In today's economy, leather-sewing capability can be an important factor in selecting a sewing machine.
Whether you are a crafter, a do-it-yourself-er, or a cottage industry entrepreneur, the ability to sew leather is a real advantage.
You have a couple of options for sewing leather. If you plan on high-speed, high-production leather-sewing, then you will need a commercial leather machine. But if you just need to occasionally sew soft leather for garments or handbags, then a heavy duty household model can do the job.
That is why vintage machines are so popular today. The all-metal machines of the 40's, 50's and early 60's are "industrial strength" in our modern world.
According to Merriam-Webster, "industrial strength" is defined as: "marked by more than usual power, durability, or intensity." Oxford defines it as "very strong or powerful."
Which means that an "industrial strength" sewing machine is NOT an industrial or commercial machine, but it is stronger than the typical household sewing machine. By today's plastic-happy standards, the all-metal vintage machines are certainly "industrial strength."
In fact, most vintage machines will sew leather goods with some care and consideration. The following tips will help:
Set stitch length to the maximum.
Reduce upper thread tension. The thicker the leather, the looser the tension.
Increase presser foot pressure to hold leather firmly.
Use a large, leather-point needle. Singer leather needles are available in size 14 and 16. Schmetz leather point needles are available up to size 18. Visit the Singer and Schmetz websites for needle charts.
Always use the handwheel to start the needle moving. Do not engage the motor until the needle is moving and coming up out of the leather.
Sew at very slow speed, assisting with the handwheel as needed.
Do not push or pull on the leather, this can cause the needle to bind or break and may also interfere with the timing.
When turning a corner, walk the needle by hand. Do not pivot the leather until the needle is coming up out of the leather, otherwise it may drop the last stitch.
Avoid backstitching as this can "perforate" the leather and cause it to tear along the stitch line.
Never force the machine. If the needle will not pierce the leather using the handwheel, STOP.
Jacket leather sewn on Singer 401A
Gear-drive machines will usually sew leather more easily than belt-drive machines because they are less likely to slip or stall.
Keep in mind that the density and hardness of leather goods vary widely.
The thickness of the leather and the type of tanning process will dictate how much punching power is needed to pierce and sew. Some leathers simply cannot be sewn on a household machine.
An "industrial strength" vintage machine is a good choice for fashion garments and accessories or the occasional heavy duty repair, but it's not a good choice for day-in, day-out leather sewing.
A true industrial or commercial machine is the best choice for motorcycle leathers, saddlery, or daily, high-production leather sewing.
So, do you need to sew leather? If you slow down and take your time, you may be surprised at what your vintage machine can do!
OldSewinGear is the collaborative effort of retired repairman Gary and daughter Barbara. We love old sewing gear and enjoy sharing what we've learned in our vintage sewing machine adventures. We are located in Roseburg, Oregon.