Tips from the Pros: Upholstering with Leather Hide

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Remember our good friend and Upholstery Club member, Welsh upholsterer Mick Sheridan? Yes you do, he’s the guy who does Guerilla Upholstery and was on the BBC talking about it.

Mick just finished upholstering these three fabulous Danish Modern Chairs in a hair-on cowhide. Many people ask me if they can bring in leather to use as their upholstery fabric of choice. I tell them that leather is a completely different animal (hahaha!) than fabric. Leather requires different techniques in stretching, clipping, cutting, splicing, and smoothing.

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First of all, you must know that leather comes in hides. Sometimes you can buy half hides, depending on the supplier. There are all different grades and finishes of leather. Some leather, used by furniture manufacturers, is a more hand friendly leather that has been dyed and sealed for upholstery purposes. Other leather pieces might be hair-on hides like these. They have a thick skin that requires some practice and knowledge to get it to do what you want it to do. In between those two, there are many different forms of leather. Hides also contain irregularities, that’s what makes them so unique. I’ll be covering upholstering with leather in more detail, but as for the hair-on cowhide, here are Mick’s tips for covering flat (or drop in) seats. This would include a bench seat.

Here’s what Mick shared with me, to you:

“These chairs and hides came from a customer in the fashion business who had some hides left over from various photo shoots. The chairs are her own and were broken and worn out so needed new dowels, glue, a rub down and touch-up before reupholstery. The hides are very thick and irregular in every way so they only work on certain projects, mainly on smaller seats or seat backs on larger items. Certainly no deep buttoning. (what we call tufting). There can be lots of waste if you’re too fussy, so there’s no pattern matching, in fact, an entirely random approach works best. The hide hair is full of swirls and tufts (we call them calf’s licks in the UK) so you have to be careful about the edges – tufts sticking out at corners or trapped under drop-in seats are a hazard. Personally I like these imperfections that remind us we’re working with something that was once alive… As the hides are so thick, pleating on corners doesn’t really work – the best thing is to cut your piece for a seat then warm the leather up on a radiator. Next fit the leather where you want it and stretch the corners as much as possible with a leather strainer, then make lots of small snips at the edge. When stapling the black & white seats I had to temporary tack then cut out V shapes to take up the excess on the corners. The frames of the drop-in seats had to be cut down to accommodate the width of the hide.”

Mick invites you all over to his Facebook Page. It’s like a trip to Wales!
Check out Mick’s work over here. I almost was able to visit him in Wales, but he decided to take the weekend off. Imagine that!

I happen to love leather and I love working with it. A beginner will want to steer clear of a project that includes sewing leather. Any stitching that has to come out will leave permanent needle holes in the hide, same with vinyl, but for some reason, vinyl is easier to disguise.

Stay tuned for more leather upholstery!

Posted in chair, upholstery | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

2 Responses to Tips from the Pros: Upholstering with Leather Hide

  1. Laura D. says:

    Great post, and these hides are captivating! From a gal that grew up in Texas and is a University of Texas alum, whose mascot is a longhorn, these are fabulous! LOL I found a great look-alike fabric called Udder Madness in a local store! Perfect for a beginner, I already have the chairs and idea for partially covering them with it!

  2. Hilary Lewis says:

    Hey! It was great seeing you this evening! Your blog is awesome!
    Take care!
    Hilary 🙂