As a beginner, anything that’s not cotton can be quite intimidating to sew. Since rescuing a pair of my mum’s old leather pants from the Good Will pile last summer, I’ve had the itch to cut them up and make myself a clutch. (Yes, I realize leather pants are in now, however, this particular pair hails from a decade that make them beyond alteration.) I’ve just never been sure how to approach sewing with leather – do I need a different needle? A different presser foot? A different weight of thread? Can I sew more than two layers together without my machine imploding?
While perusing Designer Fabrics on Queen West the other day I stumbled upon one of the best leather remnant bins I’ve seen in a while. I picked up a couple pieces so I could practice before tackling the pants, that way if I totally bombed it I’d only have wasted $5 of fabric. The size of the remnants I liked determined the size of the clutch I could make (I’ll be honest, this isn’t the most practical size), but now my passport has a home and I’ve got the confidence to tackle leather.
Turns out, I only had to change my machine needle to a size 14 leather one and the stitch length to 3.0 to sew this. I used a regular weight polyester thread and a standard presser foot. I definitely should have used something more industrious than paper clips to pin this together, because I had some problems with it shifting around as I was sewing (I also committed the cardinal sin of not pressing before I sewed, whoops, but how do you press leather?!) which meant for some uneven edges I had to trim off at the end.
Next, I’d love to sew a bigger clutch with pockets and a shoulder strap or a leather skirt. And perhaps take a trip, you know, because I think this little dandy is begging for a test flight.
This is my first project with leather, and i’d recommend it to other beginners. Not only easy to sew, I got all the materials for $5 from a remnant bin. You could also cut up the material from an old pair of pants or purse. My clutch is just big enough to fit my passport and day planner, but you could adjust the size to your needs. A smaller version would make a great business card holder, while a larger one would make a perfect iPad sleeve.
I didn’t use a teflon foot to sew this, I just picked up a size 14 leather needle and changed by stitch length to 3.0. I also used standard 100% polyester thread and was fine (i’ve heard nylon is better for leather?) Play around with your machine before you get going to make sure you’ve got the tension and stitch length right for your machine. If you find your leather is feeding through easily, i’ve heard putting some scotch tape on the underside of the presser foot and throat plate is a good alternative to using a teflon presser foot!
Disclaimer: Before we go any further, note that I’m not a seamstress so I could be going about this entirely the wrong way, it’s simply what I tried and liked. I’ve done my best to include lots of pictures incase my write-up is a bit dodgy – please let me know if you’re still confused!
Supplies (Clockwise from top)
Clips – I used paper clips because it’s all I had, binder/aligator clips are better
Chalk marking pencil – great as it rubs right off the leather
Leather machine needle – I used size 14
Polyester thread – choose a matching or contrasting colour
Rotary cutter & cutting mat – this is my preference, scissors are fine too!
Step One: Sizing & Cut Out Materials
Decide on the dimensions of your clutch, based on what you’re going to use it for or what you have available to you. I went with 6.5″ x 5″ because that’s all my scraps allowed for. The seam allowance i’m using is 1/4″, so the finished pocket size ends up being 6″ x 4.5″. The front and back of my clutch are actually slightly different colours because the leathers not from the same hide, but I found a relatively close match so you can’t really tell. I chose a contrasting leather for the flap to add interest – get creative! From here on out i’m going to explain based on my finished dimensions of 6.5″ x 5″, so if you go with something different alter these instructions accordingly.
Measure & Cut out:
(2) 6.5″ x 5″ rectangles for front and back of clutch
(1) 6.5″ x 4″ triangle for flap. Make sure there’s a 1″ edge before it points into a triangle so it folds over nicely (see picture)
(1) 6.5″ x 3/4″ rectangle for strap
You should be able to see if taking shape now!
Step Two: Sew On Strap
Take the front rectangle and your strap.
Using chalk, mark 1 1/4″ from the top of the front rectangle to indicate where the top of the strap will go.
Mark 3/4″ in, where you’ll make be making the first stitch. (This stitch is partly decorative, partly to keep everything in place while you sew the front and back to together, and partly to make the flap close more snuggly.)
Clip in place.
Sew a straight seam (my stitch length is 3.0).
Step Three: Sew On Flap
Take the back rectangle and your triangular flap.
Mark 1/2″in from the longest side of your triangular flap and draw a line (see picture below).
Clip the back rectangle on top on the triangle.
Starting 1/4″ in, sew a straight seam, keeping your 1/4″ seam allowance.
Step Four: Sew Front & Back Together
With wrong sides facing, clip the front and back together.
Make sure the edges are lined up as best as possible (you can always trim any excess after if it ends up looking a little wonky like mine did, so don’t over stress).
Since you don’t have the option of taking out your stitches if you mess up (well at least not without seeing the holes), make sure you’re happy with it before you start sewing.
Start sewing from the top right corner on the back side, making sure you pick up where you left off on your first line of stitches. Your stitches should should make a square box on the back side.
Step Five: Use it!
Well, that’s it!
If you find that your edges aren’t square now that you’ve sewn it together, don’t worry, just trim them with your rotary cutter or scissors to make them even.
Now you have a lovely place to keep your things, and perhaps an excuse to buy a plane ticket.