Sewing Vinyl | How-To Guide + The Best Machines
Vinyl is very different from other types of fabric.
Vinyl will often stick to the bed of the machine and to the bottom of the presser foot. So we need to change our approach a little bit in order for the project to go well.
So today we will look at a bunch of tips you can use for your next project with vinyl.
Note: All the things we cover in this article can also be applied to projects with leather and suede.
Before we get started let’s define what vinyl is. ”Vinyl” is just a term for any type of fabric with a “plastic” coating on it.
It can also be artificial leather (pleather), laminated fabric, oilcloth, etc. All these types of fabrics are water-resistant and quite inexpensive.
They are also very durable and flexible and will often be used for bags, covers, pouches, boats etc.
Prepare well (you cannot remove the seems)
When working with leather and vinyl and other types of thick fabric we need to make sure we prepare really well. Because we cannot undo the seams, once they are made they are going to stay there.
Once we start stitching with vinyl, the holes will be there for good.
So pay close attention and be sure to measure right the first time.
You should also be aware that you cannot insert needles into the vinyl when you need to draw a line or cut it.
What you can do instead is to cut out a template and use that for measuring. It takes extra time but you will have a higher success rate and hopefully get everything right the first time.
If you want to save a little time here you can use pins or clips to fasting the vinyl to the pattern. You just need to make sure you don’t leave the pins and clips on the vinyl for too long. They might leave marks if you do.
Great tips for sewing vinyl
Before we start sewing with vinyl or leather we need to fix a few things.
The primary problem with vinyl on the sewing machine will often be the footer. It just doesn’t do a really good job unless you modify it (or exchange it). Luckily this is easy to do and it won’t cost you too much money.
Let’s look at a couple of options to solve this problem.
Get a Teflon-coated foot or walking foot
As we mentioned above, one of the main problems with vinyl and leather is the presser foot. It will often drag. This happens because the vinyl is a little sticky and will stick to the bottom of the foot and the machine.
We can fix this problem by exchanging the footer for specially coated foot made especially for sewing vinyl and leather. The Teflon (or Teflon-like coating) will keep the foot from sliding as you can see in the video below.
After you put on this special foot your vinyl will glide easily while stitching.
You can find these at Amazon and they only cost next to nothing (link to Amazon).
You can also use a walking foot. But most people don’t have these laying around and you would be perfectly fine with a Teflon foot or one of the other options below.
…Or use gift paper tissue (or unscented talc)
This is a great tip that will cost you next to nothing. We found this tip in the YouTube video below.
The woman in the video applies a thin layer of gifts paper tissue above and below the layers of vinyl. She is sewing a seem with two layers of vinyl, and when doing so we often experience that the vinyl will stick to the bed of the machine. This is due to the rubbery surface of the vinyl.
When you apply a thin Layer of paper tissue above and below the vinyl it reduces the friction and all of a sudden the footer moves much smoother.
When you buy a piece of vinyl it will often be wrapped in thin layers of paper that you can use. So if you haven’t got any paper tissue you don’t have to go to the store.
Here’s the video:
Be sure to choose a white tissue as a colored tissue might end up coloring the vinyl. After you’re done you can easily remove the tissue from the vinyl by pulling it off gently.
A very neat trick that won’t cost too much.
Another tip from the video above is a bit easier as you can avoid pulling tissue off. You can dip your finger in a bit of cornstarch or unscented talc and put that onto the vinyl (on both sides). After doing so the feet will move much more smoothly an not cause trouble.
Make sure not to apply too much powder as it will be messy.
If you are doing a large project and end up with too much talc on your machine just vacuum your machine gently afterward.
Or apply a strip to your foot to avoid drag
Here’s another good tip for sewing with vinyl and leather fabrics.
Instead of paying for a Teflon foot there’s a cheap alternative we would look into. You can actually build one yourself by modifying your general purpose foot a little bit.
When we use a standard general-purpose foot the fabric tends to slide a little bit which we can see in the stitches. This causes the stitches to get shorter which is not optimal.
As it turns out, general purpose foot can be updated with a plastic stick-on strip from a store. It can adhere to the foot and make a great difference.
Here’s a Youtube video where we found the tip:
The stitching length remains consistent after applying the strip to the sewing foot. It reduces drag on the machine. You should be prepared to change the strip once in a while as it gets worn pretty quickly.
Or just use scotch tape…
You can also use a strip of scotch tape or masking tape.
It might not do as good a job but it will probably work just fine. Make sure to cut off the tape at the edges to make sure it doesn’t stick to anything else than the presser foot.
We don’t want to get it wrapped up in the needle and machine, and we certainly don’t want to get tape inside our machine.
Lengthen your sewing stitches
We want a good long stitch when we are working with vinyl and leather.
If we were to use a shorter stitch it would easily cut the plastic and perforate it. It just won’t produce a good result.
Go for a stitch length between three and four.
Use a simple straight stitch.
Straight stitches are some of the strongest stitches we can do and they were perfect with nylon and leather. You can use other stitches as well if you think they look prettier on your project. But normally we would advise you just go for a straight stitch.
Don’t use the iron on vinyl
You cannot use an iron on vinyl it will simply melt if you are not careful.
If you need to press the vinyl you can use your fingers or you can leave it in the sun.
