs to be repaired, it should be cleaned beforehand. This helps prepare the surface for various steps such as adhesion.

When the leather has experienced cracking, I suggest one should conditioner it and allow it to dry before attempting to repair it. If the leather has not been conditioned, the leather filler may be damaged when the item flexes. 

Tips from the Crafting Community

When looking for advice from the crafting community, I came across ideas I had never considered. Typically when I repair leather, I aim to hide the repair area. The community challenged that. 

A common suggestion for torn leather was decorative tooled leather patched to cover the area, making an already unique item stand out more. Many understand that handmade leather goods and the leather itself often have flaws and try to incorporate them into their work. 

When tackling the repairs, crafters suggest clearing the damaged area to provide a solid work surface. They looked towards drywall repair as an example. It is often easier to patch a square hole when repairing drywall than one with an odd shape. Cutting slightly more leather than is damaged to get an easier-to-work-with shape will help the final results.

 Lastly, the leather craft community suggests airbrushing when attempting to color match chrome tanned leather. The airbrush offers more control over the color applied and helps blend the surrounding area better. 

Conclusion

A great benefit of leather is its ability to be repaired, allowing an item to be used for decades. When wear occurs, there are often a variety of solutions for problems and professionals looking to help. When deciding to repair leather yourself, the tips provided can help guide you into a beautifully finished project, offering a seemingly invisible repair or a new way to personalize a favorite item.

Helpful Leather Repair Insights

Can damaged leather be repaired?

Yes, most leather items can be repaired, even in extreme cases. Leather is a highly durable material that can be rejuvenated to expand an item’s lifespan. Repairs can be light cleanings and conditioning to address dryness. Up to full restorations that may include replacement pieces, patches, recoloring, and more. 

How do you repair real leather?

Repairing techniques for real leather will depend on the damage, but will often be similar to repairs for other materials. Cleaning, sewing, dyeing, and patching are all common techniques that many have done with other items. The difference is leather will require specific products. Soap, conditioner, glue, and more will all have specialty products made for use with leather. This will ensure they both work on leather and do not damage the material in the process. 

What is the best repair for torn leather?

In most cases, the best way to fix torn leather is to replace or patch the area. A tear in the leather jeopardizes the structural integrity of the item. To replace the leather, an item must be fully taken apart and reassembled with a new piece. Leather patches may be applied by an adhesive or sewing them to the surrounding torn area.  

Does Vaseline repair leather?

No, while Vaseline gives the illusion of fixing leather, it does not do much to repair it. Although it may be recommended for removing scratches, Vaseline only coats the area. A leather conditioner would have the same “benefits” without making the leather greasy. 

How do you fix cracked leather?

Depending on the size of the cracks, the leather may be repaired with a leather conditioner. Leather is skin; like our skin, it will crack when it becomes overly dry. A full restoration over a large area may include lightly sanding the area, followed by a leather filler and a color-matching dye. Then seal up the area with various leather finishing products to complete. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Some leather repair jobs can be done at home without experience or expensive supplies.
  2. Properly conditioning leather periodically can prevent common damage, like dryness and cracking. 
  3. Always test repair products before applying them to any leather surface to prevent unwanted outcomes. 

In Closing

Leather items are often prized possessions and heirlooms intended to last a lifetime. When wear occurs, it may seem like an item requires replacing, but leather is highly durable. With leather repair supplies and the proper techniques, most damaged items can be restored to their former glory. 

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