Working With “Leather” from the 1970s to Now

When I recently got my new Bernina 880 plus, I also got a number of intersting new feet, including leather roller foot 55, teflon foot 52D (for dual feed), and teflon zipper foot 54, and other feet and attachments to go with the collection I already had from my erstwhile Bernina 830 that I traded in.  Sew I have a number of interesting projects I want to try that my wonderful studio can now handle that I might have not done before.  One of these is working with leather.

 

Leather roller foot 55

Teflon zipper foot 54

Teflon dual feed foot 52

 

 

 

 

 

As some of you probably know, I have started a project of tailoring a faux leather, aka “leather”, overcoat for my youngest son David, the moderately popular sci-fi/fantasy writer, who is a cute, big and tall man in his early forties.

Decades ago I had my own fashion design and tailoring (real tailoring, not alterations) business in Ithaca, New York.   During that time I did some leather work…making a few bags and re-styling a couple of old fur coats.  I did this on my two machines…a beautiful antique White machine, which I still have, from the early 20th century that has a powerful motor that only has a straight stitch, and my Singer Golden Touch and Sew that was the Singer top of the line at the time before they  went greatly downhill as a machine.  It was a good little machine, but truly insufficient for what I was using it for. But I did not have any special feet that sew smoothly across leather, a dual feed mechanism for keeping the two layers together of slick lining fabrics, for instance, and the buttonhole program that has a simple rectangle for assisting in the making of bound buttonholes.  I didn’t have YouTube to look up reminders on how to do a bound buttonhole or a welted pocket, for instance.

What I did and still do have is a wonderful treasure of a long out-of -print book I found in the library and Marvin later bought from a used book store.  It is called How to Make Men’s Clothes by Jane Rhinehart published in 1975. Years ago when I had my shop in Ithaca, I wrote to her and obtained permission to use her book for instructional purposes and the illustrations in her book as needed in my own manuals. She was delighted, actually. I have yet to write that manual, but I am thinking of doing one now adding leather techniques and updated available supplies. As you see if you click on the link to her book, it is still available as a used book from Amazon.  There are other used book places you can find it…some grossly overpriced.  I highly recommend this book if you want to improve your tailoring abilities (much of it works for women’s tailored clothes too).  I made my dearest Marvin several jackets shortly after we were married using these techniques.  He wore those jackets for most of our life together and said he could throw them in the corner, sit on them, pick them up and put them on and they looked like they had just been freshly pressed.  It is really a construction manual that helps you to “build” tailored clothing from inside out.

Sew now I have a powerful Bernina 880 Plus with feet designed specifically for leather and vinyl work using the dual feed mechanism and a wide harp space in a large cabinet to assist me in keeping things together.

The faux leathers have vastly improved over the years.  The one I bought for this project (I bought a whole 8 yard bolt of 60 inch wide “leather”, which allowed me to get it at a reasonable price per yard, and I plan on making myself a jacket from the remaining fabric) feels almost exactly like the true leather samples I obtained before starting this project and even the back side resembles a smoother version of the back of the real leather.  It has about the same weight as the jacket-weight leather samples.  From a short distance, and maybe even up close, you will not readily be able to identify this as faux leather once I have it sewn up.  Yes, I would really prefer the real leather, but this is a wonderful substitute and is a quarter of the price.  So be aware that if you prefer not to use real leather for whatever reason, you can still make that smart “leather” jacket.  I will say that you might still want to use real leather if you are going for a quilted leather project.  It can take the heavy stitching that type of project requires and I am not sure the “leather” would.  Also I found several good suppliers of leather if you want to go that way…just let me know in the comments.

I remember the older faux leather.  It was too shiny, too stiff, and in a year or so it would crack and peal.  The back was not as good either.  You could tell from a distance it was not real leather.  I used it for Ithaca opera costumes (I was the chief costumer for several of their operas back when I lived in Ithaca) from time to time…not fun to work with.

When I worked on the leather projects of the past, I used tissue paper under my needle, and I just tightly held the sides together and stitched slowly.   Now I use clips to hold the sides together, stitch normally with the dual feed engaged, and have even better results.

When I worked on the leather projects in the past, I glued down the seam allowances and hammered them flat with a wood mallet on a towel.  The glue was a heavy goo similar to that gooey paper cement only worse.  It smelled too.  Today they have a double sided leather strip and I got some white leather glue, actually from the same manufacturer that made the old gooey junk.  What an improvement!  Now I use the double sided tape or the much nicer white leather glue and my little wood wall paper roller to make a nice flat seam.

When I worked on the leather projects in the past, I avoided top stitching as much as I could because I almost had to hand crank my machine stitches to make them go through all the layers (try keeping that straight!).  Today, I don’t mind it at all because the machine stitches right through all those layers with no problem.

Sew for my current coat project, I could not find a pattern that fit my tall nobly-shaped son.  They do not have big and tall men tailored clothing patterns published by any company that I could find.  They absolutely need to fix that!!!!  The closest I came was a couple of costume coats for cos-play, and even those still would not have fit well.  So I ended up taking a Burda pattern, a McCall’s costume pattern, some instructions from How to Make Men’s Clothes, and Frankensteined a sloper together for him.

The Franken pattern ready to chalk and cut.

Then I made a muslin fitting shell…one that did not quite work but headed me in the right direction, and one that did work after that.  Then I transfered all the corrections to the flat sloper pattern and have chalked the pattern while weighting the pattern on the back of the “leather” (one side at a time) and have cut out the “leather” with my newly sharpened big scissors.  I know you can also do this with a small-blade rotary cutter, but it requires a bigger mat than I have and the scissors work well.  I have an idea the rotary cutter would work best on true leather.  I still have another 18 pieces of interfacings, linings, and pocket bags to cut out before I start construction.

Here’s my pattern on the “leather’ with my “fancy” pattern weights…LOL…I should make myself some nice pattern weights, but who has the time?!

I have, however,  made a sample to see how my machine uses it, practice the seam finishing, and so forth.  What a dream!  I may be doing a lot more in this “leather”.  But I really do want to get back to my quilting. So I am thinking I can make a practice welted pocket in a square piece big enough to later use on a bag.  That way if I ruin it, I can try again without ruining the coat.

Sew happy everyone!  Try something new you haven’t tried before, or something you did long ago in the past that was more difficult than it would be today with today’s machines and products.  Now…back to cutting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Working With “Leather” from the 1970s to Now

  1. Terry says:

    Trying something new is scary; but good if you want to increase your toolbox of skills! Your leather coat for your son will be such a precious addition to his wardrobe! Thanks for sharing this interesting post!

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