Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Leather: Tools and Tips Part One

So, it's about 6pm and I'm sitting on the back porch with a glass of wine, chatting with Phin and blogging. When it's 70 degrees and sunny in March, it's hard to stay in the Craft Lounge sewing a leather jacket. BUT I did make good progress this weekend.

I finished with muslin 1.0 on Monday morning (more on this later in the week) and moved on to transferring all the changes back to the pattern. This morning I was about half way thru cutting the icky faux leather for muslin 2.0 when UPS showed up with my new Olfa Rotary Cutter and 2' x 3' cutting mat, along with a bunch of other leather sewing supplies.  

Rotary cutter, leather needles and 1/2" and 1/4" leather tape

I was so excited I tried the cutter immediately.  I normally look at cutting as a necessary evil in order to get to the sewing tasks that I like, but the rotary cutter was so quick and precise that it glided through 2 layers of faux leather like butter, making cutting a breeze.

Not to mention that using pattern weights is easier and quicker than pinning. I was worried that the cutter would be difficult to use or get the hang of, but it was not hard at all and I felt like I had as much control than with sheers.

The verdict: having cut half of the faux leather with sheers and the other with the rotary cutter, the cutter wins. No contest! If I can help it, I will never cut with sheers again. There are probably some things that sheers are better for, like very small pieces and making notches. But if you are cutting with sheers and thinking about a rotary cutter, I say go for it. My first impression is that it's a great tool.

Book Review
Over the weekend I also read Sewing with Leather & Suede by Sandy Scrivano. 

Despite the fashions showcased in this book being tragically out-of-date (this 1998 edition looks more circa 1988 to me), it was a great buy. It has an impressive amount of detailed information about everything to do with sewing leather and suede. It answered several questions that I had including how much of a seam allowance is appropriate (1/2"-5/8" generally), appropriate interfacings (in short, there are lots of options), different seam treatments for leather (which were well photographed, I thought), different tools to work with, how to shop for leather, how to lay out your pattern and cut... the list goes on.

The book also had thorough instructions for lining a leather jacket. Given that I'm working with Burda  instructions, this was pay dirt. Additionally, it talked about how leather behaves in general, but then added specifics throughout. For example, because leather will stretch and conform to your body when you first wear it, it suggested making the armscye and sleeve higher and tighter than you might make it in other fabrics. I found this immeasurably helpful guidance while working out the sleeve of my muslin. (More on this later in the week!)

The verdict: this book may not inspire, but it will teach you how to sew leather. So, a big win in my book. Anyway, Sewing with Leather & Suede was updated in 2001, but I settled on the 1998 edition mostly because of cost (the 2001 was $50+ on Amazon). I bought mine from Half for $15 from a book dealer I had previous experience with. Honestly, a lot of the information in this book can be found on blogs, but not in this depth or all in one place. This is a great reference to answer all your questions about working with leather.   

Anyway, more on muslins 1.0 and 2.0 later this week! 


T. Sedai said...

Rotary cutters rule! I actually started with rotary cutter because I think it is better for dealing with knits/lycra/spandex that I was using when I first started sewing. And now I am too lazy to cut many of my projects with scissors. Often, if I have a very long piece I will cut half with the cutter and half with the shears if it extends off of my cutting borad, rather than moving the pieces and risking inaccuracies in cutting. And sometimes shears are better for details, but in general I like to use the rotary cutter and matt. If I am making something that needs to be very very precise, then I will outline the pattern piece with tailor's chalk, then use the cutter to cut inside the chalk lines - this usually gives me the most accurate results, but it takes a very long time. I have only used this method of some of the wool coats I have made, or a few of the fancy party dresses. What I really need to get is one of the guides that lets you cut and add seam allowances at the same time, then I won't have to spend time adding them to magazine patterns... Also, just as a heads up, the rotary cutter blades do dull after a time - you can buy replacement blades so you can keep using the same cutter. I have heard that there are ways to sharpen them, but not exactly sure how. If you notice it isn't cutting through fabric as smoothly or if it is leaving bits attached at regular intervals you probably need to replace the blade.

Also, your book sounds very useful - I am actually considering a suede project for my sewing challenge, though I won't be getting there until fall at the earliest. I will have to get a used copy of this book - the bit about the lining sounds most useful. It is also interesting about the leather stretching - something I am full aware of what with breaking in new skating boots, but hadn't considered for leather clothing. All in all it is shaping up to be a very exciting project - can't wait to see it progress!

K.Line said...

I'm loving this series. And I have to say that, from the first project I've ever sewn, I've used a rotary cutter. I only use scissors to do specific cuts. I don't know how anyone pins and scissors. I don't even use weights most of the time and the cutting is perfect.

Catherine Daze said...

I think your cutter is a larger size than mine, possibly this is where I've been going wrong because I don't get on with mine at all! I always seem to have to go over everything twice and I don't use it very often so it's not that it's worn.

Really looking forward to seeing the next stage in the jacket project.

Kimbersew said...

Congrats on the new tools! I haven't looked back since I switched to rotary cutters. Be good to your wrists though. Find a comfortable grip (like kitchen knives). If you use it Alot, I recommend the ergonomic-shaped model.
I've never made a whole garment of leather, thanks for the book review- Let's see that jacket!

Clio said...

Thanks, everyone!

@ CyberDaze - Since I was buying the cutter, I went whole hog and bought the 60mm one, which is the largest size I saw. So, maybe the problem is the size, as you suspect?

puu said...

great review on that book! i've only worked with leather once, and i eyeballed this book but decided that, since i was only making small pieces that had no tailoring or anything, i wasn't yet ready for it. now i know where to turn next time i'm ready to tackle that sort of thing. thanks!

T. Sedai said...

@ Catherine Daze - I use a 45mm one and it seems to work well except on the thickest of fabrics like wool coating (single layers are ok, double layers are not). When I notice I have to cut everything twice it is time to replace the blade - they can get dull if you use a lot of synthetic fibers or if you accidentally cut through paper or if you hit a pin or something. Replacement blades usually come in 5-packs so they last a while.