Tips for sewing faux leather/vinyl bags
Faux leather/vinyl is a durable material that comes in a variety of colors and textures. It is simple to care for and clean, and it is water and stain resistant. It is an excellent choice for sewing bags.
Perhaps you avoid sewing with such materials because you believe it is difficult, but please keep in mind: KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!
So here are some tips to make working with such materials easier and more enjoyable.
1. Where to buy faux leather
There are lots of types of faux leather available on the market. Some faux leather is used for upholstery and it is easily accessible in large fabric stores, especially in the home decor area.
Try Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, Joann, or Fabric.com if you want to buy it online.
2. Prepare your faux leather for sewing
Remove any creases from your faux leather before cutting your pieces.
Press the faux leather on its back side; place a cloth between the iron and the material. Do not use steam. Set the iron to a low temperature and leave it on the material long enough to remove creases but not so long that the piece melts.
Never touch the right side of the faux leather with the iron.
You may also hang the faux leather on a clothesline or leave it out in the sun. The heat will relax the creases.
3. Cutting faux leather
Cut one layer at a time; resist the urge to cut two layers at once; you will most likely waste some material and spend more time than if you cut one layer at a time.
4. Thickness of faux leather
Faux leather comes in a variety of thicknesses, from thin to bulky.
The thin faux leather needs interfacing (fleece, batting, foam).
The thicker ones obviously produce more bulk and are more difficult to stitch with- it all depends on your sewing machine's capability.
Avoid using the thinnest or the thickest - a medium weight is best for beginners.
Some faux leather stretches more than others; choose one with the least stretch for making bags.
5. Pattern of faux leather
Faux leather is available in a variety of patterns and textures. Some look simple, such as these:
Other patterns are more complex; these are ideal for creating simple bags, such as the one shown below (pattern for this bag here).
6. Faux leather backing
The back of the synthetic leather is finished in a variety of ways, including a knitted backing, a felt-like backing, or a polyester mesh finish.
On many bags I use a medium weight faux leather, with a mesh finish. It stitches wonderfully.
Depending on your project, you could even use it without any type of interfacing.
Below is a piece with a thick felt-like backing. This piece does not require any additional support.
Tips for sewing faux leather bags
7. Recommended Presser Feet
Faux leather is sticky, some of it more than others. It will be difficult to move the material under the presser foot if you only use the regular presser foot. As a result, the stitches will be uneven and, in many cases, too small, potentially damaging the faux leather.
This problem occurs when the faux leather comes in contact with the presser foot, so actually when you topstitch. For a really simple bag, the construction is easy as you usually topstitch only on straps and around the top edge of the bag.
However, you can easily solve this problem, especially if you are a quilter. Use the walking foot - this is what I used for years on my domestic sewing machine and it works very well.
Alternatively, use a teflon foot - the teflon coating prevents the presser foot from sticking to the material. I have one on my industrial machine and it works incredibly well.
If the feet mentioned above are not available to you (or they are not working as expected), do this: cover the bottom of the presser foot with something that prevents contact between the presser foot's metal and the faux leather; I tried clear/matte scotch tape first, but it didn't work. Finally, I fixed the problem by applying two layers of masking/painter's tape. Trim the tape so that it does not hang over the edges.
Not all faux leather behaves the same way; some can be sewn easily with a standard presser foot, while others might prove challenging even when equipped with the appropriate presser foot.
Will you always choose the best one? Probably not, but as you gain more experience, you'll be able to figure out which type is best for you.
8. Needles for sewing faux leather
For sewing my bags, I use Jeans needle; the size of the needle depends on the thickness of your faux leather layers.
If your material is thick, use a large needle (#100/16 or even #110/18). In the coming days, I'll stitch a few samples using various needles.
Before beginning your bag, test your needle and stitching on a scrap.
Also, start your bag with a new, sharp needle; bent needles may ruin the faux leather.
9. Stitch Length
When (top)stitching faux leather, increase the stitch size to 3.0 or 3.5 mm or even more. The longer stitch looks nice and makes it easier to feed the faux leather through the machine. Short stitches should be avoided because they weaken the material.
A 3.5 mm stitching appears different on faux leather and cotton, for example, since they feed differently under the foot, so do a test on a scrap first.
Polyester thread is ideal for sewing bags since it is stronger than cotton thread.
A heavier thread (30wt or 40wt) produces lovely topstitching; pair it with a heavier thread in the bobbin.
The panel below is stitched with 12wt cotton thread.
11. Problem with topstitching
The needle leaves permanent holes in faux leather. If you have to unpick stitches, you will notice that the holes remain visible and cannot be removed. So stitch slowly and carefully to avoid mistakes.
If you do, though, a few noticeable holes are not the end of the world!
12. Sewing machine settings
Adjust your thread tension. If your faux leather is thick, you will need to lower the tension. If the thread is too tight, it will break often; you must avoid thread breaking, because you will have to redo the stitching and will most likely not be able to stitch exactly on the previous holes left by the needle.
Always test your thread tension on a scrap, to make sure the tension is right.
13. Clips instead of pins
Holes made by pins will remain visible in the faux leather so pin within the seam allowance only.
Use clips for everything else. Because the layers are heavy, it is easier to work with clips rather than pins. But be careful with them as well. Clips should not be left on faux leather for an extended period of time (even hours), as they may leave marks on the material.
14. How to mark faux leather
Before using a marker, always test it on scrap. Try an air or heat erasable marker (you can remove the marks with a hairdryer). I don't use washable markers since I have to wash and dry the work.
Actually, I hate marking faux leather, that's why usually I sew grids of various shapes (squares, triangles, rectangles, diamonds) on my bag panels.
These grids are sewn with the use of painter's (masking) tape. In a future post, I'll show you how to use it.
15. Seams and seam allowances
Since you can’t iron faux leather, you must find a way to flatten the seams. Use for that a rubber mallet. Cover the seam with a cotton cloth to avoid leaving hammer marks on the faux leather.
But how can the seam allowances be kept open? Stitch them down, from the right side of the faux leather; stitch at 1/8'' or 1/4'' to the right and left of the seam.
17. Double sided adhesive tape
When you have to piece faux leather, always use clips since the layers can shift and you need to secure them properly.
In some cases, double-sided adhesive tape might be used to keep the layers from shifting. This tape, which comes in a variety of widths, is a must-have in your toolbox.
If you have access to it, use a high-quality tape that will not gum up the needle. In any case, try to keep this tape away from the seam.
18. How to finish faux leather seams
Faux leather does not ravel. As a result, if you don't want to, you don't have to worry about finishing your seams.
However, if you want a more finished look for your seams, consider the following:
Binding (bias if necessary) should be used for interior seams.
The bag below includes both seams mentioned above.
Pattern for this bag here.
19. How to store faux leather
To avoid creases, do not store it folded. Keep it rolled on cardboard rolls (empty rolls can be found at fabric stores).
20. What should I start with as a beginner?
If you're new to working with faux leather, begin by selecting a pattern that doesn't involve multiple layers to prevent bulky seams.
Also, some practice is required before attempting a pattern that involves a lot of topstitching; quality topstitching is crucial for crafting a well-made bag.
Start your practice by sewing uncomplicated bags like the ones illustrated below.
You have completed this "lesson" and are now equipped with an abundance of fresh knowledge.
All you need is some practice.
Don't be discouraged if your first attempt isn't PERFECT. I've been sewing faux leather for years, and I never sew PERFECT bags!