Friday, June 22, 2012

Leather Emmaline Bag with Tips for Sewing Leather

I had such a proud moment yesterday when I finished this:

A leather Emmaline bag (pattern from, made of buttery soft Italian lambskin.  I bought the skin from absoluteleather on etsy, and it's so yummy to touch and squish.  I really enjoyed making this bag--the pattern was great and being able to  handle this gorgeous leather was a pleasure.

I hate to give this baby up; I think it's one of the most beautiful things I've ever made.  But I made it for my little sister, so she will be the lucky owner.  Her favorite color is purple (yes, she has the daughter named Violet!).  It's such a great size--a carry-all tote that's not too big.  The leather makes it nice and slouchy too.

The bag is also lined in a luxurious feeling material--a Marc Jacobs cotton sateen jacquard that I got on clearance for a few dollars per yard from

I wasn't sure if I had enough leather to make the version with handles all the way around the bag, so I used leather tabs for top handles only, inspired by one of the versions displayed in the pattern.

Despite the challenges, I have really enjoyed working with leather and I thought I would list a few tips here.  These are by no means exhaustive, as I'm new to leather, but I thought they might be helpful.

1) For the home sewing machine, stick with leather that's about 1mm or less in thickness because it's much easier to work with (just make sure it's thick enough for the function of whatever project you're making; very delicate lambskin isn't likely to hold up well for a heavily used bag, for example).  Thinner leather can be used in many bag patterns that are written for fabric, and therefore another advantage is that it can be sewn with the raw edges ending up inside your bag.  You can leave leather edges raw when sewing, but then it is best to finish the edges with a sealer such as gum tragacanth or acrylic paint.  So if you are able to sew the leather like fabric you can avoid this step.

2) It's easy to trace the outline of your pattern template on the wrong side of the leather with a ball-point pen, to make cutting easier.

3) Use a denim or leather sewing machine needle as well as a longer stitch length to accommodate for the thicker material, and use a 1/4 or 3/8 inch seam allowance.  All-purpose polyester thread is fine to use; avoid cotton thread which can degrade over time from tannins in the leather.

4) Perforating too many holes can weaken the leather at the seam, so only backtack if your machine can go back over the same holes.  Otherwise make a knot on the wrong side to secure the stitching.

5) Stitch slowly, especially when going over multiple layers at overlapping seams.

6) I found a walking foot absolutely necessary when sewing the back (sueded) side, i.e. when sewing the leather pieces right sides together.  A regular foot can be used if sewing cloth lining to the leather; in this case sew with the cloth on top so the feed dogs can move the leather along.

7) Before stitching, hold pieces together with binder clips and/or baste with leather cement or industrial double-sided tape (Laura Bennett uses 3M 465 adhesive tape in her book Handmade Chic).

8) To get a flat seam, you can press with a regular iron and pressing cloth, but  I made up my own technique: I used leather cement to glue the seam allowances flat on the reverse side, then used a roll of masking tape as a presser, rolling the tape over the seam to press it flat while the glue was still wet (make sure your roll of tape is almost new, with enough weight to act as a presser).  It seemed to work well (note the nice flat seams on the body of my Emmaline bag) and I didn't have to deal with a hot iron or worry about the iron ruining the leather.

9)  I found that I didn't need to buy a lot of special tools.  Thinner leather can easily be cut with shears or a rotary cutter and mat.  Aside from my standard sewing gear I found the following to be helpful: leather cement (I use Eco-Flo from, which doesn't have noxious fumes, and is water-based) and a small awl for making holes for inserting rivets.

Some online places for buying leather:
absoluteleather on etsy
PeggySueAlso on etsy (also has lots of leather-working supplies)

Some online places for buying bag hardware: (look in the closures section)
bagpurseframes on etsy

Hope this info is helpful for anyone out there who wants to try sewing with leather.  If you want to wet your feet, again I highly recommend  Handmade Chic by Laura Bennett, which has some easy accessories for home sewists (ipad cases, small pouches, etc).


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  2. Hello Rose, from your newest fan! I am absolutely thrilled that you chose my pattern to sew for your sister. I LOVE the leather and your sewing tips are fantastic! Thank you so much for sharing your pictures in the Emmaline Bag Eye Candy flickr page too! Did I tell you how much I love this bag. Using the tab method is the perfect idea, that is why I chose it too when I made mine with the faux leather straps, and I can't wait to try this out too! If I could just add, I am also selling some handbag hardware on my site too (self serving plug here...) There isn't much yet, but I do have the necessary hardware for a great emmaline bag. Anyway, I love it and I can't wait to view your leather supplier links and try it myself!

    1. I'm so glad you love the bag I made. It's was a lovely pattern-- thank you and I look forward to making more of your bags!

  3. Just gorgeous... ! still ooh and ahhing over this bag!!

  4. It really is a great bag! Now you need to make one for yourself!

  5. Nice bag, I love the color, looks really soft.

  6. Great idea to use leather. I have this pattern and was waiting until the right fabric came along. Yours looks very classy, so I'll keep solid leather (or faux leather) in mind.

  7. I am making this bag soon and I love Janelle's patterns. It is just beautiful and I hope you don't mind if I pin these tips!

  8. Love, love, love your bag!!! It looks so professionally made. Thanks for sharing your tips on sewing with leather. Hope you don't mind, but I'm pinning this so I can refer to your tips when I make a leather iPad case later this month. I would love for you to share this at our ongoing linky that's just for Bags and Totes...

  9. Hi there Rose, I'm having a hard time finding your contact information. I would love to talk to you about featuring you and this post on my blog. I would love to share links to this project as well as to your Ravelry shop. Wow, your patterns are amazing!! I would be very happy if you contacted me on my email, janelle(at)emmalinebags(dot)com so I could write you back and let you know what I'm hoping to share. Thank you! Janelle

  10. Your leather bag is amazing! This is my first time here and would love to get updates on your blog via email. I am going to pin your post so I can come back and look at your stores. I love your shawls too. I definitely need to come back.

    Thanks for your post!


  11. Your bag is BEAUTIFUL! Thank you for all of the tips! I do have one question. I have a coach bag that is all leather, and with the straps, they added this plastic? film that looks like it was melted onto the edges to hide the raw look. Well, these are coming off, and I don't know what that is to figure out where to get more and how to fix it. My bag is in GREAT shape other than a few spots on the handles.
    jessicarwarfield at gmail dot com

    1. Hi Jessica, I actually don't know much about finishing the edges of leather straps, although I know that either gum tragacanth or acrylic paint can be used. The straps I have made so far are folded to avoid a raw edge and need for finishing. You could try finding a matching acrylic paint and dabbing it on lightly, but your best bet is probably taking it to a leather repair shop.

  12. Oh. My. Gosh. Gorgeous! Makes me want to finally sit down at my machine...

  13. Hi Rose

    Janelle told me about this bag, and I would like to show this article as a follow up on a feature I did on her bags in our sewing forum called 'Bag Pattern Gallery 3 - Emmaline Bags (Canada).

    Janelle is a member there now, please have a look and let me know if you are agreeable. I have done a series on sewing with Faux Leather and this would highlight the differences.

    I oversee the sewing channel called "Sewing Purses, Totes and Bags" and that is where the article is, but you have to join the sewing channel to see that.

    Community Assistant