Great leather working often includes sewing. Crafting larger pieces or producing in volume can be helped greatly with the use of a leather sewing machine.
Leather sewing machines are powered-tools used to stitch leather together. They are generally industrial-strength. This allows them to penetrate thick, heavy material, and run for hours without overheating. Prices range from about $500 – $2000. A well-maintained machine can last decades.
It is important to know what machine and accessories will be most helpful to the style of leather work you’ll be doing. Let’s take a look.
What is a Leather Sewing Machine?
A leather sewing machine is a tool used to stitch leather together. Using electrical or foot power, it mechanically drives a needle through leather material, stitching pieces together. While many types of sewing machines are available, most are made for use on a range of clothing fabrics. These might include cottons, polyesters, nylons, rayons, linens, muslins, etc.
For example, muslin, a heavier fabric, can be approximately 0.32mm thick. A thin, 3oz weight leather, is approximately 1.2mm thick. And much denser. So, with leathers commonly available 10oz (4.0mm thick) and heavier, a machine sturdy enough to push through the material is a must.
Thus, sewing machines strong enough to handle heavier materials, including leather, were developed. These are usually referred to as “heavy duty”, or “industrial” machines, due to their ability to be used in factory, production, or heavy use applications.
Leather can certainly be stitched by hand, though it usually requires marking the holes evenly, piercing the holes, then making each stitch by hand. So, while effective, this can be very time and effort-consuming. A leather sewing machine makes this work much faster, more accurate, and more efficient.
Do I need a special sewing machine for leather?
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Generally, speaking, yes, you will need a special sewing machine for leather. This is often a question folks have when getting into machine-sewing leather.
If you’re just starting out and plan to experiment stitching on very light (1oz leather), you might be able to utilize an existing machine you have at home, or have access to.
Leather Sewing Machine vs Standard Sewing Machine
What Makes Leather Sewing Machines Different? Leather sewing machines are different in a few key ways. It’s important to consider each when deciding if you’ll need a dedicated leather sewing machine. What’s listed below are general references. Sewing machines with features across the spectrum, including hybrid standard/industrial machines do exist.
Here is a quick reference table showing general differences. More details are below.
Standard Sewing Machine vs Leather Sewing Machine Differences
|Item||Standard Sewing Machine||Leather Sewing Machine|
|Weight||15 lbs.||60 lbs.|
|Foot Control Size||Smaller (one-foot)||Larger (two-feet)|
|Presser Foot Type||Standard||Walking Foot|
|Maintenance Frequency||Every Week||Every 8 hours of use|
|Warranty||1 Year||5-25 Years|
|Stitch Rate||850 SPM||3,000 SPM|
Standard sewing machines provide around 100 watts of power. Some industrial and leather sewing machines provide up to around 550 watts. That is a huge power difference. It is also necessary to much through thicker, heavier leathers.
Since the motors are so powerful, leather sewing machines might have a motor that is separate from the machine. They usually hang below the machine table, and connect via a belt that transmits the power to the machine’s gears.
These machines are usually constructed from heavy-duty materials and require a solid table on which to sit and provide steady stitches. While standard sewing machines might weight 15lbs, leather sewing machines can weight up to 60lbs.
Usually, the larger industrial sewing machines generate a little more noise during operation. This is due to the larger mothers used, which are louder during operation.
Larger Foot Controls
Standard machines have a small foot pedal on which to press down to control sewing speed. Industrial machines might have an entire platform for both feet to comfortably rest.
Standard sewing machines have a foot that allows the material to slide under it as the machine pulls the fabric through. Leather is a bit more “sticky”, and requires a foot that allows it to pass smoothly through the machines as it sews. For this purpose, leather sewing machines generally use one of a few types:
This type, rather than sliding over the leather, actually grips it. It matches the grip and movement with the feeding feet underneath the mater, so they move in unison, passing the leather material evenly through the machine.
This is a common style of sewing machine foot that is coated with Teflon. The Teflon properties make it essentially non-stick, so the leather material can pass right under it smoothly.
This style of foot has little rollers built into the foot. As the material comes in contact with them, they roll, allowing the leather to pass through freely without getting stuck.
