Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Tips Project Leather Coat part 5

I'd just like to say thanx to all of you who have left comments here, at the Wardrobe Refashion blog (, and sent emails. A few of you that I don't know, and have no way of contacting you, have asked some questions. I thought I'd take this post to answer a couple and start making a list of the things I'm learning as I work this leather.

As I mentioned before, I've never worked leather before. Ooops, lying again.....this one time at band, that's a stretch, I never went to band camp, but I'm pretty sure in Brownies I made one of those coin purses with the pre-punched holes laced together with cording. Doesn't everybody?

Having never actually worked leather, doesn't mean that I haven't thought about it, read stuff about it or stood fascinated watching the artisans work at various festivals and such. Granted, as all of you know, wishing, thinking, and watching hardly ever transfer into really DOING, but I'm foolish enough to always jump right in and say why not regarding most anything.

Disclaimer: "most anything" is defined as anything that I don't think is scary, and won't hurt me very much. There are LOTS of things I think are scary I'm not as devil may care as that disclaimer sounds. Leather, needle, and thread? Not a problem. Something that IS scary? Anything past the second level of the step ladder.....well duh, why do you think I married 6'5" Joe!?! :-)

To answer a few of you.....No my sewing machine is nothing special. I bought it a year or two ago at Walmart on a whim. My beloved Thrift Store iron horse circa early 60's- late 50's had finally given up the ghost a couple weeks before. I had been hunting for a replacement, but wasn't having much luck. I bought a Brother XR-65 (I think that's the model number) more bells and whistles than I'll EVER use. I'm not after much, all I want in a machine has the ability to lengthen the stitch, oh, and reverse is a nice feature but not necessary. I think I've zig-zagged maybe twice in my life!

I used the standard all purpose needle that came with the machine when I made the book. It didn't snap like I thought it would. I was impressed. I used that very heavy Perle cotton (size 10 maybe) through the needle, AND in the bobbin, and had no problems. Honestly, I was quite surprised. I have since gone to town and bought a leather needle.....I don't want to thumb my nose at the sewing gods for too long.

Beginner's Tips for Working Leather
Couldn't be anything else but beginner's tips cuz they are coming from me!

1) Never use pins. Pins are bad. Pins are no no's. Pins will put a hole in your leather that will never ever go away.
~Use hem clips, those kitschy 6 inch long strips of folded metal with the inches notated so you can make an even hem.....does anyone really use these for that purpose??
~Use office binder clips. I used the tiny ones. They aren't too tight and won't (haven't so far) make dents, which may or may not go away*. They are great for seaming knit/crochet items too.
~Use those giant clips from the beauty parlor. You know the kind, they are metal, come in a variety of Easter egg colors (pink, blue, green, golden yellow) The beautician uses one or two of them to hold all your wet hair out of the way when she's cutting it. Just make sure that the edges are smooth.

I digress: Beauty parlor? Beautician? Sorry those clips a nostalgic to me thus the outdated nomenclature. I don't even know if they still use them in the salons today but you can buy them easily enough at Walgreens and such places. I just remember them as a kid waiting in the beauty parlor, holding my grandmother's pocketbook as she got that weird blue rinse put on her hair. Funny how today some people are scorned for having not as nature intended colors in their hair, when as a kid, almost every woman over 60 had blue hair.

2)Never leave anything "clamped" for a long period of time. Ever. It will make a dent. Even if you use some of the really gentle methods of holding the pieces together that I've mentioned above. If you leave something clamped just over night, or maybe just a couple of hours, you run the risk of denting your leather. The only way you know if you've clamped something for too long is when it's too late.
~I know there is multitude of factors each playing their own part in why leather will dent. I'm not going to expound on them. Let's just do this.....pinch and pull up a fold of skin on the top of you hand. Hold for about 30 seconds to a minute.....let go....nuff said? Any of you out there that have done this and then said I don't get it, well, then, go ask your mother.

3)Glues and adhesive. Oy! Never could I have conceived of world with sooo many ways to stick stuff together!!! I know NOTHING about adhesive. I stick to the old stand bys. (ooo nice pun lol) I have read about, and I have used good ol' rubber cement on leather before. Slather the stuff on, wait bit, enjoy the fumes, slap it together and weight it down. I haven't used rubber cement on this leather yet, and my only experience with it and leather so far, is fixing my son's watch band, but if the need arises I will stick with the rubber cement. The obligatory disclaimer....try it in an area that won't show first. I don't know if would discolor the leather. The watch band was black.

4)As you all know, when refashioning anything, one of the major things you have to think about is where the original seams are. With leather you can easily cut right through a seam with little worry about the seam coming undone or the edges raveling. BUT you do have to think about how they will effect (affect?) the drape. Yes, leather does have drape, and the seams from the original garment, and the new seams you make will affect? (effect?) it. (noticed how I changed that up? I'm equal opportunity dumb!) So how do you deal with the existing seams?? Try to have them placed in your new design with the same orientation of the original garment, so they behave in the manner they were intended. Don't try to reinvent the wheel if you need a yoke, or a collar, or a sleeve cap for your new design, try to use what is already there.

5)Cutting leather. Scissors are ok....very, very, very, sharp scissors, but personally I rather use a new blade**. I haven't tried a rotary cutter yet, and I won't until I get a new blade in it. You'll run into more and more trouble the thicker the leather is when using scissors. The weird edge you get from scissors as opposed to a blade is caused by some of the same reasons the leather will dent when clamped too long. (see #2 above) Also when using a blade (or a rotary cutter) the material your are cutting is stationary, it's held in place and cannot (hopefully) slip, slide, or stretch, like leather just laying on the table can, and will do.

6)Trying to get the optimal amount of yardage. Never just start cutting the garment apart (at least I don't. As you can see in the past posts I change my mind sometimes.) Remember, you have a very limited amount of available material. It's a vintage coat for crying out loud, it is one of a kind. Even if you do find an identical vintage coat, by some freaky stroke of luck showered upon you by the Thrift Store gods, it won't be the same. The hand of the fabric as well as the color will not match. How could they? They've been living all their lives under different circumstances, in different houses, on the backs of different people, and prob'ly (most assuredly) cared for differently.
~Try to incorporate original seams and garment sections in your new design (see #4)
~Use the best tool known to all recycle people, the almighty seam ripper. (bow your heads and genuflect) Don't cut it a part you never know when you'll need just a fraction of a inch more. You can always cut way excess, you can't match it, or make it grow.
~Hand sewing a seam using the holes from the original seam that was ripped out by the almighty seam ripper is a piece of cake.....Talk about even stitches while hand sewing!!!

That's it for the tips today. This post is long enough already. I have a few more and I'm learning stuff each time I pickup the pieces. BTW most of #6 aptly applies to anything you want to refashion, whether it's leather or fabric. I've disregarded those tiny little cautions way too many times before and have been very sorry for it.

Thanx for reading! Thanx for the really nice comments and emails! and Thanx for asking!

*I'm sure you could prob'ly do some light steaming or something like that to get rid or a dent, but I've never tried it and I'm not going to tell anyone to steam their leather. I just don't know if it would be a good thing or not.

**exacto knife, single edge razor etc.

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