Leather Shopping in New York City

 Photo: Leather Suede Skins

Right now, and continuing into next year, leather is all over the runways and stores. And why not? It’s sensuous; it’s edgy, and it’s fun. And once you get used to it, it is surprisingly easy and rewarding to work with (see My Post on Working With Leather/HotPatterns Homage Tote for some hints and how-tos).

My travels take me to New York on a pretty regular basis, and I have three favorite sources there for leather. When I need a skin for a project, my first stop is Leather Suede Skins. Lambskin, cowhides, exotics, embossed, printed, and furs of various sorts are arrayed in an almost dizzying manner. The store is small, and the owners are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. Alla (one of the owners) is particularly great to work with. If you can’t get to the store in person, you can order color cards from them, which give you a great idea of their inventory. They also have a small but impressive selection of leather straps, trims and braids. If you only have time for one leather store on a trip to New York, this is the one I would send you to.
Leather Suede Skins
261 West 35th St. 11th Floor
New York, NY 10001

My other fave-rave in the Garment District is Leather Impact. This ground-level storefront is cavernous in size, with a great assortment of all types of skins, including full hides hanging up on one wall. They have one of the larger selections of metallic skins (so hot right now) that I have seen. They also have the best selection of strapping, both beveled/stitched and plain, that I have seen anywhere. I bought some great leather strapping for handbags in several colors here.
Leather Impact
256 West 38th St. Ground Level
New York, NY 10018

Another very good leather store is Global Leathers. I have to admit, this is the one I use the least, but not for any bad reasons: I just seem to find what I need at the other two. But they have an enormous assortment of all types of leathers, from garment weight to upholstery weight. The store is large and packed, one might say cramped. The selection is excellent.
Global Leathers
253 West 35th St. 9th Floor
New York, NY 10001

One thing to note is that these stores are open Monday-Friday 9-5. (Global may be open Saturday).

Several other fabric stores in the Garment District carry leather skins as well. Mood and B&J are just two examples. But these three stores specialize in leather of all types, and can get you what you need to make your leather project perfection!

Happy Sewing!

Time to Make a Christmas Purse

Happy Hanukkah to everyone that celebrates it, and Happy Solstice to those who just need an excuse!

Now that the Michelle Obama coat is done (for the moment), I want to make a Christmas bag. So I think I’ll make an of-the-moment clutch, using HotPatterns Envelope Clutch.

I’m going to make it from some fabulous leather I bought at Leather Suede Skins. I think this will look great with the coat! The printed ponyskin will be the outer shell, and I’ll line it with the lambskin.
This picture reminds me of something I left off my post yesterday. I took the photo on my ironing board. When I did the final pressing of my coat yesterday, I put a fluffy towel on my ironing board to keep the nap of the cashmere from being flattened. Also, when I did the final press, I used very light pressure and steady but not heavy steam.

Today should be a good day to hunker down in the sewing room and make the purse. We got about a foot of snow yesterday and it’s snowing right now. The weather folk are predicting 3-6 inches here today. So it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Here’s a picture from my front door this morning.

Happy snowing!

The Best Leather Cleaner Out There

I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth lately – sorry to disappoint those who hoped I had 😉 I’ve just been massively busy. That’s a good thing, but it does make it difficult to keep the blog updated on a regular basis. Lots of interesting stuff is happening. Stay tuned for that…

No, as I say, I’ve just been busier than a one-armed paper hanger. The HP skirt muslin is done, and I’ll review it tomorrow. Check your emails for the latest and greatest newsletter and sale at Gorgeous Fabrics. And check out this little tip. I’ve not only been busy, but I made a stealth trip to New York. While there, I went to Leather, Suede, Skins, my favorite leather vendor. I used to buy from them when I was making handbags, and I still love them for leather for personal bags. The next iteration of the HP Homage Tote is sitting waiting for the leather for the back. And of course, I had to buy a couple of other amazing skins while I was there, right?