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Standard needs are thin and able to piece more delicate fabrics. For example, cottons can be seen with a #10 needle. Leathers sewn on industrial machines might use heavier needles sized up to around #20.
Thicker threads are usually used in leather sewing machines. Standard machines might us a light #46 thread. An industrial sewing machine might use #346, much thicker and heavier.
Cotton threads are commonly used with thinner materials. Leather sewing machines often will use nylon or polyester thread, which are stronger and can better hold together the heavier material.
Standard sewing machines recommend oiling the mechanical parts about once per week. Leather sewing machines require more frequent oiling, usually about after every 8 hours of use. Depending on frequency of use, that could be once per day.
Proper oiling is necessary to keep the mechanical parts working so strongly, and smoothly, since they generally handle a lot more force than standard machines.
Standard machines might have a 1-year warranty. Heavier duty machines might have warranties ranging from 5-25 years.
Measured in stitches per minute (spm), standard sewing machines sew at about 850spm. Leather sewing machines can sew up to 3,000spm.
Standard machines offer stitch lengths up to around 6.5 mm. Industrial machines run to about 10mm. This allows for longer stitches to more securely attach thicker, heavier materials.
Can I use my sewing machine for leather?
It is possible to use a standard sewing machine for sewing leather. However, one must be very aware of it’s limits.
For example, using a standard machine with a very light (about 1oz) leather could work. The needles used should be leather-specific needles. The thread should be thicker than standard thread. Key, during use, is to go very slowly. The machine will need time to penetrate the leather material and complete the stitches.
Even then, parts might break. It all depends on the machine, how it’s maintained, and how it’s being used. So if you’re trying to see if you’d like sewing leather and want to give it a try before investing in a dedicated leather sewing machine, it’s possible.
Just go slow and be very careful. Since the machine is not intended for heavier materials, it can surely break. Over heating of the machine is possible as well, which could burn out the motor. The recommended option, of course, is to use a machine built for the task. That would be an industrial duty leather sewing machine.
What kind of thread is used for leather?
Generally, leather is sewn with nylon or polyester threads. The strength of the synthetic materials in them is often beneficial to the finished pieces, allowing them to hold up longer. Of the nylon threads, there are two popular varieties.
Bonded Nylon Thread
In this variety, the strands of nylon that make up the thread are bonded together, usually via a heating process. Thus, this essentially turns the strands into a single thread, making it stronger and more durable, resistant to wear and abrasions.
Waxed Nylon Thread
Waxed nylon thread has a wax coating over the entire outside of the thread. So, this helps make it easier to sew with (the wax a lubricant of sorts as the thread pushed through the leather). It also serves as a protectant for the threads, helping them to resist moisture and abrasions.
How much does a leather sewing machine cost?
Leather sewing machines range in cost from about $500 – about $2,000. while standard sewing machines are available start around $150, leather sewing machines need to be build with more durable components. Stronger motors and parts are needed to help repeatedly push needles through heavy leather, thus the added strength durability of those components add to the cost.
Another related cost to having a leather sewing machine comes in with the table it will sit on. Since these industrial machines can be quite heavy, they need a very sturdy surface to rest upon. Sometimes these tables can cost a few hundred dollars, and weight 100lbs or more. Some specialized machines will have a custom sized and fit table available for purchase along with the machine.
While not always necessary, these custom tables might more easily fit the motors (if separate from the machine), as well as comfortably integrate other mechanical elements such as the foot control pedal.
What is a leather needle?
A leather needle is a type of sewing needle used for stitching leather. There are two main types of leather sewing needles:
Hand Leather Sewing Needles
There are leather-specific needles that have wider points to help pierce thick leathers. There are curved needles (they have a semi-circular, half-moon shape) that make it easier to push through thicker materials such as leather and canvas. Very small needles make it easier to sew smaller, thinners leathers while leaving a smaller hole.
Machine Leather Sewing Needles
These are usually straight needed of varying thickness. They are placed into leather sewing machines and used for the mechanical sewing of leather goods.
What size needle should I use for sewing leather?
Leather needles need to be thicker and stronger than standard sewing machine needles. The most common sized of machine needles used for leather include: 70/10, 80/12, 90/14, 100/16, and 110/18.
