Tracing the sewing pattern onto your leather
Click here for Part 1: Choosing the right leather for your project
When I first started working with leather, I already had my fair amount of experience with sewing fabrics. At first I figured working with leather should be the same, but I came to realize that even simple tasks, such as tracing the pattern, needed to be done in a completely different way when it came to leather.
The number one issue with leather is that it can’t be pinned. If you try pinning a pattern onto leather in order to trace it, the leather will remain perforated after you remove the pins.
So, how to trace a sewing pattern onto leather?
My preferred method is making a cardboard form of the pattern. Here’s how to make one in three easy steps:
- Draft your pattern on plain paper or print out a digital file PDF pattern.
- Glue the paper onto a thick piece of cardboard. I use a cardboard that’s 3mm (0.12”) thick, which is quite durable and easy to work with.
- Use a knife to cut around the outlines of the pattern to create the cardboard form of the pattern.
After making the cardboard form of the pattern you can use it for tracing over and over again. No use of pins is necessary – simply place the cardboard form onto the leather and hold firmly with one hand. Use your other hand to cut the leather according to the form, by placing the blade as close to the form as possible. Work slowly and watch out for your fingers!…
Special markings on the pattern
Fastening holes, decorative seams, pockets positioning – all of these may appear on the pattern and need to be traced accurately onto the leather. After all it’s the small details that count!
This is where pins do come in handy: Use a pin to mark the center of a hole. For a decorative seam, make a small perforation to mark where it starts and ends. If it’s not a straight seam you can mark the entire path with several perforations. For positioning of pockets or patches mark the corners the same way.
Another great tool to create markings onto leather is a Tracing Wheel. You don’t need to use tracing paper below, just role the teeth of the wheel according to the outlines of the pattern. Use the tracing wheel to mark straight decorative seams and outlines of pockets and patches.
A quick tip for ‘stretchy’ leathers: I usually use leather that’s 2-3 oz. thick. This thickness gives the leather enough structure and allows pretty easy cutting. For thinner leathers (such as pig skin, which I use mainly for lining) you might find the leather kind of stretching under your blade instead of being cut through. This usually happens if the blade has become a bit dull.
Two things you can do:
- Replace the blade with a fresh one.
- Mark the outline of the pattern using a Tracing wheel and complete the cut with a good pair of scissors.
How to punch holes in leather?
Once you have your patterned leather cut and marked, there are two main tools you can use to punch holes in it. The first is the Leather Hole Puncher Pliers. Punching a hole with this tool is simple: place a piece of scrap leather behind the marking of the hole on your cut leather pattern. Set the wheel on the desired hole-size and place it according to the same marking. Punch firmly into both layers of leather. It is important to use the scrap leather piece otherwise the pliers might not punch the leather pattern all the way through.
The second tool you can use is the Leather Awl, which is a metal point with a handle, tapered along its length. You’ll need to put a thick piece of wood underneath the leather and place the metal point according to the marking of the hole. Apply firm strokes using a hammer or mallet to slowly insert the sharp point into the leather. Insert the point deeper for creating a wider hole.
I personally like using the Leather Hole Puncher Pliers better, as I find this tool extremely useful. I use one that has 6 different hole-size options, which are perfectly sized for making all sorts of leather crafts.
I hope these tips will help you to easily trace a pattern on your next leather project. If you have any tips of your own to add, please share them with the community on the comments below.
Come share your experience with the PINEAPPLE community: Do you have any tips for tracing a pattern onto leather?