So - you just started working with leather or you've been learning to work with leather and now you're ready to invest in the perfect sewing machine for leather, right? Right. If you are anything like me when I started working with leather, you either don't know where to start when it comes to sewing machines, you're saving up to get the machine you've been eyeing for a while -OR- you really just want the sewing machine you see your favorite maker sewing with because it looks like it'll do everything you need :)
Let me be the first to tell you, if the last answer was the one you nodded your head to, trust me - that's not how you should choose the machine you're about to invest money into.
I don't know what it is about the question? "what sewing machine do you have?" But I get asked this multiple times a week.
In my latest YouTube video "Designers Vlog: Sewing Machines, Entrepreneurship + Design Room Tour", I went into detail about why people might be asking this question so often. But the kicker is, no matter what machine the next person is using, doing the research on the machine that personally fits your needs and finances is very important. And while my machine works great for me, that doesn't necessarily mean it will be the best option for you. So please keep that in mind when you purchase your next sewing machine.
The Mystery Around Sewing Machines For Leather
Since there seems to be this mystery surrounding which sewing machines work best for leather (it's really not a mystery lol you just have to put Google to work) I've decided to make this quick and simple to help you narrow down which machine might be a good fit for you, or not!
The following list of recommended machines for sewing leather ranges personal favorites that I've used as a leather bag designer or machines I've had the opportunity to test out. Additionally, these are also machines solely based on the research I've done, what other leather workers have vouched for and industry standard machines for fashion/bag design. Oh - and let's not forget, they are listed in order from beginner-friendly to more advanced.
Domestic vs. Industrial Machines
Before investing in any machine, be mindful of the type of leathers you work with and the weight. This plays a huge role in the machine that you need to sew through your pieces. Domestic (Mid-Size Home Sewing Machines) can only sew up to a certain weight of fabric and/or if they are "heavy duty" machines, they can only sew up to a certain ounce of leather. These machines are typically smaller in size, but still a little hefty in weight depending on the model and capabilities. Because they are more compact, this broadens the scope of features available per model. Most domestic machines that cost a good chunk of money, also have a lot of stitching features and other design capabilities and functions. While domestic machines may possess a lot of speed (again, dependent on the model) they are generally not strong or sturdy enough to sew through the thickness of a leather skin. Between the smaller needle and the bottom feed not having a ton of power to puncture leather or pull leathers through - these machines definitely have less strength than the industrial.
On the other hand we have Industrial (Industry Standard, Heavy Duty Machines) These machines are built to sew through thickness with ease. They are generally more expensive, come with thicker sewing needle options and thread, they're bigger in size/weight compared to domestic and much faster in speed (sometimes too fast). Strength and durability is not a concern. While these machines are meant to sew through various types of fabrics, they are known for their ability to sew multiple layers, heavier weighted fabrics, leathers, upholstery, hats, shoes and more. Industrial machines are considered industry standard machines because they are used by a wide range of design professionals. The one thing these machines do not typically offer are various stitching styles and design options like the Domestic machine. Industrial machines are mainly straight stitch machines. Most industrial machines come with a table as well - unlike Domestic machines that you can sit on anything, Industrial machines are a packaged deal. Keep this in mind when purchasing, some tables are sold separately (head-only) but most come with them.
Recommended Sewing Machines for Leather
Singer Heavy Duty 4411
- Type: Home Sewing Machine (Domestic)
- Level: Perfect for Beginners + Intermediate
- Great for leathers up to 3oz. in weight & other heavy duty fabrics
- Budget Friendly
* Great for softer leather hides or a combination of soft leathers and fabric linings. Good for sewing small to mid-size fabric and leather bags/accessories.
- Level: Perfect for Beginners & Intermediate
- Budget Friendly
*Not a personal choice but this machine has been mentioned a ton when it comes to sewing lighter leathers and aside from the Singer, I wanted to make sure I listed an additional option for home sewing and budget friendly.
- Domestic Sewing Machine
- Level: Beginner
- Good for sewing leather and other thick materials
- Lower Budget
- Industrial Sewing Machine (Heavy Duty)
- Level: All Levels
- Light to Medium-Weight Fabrics/Leather
-High Speed, Easy to use Industrial
- Moderately Priced
*This is the machine I learned to sew with/sew garments with. It's great for beginners who want to skip the domestic machine and jump right into sewing with an industrial. Although I've never used this with leather, the power it produces can sew through mid-weight leathers. This will definitely break you into sewing with an industrial.
Personal Tips + Must Haves in a Sewing Machine for Leather
If you're planning to take your leather goods to the next level and you're ready to invest in an industrial machine, I highly recommend having the following components. While there's not ONE machine that does it all - if you purchase a machine you want to make sure it has these main features. This will eliminate you needing multiple machines (until you decide you need another).
*Industrial Sewing Machine: Heavy duty industry standard machine
*Cylinder Arm: Long arm that allows you to sew inside of bags around corners
*Walking Foot: Mechanism for feeding the workpiece through the machine while you're stitching
Flatbed Attachment: In having a cylinder arm with an open space to sew in and around certain objects, this flatbed attachment allows you to sew small or even big items the same, but on a flat surface.
Drop Down Edge Guide: It's not mandatory to have this but it's nice. When making mistakes while sewing leather, there is no turning back. This guide helps keep everything, especially your stitch, in alignment/even.
Speed Reducer: the name speaks for itself. Industrial Machines can sew at really fast speeds and sometimes that speed is needed. But when you need to hit a corner or your sewing certain types of leather, having a speed reducer to slow things down is a bonus.
Servo Motor: I can't tell you much about motors because I'm far from a mechanic :) however, let's just say having a servo motor has high levels of torque at high speeds but they're much quieter than the old stepper motors.
-Now- If you're on a budget and you just want a great industrial machine, I'd recommend A Walking Foot Industrial with a Servo Motor.
Since we've covered the basics - when you call around to do your research about what machine you're looking to invest in, tell them this in a nut shell...
I'm looking for a "Walking Foot Industrial Sewing Machine with a Servo Motor"
I'm looking for a "Cylinder Arm Machine - Only" (if getting a cylinder arm it's always best to get the flat bed attachment with it just incase you want to sew on a flat surface)
or...for the machine with the works...
I'm looking for a "Cylinder Arm, Walking Foot Industrial Machine with a Flat Bed Attachment, Speed Reducer and Drop Down Edge Guide"
SMILE!!! Now you know the difference between machines and what YOU need to get the job done. And if you're still unsure, YouTube has a ton of videos to guide you, and Google is your best friend.
Types of Machines/Styles
- Cylinder Arm
- Long Arm
- Flat Bed
- Post Bed
I mean the list goes on...each one is created to do something different. Whether that be to sew shoes, hats, bags, garments, automotive interiors etc etc. Depending on what products you're sewing, that will help you determine the type of machine you need. There are a ton of brands that we won't even bother getting into. But just to give you a head start on that research, right now my favorites are Chandler, Juki, Tech Sew & Cobra (Juki & Cobra to me, are the best machines to invest in.)
"What Sewing Machine Do I Use?"
To answer the question I always get asked, I use a Chandler Walking Foot Industrial Machine (model 406-RB1) and now a TechSew 2700 Cylinder Arm with the works (mentioned above) I don't even know if they still make Chandler machines but it's my ride or die. I purchased it used from a woman who bought it brand new, had it for a year, used it once and put it up for sale - so it was technically still new and in beautiful condition. I've had it for over 6 years now and I love it.
**Be sure to check Amazon, ETSY, eBay + Craigslist for used machines and lower priced options. You never know what you can find.**