Anyway, on to the subject at hand. While at Leather, Suede, Skins, I picked out two lambskin hides. One of them was pretty dusty, but Alla, the owner, said, “Here, let me show you a trick.” She pulled out a can of Lemon Pledge and a rag, sprayed the leather and wiped it. Wow! What a difference! The leather looked fantastic. And according to Alla, it’s just as good for lubricating the leather as any of the more expensive leather treatment products out there. It’s also great if you have a leather bag that has gotten dusty sitting in your closet. So don’t bother with the $12 Coach leather cleaner. A spray can of Pledge will work as well for a lot less money.

Happy Sewing!

On the Sewing Table – HotPatterns Homage Tote

Next on the table is the HP Homage tote.

I’ve actually started making two versions. One from a very kewl ponyskin in my stash. Alas, I discovered that the leather I was going to use for the reverse side is black, but the dark color of the ponyskin is really dark brown. So I’m putting that on hold until next week when I will get another hide of the pony from Leather Suede Skins. In the meantime, I am making it out of some black leather that I have in my stash, and a small piece of zebra printed leather that I bought at Leather Suede Skins when I was there with Phyllis something like 4 years ago.

A couple of notes about this pattern and the bag. It’s ginormous! Seriously, you can fit a week’s worth of groceries in this puppy and go camping. I actually really like it. But if you’re not as amazonian as I am, you might want to think about scaling it down just a bit before cutting it out. I don’t have the dimensions in front of me. Oh wait – yes I do. The bag is 20 inches wide by 21 inches high – without the straps, and it’s a rather slouchy design. When picking out a fabric for this, if you don’t make it in leather, I recommend using something with good body to it.
Someone recently told me that she loves it when I get on my soapbox. Well, make some popcorn and gird your loins folks, because I’m about to start knocking heads! I’m not naming any names, and if you think I’m talking about you, you’re wrong, but I have to vent for a moment. I read an article about sewing leather recently. I was absolutely appalled at the advice they gave about how to work with leather. I know a little bit about working with leather. I designed and manufactured handbags, and I have been sewing with leather for longer than I’m going to admit here. So it was with horror that I read advice on working with leather that was not only just plain wrong, but would give disastrous results if you followed it! So as I work on this bag, I’ll take you through the steps I use. These are not the only ways to get good results, but they work well.

Sharpies Work Great for Marking
Mark darts, tucks, pleats, and anything else on the back of your skin with a Sharpie marker. The exception is on the thinnest of skins, and sometimes even on those, they work like a charm. If you are working with a black hide, I like to use a white wax marker. But I’ve also used silver colored Sharpies.

Never, Ever, Ever Pin Leather
Hard and fast rule. Common pins, safety pins, T-pins – keep them away from your skins! Look – leather is expensive. Even cheap leather is expensive. Pins will do three things – 1) distort your leather before you sew it, 2) leave holes behind, and 3) weaken the hide. Oh wait: four things: waste your money. Save the pins for fabric projects.

Use Small Binder Clips
Also called butterfly clips, these are available at any office supply store. I use the smallest size.

Regular Thread Is Just Fine Unless You’re Working With Heavy Skins
I learned this by doing it. You can use a regular polyester thread with just as good results for a lot less money. When I first started manufacturing handbags, I specified to my contract sewing company that I wanted them to use heavy duty thread. The head of production called me up the next day and said, “Ann, you can do that, but it won’t do anything but increase your costs. Why do you think you need it?”

“Well, it’s a handbag. Don’t we want super strong thread?”

“Sure, if you want lower margins with no real benefit. I’ve made tens of thousands of bags with standard poly thread and I haven’t had a failure yet. If it’s luggage, that’s another story. When you start designing luggage, we’ll talk.”

You know what? I never had a failure at the seams with any of my bags. Save your pennies and just use regular thread. Even on leather.

Use the Smallest Sized Leather Needle You Can Get Away With
Leather needles don’t come in small sizes. I think the smallest I’ve seen is a 90/14. They may make smaller ones. The needle leaves holes in your skin, so I like to minimize the size of those holes. On lightweight skins, like lambskin or lamb suede, you can even sometimes get away with a regular needle or (my preference) a titanium needle in a 70/10. Test on a scrap to make sure you don’t get any skipped stitches.

