Back in the 1970s, I wanted my mom to buy me a real leather jacket. Unfortunately, she was only prepared to spend for one made of synthetic leather. As much as I wanted to believe it looked genuine, it just looked fake. Today’s fake – excuse me, faux leather looks so much more like the real thing. And, not only is faux leather less expensive than genuine leather, it’s also cruelty-free, and easier to sew with. Read on for a few of our favorite tricks and tools.
On many occasions, I’ve had trouble telling a faux item was not made from real leather. It just looks and feels so genuine. Sometimes, I’ve had to twist the item around until I could see the backing before it revealed its secret. Faux leather is also easier to maintain. No need for big dry cleaning bills, most options can be cleaned by simply wiping with a damp cloth.
Beyond looking just like top-grain hides, today’s faux leather comes in an extensive variety of patterns and textures that are so realistically exotic, you might get taken for a poacher if you’re not careful.
Faux leather has just a few minor challenges: it’s a “sticky” fabric under the presser foot, any time you poke it with a pin or needle you are making a permanent hole, and it will wear out sewing needles faster than regular fabric.
But if you use a few simple techniques and have some special notions on hand, faux leather is a fun substrate with which to sew. Plus, the things you can make with it are very impressive. Check out the links in the captions above to some of our faux leather project tutorials.
Measuring and cutting
Because pins will leave permanent holes, you should only pin faux leather in places where it won’t show. This means pins are not your best option for holding your paper pattern pieces in position for cutting.
The best way to cut out your pieces is to lay the faux leather right side up and flat on a cutting mat. Put your pattern pieces on top of your material and hold them in place with pattern weights.
With a sharp rotary cutter, cut out your pieces, using a plastic ruler as your guide anywhere you need a straight edge.
Sewing machine setup
When stitched from the right side, faux leather tends to stick to regular metal presser feet. Instead, use either a foot that’s made from a non-stick substance like Teflon® or a tractor style foot. Your sewing machine dealer can help you find the correct foot for your machine make and model.
The foot shown below is Janome’s Ultra Glide foot. Janome also has a special Ultra Glide Foot and Needle Plate Set for several models, which provides a non-stick surface both above and below. This is particularly helpful when topstitching straps and other elements that are right-side-out on all sides.
The next item shown below is Janome’s Roller foot, another good option for helping you move across a sticky surface.
If you don’t have access to any of these feet, you can try the technique of placing a strip of wax or parchment paper under your regular presser foot. The foot will move nicely across the paper, and you can see through it to keep track of your seam.
When you’re finished, the paper can be easily torn way from the seam.
Choose a denim sewing needle. It has a sharper point than a regular needle to minimize the size of the holes in your material. There are actual leather needles, but they are best for genuine leather and not as great for the faux leathers.
Be sure to start each project with a new needle and have several spares on hand. Faux leather can dull needles more quickly than regular fabric.
You can use a zigzag or a straight stitch, depending on the look you want. Lengthen your stitch a little because the small stitches can perforate the material and weaken the seam.
As always, test your stitches on a few scraps before sewing your actual pattern pieces.
Let’s get sewing with faux leather
We like to use clips to hold faux leather pieces together when sewing.
Other people like to tape their layers together or use fabric glue in the seam allowance. You can use pins but only in the seam allowance, since they make permanent holes (we’ve mentioned this once or twice before… it’s probably sunk in by now, right?).
For the same reason, you have to be very careful about ripping out seams. If you need to re-sew a seam, you have to make sure your needle goes in exactly the same holes it made the first time.
Sew your faux leather project slowly and carefully and you should do fine. Press your seams when necessary, using the synthetic setting on your iron. To be safe, use a pressing cloth and press from the wrong side whenever possible.
Extra seams add to the real leather look
Genuine leather items tend to have more seams. So for a more authentic look with your faux leather projects, choose a pattern that has a lot of small sections. Or you can add seams across larger sections to get the same effect. On the seam shown below, we topstitched to either side of our main seam.