Quilting Leather and Construction Details/Changes (McCall's 7549)

Since I'm taking on a big project with two new-to-me skills--quilting and sewing leather--I thought I'd share a bit of my learning process with y'all. I rarely publish whole posts about works-in-progress--it's not as pretty or glamorous as completed outfits--but it's nice to do so every once in a while, especially when it's something a bit tricky! I also changed a lot when it comes to the construction of this pattern--so much that it would totally take over another post.

Below the cut, there is a very long, very wordy post with lots of in-progress pictures, so if you're just here for the outfits, you've been forewarned! I'll post my finished jacket next Monday, or subscribe to my newsletter for a sneak peek Friday!!

Leather: Before we start: leather is not like fabric, so while the general sewing process is similar, there are some considerations to make! Unlike fabric, every hole in leather is  there permanently, so it's important to use quilt clips (or binder clips) instead of pins--you don't want pin holes all over the finished garment! Also, use leather needles, which actually cut into the hide instead of sliding between threads. And I would recommend getting extras in case of breakage.

I found that I didn't have any problem with my leather sticking to my machine as I sewed using a walking foot, but you can also get a teflon foot that glides over sticky surfaces or put some tape on the bottom of your foot (smooth side out, of course). It will also depend on the treatment of your leather!

I got a lot of my information on working with leather from this Closet Case post and from asking the employees at Tandy Leather, and then I did a lot of practice stitches.

Sizing: I made my normal size in McCall's (so, one size down from the size recommended by the body charts) and didn't make any fit adjustments based on my muslin and practice garment (which you can see a peek of here and which I will be sharing next month).

Yardage: I changed a lot when it came to the construction of this jacket. When I made my practice jacket, I had never done any quilting before, but I was also pretty sure I didn't want to just follow the instructions provided (I'm awful that way). As I mentioned on my instagram stories while sewing, the pattern calls for 3 1/4 yards of your fashion fabric, quilt batting, and backing, and then 1 1/4 yards of your lining. Anyone who has made a similar jacket knows that 3 yards is a lot of fabric for a little cropped jacket! That's because the instructions are to quilt your fabric, batting, and backing in big sheets before cutting out your pattern pieces.This is because if you cut your pattern pieces and then quilt, they are liable to shift around and become unaligned. However, I was not about to pattern match quilt lines... nope.

body piece quilted, yokes unquilted. here you can see my rough cutting of the flannel around the leather pieces (the two layers are spray basted together).

I decided to construct my jacket in a way that would allow me to quilt larger pieces, over seam lines, as well as conserve leather. I think if you do it this way (which I'm about to share) you'll only need about 2 yards of flannel and fashion fabric. Wait, flannel? Yes! I used a cotton flannel in my practice jacket (instead of batting and backing) and liked it, so I did the same here. As written, I think this pattern is on the pricey end with allll that yardage. This way it will be a bit cheaper.

Quilting the leather: Although I quilted most of my practice jacket using this method from my mom, I realized near the end wait a minute, this is exactly what a seam guide is for! I used my seam guide and walking foot to do all the quilting on my leather version besides the first quilt lines.

For the diagonal quilt lines, after I attached the front body to the back body, I found the center back of the body piece, and snipped a little notch. I then used my quilt ruler to apply a piece of washi tape at a 45 degree angle straight out from the center bottom. My quilt ruler has 45 degrees marked, so I could just line up the 45 degree marking with the edge of the jacket. I placed a second piece of washi tape mirroring the first, and had my first guidelines, one in each direction of the squares. I sewed along the edge of the washi tape for first two quilt lines, and then used my seam guide for the rest. If you don't have a seam guide, you could measure out 1.5" lines and mark them all with tape though! It's more tedious but not any harder.

marking the center of the back and aligning my ruler's 45 degree line with the bottom

marking the first quilt line

the second quilt line
after sewing the first two lines of quilting

seam guide set at 1.5" from needle

using the seam guide and walking foot to quilt at 1.5" intervals

For the parallel quilt lines, I waited until I had attached those pieces (bottom band and front and back yokes) to the body pieces so that I could ensure my quilting started exactly 1/2" away from the seam line and continued seamlessly into the rest of the quilting. 

attaching unquilted front yokes to quilted front body pieces

gluing and rolling down the seams

front and back yokes attached and seams pressed/rolled/glued, but front yokes not yet quilted. attaching unguilted bottom band to quilted body. here you can see t hat there is a slight curve to the yoke piece--this is why i didn't quilt straight across before attaching it. I followed that slight curve 1/2" out for my first line of quilting.

body quilted, bottom band attached and seams pressed/rolled/glued, but not yet quilted. 

