The technique of embroidery has always had some notable significance in everyone’s life. As kids, we’ve seen a fair amount of utilitarian embroidery around us. From fancy clothes to kitchenware, every small item has gone under the sewing machine many a times. But it is the combination of leather and embroidery which is pretty magical. Partly because it’s almost too tricky to be done and also because when you combine one of the most ancient art form with one of the rawest material known to mankind, the result has to be extraordinary. There’s something rustic and old world about leather, there is no denying that. And using the art of needle and thread on it just adds to the charm.

Although leather is one of the most malleable raw materials available, it is almost unforgiving when it comes to the art of embroidery. This is the primary reason why a large majority of designers avoid embroidering on leather due to the fear of putting a permanent hole in it. Due to this risk factor some of the biggest fashion houses also avoid venturing into leather embroidery. Brands like Chanel and Tory Burch have always preferred the simple criss-cross embroidery pattern over intricate design in some of their best-selling handbags. Most of the Chanel bags have some level of embroidery on them. However, in the Spring 2017 collection, Chanel heavily experimented with embroidery and showcased some of their most eclectic designs along with their staple embroidered bags. The collection was a huge hit in amongst the audience and the Fashion industry, once again proving that the rewards are great for those who dare to embellish leather with embroidery.

Leather embroidered bags

Agata Hobo Bags from Eské in white and mustard

Eské has pioneered the art of embroidery on leather since its inception in 2012. We are the only luxury brand to use delicate and intricate embroidery along the length and breadth of the bag. Although done by machines, the work is so fine that there isn’t one stitch awry. Due to our expertise, we’ve been able to replicate this technique in various unique shapes we have designed over the year.

Embroidery Process

The process of embroidering leather is quite similar to embroidering any other fabric with some exceptions in the tools and techniques.

Firstly, we need to identify the type of leather to be used. Leather comes in a lot of variety. There’s cowhide, lambskin, suede, buckskin, etc. Each type has different qualities: thick, thin, stretchy, etc. Super thick leather will not work very well for embroidery. You want something more malleable. However, super soft and thin leather, like some lambskin, may actually be too delicate to hold up. A medium weight leather will be your best bet if you aren’t a professional manufacturer of leather products and have access to a skiving machine.

The next step is to choose the right kind of needle. A size 80/12 leather needle is a good choice when embroidering onto leather. This kind of needle has a wedged point that reduces the size of the hole or perforation made in the leather. Why does that matter? Well, a needle will leave permanent holes in the leather – the perforations won’t draw back together like they do when embroidering on fabric. So, we want to make our punctures as small as possible.

When selecting a design to embroider on real leather, very light and sheer designs are the key. Look for open running stitch designs. If you choose designs that are heavy or have closely placed stitches, the repeated actions of all those needle perforations may cause the design to “pop” right out of the leather. Avoid designs with satin stitch, filled areas of stitching, even heavy running stitch anything with lots of needle penetrations very close together that could be likely perforate the leather.

Mustard colored shopper bag

Agata embroidered shopper bag

The next step is hooping the leather. Hooping leather is actually easier than you might think. For one, real leather often has a rougher, raw side that takes to spray adhesive very well. To prepare it for hooping, cut a piece of medium weight cutaway stabilizer larger than your hoop, and generously spray it with temporary spray adhesive. Smooth your leather carefully over your stabilizer. You’ll find it sticks pretty darn securely, and any edges not large enough to hoop are well and truly held in place for stitching. If you don’t want to ruin your material – avoid hoop burn! Leather is essentially skin, and doesn’t like to be scratched any more than your skin does. This means hooping leather alone can sometimes cause a permanent mark of “hoop burn”, where your embroidery hoop leaves an imprint around the edges. To lessen this a bit, cut some small strips of cotton fabric, and lay them on top of your leather where it will meet the hoop. This should help prevent the hoop from scratching up the surface.

Make sure that when you press your hoop in place, your fabric scraps don’t cover any part of the area where your design will stitch. They’re not meant to be stitched into your project, just to keep it looking great, so keep them out of the way! Not all edges of the leather have to be under the hoop. Because leather can be adhered very securely to the stabilizer, as long as you have a least two edges very securely hooped, it’s usually okay. Leather will shift a lot less than regular fabric. lots of raw leather comes in scrap form and may be harder to find a piece that is larger than your hoop. When you can, however, hoop as much leather as you are able, and know that partial hooping always runs a small risk of shifting.

Once your leather is hooped up with its protective scraps of fabric, it’s time to stitch our design! When you start stitching, you may see the leather pulling up slightly with each rise of the needle. This is because leather is thicker than fabric, and there can be more friction between the needle and the leather than your machine is used to. To compensate for this increased friction, it helps to embroider at a slower speed, about 350 stitches per minute.

Embroidering leather is a real test of one’s patience and self-control. You will encounter several missteps along the way. The leather might not get hooped properly, you might nick yourself several time, you might nick the piece of leather several times. But after hours or probably days of sewing and getting a squint eye, you will be treated to a design so singular, it will be worth all the effort and patience. After all, every work of art takes its own time to manifest into its best self.