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Lush & Plush Trends from Fabric.com: Sewing with Faux Leather

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Back in the 1970s I wanted my mom to buy me a real leather jacket. Unfortunately, she was only prepared to spend for one made of synthetic leather. As much as I wanted to believe it looked genuine, it just looked fake. Today's fake - excuse me, faux - leather looks so much more like the real thing. And, not only is faux leather less expensive than genuine leather, it's also easier to sew with. We give you the simple tricks and tools.

On many occasions, I've had trouble telling a faux item was not made from real leather. It just looks and feels so genuine. Sometimes, I've had to twist the item around until I could see the backing before it revealed its secret. Faux leather is also easier to maintain. No need for big drycleaning bills, most options can be cleaned by simply wiping with a damp cloth.

Beyond looking just like top-grain cowhide, the new faux leather comes in a extensive variety of patterns and textures that are so realistically exotic, you might get taken for a poacher if you're not careful. Fabric.com has a wonderful selection in stock and ready to ship for your holiday sewing.

Faux leather has just a few minor challenges: it's a "sticky" fabric under the presser foot, any time you poke it with a pin it's a permanent hole, and it will wear out sewing needles faster than regular fabric.

But if you use a few simple techniques and have a few special notions on hand, faux leather is not at all difficult to work with. If fact, I found it really fun to sew on. Plus, the things you can make with it are very impressive. Stay tuned for our beautiful handbag coming up this week!

Measuring and cutting

Because pins will leave permanent holes, you can only pin faux leather in places where it won't show. This means pins are not your best option for holding your paper pattern pieces onto your material.

The best way to cut out your material is to lay the faux leather flat and face up on a rotary cutting mat. Place your pattern pieces on top of your material and hold them in place with pattern weights.

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Using a sharp rotary cutter, cut out your pieces. Use a plastic ruler in places where you need a nice straight edge.

Sewing machine setup

When stitched from the right side, faux leather tends to stick to a regular metal presser feet. Instead, use either a foot that's made from a non-stick substance like Teflon® or use a tractor foot. Your sewing machine dealer can help you find the correct foot for your machine make and model. Fabric.com also has a nice selection of Janome accessories.

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This is Janome's Ultra Glide foot

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This is Janome's Roller foot

If you don't have access to either of these types of foot, you can try the technique of placing a strip of wax paper under your regular presser foot. The foot will move nicely across the wax paper, and you can see through it to keep track of your seam.

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When you're finished, it can be easily torn way from the seam.

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Choose a denim sewing needle. It will have a sharper point than a regular needle to minimize the size of the holes in your material. There are actual leather needles, but they are best for genuine leather and not as great for the faux leathers.

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Be sure to start each project with a new needle and have several spares on hand, since faux leather can dull them more quickly than regular fabric.

You can use a zigzag or a straight stitch, depending on the look you want. Lengthen your stitch a little because the small stitches can perforate the material and weaken the seam.

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As always, test your stitches on a few scraps before sewing your pattern pieces.

Actually sewing the faux leather

I like to use clips to hold my pieces together for sewing.

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Other people like to tape their layers together or use glue in the seam allowance. You can use pins but only in the seam allowance, since they make permanent holes (I think I've mentioned this once or twice before).

For the same reason, you have to be very careful about ripping out seams. When re-sewing the seam, you have to make sure your needle goes in exactly the same holes it made the first time.

Sew your faux leather project slowly and carefully and you should do fine. Press your seams when necessary, using the synthetic setting on your iron. To be safe, use a pressing cloth and press from the wrong side whenever possible.

Extra seams add to the real leather look

Genuine leather items tend to have more seams. So for a more authentic look for your faux leather, choose a pattern that has a lot of small sections. Or you can add seams across larger sections for the same effect.

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The swatches above are just a few  faux leather options

Fabric.com has a huge selection of faux leather in an awesome variety of textures, grains and colors. We've shown just a few samples in the image at the top of the page. To see more fabulous faux leather, go here.

Faux leather is fun to shop for and fun to create with. Try it with a simple project and before you know it you'll be making full faux buckskins for the whole family... or not.

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Comments (24)

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ chevelle - Thanks for your quetion. We didn't address thread because, for the most part, a quality all-purpose thread works fine. But as with all projects, if your seam is likely to experience a great deal of stress, switch to a heavy duty thread.

Cheryl Hovey said:
Cheryl Hovey's picture

I read the other day, cannot remember where, that if your in a pinch you can put scotch tape on regular presser foot for faux laether & it works great.

Rie said:
Rie's picture

Very informative post, thank you!

Do you have any tips on hemming leather? Does it need to be hemmed? What if I'd like to add a bias?

