Thursday, April 28, 2016

DIY: Patent leather high-waisted skirt

So I've wanted a patent leather miniskirt since forever, but these are often ridiculously expensive. There are vinyl versions, but these always look cheap to me, and they are about as fun to wear as wearing a plastic bag over your ass. Leather feels wonderful and looks fantastic. And, personally, I find it easier to work with.
 This is a closeup of the leather. It is ridiculously glossy, even for patent leather, and is as thin as suede. I've never seen anything like it--it almost moves like jersey. It was $50 a skin, which I found out at the register. I was planning to buy two to make sure I had enough, but when the bill came to $100, I ended up dropping one of the skins. $100 for a patent leather skirt is still not a bad price since they go for thousands, but I thought I could get away with one skin. Which I did...just barely. The fact that I was working with such a teeny tiny piece of leather will influence the rest of the DIY.

Tip: when you are buying skins, inspect the quality of the skin. No two are alike. Some have creases or holes or not as much usable space.

I made the pattern myself, based on an American Apparel skirt I already own, which was basically a rectangle with darts with a belt. I didn't have enough room in the leather to cut out the full rectangle, so I worked in the darts in the side seams.

The skirt I was matching:

I made pattern pieces out of tracing paper, following the original skirt. Since the skin was so small, I spent a bit of time moving the pattern pieces around. Finally I came up with this:

 So you'll see there's actually 3 pattern pieces now, since I combined one with the front. So, the skirt will have two seams--in the back where the zipper is and on only one side. This isn't symmetrical, but I'd live with it. Better than spending another $50 on another skin for something literally no one would notice. Also, you'll notice that at the bottom hem of the skirt, the leather wasn't long enough. I could either shorten the length of the skirt in order to have a clean line, or leave the edge raw.

I used a white crayon to draw directly on the wrong side of the leather. In my shoe-making class, we used a white pen, but a crayon was all I had. I feel like it showed up better too. You never pin pattern pieces to leather. 

You also don't use scissors to cut leather. You will never get clean lines with scissors. I've used this utility knife with great success for all of my leathermaking. 

Pattern pieces all cut out. You'll see the obvious raw edge from where I didn't have enough leather, but I don't think it's too big of a deal. It's on the side.

Sew sew sew. I'm using a Singer Prelude, which is a standard home sewing machine. I'm using basically ("basically" because I'm using the gauge for shoemaking, since that's what I own, but I think the two are same or similar) upholstery thread which is a heavy duty nylon. Anything weaker will break. I'd suggest wider stitches for leather, since with a narrow stitch you'll poke so many holes in the leather it'll just break apart. I'm using the wrong foot for leather--you need a plastic one instead of metal or the leather will stick. I didn't have that problem since I only sewed on the suede side, and it slipped through ok...I did have to pull a teeny bit.
I'm glad I can still sew a straight line...I honestly don't even remember the last time I sewed.
So you'll see I've got a pink thread above. Thought I could get away with using pink thread, but then I remembered I had to do the zipper, and you can't hide the thread. Anyway, I bought black upholstery thread. So, like I mentioned before, you need a plastic foot to sew leather otherwise the material will stick to the foot. I don't have one (not for a domestic machine anyway). That's ok.  Just put tracing paper on top of the leather and sew over it. The tracing paper makes the material less sticky. I glued the zipper onto the leather first so it wouldn't slip around. 

tracing paper on top of leather. sewing on top of that.

The tracing paper wasn't working for the "belt" of the skirt because the belt kept moving around (again, you can't pin anything in place because its leather), so I used crappy dollar store packing tape that normally can't hold anything together. It worked marvelously. It not only provided a nonstick surface, but held the pieces together. Definitely recommend this brown packing tape (obviously test it on a scrap piece. you don't want residue)

I feel this is perfect for work, especially paired with a classic button-up. The silhouette is very corporate. 
without washed-out lighting

lol excuse the hair junk hanging from behind the doorknob. You'll notice I successfully positioned myself in front of it in the other photos.
So, final notes about sewing patent leather:

  • you CAN sew it on a domestic machine, but you need to use tape or paper when sewing on the sticky side
  • you also need upholstery thread
  • you cannot fuck up. the thread punches holes in the leather. if you take out the threads and redo, you'll be left with holes (best case) or the leather will just tear (worst)
  • you can't pin your pieces (again, holes). use glue or tape to steady or pen or crayon to guide.


  1. "You cannot fuck up." - this is why I have never tried to sew leather or PVC. When sewing is involved, I WILL fuck it up! Awesome job on the skirt, I am droooling over that beautiful patent leather.

    1. I've actually never tried sewing PVC! I'm sure the same rules apply.

  2. looks like a very difficult process, but the skirt turned out great! love the shine!