Working With Vinyl and Faux Leather

The new pattern being released next week was designed with particular fabrics in mind. They are leather, faux leather/vinyl, and cork. Patricia likes the classic look of leather, but the practicality and price of vinyl and faux leather are more appealing and cost effective. (To read more about working with cork, see this post).

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. Patricia shared some tips with me for success in using vinyl/faux leather in bag making. 

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 SF101 helps stabilize. 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. You can use 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. (I stitched clear vinyl with a piece of notebook paper over and under and it fed through like regular fabric). Store your fabric rolled, not folded. Faux leather can be lightly pressed but not heated enough to remove creases.

When cutting out a pattern, lay the vinyl facedown and trace the pattern on the back. No need to worry about a "grain" as there isn't one. However, if you have a fabric with a design that you want to highlight, you may need to mark from the front. Look at Rebecca Hansen's use of her faux leather on the flap of the Alyssa:

When stitching, 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. 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.

Cut out your pattern with a rotary cutter on a cutting mat and with a plastic heavy ruler. This will give you nice straight edges. Extra sharp scissors will give you the best result on areas that you have to trim. 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. 

Should you need to press your vinyl for any reason, Patricia strongly recommends that you always do so from the back, and that you always use a pressing cloth. Do not use steam!!

While I covered Sewing Machine Tools for Bag Making last week, there are some things in particular that work best with faux leather. 

It is best to avoid a leather needle, as it will 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 topstitching. Use a stitch length of 3.5 mm for seams and 4 to 4.5 mm for topstitching.

A walking foot is a must for stitching vinyl. A teflon foot may be helpful. I personally tried a teflon foot on my home machine and didn't have much success. Switching to the walking foot and a denim needle made the process a lot better.

I learned the hard way that when you are topstitching with a walking foot that you can't get too close to the fabric edge, as each side of the foot needs to be on fabric in order to "walk". I then removed the stitching and the "fuzzy" back was poking through. My beautiful flap was ruined! Which brings me to the next subject:

Practice on scraps. Removing stitches will leave holes. Also, repeated stitching over the same area such as backstitching will perforate the vinyl and may cause the vinyl to tear. When topstitching, instead of using a backstitch 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 mutliple layers usually involved when you are topstitching. 

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. Patricia prefers the fabric glue for areas that will be stitched.

Now you are ready to confidentally make a faux leather bag!

Do you have any tips to share for working with faux leather? Share them in the comments below or in the Facebook Pattern Group. 

Whether you are a beginner or an expert bag maker, we'd love to have you join our Facebook Pattern Group. Ask questions, give guidance and encouragement, share your makes. Patricia is always quick to answer questions, and loves your feedback. 

Please feel free to comment, but be aware that Shopify doesn't offer a way for us to respond. If you have any questions, please PM through Facebook, or email us at We'd love to hear from you!

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