Tips & Tricks Leather and Leather Substitutes

Discussion in 'Costuming and Props' started by Jayne, Mar 21, 2004.

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  1. Jayne Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Oct 16, 2002
    star 2
    I thought it was a glaring omission to not have a general tips thread on working with leather and suede when so many Star Wars costumes require it! Here it is, throw in your questions, suggestions, or experiences.

    I've used leather and pleather for corsets and gloves. I've found that sewing on my machine with a leather needle works fine. If you're using real leather, be sure and use 100% polyester thread, because something in tanned leather rots away cotton, and your piece will weaken and fall apart over time. This kind of thread isn't hard to find, Coats and Clark sells some, just check the labels.

    For hand-sewing, my local Jo Ann's sells leather glovers needles that I've found work well. If it's decorative topstitching, I've found that a leather push on a sturdy sharp does a fair job.

    For 'pressing' open seams, I use a rubber headed hammer and a board covered with a towel. It's a noisy process, but the only thing I've found that's permanent. Just don't hammer it to death or the lines will start showing through on the right side.

    If you're looking for a cheap creamy leather, try chamois at a car shop. It's wonderful to work with and incredibly soft, for very cheap.


    Okay, now for my questions. I've been trying to buy a side of leather online, but I have no clue what weight I need. Anyone knowledgeable care to share about what weights are glove weight, garment weight, belt weight, etc? Also, anyone have tips for grommets and rivets? Where do you buy leather and pleather?
  2. FERDALUMP Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    May 12, 2002
    star 3
    Great tips Jayne I can chime in with these suggestions: use a teflon foot on your machine to help the leather 'glide' under your foot and reduce the foot marking the vinyl or leather. Never pin into leather if working with a pattern, use weights to hold the pattern down, or bits of quilter's tape (that has less adhesive to not mark the leather) Be careful how you store your leather/vinyl before working with it--If you fold it the creases may never come out :(

    I am able to find pleather in many colors and great leather pieces in assorted colors from time to time at a local ma and pop fabric shop. They will do mail orders with no minimum-- they don't have a shopping cart site, but the store is huge! Call for best service Sewing Studio And Tandy leather is a great source for leather. Also ebay and Joann's Home Dec flat folds often have great faux leathers.

    ~Ferd :)
  3. Jayne Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Oct 16, 2002
    star 2
    Ah, yes, there's another tip I forgot. Instead of pins, I use the double-sided clear tape used to wrap packages. It holds fine, you can sew through it reasonably well without gumming up your thread or needle, and it peels right off at the end.
  4. Raef_Wolfe Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 12, 2003
    star 4
    I know that Wal Mart carries pleather, I've seen some there :)
  5. Jade-Walker Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 21, 2002
    star 4
    What's the difference between pleather and vinyl?
  6. Neimhaille Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 12, 2002
    star 3
    I think its simply a variant name. Unless it is a trademarked name that has been widely used as general term: like Hoover for vacuum cleaner in the UK (here in NZ as well to a degree), Twink for white out fluid (NZ thing too it seems, less prevalent now as there are many many more brands.)
  7. kay_dee Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 15, 2002
    star 4
    Jayne, thanks for the tips on sewing with leather. I'm going to be making some suspender tabs out of leather and I had no idea about the problems with cotton thread.

    -Kay Dee
  8. Sister_Sola Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Nov 19, 2002
    star 4
  9. MiraxTHorn Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 22, 2000
    star 4
    Question regarding dyeing suede -

    I was wondering if anyone has tried dying or painting suede? I'm comtemplating buying some boots that are light brown but would need to be colored darker for the costume. Thanks for the help!

