I get a lot of people asking advice about using vintage domestic machines to sew leather, disreputable sellers on various auction or trading sites will even use terms like “semi-industrial sewing machine” and “sews leather” to up sell machines primarily designed for general household dressmaking and mending. If you want to sew a suede or thin leather patch on a fabric garment, or mend a split seam, you can with care and many caveats, make it work, but you must do so in full understanding that the machine was not really designed for such work. Remember, just because some people have driven Volkswagon Beetles on off-road tracks only intended for 4WD, does not mean they are “all terrain vehicles”.
If you must attempt to sew leather on a domestic machine, the heaviest thread I would recommend is 40 ticket HT Polyester (such as Amann Serafil). As the heaviest leather a domestic machine will cope with will be light weight shoe upper leather or thin wallet—and even then, no more than two layers and you need to work s l o w l y— if a leather point 100/16 domestic needle won’t pierce the leather, assume the machine will not do the job.
If you are a costumer or crafter who can’t afford a specialist leather machine for a few small jobs, central bobbin domestics (such as Singer 15 class, Pfaff 30, a number of Minerva models, Japanese HA-1 etc) cope better with heavy thread than horizontal bobbin domestics, especially if heavier thread is required for aesthetic reasons, and treadle or hand crank will make the slower speed stitching easier.
An often overlooked issue is not the ability to pierce the leather, but the limitations of the feed dogs, the drag effect of the presser foot can be reduced if you use a Teflon or roller foot, but never ignore that these are “work-arounds” rather than actual solutions. Some people will suggest domestic walking foot attachments, but these are not intended for sewing leather, they are only intended as an even feed attachment for quilted fabrics.
Another common assumption people make is that if a machine is “industrial” it must be heavy duty. This is wrong. The most common industrial machines are designed for speed and reliability rather than brute strength, and many industrial machines are designed for very precise process work; they are fine tuned specialists.
Even with machines designed for sewing leather, there is a wide variety; a machine intended for sewing leather shoe uppers will not sew a heavy leather sole on a shoe, and the machine specifically designed for sole stitching, will not sew the upper. If you want to find the right machine for what you want to do, you need to ask experts and accept that one machine will not be the ideal machine for every job.
Author Rebecca Pinquoch
Until Next Time KerryAnne