Machine embroidery on leather should not scare you, with these simple tips and tricks you will find it easy as long as you follow instructions and take your time. Leather can be challenging to embroider on, so make sure you have the correct tools, and practice on scraps to develop your skills first. Embroidering leather is not only possible, it can result in great looking products as well as huge profits for your business. This tutorial covers the basics of choosing a leather material, picking designs that work, choosing needles and stabilizer for leather, and tricks for hooping to minimize hoop burn.
Leather comes in different types such as cowhide, suede, lambskin, buckskin. All the different leathers have distinct qualities of thickness and stretch. Avoid very thick leather, as it will not work well for machine embroidery. Thin or very soft leather may be too delicate to hold up to machine embroidery. The best choice will be a medium weight leather. Fake leather is a great alternative and will hold denser more detailed designs then real leather will.
When embroidering on leather, you much choose your design carefully. Due to the unforgiving nature of leather, perforations will permanently show, so it's best to choose light and sheer designs. Dense designs with satin stitch columns and heaving running stitches could cause needle perforations and your embroidery could actually perforate and tear off the leather. Any design with many close needle penetrations could cause this. When digitizing a design for leather, use less underlay and a lighter density.
Choosing the correct needle for embroidering on leather is crucial. Leather embroidery needles have a very narrow wedge to make penetration through leather, vinyl and similar materials easier and neater. Choose a standard size 11/75 leather needle for lighter weight leather and a larger size for thicker heavier leathers. Make sure you buy a flat shank needle for home machines and a round shank for industrial embroidery machines.
The best backing to use when embroidering on leather is a medium weight cut away stabilizer. A cut away backing will help to hold the leather together during and after embroidering. The use of temporary adhesive spray between the stabilizer and leather, will provide extra hold and stability while embroidering.
Hooping leather for embroidery is crucial in keeping the design lined up to prevent shifting while the hoop is moving when your machine is embroidering. Before hooping, spray your temporary adhesive on the stabilizer and smooth out your leather on top of the backing. To avoid hoop marks and scuffing, lay strips of muslin or cotton fabric on top of the leather where it will touch the hoop. Leave the center exposed where you will embroider. Leather is sensitive to over-tightening of the hoop, so avoid this by opening the hoop a tiny bit wider than usually needed. Once hooped, tighten the adjusting screw just enough to keep it secure for embroidery. After you are done, remove it from the hoop as soon as possible. The longer you keep it hooped, the more you increase the risk of leaving a mark on the leather.
Use a medium machine speed to embroider your leather and set the presser foot as low as possible to keep the material from bouncing. It may seem to make more sense to run your machine at the slowest speed, but the moderate speed will help the needle pierce the leather more effectively. Somewhere around 350 stitches/minute will be the sweet spot.