Introduction: Leather Patchwork Table Runner
This leather table runner is made by using contact adhesive to stick pieces of leather onto denim backing from a pair of old jeans before stitching the pieces down.
This is a reasonably basic sewing project but I am assuming you know how to work a sewing machine - zig-zag stitch, back-tacking at the start/end of stitching, etc.
Step 1: Materials
- A bunch of leather scraps (you'll need more than you think)
- Denim recycled from a pair of jeans
- Extra-strong sewing thread
Standard Sewing Equipment:
- Sewing machine
- Leather or Jeans sewing needle
- Fabric shears
- Thread snips
- Rotary cutter and cutting mat
- Iron and ironing board
- Chalk or fabric pen
Make sure you have strong thread and a strong needle - you can get a leather needle, but I found a jeans needle works just as well. The jeans needle makes a round hole, the leather needle makes a diamond-shaped cut which closes up better if you unpick the stitch.
Step 2: Prepare Materials
Cut and iron the denim
I used most of the leg of a large pair of non-stretchy jeans as the backing material for the table runner. You could use other heavy fabric like cotton canvas - any material which doesn't distort or stretch as you work with it.
I cut the denim into a rough rectangle and ironed it to remove wrinkles and make it flat. You will lose some material around the edges in the final trimming stage, so be generous with your starting material.
Flatten the leather
Chances are your leather was stored crumpled up in a bag and is all wrinkled. You can iron the rough side of the leather on low-medium heat to flatten it out. Some people suggest ironing through a paper bag; I had an iron cover which did the same job.
While the leather is still hot, put a nice heavy textbook on top and leave it for a few minutes to set the leather flat. Stack up the flat pieces neatly so they'll stay unwrinkled.
Leather comes in a range of thicknesses. You'll probably want to choose pieces which are of reasonably similar thickness.
Step 3: Begin Construction
Choose some foundation pieces and cut them so they'll fit together. You can cut straight lines, curved lines, or a mix. The challenging part is accurately cutting matching pieces and adjusting for the tendency of the leather to curve away from your blade.
For some shapes, I made paper templates by tracing the surrounding leather pieces onto paper, then used the template to cut a matching piece of leather to fit in the space.
I used spray-on contact adhesive to temporarily stick the leather pieces to the denim. Lay down some newspaper to absorb over-spray and let the adhesive dry for a minute or two until tacky. Then stick the leather onto the denim where you want it to be. The bond is temporary, a bit like the glue on Post-it notes, so if the piece doesn't fit nicely you can remove it, trim it, and try again.
The leather is slightly flexible and it is tempting to push or pull the leather pieces to make them fit together closely. You can do this a little bit to close up gaps, but don't overdo it as this produces a distortion in the finished piece. Try to get the pieces matching closely while they are flat. The zig-zag stitching hides small gaps anyway.
Step 4: Start Sewing
Once you've got some pieces cut and stuck down onto your denim, you can start sewing. I used a leather needle and a jeans needle to sew a zig-zag stitch to sew along the matched edges of the leather pieces. It takes a bit of practise to follow curved seams smoothly. Make sure you back-tack a few stitches at the start and end of your stitches. If you do this by hand you can usually persuade the needle to go into the same holes as the first lot of stitches and it looks very tidy.
Once the main seams have been sewn down, you can cut and glue down more pieces of leather, and sew them on. Proceed in this way until your backing is completely covered with leather pieces. If you tried to glue all the pieces down first, I think some pieces would start to peel off during the sewing stage.
You can get creative with patterns of colour and shapes, or go for a pseudo-random pattern like mine. I tried to make sure no two adjoining pieces were the same colour, and the different colours were spread evenly across the table runner.
Tip: Make sure you use extra-strong sewing thread. Sew some test pieces to check that the tension is correct - I needed to turn the tension way, way down to avoid skipped zig-zags.
Step 5: Trimming and Flattening
Once your backing is completely covered and all the leather pieces are stitched down, you can trim the edges straight (or into any shape you like, such as a circle). I did this with a ruler, a rotary cutter and a cutting mat - the cutting mat has a measurement grid which makes it easy to get the edges square to each other. Then you can bind the edges with more zig-zag stitches.
You'll probably need to flatten the table runner. Iron the whole table runner on the denim side with a hot iron. Quickly lay it flat on a table and put some textbooks on top, with extra weights on the books. Leave it like this for an hour or so. This stretches and flattens any leather pieces that aren't laying flat.
Step 6: Final Thoughts
Aside from some time spent figuring out that my thread tension needed to be very low, this was a reasonably straight-forward sewing project. There are many interesting patterns and shapes you could get creative with. You could even lay out pieces to form pictures, similar to Marquetry.
Question 1 year ago on Step 6
Hi we are just learning, and my question is about the denim, so you just make a denim back the same size as the table runner that you choose?
also, we have some calf hides, about 7 sq ft, if a person was to do a 6 foot table runner do you know about how many hides i would need and what would the stitch be on my sewing machine thanks we love your stuff
2 years ago
I love this project. Beautiful job! I would like to do something
similar as I'm trying to come up with ideas to use several tanned deer
hides of different colors that I've had for years. I assume that your
idea is NOT to have any of the pieces overlap, correct? My sewing
machine is just a straight back & forth machine with no zig zag. Do
you have any ideas of how I could join the pieces other than hand
stitching? Thank you.
3 years ago
Hi there I love this work so much thanks for the tutorial very helpful! My only question is if another type of fabric can be used also instead denim? If so what fabric would be best? Trying to make a backpack. Thank you.
6 years ago
I do so like this overall idea! I am a thrifty/frugal recycle kind of gal and would like to toss up a couple ideas. IF you can find them: leather belts, purses, shoes, boots, and even coats can offer up some interesting patterns for use in this project. Search thrift shops and yard sales. Taking items apart can actually be a soothing activity done while watching TV. Leather can be cleaned with orange cleaner if it's musty or has a heavy odor (like tobacco). Hope this idea helps others! :D
8 years ago on Introduction
i like your work
9 years ago
PS, thanks for the tip on tension. I've been sewing some very thick, dense fabric and my zig zag was skipping x
Reply 9 years ago on Introduction
I think there can be some other reasons for zig-zag skipping, like a bent needle, but lowering the tension definitely solved the problem for me.
9 years ago
A very innovative use of leather, and the result is stunning. Thanks for posting it!
9 years ago
This really is a beautiful piece, I love it.
9 years ago
Reply 9 years ago on Introduction