What You Need in a Leather Sewing Machine

SKU: X-HT-300353



Leather can be difficult to work with. It’s unforgiving, is sometimes thick, and can be difficult to pierce with a needle, but the results of sewing with leather are absolutely stunning and, for a lot of artisans, very gratifying. You can craft beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces with leather. We're proud to offer two fantastic straight stitch sewing machines for leatherwork: the Sailrite® Fabricator® and Leatherwork® Sewing Machines. Whether you're looking to sew leather upholstery, bags, belts, wallets and more, this blog will discuss all the features you need in a leather sewing machine. A sewing machine is a big investment, and we want you to know all the facts and considerations before jumping in.

Leather Sewing Machine Essentials

One of the complications of sewing leather is that you create a permanent hole once the needle punches through it — so making a mistake is a costly affair both in wasted leather and time since you will have to start your project over. Because every stitch counts, it's vital for a leather sewing machine to have stitch-by-stitch slow speed control. A programmable servo motor is key for this purpose, and both our Leatherwork and Fabricator are equipped with the Sailrite® exclusive Workhorse® Servo Motor. With this 3/4 horsepower motor, you can set your top sewing speed while maintaining variable speed control. The motor provides high torque even from a complete stop so you can punch through thick leather assemblies without losing power.

Having a sewing machine that can feed and stitch leather consistently is crucial, especially if you are starting a small business or plan on making money from your leatherwork. Selecting a machine that was built for sewing leather will result in professional-looking, high-quality products with fewer miss-stitches. An investment in a well-made sewing machine will save you time and money in non-discarded leather, broken parts and repair bills — and will probably save your sanity too!

When sewing leather, it’s important that your machine provides a consistent stitch length from stitch to stitch, and you need a machine with a high foot lift to accommodate the thickness of some leathers. Though sometimes thick and tough, leather's surface is delicate. You need a sewing machine with specialty presser feet and a feed dog that won't leave marks on the material. The Leatherwork comes with knurled presser feet and feed dog that are specially designed not to damage leather. An optional Leather Foot Set is available for both the Fabricator and Leatherwork so you can sew leather without marring or scuffing the material.

Closeup of the 9/16-inch presser foot lift on the Fabricator (left) and 3/8-inch foot lift on the Leatherwork (right).

Here are the top features you need in a sewing machine for leather:

  • Walking feet that don’t harm the leather as you sew.
  • A programmable servo motor.
  • A power speed reducer and/or an oversized balance wheel.
  • A walking foot or compound walking foot.
  • Standout customer service and support to help with all your operational needs.

Easy Backstitching Is Crucial

As we’ve already discussed, sewing leather creates a permanent hole in the material. When you backstitch or back tack to lock your stitches in place, the last thing you want to do is create an additional hole because your backstitches are not synced up with your forward stitches. Luckily, the Fabricator makes this easy. If you reverse when the needle is fully buried at the downstroke, your needle will go through your existing holes when sewing in reverse. For the Leatherwork machine, the technique is a manual process, but we’ve made it easy with a video showing you how to do this.

Why a Home Sewing Machine Just Won’t Cut It

To sew leather, you need a machine that can handle the thickness of the material without it sticking to the presser foot or needle plate as the material moves along. Home sewing machines aren’t equipped with enough of the features you need to sew leather. Also, home sewing machines are limited in the thread thicknesses they can handle, reducing the type of leather projects they can sew.

Most home sewing machines are plastic and made from inferior, low-quality parts. They aren’t designed to handle dense materials like leather. You need a sewing machine with a strong cast-iron body and robust, all-metal internal components. You need a machine that can handle user mistakes like needle deflection or hitting a grommet and can keep going. You also need a walking foot — or better yet a compound walking foot — machine with presser feet designed to not damage the leather. Even though leather is thick and tough, its surface is delicate and the wrong presser foot can mar, scuff or damage the leather.

The walking foot on the Leatherwork effortlessly climbs up and down layers of leather.

In Conclusion

We hope this blog has helped you learn about and consider all the features needed in a leather sewing machine. Whether you’re a small business owner or enthusiastic hobbyist, you need a sewing machine that can handle the intricacy and complexity of leatherwork. To recap, look for a machine with a nonslip drive system, a high foot lift, a walking foot that doesn’t scuff the leather, a power speed reducer and programmable servo motor, and dependable customer service and support should you ever need it. All of these features — and more! — are found in our two leather sewing machines. To learn more about each machine, please refer to our blogs "Why Choose the Leatherwork Sewing Machine?" (#300470XHT) and "Why Choose the Fabricator Industrial Sewing Machine?" (#300358XHT). You're sure to find the perfect leather sewing machine for your needs here at Sailrite!

It's also important to mention that the Fabricator comes in two distinct sewing machine packages: the Sailrite® Standard Fabricator® Sewing Machine Package (#400500) or the Sailrite® Deluxe Fabricator® Sewing Machine Package (#400600). This industrial machine can expertly sew your projects but also has some great new additions found in the Deluxe package. The main difference is that in the Deluxe package, both the machine head and oil tray sit in a custom maple butcher block tabletop. The black, powder-coated table legs are constructed from high-quality steel and are capable of easy height adjustments. They even have rubber feet to help reduce sewing machine vibrations while you sew. You'll find additional storage space on the tabletop as well and a larger, flexible LED sewing light with a strong G-clamp base and 50,000 hours of power. For more information, we recommend you check out the Deluxe package product page (#400600 and #400601).

Other Tips for Sewing Leather:

Change the needle regularly: Leather dulls needles, so you’ll need to change the needle more frequently in leather sewing than other types of sewing. It’s a good rule of thumb to change the needle before every project. The last thing you want is to break the needle, jam your machine or ruin your project because you’re sewing with a dull needle.

Pick the right thread: Synthetic thread, such as nylon or upholstery-weight polyester, is recommended for sewing leather. Neither will be affected by the tannins in leather and are strong enough to accommodate any leather project.

Perfect corner stitches: To avoid skipped stitches when turning corners, bury the needle, lift the foot, rotate your fabric assembly, lower the foot and continue sewing.

Practice on scraps: Remember that every needle hole in leather is permanent. Practice your stitch design and tension your machine on scrap leather before starting your project.

Basting tape is your best friend: Since you can’t pin into leather to hold layers together without creating unwanted holes, use basting tape to keep your layers from slipping and sliding around while you sew. It’s quicker and easier than using glue and clamps to hold your leather application together.

Footnote: This blog was updated in February 2021 to include mention of the Leatherwork Sewing Machine.