Your scrap basket may not include leather, but you might be surprised where you can find bits and pieces of real leather. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have Tandy Leather, which has several retail locations as well as online shopping. Their retail stores extend across the country and even internationally. Check out the store locator to see if there's one in your area. Or, you may have a similar outlet; any larger company that creates leather goods probably offers scraps for sale. If not, browse local vintage and re-sale shops for leather vests, larger purses, and other leather products you can repurpose. In addition, you can always choose to substitute faux leather. These half-square triangles go together in a snap. And the soft wool-felt backing makes them safe for any surface.
The instructions below are for a set of four coasters. Each set uses just four 4" x 4" squares of leather and four 4¼" x 4¼" squares of felt. The half-square triangle design looks best if you select two leathers with the same or very similar patterns, two in a light color and two in a coordinating dark color. Stick with the lighter-weight leathers, up to about 4oz (1.6mm) is best; our leather was approximately 1.5mm. This thickness should sew nicely on most home sewing machines without any special tools other than a leather needle. But as we always emphasize, test first on scraps to make sure all your settings are right and the machine is stitching smoothly.
If you're new to working with leather, it is very much like its faux leather counterpart. We have a full, step-by-step tutorial of faux leather tips and tricks. The main things to keep in mind are: a) use the right needle in your sewing machine, b) opt for clips over pins when holding together any layers, and c) unlike cottons and other wovens, there's no ripping out and starting over. Once there's a hole, there's always a hole. Take the extra time to plan and confirm all your measurements.
A rotary cutter will create smoother, straighter edges than scissors. And, speaking of those edges, leather doesn't fray so you don't have to worry about finishing the edges. The cut edges of faux leather don't ravel either, but they do reveal the backing layer, which is often an obtrusive color and so has to be finished, colored or otherwise hidden. No such worries with real leather; its cut edges look great and have an interesting texture.
Many leather scraps and re-purposed items will already have a finish on them. If they don't, you'll want to add one so the coasters are water repellent. We've linked to one of our favorites in the supply list below.
We recommend a thick wool felt as the backing for the coasters. Use the thickest felt you can find, and opt for wool/rayon blends for the best body. Thinner leathers don't really have enough heft on their own; the wool provides that, and it's safe against any surface. As an added stabilizer, we added a layer of heavy-duty fusible web.
As we mentioned, these coasters are super fast and easy to make. You can whip out several sets in just one afternoon. They'd make great gifts! If you use re-purposed leather, it's fun to include a little note about what the coasters were in their previous life.
Each coaster finishes at approximately 4¼" x 4¼".
Sewing Tools You Need
Fabric and Other Supplies
Supplies shown are for FOUR coasters
- Scraps or ¼ yard of 20"+ wide leather; we used embossed leather scraps in white-on-navy and navy-on-white from our S4H scrap stash
NOTE: As mentioned above, the half-square triangle design is most dramatic with two similar leathers, one light and one dark.
- Scraps or ¼ yard of 20"+ wide heavy wool felt; we used 36" 35% Wool/65% Rayon Felt in Silver Gray
- Iron-on adhesive strips; we used Therm-o-web Heat 'n' Bond Lite
- Heavy-duty fusible web; we used Pellon Heavy Duty Wonder Under
- All purpose thread in colors to match leather and felt
- See-through ruler
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper (this tool is always in our supply list, but you can't really put it to use with leather unless you plan of trimming away the visible stitch holes left behind from any bad seams)
- Fabric pencil or pen
- Iron and ironing board
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Clips instead of pins, such as Wonder Clips
- Leather finish; necessary for the coasters to be water repellent
- From the leather cut TWO 4" x 4" squares from the darker color and TWO 4" x 4" squares from the lighter color.
- Slice each square on the diagonal to create EIGHT triangles. To insure the triangles butt together cleanly, make sure your cuts are accurate, straight, and at a true 45˚ angle.
- Match up the light and dark triangles to form four squares. When placed side by side in the correct position, the four darker triangles form an inner diamond. It's a pretty way to display them on a table top.
- From the wool felt backing, cut FOUR 4¼" x 4¼" squares.
- From the heavy duty fusible web, cut FOUR 4" x 4" squares.
- Cut FOUR 7" strips from the iron-on adhesive tape.
- Place a strip of fusible adhesive along the diagonal joint of each coaster. Following manufacturer's instructions, fuse in place. With leather, your iron's heat setting should be on the low end. Keep the strip's paper backing in place.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
- Insert a leather needle.
- Thread the machine with thread to best coordinate with both the light and dark leathers. We used navy.
- Set up the machine for a wide zig zag. Practice the zig zag stitch on scraps to make sure you have a width and length you like.
- Stitch along the diagonal. Where the edges meet is your center line; make sure your zig zag swings evenly to either side. The handy red arrow on our Janome Satin Stitch foot gives us a great guide to follow.
- For the neatest finish, secure the start and end of the seam with a lock stitch or leave the thread tails long and hand knot to secure.
- Peel away the paper backing from the fusible strip.
- Place the fusible side (the rough or non-paper side) of the heavy duty fusible web square against the back of the seamed leather square. Make sure all the edges are flush.
- Following manufacturer's instructions, fuse in place. Your iron is now against the paper backing side of the fusible web. It's important the fusible web is pressed only on the leather. fusing against the felt will cause the felt to shrink. Simply leave the paper backing in place.
- Place the leather square on top of the felt square, centering the leather square so the felt extends evenly on all sides. Clip the layers together. Remember, pins will leave permanent holes; use clips. If you don't have access to Wonder Clips, binder clips or even paper clips will work.
- Re-thread the machine, changing out the bobbin thread to match the felt. The upper thread can stay as is. Re-set for a straight stitch. Increase the stitch length. Again, test on scraps to get the look you like. We used 3mm.
- Edgestitch around all four sides through all the layers. Remember to pivot at each corner, and as above with the center zig zag stitch, secure the start and end of the seam with a lock stitch or leave the thread tails long and hand knot to secure.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation: Debbie Guild