12 Tips and Tricks For Embroidering on Leather

leather embroidery tips

Have you ever admired a piece of embroidered leather and wished that you could do the same on your embroidery machine? I’ve often wished to embroider leather, but I heard that embroidery on leather can be really hard. Consequently, I’ve never tried to embroider leather until I learned that if you learn a little bit about the technique and follow some well-researched tips, embroidering leather is not so hard after all.

The only problem with learning leather embroidery techniques and tips is finding them.  However, you are in luck. I am going to share with you twenty tips and techniques that I have become familiar with.  Once you familiarize yourself with these tips and techniques, you too will be able to embroider leather.

Tips For Embroidering Leather

1. Consider the following things when working with leather:

  • Size of needle
  • Type of thread
  • Hoop techniques
  • Type of stabilizer to use
  • Use specific digital design for leather

2. Different types of leather

There are different types of leather like cowhide, lambskin suede, and buckskin

Select a leather that is neither too thick nor too thin. A delicate or stretchy piece of leather isn’t stable enough for embroidery. Thick leather is too hard to embroider. So, pick a medium-thick leather that is sturdy but not too hard to work with.

3. Size of your Needles

There are special needles made for sewing/embroidering with leather. They are simply called leather needles. These needles have a wedged point that pierces the leather with a smaller hole than what a regular needle would do.

Consider that leather doesn’t heal itself like fabric. When you pierce leather, you are making a permanent hole. That’s why you want to make the piercing as small as you can.

Use an 80/12 leather needle when embroidering.  This type of “leather” needle has a triangle-shaped wedge point that makes the size of the hole when you stitch leather much smaller.

If you do not have a leather needle, try using an embroidery needle until you can go buy a leather needle.  The size of the embroidery needle should be 75/11.

4. What type of embroidery design to choose from

Use an embroidery design that has been specially digitized to be used on leather. If you use a design that is very dense, it will cause thread breaks and broken needles. Also, there will be quite a bit of puckering.  Be mindful of how many times your needle is going to be punching through the leather. If you choose a design that punches a lot, you face the problem of the needle cutting out the embroidery pattern out of the leather.  

Make sure that you pick a design that is sheer and light. Open-running stitches are the best. The key is not to use designs that have stitches that are closely placed – like a satin stitch – the repeated action of the needle perforating the leather can make it so that the design is cut away from the leather.

Avoid designs that have heavily filled areas or a heavy running stitch – these stitches make the design very dense with a lot of perforations in the leather.  And since leather doesn’t recover like fabric, you risk cutting out the design with so many perforations.

5. What type of thread

Never use cotton thread to embroider your leather because the tannins in the leather will corrode the cotton thread as it ages. The best thread to use is polyester or nylon thread. The ideal thread for leather embroidery is a heavy-duty thread that is thick. This thread looks the best when embroidering leather.

A bonded 3-ply nylon thread works because it is treated to decrease the friction when you are sewing at a high speed.

Threads made of rayon are too weak to embroider leather.

6. Hoops

Magnetic hoops are ideal for embroidering leather. Also choosing a medium-weight cutaway stabilizer is ideal. What you want to do is cut the stabilizer larger than your hoop and spray it with a lot of adhesive. You will also find that leather is rough on the wrong side and it will take the spray very well.  Doing this will insure that your leather stays in place for stitching.

7. Creating a felt window protector

Create a felt window that will act as a protector between the leather and the hoop. Doing this will diminish the chances of scuffing the surface of the leather when using the hoop.

Cut the felt so that it fits the embroidery hoop; specifically, the felt goes on top of the leather and does not let the hoop touch the leather.

8. Temporary adhesive

Use the temporary adhesive spray on your stabilizer to keep the leather stable. Also, use a magnetic hoop if you can so that there is less damage to the leather. Magnetic hoops also help to prevent scuffs or marks on the leather.

Try only hooping the stabilizer and using the adhesive spray, glue or even an adhesive stabilizer to stick the leather on the stabilizer – in other words, float the leather.

What is this floating technique?

This means that you put the stabilizer on the hoop and then attach the leather to the stabilizer instead. The leather will “float” on top of the stabilizer.

9. Cut-away stabilizer

Use a medium-weight-Cut-Away stabilizer so that you have a stable and secure surface for embroidery. The Cut-Away stabilizer stays permanently with the leather but the excess can easily be detached from the leather after embroidery with a gentle tearing motion or you can cut it away with scissors.

10. Lightweight fusible interfacing

You can also consider using lightweight fusible interfacing to help prevent perforation damage.  When doing this, use a press cloth to adhere the stabilizer to the leather.  Remember to just press lightly when applying the heat.

The stabilizer will become a permanent part of the leather material, helping it to be more stable.

11. Test your design

Test your design on a piece of scrap leather so that you can determine if your design is too dense or just right. Use a piece of leather that is similar to the one that you are going to embroider.

12. Low presser setting and machine speed

Use the low presser setting to aid in stabilizing the leather and to keep it from “bouncing” around while you are embroidering.

Adjust your machine speed to medium when embroidering leather.  Avoid the temptation to go too fast and don’t be so worried that you are going too slow.

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