shoulder seam glued/rolled flat

Construction: So many changes I need bullet points!
  • used a cotton flannel instead of a batting/backing. I knew that my leather was too thick/stiff to "quilt," and that my quilting would be closer to decorative topstitching, so batting/backing would have just added unnecessary bulk. 
  • quilted individual pieces instead of whole cloth. I cut out the leather pieces, then sewed them together "in the round" i.e. attached the back body to left and right front body, and bottom back band to left and right front bottom band. (This allowed me to quilt over seam lines, eliminating the need for pattern matching.)
  • rough cut my flannel backing and spray basted to the leather. I was nervous about quilting the leather to the flannel since I knew I couldn't use pins. My mom suggested spray basting the two layers together and it worked perrrrfectly. Apparently quilter swear by the stuff!
  • inserted the sleeves by hand. Phew! My machine was actually okay at sewing through all the layers of leather and flannel but it was really hard to manage the bulk of the jacket while sewing the sleeves--I could have used a few more arms just to slowly maneuver the jacket around as I sewed--so I decided to just do it by hand, which was easy enough. (use your thimble!)
  • bagged the lining. The instructions have you sew the body to body lining and turn rightside out, then attach sleeves to the sleeve lining at the cuff, and finally slipstitch the lining sleeves to the lining body at the armscye (from the right side). This seemed like a convoluted method and so I just bagged my lining (just like I did on my camel blazer) on my trial jacket, but actually, bagging the leather version was hard since, again, leather isn't the most flexible of materials! I would recommend a bagged lining for most iterations of the project... just not leather! (If you need a visual the McCall's instructions are more like this (confusingly also entitled bagging a jacket, omg i'm so sorry), the way I did it was more like this.)
  • quilted yoke and bottom band after attaching to body. Quilting the yoke and bottom band after attaching them meant that I could ensure that the 1/2" quilting lines began at exactly 1/2" away from the seamline and followed the slight curve of the yoke piece.
That is so much information! To recap, here's my order of operations:

attach body fronts to body back, press/roll/glue seams
spray baste to rough-cut flannel
attach bottom band fronts to bottom band back, press/roll/glue seams
spray baste to rough-cut flannel
spray baste back yoke to rough-cut flannel
spray baste front yokes to rough-cut flannel
spray baste upper sleeves to rough-cut flannel
spray baste sleeve bands to rough-cut flannel

quilt body diagonally at 1 1/2" spacing
attach bottom band, press/roll/glue seam
quilt bottom band at 1/2" rough-cut
attach front yokes, press/roll/glue seams
quilt front yokes at 1/2" spacing
attach back yoke, press/roll/glue seam
quilt back yoke at 1/2" spacing
attach front yokes to back yoke at shoulder seams, press/roll/glue seams
quilt upper sleeves diagonally at 1 1/2" spacing
attach sleeve bands, press/roll/glue seams
quilt sleeve bands at 1/2" spacing
sew sleeves into tubes, press/roll/glue seams
set in sleeves
attach front bands
quilt front bands at 1/2" spacing
(the body of the jacket is complete)

(add a 1" pleat to back yoke and back body for ease of movement but placing pattern pieces to cut 1/2" away from fold of fabric)
attach front yokes to front body
attach back yoke to back body
baste in pleats
set in sleeves
attach front bands

final steps:
bag jacket lining
top stitch around neck

If you have any questions at all, do not hesitate to ask! This was a total brain dump of information and so it may not have been the clearest. I can't promise to share with you the best way to do it, but I know how I did it, and I'm happy to share!

There were a lot of times during this project when I paused my sewing and said to myself, what was I thinking. But I love a challenge (especially one with a motivational deadline) and so I forged on and I'm so pleased with the results, y'all. I'm so excited to share some styled shots with you next week!


ps: phew!

allie J.

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  1. could you talk a bit about how you picked out the leather? how much did you buy? how did you know you had enough? thanks

    1. Sure! I picked out the leather by going in person to my local leather store and discussing my project with the staff. They helped me find a hide that was the right weight and color. For sizing, I actually brought my pattern pieces with me and laid them down over the hide and made sure they fit in 1/2 of it!

  2. Very nice & informative! I'll be excited to see the finished jacket next week! Also, when I got to the line where they wanted you to quilt 3 yards of fabric AND THEN cut out your pattern pieces I literally said "WHAT?! No." out loud :-)

    1. I know, right?! I get the rationale behind it but that just seems nuts to me!

  3. Well done! I loved this post! The details are delicious to us readers because we can learn SO much through your experiences. Thank you for the great info and keep up the good work!

    1. I'm so happy to hear you liked it! I'm never quite sure how much detail people want, but I figured I'd share my whole experience with this one since it was so new to me!

  4. Wow, this is so incredible, it makes me want to give it a try!! I can't wait to see the finished jacket!

    1. You should! It was a long project but I learned so, so much.

  5. what are your plans for the other half of the leather? how did you cut the leather?

    1. I'm not sure, since it's mostly in awkwardly shaped scraps. Some of the pieces are large enough to do yokes or accent pieces, so I might do some of that on upcoming projects... we'll see!

  6. I'm glad to read your post as I've been in the process of making the same jacket out of recycled leather. Since I already made the jacket in denim, my pattern was ready to go with my usual alterations. I was able to cut the entire jacket out of two men's XL jacket. I hope that mine looks half as good as yours!



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