Use a Teflon Foot and Straight Stitch Plate
The teflon foot glides over leather. You can also find feet that have rollers on them. In a pinch you can put scotch tape on the bottom of your regular presser foot. Any of these will ease your sewing. I also use a straight stitch plate, especially with lambskin or lamb suede. While most leather won’t get caught in the throat plate, it provides extra insurance, and that’s never a bad thing.

Use a Longer Stitch Length
When sewing with leather, I use a stitch length of 3.5mm. For topstitching, I use a stitch length of 4mm.

Smash it With a Hammer!
10 points to anyone who can tell me what movie I took that quote from. Seriously, Since you don’t press leather seams open, the best way to open out your seams is to gently tap them with a hammer. I use a regular hammer. Well, actually it’s a tool that does everything that DH bought and gave to me when I was putting all the Ikea stuff together. It works great. But you can use a specialized rubber mallet, or even a flat-sided kitchen hammer. I’ve had good results with all of them.

Topstitch Seams
Rather than gluing my seams open (which is a good option in many cases), you can also use topstitching on either side of a major seam to make sure your seam allowances lay flat. I did this with the pieced front and back of my bag. It works best on flat seams, and it adds a nice touch. It doesn’t add any strength to the seam. It’s more for aesthetic purposes.

Okay that’s enough for tonight. I hope to finish the bag tomorrow. I was going great guns, then I got tired and screwed up on the zipped pocket in the lining. So I took a break. But I’ll be back at it shortly and I will have lots more advice to dispense then.

Happy sewing!

Pattern Review – Laptop Envelope

Alright, I’ll admit it. Calling this a ‘pattern’ is a bit of an overstatement. It’s really just a pair of rectangles cut to the size of my MacBook plus a little, and an attached flap closure. But I learned a couple of things making it that I thought might be helpful to other folks, so here goes.

I needed a sleeve for my laptop, since I travel with it on business. I don’t like any of the laptop cases I have seen, with the exception of a $4000 Hermes one, and I just didn’t like it enough to justify the cost.
Sorry, I tried to say that with a straight face and failed miserably. But it’s true that the only one I have seen and liked was at the Hermes store, and, well, no. I’ll stick with my oversized bag and just make a sleeve to protect my MacBook, thanks. But of course, it has to be a fabulous sleeve, right? Right! So I went rifling through my stash of leathers. I have a ton from my handbag making days. I found this ( Tom and Lorenzo forgive me) utterly Judy Jetson silver lambskin that I bought from Kashi at Metro way back when. Bingo! Just glitzy enough. Slightly over the top, but not garish. I wonder if I could find enough to make a trench coat with it? Now that would be garish! But no, T&L would never forgive me. Sorry, I digress…

This went together so easily. The lambskin was a dream to work with. There were just a couple of things to note. I sewed this up on my Juki industrial, using a 3.5mm stitch length. I ran a couple of swatches through before sewing, and I’m glad I did. I used a leather needle in size 14, and I was getting tons of badly skipped stitches. Hmmm…. Skipped stitches=wrong needle in most cases. But this was leather, so I tried stitching with tissue between the feed dogs and the leather. Nope, still skipped. So I changed the needle to a regular size 12, not leather. Bingo, it worked like a charm! No skipped stitches, and the stitches are perfectly balanced.

I used regular polyester thread in light grey to blend in with the silver. I used metal binder clips instead of pins to hold the leather while sewing. And I attached a magnetic snap on the flap and front panel as a closure. I sewed a piece of leather to the back of the magnetic snap to protect the computer (not like it’s a heavy duty magnet, but why take chances, right?) from both the magnet and from being scratched by the hardware.

All in all this project took about an hour from start to finish. You can make one of these in very short order, and it’s a stylish way to carry your computer or documents. Here’s a picture with the latpop in it:

Happy sewing!