    Regards,
    M.
  10. surlygirlie Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Aug 1, 2000
    star 4
    This is a copy/paste job of a post I made a hundred years ago in a now-defunct thread:

    Leather/suede that has any type of finish on it (and it's a safe bet, if not a guarantee, that if it's shoes, they have a finish already) will not take dye, unfortunately. It's possible to apply dye, and it may even dry looking quite pretty, but the color will slide off with freakish speed the first time any water comes near the shoes. :( (I have learned this one the hard way)

    There are workarounds, however. The shoe spray that can be bought in shoe repair shops is not really all that great on suede -- it's aimed more towards smoother leathers. It will stiffen up your suede and wreak havoc on the texture, but it WILL change the color.
    One trick that I've used in the past is to make a solution of equal parts fabric paint, textile medium (found in any craft store or Wal-Mart crafts section), and water (roughly a 2/2/1 mixture). It can be brushed or sprayed on (if you use a spray bottle to apply it, watch for clogging, and soak it in warm water if it does become gloopy to loosen up the blockage) . It will also stiffen the suede a bit, but the textile medium helps keep this problem down to a minimum. Also, you can go over the suede with a nail brush after it's dry, and it will help lift the texture back to a softer state.

    If you can manage to isolate a small part of the boot for a test, that's always good. :)
  11. Sister_Sola Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Nov 19, 2002
    star 4
    I know Padawansguide was going to or has dyed a pair of suede boots, maybe she can post her results too :)
  12. electrakitty Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Apr 27, 2005
    star 2
    I don't know too terribly much about suede finishes, but with smooth leather generally, you need to completely wash over the leather with deglazing fluid (be careful, it's yukky) to take off any finish, oil, and dirt which might be there. You should be able to get it from the same place where you got the dye. Once you've done that, the leather should take the dye quite well. Just make sure that you mix the dye thoroughly or it will throw dye all over everything. Also, once the dye has completely dried, use an appropriately colored shoe polish over the whole surface to seal in the color. You should also seal shoes which you've painted.
  13. MiraxTHorn Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 22, 2000
    star 4
    Ok, I was wondering exactly that - if any color I added would stay put. I have to decide if accuracy is worth the work involved on this one. :)

    Thanks for the suggestions!
    Regards,
    M.
  14. electrakitty Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Apr 27, 2005
    star 2
    It's really not that much work. Just wipe it all down with the deglazer, then once it's dry with the dye, then shoe polish. It takes about an hour's work for a pair of boots, but it's spread out, you can do other stuff while you're working on it.
  15. MiraxTHorn Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 22, 2000
    star 4
    electrakitty Didn't you say that process was more for smooth leather than suede? It might be risking the boots to try what you suggest. I haven't ruled it out, though. Gotta do some more research. :)

    Regards,
    M.
  16. electrakitty Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Apr 27, 2005
    star 2
    It might be. I've dyed the backs of belts before, but never suede. The thing I'd worry most about is that dying it is getting it wet, so it sometimes leaves the leather rather stiff, like leather when it's been soaked, so it might work, it might not.
  17. dialswiftjustice Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 12, 2005
    star 4
    Hey guy, if this has been answered I apologize, but does anoyone make any pre-quilted leather? I want to start my vader cotume, but it look slike theres no way around making it, thanks!
  18. VillieGee Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Oct 30, 2002
    star 3
    Hey, just my two cents here. What surlygirlie suggested is exactly what I read in an airbrush magazine about airbrushing leather jackets: acrylic paint mixed with textile medium. You can use an airbrush if you have one. But there's 2 things that were in the article that I want to add. One is that you have to prep the leather. You can use acetone for this if you don't overdo it, which would dry out the leather. The other thing is to seal it with a matte finish lacquer, such as Testor's brand Dullcote, which they sell everywhere. I realize you're talking suede, but you might want to try using acetone on a small, discreet area to see how it works on suede. But fabric paints might be a better way to go than dye, for the same reason electrakitty said a couple posts up from me. And I highly recommend using a lacquer to seal it. Then you can go with shoe polish over that if you want.

    Just my thoughts! Good luck! [face_good_luck]
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