Sewing with a leather sewing machine is something I know a lot about! I spent 10 years as a handbag designer and have sewn leather on both a domestic and industrial leather sewing machine. If you are just going to do a one-off project then you can get great results with your regular domestic sewing machine by just making a few simple alterations (read sewing leather). But if you are looking to sew leather regularly then getting a suitable leather sewing machine is very important to ensure your leather goods are durable and finished beautifully.
Leather is unforgiving – you can’t unpick any mistakes or bad stitching as the holes created by the needle will bear an unkind reminder of your slip up. So purchasing the right leather sewing machine is an important decision that will affect the quality of your work.
The first thing to consider when purchasing a leather sewing machine is, “Do I need an industrial or domestic machine?”
Leather Sewing Machine – Types
Domestic Leather Sewing Machine:
Domestic machines for home use are designed to sew thinner leather and are great for basic sewing if you are just starting out, or plan on sewing leather occasionally.
A good leather sewing machine will cost you $200 to $500 USD depending on the brand and the extra features it offers.
I sewed thin leather for many years on a simple Janome domestic sewing machine similar to this Janome HD3000 on Amazon.
Domestic machines are most suited to smaller leather sewing projects such as bags and purses due to the size of their working area. While it doesn’t matter if your fabric is bunched up while sewing, leather can be left with permanent creases and scratches if wrinkled.
Choosing a domestic leather sewing machine:
Points to consider when purchasing a leather sewing machine are:
- High presser foot lift – You often need the extra height when sewing over intersecting seams and placing your work under the foot when starting.
- Strong machine – Purchase a machine with a strong motor and metal frame that is built for durability. Singer and Janome both produce models with metal frames that are designed for heavy usage.
- Simple – As your machine will be worked hard, purchase a machine with manual knobs and one that is not computerized. There are fewer things to go wrong!
- Reasonable price – Accept that sewing leather is going to wear down any machine faster than sewing fabric on an occasional basis. Eventually, your machine is going to need replacing so choose something you can afford and consider wear and tear as part of the cost of sewing leather. If you are sewing leather for craft shows or markets, then include part of this in the costing of your goods.
- Cheap to service – If you are sewing leather regularly, your machine will need services more often so choose a make that is not complicated to service and can be repaired by your local technician without being sent away for long periods of time.
Here are the 4 domestic machines I would recommend for sewing leather. All these leather sewing machines are reasonably priced at $180-$430 and manufactured for heavy-duty use due to their metal internal frames.
Industrial Leather Sewing Machine:
If you need to sew heavy leather for belts and bags or are going to be doing a large amount of leather sewing then you may need to purchase an industrial sewing machine with a walking foot.
The advantage of an industrial machine is that they are produced with quality metal and durable motors and parts that are designed for heavy usage which will produce beautiful stitching in your leather projects. Generally, industrial leather sewing machines can handle much thicker threads and will have longer stitch lengths to produce professional results.
The disadvantage, of course, is the cost. I have used both Singer and Juki industrial machines for leather and found both to do an excellent job. Expect to pay $1500-$2500 USD for a good quality industrial machine. The other disadvantage that no one ever tells you about is that industrial machines are much harder on your body when used for long periods of time. You could liken it to driving a heavy truck vs a car.
Choosing an Industrial leather sewing machine:
Points to consider when purchasing an industrial leather sewing machine are:
- Walking foot – This is absolutely necessary to prevent wrinkling and skipped stitches in your leather projects.
- Power – Check the power source is suitable for your house. Some machines need industrial power supplies.
- Specialty – Keep in mind that if you purchase a specific leather sewing machine it will not be suitable for sewing fabric.
- Noise production – Industrial sewing machines with a clutch motor are noisy and may annoy your neighbors if used for long periods of time. Servo motors are quieter and a better option for home use.
- Sewing Area – Different types of machines have different working areas. Some have a flat-bed working area and others a free arm style.
- Motor – Choose the motor type that suits your skill level and needs. There are 2 motor types: a clutch motor and servo motor. Noise – With a clutch motor you can hear a background humming noise when the machine is on even when you are not sewing. Servo motors make no noise until you start sewing with your foot on the pedal. Speed – Servo motors have adjustable speeds similar to domestic machines making them better for beginner sewers. When using a clutch motor it does take quite a while before you get used to the constant high speeds produced by the foot pedal. In saying that, they do make quick work of most leather projects. Practicality – Servo motors use less electricity than a clutch motor since they are not constantly running. If you plan to be moving your machine around, then get a servo motor as they are also much lighter.
Here are the 2 industrial leather sewing machines I would consider.
Tips for Sewing with a Leather Sewing Machine
Regardless of the type of machine, you use there are some important factors in getting beautiful stitching. I have a full article on sewing leather but here is a summary.
- Leather needles – these are specialty needles designed for sewing leather. Choose a size suitable for the thickness of the leather you are sewing. Generally, this will be a needle size 14 -18. I have used the Schmetz and Klass (distributed in the US by Hemline) brands of leather needles and always had great results.
- Strong polyester or nylon thread as a pure cotton thread will rot from the chemicals in the leather. You can get special leather threads which are waxed but you may need to check that your machine will sew well with them. I always found that the best results on a domestic machine were obtained by a strong polyester thread designed for normal sewing. You can always go over seams that need strengthening a second time to reinforce. Look for a polyester core spun thread.
- For domestic machines, you will need to use a Teflon foot that won’t stick to the leather and cause skipped stitches. I always use the Janome Teflon feet as they are a little thicker, smoother and last longer than cheaper generic brands. This is a snap on foot and will fit most machines even if it is not a Janome.
- Long stitches so the punctures will not perforate the leather.
- A thickness of leather that your machine can handle. Try thin cow or sheepskin with a matt finish for domestic machines. Goat is particularly easy to sew and great for applique as it is thin but stiffer. Consider purchasing a bag of scrap leather before you start so you can experiment with different thickness and types of leather. You can purchase scrap leather by the pound on Amazon fairly cheaply. Avoid any patent leathers (super shiny) as they are so sticky they are a nightmare to sew unless you have an industrial machine with a walking foot. Look for leather labeled garment leather as this is generally thinner and suitable for domestic machines. Garment leather also makes beautiful and supple bags and purses. Upholstery fabric is more suited to industrial machines due to its thickness.
I hope all this information helps you with your decision on the best leather sewing machine for your project.
Read More about Sewing Leather:
Read More Sewing Machine Reviews
- Leather Sewing Machine: Best Machine for Sewing Leather
- Best Sewing Machine: For your budget
- Handheld Sewing Machine
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