Leather Sewing Machine Brands
There are a lot of manufacturers of sewing machines, some produce extremely high quality industrial leather sewing machines. Let’s look at a few of the most popular brands.
|Aisin Seiki (a Toyota Group)||The first Toyota sewing machine was produced in 1946. Toyota is based in Aichi, Japan. In 1970, Toyota established Aisin in the United States, to sell their sewing machines.||Website Link|
|Bernina||Bernina is a Swiss sewing machine manufacturer. It was founded in 1893 in Steckborn, Switzerland.||Website Link|
|Brother||Brother is a sewing machine manufacturer, founded in 1908 in Nagoya, Japan. They began as a sewing machine company and have since branched out into other large machines and electronics.||Website Link|
|Consew||Consew is an American sewing machine manufacturer. They were founded in 1898, and are based in Carlstadt, New Jersey.||Website Link|
|Durkopp-Adler||Durkopp-Adler is a German sewing machine manufacturer. It was founded in 1867 in Germany. They produce industrial sewing machines, and their main office is in Bielefeld, Germany.||Website Link|
|Feiyue||Feiyue is a Chinese sewing machine manufacturer. They were founded in 1986 and based in Taizhou, China.||Website Link|
|Fisters||Fisters manufactures a type of hand cobbler machine, useful for sewing few stitches into very deep, thick leathers.||Website Link|
|Hightex Special Sewing Machine Co.||Hightex is an Chinese manufacturer of sewing machines. The make the Hightex and Cowboy brand sewing machines, and are located in Zhejiang, China.||Website Link|
|Janome||Japanese sewing machine manufacturer, founded in Tokyo in 1921. They have manufacturing plants in Japan, Taiwan and Thailand. In the USA, their North American headquarters is based in Mahway, NJ. Jane also owns the Elna sewing machine brand.||Website Link|
|JUKI||JUKI is a Japanese manufacturer of sewing machines. They were founded in 1938 and based in Tama-shi, Tokyo.||Website Link|
|Leather Machine Co
||Leather Machine Co is a manufacturer of the COBRA lines of sewing machines. They are based in Ontario, Canada.||Website Link|
|Merrow||Merrow is an American sewing machine company. They were founded in 1838 as knitting mill that later began producing knitting machines, and later, sewing machines.||Website Link|
|Necchi||Necchi is an Italian sewing machine manufacturer. They were founded in 1919 in Pavia, Italy. In 2003, Toyota bought Necchi.||Website Link|
|PFAFF||PFAFF is a German manufacturer of sewing machines. They were founded in 1862 in Kaiserslautern, Germany. They are owned by SGSB Co. Ltd.||Website Link|
|Reliable||Reliable is a Canadian sewing machine manufacturer. They were founded in 1955 and are located in Toronto, Canada.||Website Link|
|Sailrite||Sailrite is an American sewing machine manufacturer. They were founded in 1969 and based in Columbia City, Indiana. Salivate also makes the Craftool sewing machine for Tandy Leather.||Website Link|
|Seeutek||Seeutek manufactured a type of hand cobbler machine, useful for sewing few stitches into very deep, thick leathers.||Website Link|
|Singer||Singer is an American manufacturer of sewing machines. It was founded in 1851 and their headquarters is in La Vergne, Tennessee. They are owned by SVP Worldwide (also owner of Pfaff and Husqvarna), which is owned by Kohlberg & Company.||Website Link|
|Tacony||Tacony is an American sewing machine manufacturer. They were founded in 1946, and are located in Fenton, Missouri.||Website Link|
|Tippmann||Tippman is an American sewing machine manufacturer. They are based in Fort Wayne, Indiana.||Website Link|
|Union Special||Union Special is an American sewing machine manufacturer. They were founded in 1948 in Huntley, Illinois.||Website Link|
|ViBeMAC||ViBeMAC is an Italian sewing machine manufacturer. They were founded in 1980 as a Singer sewing company support center, and later branched out into manufacture and sales under their own brand. They are located in Verona, Italy.||Website Link|
|Viking||Viking Sewing Machine (VSM) group is a Swedish sewing machine manufacturer. They were founded in 1872 and previously named Husqvarna. They are owned by SVP Worldwide (also owner of Pfaff and Husqvarna), which is owned by Kohlberg & Company.||Website Link|
What is the Best Leather Sewing Machine?
