Types Of Sewing Machines For Sewing With Leather: Jacket Progress

sewing with leather

I’ve been on a bit of a leather information gathering odyssey lately. I get interested in things and then it leads me down a kind of  sewing rabbit hole. I’ve been doing a lot of research on different types of sewing with leather and thought I’d share some information while it’s still fresh. I may be on this leather kick for awhile. Time will tell!IMG_7770

I’ve gotten to a point in sewing my leather motorcycle jacket that’s stalled me and where I can’t go further. My sewing machine just doesn’t have the power to muscle through the thick, but beautiful leather I’ve been working with. It won’t sew through the quadruple layers of the front jacket, the facing and the collar at all. It can handle two layers of leather, struggles at three, and just won’t go through four layers. I’ve broken approximately 13 leather sewing machine needles on this new Bernina 560. There’s a reason they call me the Sewing Machine thrasher down at the shop! I may have to take my jacket to a shoemaker and have him sew this part.

I’m loving my jacket so far….Even if the top stitching does look really tiny and  uneven up close. I like how the quilted part looks. And I love the look of this leather.


Regardless of whether or not I get into sewing heavy duty leather stuff, I’m sharing what I found with you. Because the leather sewing scene it TOTALLY different from the garment sewing scene.

If you want to learn more about all things having to do with making leather stuff, the website Leatherworker.net has lots of forums to read . It’s definitely more of a guys scene. There are guys on this site posting about everything from making cowboy boots, to belts, to gun holsters, to knife carriers to seat upholstery for their pickup trucks. I did read about a woman who makes leather corsets though! I’m imagining lots of handle bar mustaches on the other side of the keyboard.

On another note, a gentleman named Arthur Porter has a fantastic You Tube video  about choosing the right machine to sew leather on. He likes the industrial walking foot models. His video is very informative!

Some random info: I recently found out that both my grandfathers sewed leather things. One worked in a luggage factory and Manhattan and the other made custom upholstery.

Here is my lowdown on sewing machines for leather I’ve gathered from various forums, books,websites and just through sewing with leather myself  I haven’t tired most of these machines and I would love to hear your opinions on them if you have yourself. Thanks!:

Sewing leather on a regular home sewing machine

Home machines CAN sew leather, but only lightweight garment grade leathers. They just don’t have the power to make it through heavier leathers. Choose leather that’s supple, a bit thinner, and more bendy. Like Nappa leather.  If you plan on top stitching on leather on a home machine, it really should be thinner leather if you want it to look good. And the stitches should be made longer. the thicker the leather the smaller the stitches seem to get and it can look really unattractive. That’s  because the motor is stressing and the machine isn’t set up to deal with thickness of leathers doubled up. Both the roller foot and teflon foot help move things along, and I wonder how a walking foot would behave on a home machine. My machine could handle my upholstery leather to a certain point, but it wouldn’t accept upholstery thread, so my top stitching doesn’t look very good. Also, when it starts to strain over the thickness at seams, the thread keeps breaking off and my top stitching starts to get really small and close together.

I have a friend who says her vintage Singer 210 works great with leather.

The thing is, if you use thicker leathers on a home machine, there is a chance you can burn out the motor. Home sewing machine motors are small and designed to handle only fabric. So be careful the leather isn’t too thick because that puts too much strain on the motor. It’s like towing a truck with a minivan.

Sewing leather on an industrial garment machine

Industrial sewing machines designed for garment sewing aren’t designed for sewing leather, even thought they do have larger motors and more power than home sewing machines. They probably sew great on thinner leathers, as they have more torque to push the leather through, and can handle thicker threads for tops stitching If you want a machine dedicated to sewing leather you will want a dedicated walking foot machine. I guess what I’m saying here is if you have an industrial sewing machine, great . It will probably work better than a home sewing machine. But it’s not ideal and don’t buy one thinking it will work great on leather.

Sewing leather on Portable Walking Foot machine

There is a class of sewing machine originally designed to be able to carry onto boats to sew and repair boat sails. It’s a portable walking foot machine. They have a built in dual feed walking foot can handle up to 3/8 inch layers of material and feeds it through evenly. There are several brands but most of them are basically the same. the Sail Rite, The Thompson, Alphasew, and the Consew CP 2006R . These machines are portable but quite heavy duty still and have built in walking feet. These machines are designed for stitching such products as auto, boat and furniture upholstery, tarpaulins, covers, sails, tents, camping trailer covers, awnings, umbrellas, tops, bags, luggage, handbags, travelware accessories, sports and camping equipment, wearing apparel, outdoor clothing, canvas shoes,  etc. You can find them used for a few hundred dollars. This seems like an ideal choice for me. But according to wiscrafts , a leather guru on Leather worker.net, they have drawbacks. They also have smaller motors and aren’t built to last through as much abuse as industrial walking feet machines.

