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.
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.
This is Janome's Ultra Glide foot
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.
When you're finished, it can be easily torn way from the seam.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.