The sewing machine that is best for leather will depend on it’s intended use. This will include thickness of materials, style of sewing, and volume of use. In general, here are some of the top leather sewing machines. To read more about the specific sewing machines I like the most, click here.
This is a triple feed, heavy-duty, single-needle machine. It comes with a compound feed walking foot mechanism. Overall weight shipped, including table and attachments, is 250lbs.
JUKI DNU 1541
This is an industrial walking foot sewing machine. 110V with a clutch motor, high needle stroke, and walking foot technology. Overall weight shipped, including table and attachments, is 250lbs.
Sailrite Ultrafeed LSZ-1
This is a machine that sews in both straight and zip-zag stitch patterns. It is portable, has a clutch system, and weighs 55lbs.
This is a walking foot, compound feed, lockstitch sewing machine. It includes a stitch dial regulator and a 550W servo motor.
This machine can sew leather up to thicknesses of 7/16”. It can handle bonded nylon or polyester thread up to #346. The lift foot has a 1/2” clearance, the servo motor connects to a 3:1 speed reducer.
What is the best Leather sewing machine for beginners?
For beginners, the Janome HD3000 heavy-duty sewing machine is a good option, for thin leathers. This is for a few reasons. First, at around $500, it is not as expensive as industrial leather sewing machines (that begin around $1,200). It will allow one to get a feel for leather sewing in general, on a machine that has fewer parts and requires lower maintenance than an industrial leather sewing machine.
However, if one has the drive, time, and interest, the best leather sewing machine for beginners is likely a used, industrial leather sewing machine. This can include the options mentioned above, such as the Consew, JUKI, Sailrite, Reliable, and Cowboy. They will perform very well and allow for the sewing of much heavier leathers.
The trick with buying an expensive machine while learning about a new craft is that we don’t always know our preferences or how we’d use them. Once we have one, it might be obvious we need more features or a different style.
As such, it is recommended to try them out somewhere first, if possible. Maybe a local leather working shop would allow you to try. Or maybe a local cobbler, or sewing machine store is available. Once you have a better idea, $1200 spent on a tool that you’ll enjoy and use for years if far less “expensive” and far more “valuable” than a $500 machine that you’ll outgrow in a few months.
Where to Buy New Leather Sewing Machines
New leather sewing machines can be purchased from a few locations.
Sewing Machine Store
The classic sewing machine store is certainly an option. Here, you can physically see many machines, try them, and then take them home. Some are specialty sewing machine stores, and others are chain stores that also sell sewing machines.
Industrial and heavy duty leather sewing machines as less common than regular machines, so the variety in-store might not match that which is available online.
Some manufacturers only sell through retailers, and others sell directly to customers via their website. Depending on location and shipping costs, this might be a great option that offers a variety of choices.
Some sewing machine retailers have machines available on their websites, or on 3rd party marketplaces such as Amazon. For industrial machines, if you know the specific model you’d like, online is usually the best option for a new machine. Prices are competitive and shipping often reasonable (given the weight of the machines and tables), and makes for an easy purchase.
Where to Buy Used Leather Sewing Machines
If you’re looking to buy a used leather sewing machine, this is a great idea as they usually last decades when properly maintained. Here are a few places to look.
One of the best local options, though since it’s local, variety or volume might be limited. However, great prices can often be had here. Just be sure to test the machine out before purchasing.
Online communities of experienced leather workers and crafters can be a great place. Usually, they care about their tools and care about the next person that uses them to have a good experience. Check around some of the popular forums for posts and exchanges related to buying/selling used leather sewing machines.
This is another local marketplace, like Craigslist, that is gaining in popularity. Here too, be sure to test the machine out before purchasing.
Great deals can be had at house and yard sales, if someone is selling an older machine in repairable, or in good working order.
All sorts of online exchanges and marketplaces are popping up. Keeping your eye on these could lead to some good options in the hunt for a quality used leather sewing machine.