Just because a sewing machine has a “walking foot” system, it is not necessarily the best walking foot system for sewing leather. We prefer to use what are known as compound, or triple feed walking feet. A triple feed system has three items moving in sync: the feed dog, the needle and the inside foot. The outside foot moves up and down to either hold down the leather between stitches, or to allow the above mentioned group to move it as the stitch is formed. Portable walking foot machines are all dual feed, with the outside foot moving in sync with the feed dog. The needle and inside foot simply go up and down. Additionally, these machines rely upon teeth on the bottom of the feet to assist it with feeding slippery material. These teeth will noticeably mark the top of the leather.

sailriteI’ll be testing out a used Thompson later today or perhaps this week. I’m anxious to see how it sews on my leather.

I can’t give you a firsthand review of how these different types of machines will work on your leather, as I’ve only done research but haven’t tried them in person. I’m planning on trying out a few different typs of machines in the next week or so and will report back.

Sewing Leather on an Industrial Walking Foot Machine

These machines are the creme de la creme for leather sewing enthusiasts. But they take up lots of space because they are larger than other machines, have large motors mounted in a built in table that the machine is attached to. They also have a triple feed walking foot and don’t damage the leather at all, while feeding it through. They have a superior stitch quality, can sew through thick leather belts easily, and make perfect size top stitching and can handle much thicker weights of leather due to their large powerful motors mounted under their tables. Arthur Porter demonstrates sewing on these in his You Tube video. If you are thinking about starting a business sewing leather goods, these machines are perfect. But of course, they can be quite expensive, although it’s possible to buy used industrial models for about a thousand dollars. These machines seem a little intimidating to be honest, I’m sure they would sew through a finger without missing a stitch.

Consew-206RB-5-walking-foot-industrial-sewing-machine-image-No-2The Consew 20006RB-5

Juki41yETj4aqhLJuki DNU 1508 with a servo motor.

Best not to have it around little ones, I think.


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  1. Carol Gardiner says

    Hi Justine, When one of my students was making a carpet bag for her mom, she got to the point where it was just too thick to sew on her machine. I took it to a friend who makes seat covers for cars. His machine had no trouble going through all those layers, since it is usually sewing through leather. You are quite brave to sew on leather. It has been fun to watch your progress and learn your discoveries through the process. And your jacket looks really cool, by the way.

  2. says

    Your jacket is looking insanely fabulous. I (literally) gasped when I saw the quilted back. I’m just completely into it and hope you find the best way to continue. I’ve read a lot about leather because, well- I’m a wannabe cowgirl; but I don’t think I got as far as you. My husband grew up in a working in a leather shoe factory- theyworked downstairs and live upstairs. They are still in business today. I tried once to convince my hubby into making shoes but he couldn’t find the proper hand tools- it’s like they don’t exist in the United States! I’m curious and anxious to show him this post when he gets home and see if he has any tidbits. I’m also wondering if you could somehow hand tool your sleeves in- it sounds too impossible but I’m betting you are reluctant to invest in expensive new (big) equipment. I also met a kid named Scott out of the Dallas area who got into leather working- I’m not sure he got as far as you but I might look for his email later and see what he thinks. It really is a whole nuther world and I’ve never been quite brave enough to venture into it. Fascinating stuff though! One last thought- I’m betting there are some leathersmiths in your area, I know there’s a few places that manufacture American holsters out of Southern California. I wouldn’t dare let them sew your jacket unattended, but I’m pretty sure someone would be interested in helping you out. Maybe even in exchange for a blog post? You have no idea how this post got my leather loving gears spinning today!

    • says

      That is an awesome idea. Thanks Amy! I’m going down to the shoemaker tomorrow to see if he can help. I found a lady who is selling her dad’s portable walking foot machine for two hundred bucks. I may go have a look see!

  3. Carrie says

    I’m so impressed that you did this on your Bernina (and didn’t break more needles or have smoke pouring out of it). Great work! I have been thinking about a leather machine for wardrobe/bag sewing and there’s a shop in Ontario called The Leather Machine Co that sells Cobra machines (cylinder arms etc). I swear one day I am driving down and buying one (Have called them many times with questions and they sometimes have consign machines, nice man who KNOWS and LOVES his machines). I’m loving your leather posts! Keep up the daring and fabulous work girl.