If you scroll through our collection of patterns, you'll notice that Patricia prefers a high-end designer look in handbags, especially leather. But the practicality and price of vinyl and faux leather are appealing and cost effective. (Cork has the same appeal and I've covered it in this post.)
The Fallyn Bag in a beautiful combo of 3 vinyl fabrics
Faux leather consists of a plastic over a cotton or polyester base. Though faux leather is considered "vegan" as no animal products are used, there are now true "vegan" products on the market using vegetable oils in place of much of the plastic, making it more environmentally friendly. Generally, you will see vinyl, faux leather and vegan leather terminology used interchangeably.
Like leather, there are different thicknesses (gauges) of vinyl/faux leather depending on the quality and base material. The higher the gauge number, the thicker the vinyl. Check out the tips below for success with these two fabrics.
Choosing Fabric and Interfacing:
When choosing your fabric, pay attention to the quality, particularly the backing. A thick backing may be hard to sew on a home machine. Some thinner vinyl may have a slight stretch to it and interfacing with SF101 or a similar woven helps stabilize and prevent stretching. In general, stabilizer or interfacing will not be necessary with faux leather. Note that a product with a "fuzzy" backing can cause issues if you need to remove stitching, as the fuzzy backing may poke through the needle holes. A "sticky" feeling vinyl, like glitter vinyl, may give you trouble with stitching. Store your fabric rolled, not folded. Faux leather can be lightly pressed but not heated enough to remove creases.
Cutting, Marking and Pressing:
When cutting out a pattern, lay the vinyl face down and trace the pattern on the back. No need to worry about a "grain" as there generally isn't one. If possible, make all markings on the back or within the seam allowance. If you need to mark on a visible area, use a chalk marker. However, if you have a fabric with a design that you want to highlight or "fussy cut", you may need to mark from the front. Kathy Mills-Shadduck did an excellent job centering her vinyl on The Alyssa Hip Bag.
Cut out your pattern using a rotary cutter, a gridded quilting ruler, and a gridded cutting mat. This will make nice crisp edges. Extra sharp scissors will give you the best result on areas that need trimming, such as curves. Some patterns, such as one with an overlay, may have exposed edges and you want them to have a nice smooth appearance. Edge Kote is great to apply on exposed edges such as an overlay or a strap end. It is applied and allowed to dry before assembling your bag and is available in six colors and neutral. A bottle will last a really long time.
Should you need to press your vinyl for any reason, be sure to do so from the back and use a pressing cloth. Do not use steam!! Wetting the pressing cloth can be helpful, too, when you're needing to work out creases. Your success will depend on the vinyl and how thick the backing is.
At the sewing machine:
Wonder Clips are the best method for securing layers together. Should you need to pin where clips aren't possible, make sure to pin within the seam allowance.
It is best to avoid a leather needle, as it may leave big holes. This may show around your thread, and will also be very noticeable if you have to remove stitching for any reason. A new 90/14 or 100/16 universal or jeans/denim needle is best. Have a spare ready as faux leather will dull your needle more quickly than fabric.
Use polyester thread as it tends to be stronger than cotton thread. You may want to have a thicker thread for top-stitching. Use a stitch length of 3.5 mm for seams and 4 to 4.5 mm for top-stitching. Patricia stitched this Penelope Crossbody on a domestic machine.
A walking foot really makes stitching vinyl much easier. But if you are just wanting to try it out, these suggestions may work: A Teflon foot along with a Teflon mat. Tissue paper, parchment paper, wax paper or even just a piece of scratch paper over the right side of the fabric to keep it from sticking to the presser foot or the presser plate, depending on which way you have laid the fabric. In the picture below, the top line of top-stitching next to the zipper was done with a walking foot. The bottom row of top-stitching was not - I forgot to put it on. The stitch length is the same, but the presser foot was dragging on the vinyl.
Practice on scraps:
Removing stitches will leave holes. Also, repeated stitching over the same area such as back stitching will perforate the vinyl and may cause the vinyl to tear. When top-stitching, instead of using a back stitch to secure ends, leave long tails and tie off on the wrong side of the fabric. While you are practicing, you may notice that you will have to adjust your tension, depending on your machine's capabilities and settings. Be sure to practice on the same thickness you will be stitching, particularly the multiple layers usually involved when you are top-stitching. A Hump Jumper (TM) can be very handy in getting the presser foot over multiple layers, particularly if you don't have a walking foot. But a scrap piece of fabric or vinyl folded to multiple layers and placed under the back of the presser foot is just as helpful!
Two products that are particularly helpful when sewing faux leather are double sided tape (DST) and Fabri-Tac or other fabric glue. DST is great for holding folds in place since you can't press with an iron, but it can gum up your needle. Fabric glue is easier, but you do have to take the time to let it dry. It may be worth your while to find a DST that is more machine friendly.
If you follow these tips, practice, and take your time, you can master sewing on vinyl or faux leather. Start with a small project with a small amount of vinyl, such as The Cici Too Cosmetic Bag or The Janie Pouch..
Some preferred resources for vinyl and faux leather are:
And one more - design your own faux leather! Check out Contrado.com for more details.
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