Leather Sewing Machine Maintenance
Proper leather sewing machine maintenance is essential to a properly operating machine, just like proper maintenance ensures tools work optimally. For industrial machines, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Regularly oil the machines. Each machine will have specific oil points that need to be fed often. Generally, leather sewing machines require frequent oiling, usually about after every 8 hours of use. Depending on frequency of use, that could be once per day.
Proper oiling is necessary to keep the mechanical parts working so strongly, and smoothly, since they generally handle a lot more force than standard machines.
Check all areas where thread passes through. This is around the bobbin area, around thread guides, and under the sewing plate. Ensuring all of these areas are clean will help the threads pass through smoothly, resulting in cleaner, even stitches.
Periodically check all belts and tensions to ensure they’re in functional order and properly tightened. When these are in good working order, it helps ensure smooth transmission of power and even, clean sewing.
For electrically powered machines, check the power cables to ensure they are not nicked, cut, or frayed. It’s important that the cords stay in top shape since they usually carry a fair amount of current.
General Leather Sewing Machine Questions
What is a Manual Leather Sewing Machine?
A manual, or hand crank sewing machine is a table-top sewing machine that is turned by the hand. Rather than having an electrically-powered motor drive the belt and sewing mechanisms, this type of machine utilizes leverage to push the needle in and out of thick materials.
It is comparatively very slow, one stitch at a time. However, it works great for applications where the leather is extremely thick and does not require fast working speeds. For example, a cobbler working on shoe soles and parts. Fisters and Seeutek are brands that make manual leather sewing machines.
Can I sew leather?
Yes, leather can definitely be sewn. Most commonly, it is sewn by hand, or with a specialized leather sewing machine. The industrial leather sewing machines are heavier and sturdier than standard sewing machines, built so they can reliably penetrate the thick leather materials.
What do you use to sew leather?
Sewing leather can be done by hand, or with a machine. In hand sewing, usually only a needle and thread are necessary. Some additional tools might be useful to mark the sewing hole locations, and make small holes for the needle to pass through.
When sewing with a leather sewing machine, it is necessary to have the machine, needles, thread, and often a power source in which to plug the machine into. Some machines, often older ones, could be powered by a foot-controlled device called a treadle. While treadles are effective, electrical power is much stronger and easier to use.
Can you sew suede on a regular sewing machine?
Yes, suede can be sewn on a regular sewing machine if it is not too thick. Ensure you use a sharp needle, thread that is thick enough to secure the material, and take your time. So, going slow on thinner suede, a regular machine should work ok.
If the suede is too thick for the machine, or you will be sewing a lot of it, consider getting an industrial leather sewing machine. Thus, it will make the sewing much faster, and easier throughout the whole process.
What’s the best sewing machine to make purses?
The best sewing machine for making purses and handbags is a heavy-duty machine. These will be made with stronger designs, be able to sew thicker materials, and run for longer lengths of time than a regular sewing machine.
A Consew 206RB-5, JUKI DNU 1541, or similar machine would be a helpful option. So, if the purses or handbags will be made from a thicker material, including leather, an industrial machine would be the way to go.
Can I sew vinyl with a regular sewing machine?
Yes, vinyl can be sewn on a regular sewing machine, though some changes will need to be made. Since the vinyl would stick to the machine foot, the foot would need to be replaced with a roller foot, teflon foot, or walking foot to help the material move freely during stitching.
You’ll also have to be sure there is enough height under the door for the material to pass. Additionally, use a leather needle to ensure it will be strong enough and be able to pierce the vinyl.
Thus, if the material is too thick or the machine very basic and intended for lighter fabrics, consider using an industrial or leather sewing machine for vinyl. It will make it a much smoother process with superior results.
A leather sewing machine can open the way for much faster and higher-quality production of leather goods. If you plan to do a lot of leather sewing, it can be one of the best investments made into a leather working tool.
Is sewing leather hard?
Sewing leather is not hard, as long as the proper tools are used. This generally involves a leather sewing machine that is properly maintained, along with heavy duty thread. Once setup, sewing leather is just as easy as sewing other fabrics.
Can you sew a leather couch?
Yes, leather couches can be sewn to repair them. Usually, if a small tear exists, they can be stitched by hand using a leather needle and strong thread. A leather sewing machine is usually not necessary here, where a hand needle will work.