Thank you!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Rie - I don't have a specific tutorial that covers these items, but, as you can see above, you don't have to finish the raw edges of leather unless you want to, so hemming can actually be easier than on traditional fabrics. As we mention above, a double stitch often looks more professional. I believe you are asking about bias tape binding? If so, the biggest thing to keep in mind it to make sure your needle can go through all the layers with ease. It sounds like your project might be more garment focused; if so, you might also try a Google sewing with those type of terms: garment sewing with leather, etc. 

ladylush118 said:
ladylush118's picture

I knew I would find the best information here on working with faux leather! So glad to know I don'T need to buy another expensive foot to sew this. I am going to make a clutch purse and wanted to know, do I sew with the fabric right sides in or fabric right side out? And if I have to use the wax paper either way? Thanks in advance!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ jackiec -- I not an expert on everything faux leather, but I haven't heard about the prohibition on back-stitching. We used a backstitch when making our Faux Leather Handbag (there's a link to this project at the bottom of the page in Related Articles) and it worked fine. The main issue with the faux leathers is removing stitches -- if you make a seam and then have to take it out, the holes will be left behind. That's the same reason why it's best to use clips as an alternative to pins as we mention above. So, as long as you are confident you won't need to remove your seam, the back-stitch for securing your seam should be fine. If you are still concerned, you can leave your thread tails extra long and hand knot the tails to secure.
jackiec said:
jackiec's picture
I have recently started working with faux leather. I would really like to know the best way to secure the thread ends. I know I am not supposed to back-stitch. Any suggestions?
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ Lssmc - I've never tried a sample with a 1/8" seam, so I can't give you a tested answer, but if it seems strong to you, you are probably fine. Faux leather (and real leather) doesn't fray or ravel, which are the enemies of the tiny seam. If you are worried about it, you could stitch the seam twice for security. When we make our clutch purse, we simply sewed the sides and bottom. We did trim the seams (but now all the way to a scant 1/8") and we clipped the curves, and it worked well. So... how's that for a long answer to say, "I'm not really sure but it sounds okay"? smilies/cheesy.gifsmilies/cheesy.gif
Lssmc said:
Lssmc's picture
I guess I need to know if trimming to an 1/8" of an inch is ok. I think it might look funny to topstitch the side seams and since the bag measures 9"x 11", I'm not quite sure how to do the bottom other than trim corners, side seams and bottom to an 1/8". BTW, this is not a purse. It actually lays flat when on a surface.
Liz Johnson, Editor, sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson, Editor, sew4Home's picture
@ Lssmc -- I'm sorry but I'm not sure that I understand what your question is exactly.
Lssmc said:
Lssmc's picture
I'm making faux leather bags that have side seams. I've been, because of the bulk when turned inside out, trimming the seams to a scant 1/8th of an inch. They seem to be strong enough, but not as easy to hem at the top. An open flat seam would be easier. I'm also lining them with ripstop, for waterproof advantages. I'm doing a double needle top stitch on the top hem and edge. Any suggestions?
vickit said:
vickit's picture
This is all great info. I chose something using faux leather as my third project after buying my first embroidery machine about 7 yrs ago so I learned by fire. The one thing that really helped me was to use heirloom paper which is very simlar to what adding machine tape rolls look like and it worked wonderfully. The paper you've used would have been just as easy I'm sure.

I do love how easy you make it look and the tips about making extra seams to make it look more like real leather. That's a great tip. Thank you.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ nehmah - we used the Vintage Suede in White for our faux fur throw:

http://sew4home.com/projects/fabric-art-a-accents/1008-lush-a-plush-tren...

It sewed like a dream, although, we have to admit, we were focusing more on working with the fur. However, the fact that the suede gave us no problems is a good thing! The microsuede fabrics, though not as unforgiving as the faux leathers, are susceptible to marks and water stains. So -- using pattern weights and clips is still a good idea - especially if any pinning is on a part of the fabric that will show. It isn't quite a sticky as the faux leathers, but you would probably still benefit from a specialty Teflon type of foot or a roller foot. And, go for SHARP on the needles and pins. The denim needle would be good as would a "sharps" or what is sometimes called a "microtex" needle. So... all in all, I'd say following similar guidelines to those above would be a good idea with your sewing on the microsuede; you don't have to be quite as vigilant, but all the techniques would probably make things go more smoothly.
nehmah said:
nehmah's picture
Would the same guidelines apply to Fabric.com's Vintage Suede, a type of microsuede? I have enough to make DGDs each a cape for Spring, and a basic suit for self. I'd hate like the Dickens to ruin it. Cordially, Nehmah
SewDesigner • Linda said:
SewDesigner • Linda's picture
Great tips! I really enjoy working with faux leather.
Maravill said:
Maravill's picture
Also, talcum powder lightly rubbed on the faux leather makes the sewing much easier.
ozsuzsanna said:
ozsuzsanna's picture
Thank's for useful advices!I tried to sew faux leather, it was complicated, I hope after reading this will be easier.
CarolC said:
CarolC's picture
Alot of great ideas. The was paper is new to me. I have always used tissue paper on difficult fabric. Will have to give this a try. Thanks.

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