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Easy Working with Leather – New Tips Series

Simple tips for leather craft

I encountered working with leather for the first time during the second year of my Fashion Design studies. Used to sewing all kinds of fabrics, I figured I could treat leather as just another type of fabric, but I soon realized this wasn’t the case. I found leather to be a fascinating material, which required different techniques for working and offered new possibilities fabrics could not.

I learned by trial and error how to work with this wonderful material. As I like to save time and keep things simple, I came up with a few tricks and guidelines to make working with leather easier for myself. I decided to write the Easy Working with Leather Tips Series as I think other designers and crafters will find it helpful. I will be posting on different topics in leather working every two weeks, so make sure to check back for the rest of the series, or simply subscribe to receive it directly to your email (subscribing by October 1st 2012 will also grant you access to this Modular Leather Cuff Free PDF pattern, so make sure to grab your copy while it’s still available!)

So without further ado, here is part one of the Easy Working with Leather Tips Series:

Part 1: Choosing the right leather for your project

Before starting on any leather project, it is important to choose the right type of leather for making it. Leather comes in different textures and different thicknesses. These affect its pliability as well as the overall look and design of the item made.

In my post about DIY leather gifts for men I point out several guidelines for choosing the right type of leather for making men leather gifts. Most guidelines apply to any other leather project you’d like to make. Basically, you need to think of what the leather item will be used for and in what way. I believe in a Form-Follows-Function method: designing the look of the item according to its functions. Think in terms of measurement, fastening, compartments, then translate it into texture, shape and color and choose your leather accordingly.

I only look at two main characters while choosing leather (keeping it simple, remember?):

1. Leather Thickness
Leather can be very stiff or more pliable and flexible, depending on its thickness. Thickness is indicated in ounces (oz.). Higher numbers indicate thicker and stiffer leather (suitable for making saddles and upholstery). Lower numbers indicate a more pliable and flexible leather, suitable for making garments and accessories.
I prefer using leather up to about 3 oz. thick, as it is both suitable for printing and for sewing the printed leather into fashion accessories and gadgets, using my humble home sewing machine. (If you’d like to see my variety of printed leather material suitable for making DIY accessories and gadgets, visit my printed leather shop)

Different Leather Thicknesses

Leather comes in various thicknesses

2. Leather Type
You can roughly divide leather types into two main groups by texture and feel of the hide:
Top Grain: Made from the upper layer of the skin, this leather type has a perforated texture due to the tiny pores of the skin.
Split, Suede and Nubuck: Made from the inner layer of the skin or by sanding the upper layer, these leather types have a more velvety surface.

Porous Top-Grain leather vs. velvety Suede, Split and Nubuck.

Top-Grain leather is more porous. Suede, Split and Nubuck are more velvety.

While designing a new printed leather line or working with a client on a specific project, I choose the leather type for printing and sewing depending on the graphics and the final product to be made. If I need more durability, for instance for making shoes, I will choose thicker leather. For fashionable leather cuffs I will choose a thinner more pliable leather.

When it comes to leather printing, the printed image comes out a bit different for each leather type: The top-grain porous texture applies to the image and usually gives it a more vintage “seeded” look, while the velvety texture of Suede and Nubuck results in a sharp image.

Printed leather pieces of different types

Different results for different types of leather printed

So there you have it:
Leather Thickness + Leather Type = The Right Leather!

I hope these tips will help you to make a better choice while starting on your next leather project. Make sure to check back for part 2 of the Easy Working with Leather Tips Series, where I’ll be writing about the best (and simple) ways to trace a sewing pattern onto leather. Subscribe here to receive it directly to your email.

Share your experience with the PINEAPPLE Community: DO YOU have any tips for choosing the right type of leather you’d like to add?

Easy working with Leather – Tips Series
Part 1: Choosing the right leather for your project
Part 2: Tracing the sewing pattern onto your leather
Part 3: Leather Sewing Tips & Tricks

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