You can also flatten vinyl with heavy objects like a stack of books. If you’re using multiple layers or very thick leather you might have to use a rubber hammer. Just make sure to put a book or something similar on top of the fabric so you don’t hit directly onto the fabric and leave marks.
Is that doesn’t work you can use an iron if you are very careful.
In that case, you need to put a layer of thin fabric on top of the vinyl. Now you can gently iron it slowly. If you still have wrinkles after doing this you can turn the heat of the iron up one bit.
If you want to remove wrinkles after finishing a project like a bag (made of vinyl) you can do it this way:
First, you will need to heat up the mat with the iron. Now you press your bag down on the mat and with your hands even out all the wrinkles.
Here’s a video showing the process:
It’s almost impossible to avoid wrinkles when you turn the back inside out. And, as the woman in the video points out, this is a good way to fix the wrinkles.
Or use a hairdryer
You can also use a hairdryer to heat up the vinyl so you can flatten it out with your hands. You don’t have to be as careful here.
Again, you need to make sure you don’t heat it up too much. Do it from a distance and turn up the heat slowly.
Best sewing machines for leather and vinyl
Depending on how thick the vinyl is and how many layers you have you can probably use the machine you already have.
Be sure to check your manual or do a little Google searching for the brand and model number of your machine. You will quickly find out what you can do and what you can’t do with it. The main brands like Janome, Singer, Brother, Bernina etc. will all have good information on this online.
(otherwise, let us know and we will write an article on it 🙂
If you’re looking for a machine specifically made for leather and vinyl sewing projects there are two options we will check out. We have chosen the two machines we like the best at the cheaper end of the scale.
You shouldn’t have to go spend a lot of money on a new sewing machine (in our opinion) so these are the choices we often recommend.
Singer Heavy Duty 4411
This is one of the best all-around sewing machines. The Singer Heavy Duty 4411 will work like a charm on vinyl and multiple layers of heavy fabric. It’s perfect for projects with vinyl and leather. And it’s fast too!
It can do up to 1100 stitches per minute and it can easily work through multiple layers of leather or other heavy fabrics. And the best part is the price.
You get 11 built-in stitches from this machine which is not really that much compared to the brother model below. So if you really like to play around with stitches and do creative stuff with your machine this is probably not the best choice for you.
You can get this machine for around $150-$200. Check the prices on Amazon here.
It also sews really well on other types of fabric. When you get a heavy duty machine you can use it for thin fabrics as well as the thicker types.
If you don’t know what machine to buy this is definitely the machine for you. It’s cheap, it’s fast, and it’s just super durable. Even though this machine is super heavy duty it’s actually pretty lightweight compared to other Singer models.
It weighs 14 pounds (6,5 kilograms).
If you prefer the Brother brand you should probably go with the Brother ST371HD. It’s also a very good machine for this type of heavy-duty work.
This machine is not as fast as the singer 4411.
It will only do 800 stitches a minute so if speed is a major concern you shouldn’t go with this machine. It’s also a little more expensive than the Singer model. The weight is 14 pounds (6 kilograms) which is not too bad at all for heavy duty machine.
You get 37 built-in stitches which are a lot more than the Singer model above. So there’s a lot you can do with this machine outside a heavy duty work.
Just like the Singer model, this Brother sewing machine can sew through everything. You can work with lightweight silks or you can throw multiple layers of canvas at it. This machine even comes with a nonstick footer which is perfect for our vinyl projects.
It also has a nice LCD display which is easy to use. The machine is 12.21 x 16.10 x 7.87 inches.
As you can probably tell I am really fond of the singer model above but don’t let that scare you away from the Brother model:)
If you are just beginning to learn the art of sewing you will get a nice instructional video with the Singer model. You can also download this instructional videos on an app.
Brother will also help you get started with an instructional DVD in English and Spanish. So if you still own a DVD player this could also work.
We just recently did a comparison of the Brother and Singer Heavy Duty models. Be sure to check that out if you are in the market for a new Heavy Duty model.
What is the best thread for sewing vinyl?
Now we know how to sew vinyl and we also looked at the machines. But what type of thread should we use?
You want to use what we call a heavy-duty thread or industrial thread. These are typically made from bonded nylon or bonded polyester. Very nice and strong threads that will last a for a long time. These are the same type of thread you will use for upholstery work. They are much stronger than your average polyester thread and they are also flexible which is great when we are working with vinyl.
We want the stitches to last for a long time and also make sure that thread doesn’t break while stitching.
Before you start on the project you should do a little testing with the tension of the thread. You will probably want to decrease the tension a little bit.
It’s a good idea to start with a piece of scrap on until you really get this right.
Once you get it right and you feel comfortable you can move on to do your project.
What needle size should I use for vinyl and leather?
You want to use what we call a leather needle or a universal needle. Go for a size 90/14 or 100/16.
These are heavy duty needles and they will do a really good job. They won’t break when you push them through the leather and vinyl. These are the same type of needles that we would use for denim and other types of thicker fabric.
Be careful because these types of needles are very sharp. They have to be sharp in order to pierce the vinyl and leather. They are constructed a little different than thinner needles with a stronger shaft.
If you use a regular needle it might break in the process. And if you’re using thicker needles they will probably make too big holes in the vinyl. So the 90/14 or 100/16 is your choice.
What is the best heavy duty sewing machine for denim and jeans?
We always recommend the Singer Heavy Duty 4411 and the Brother ST371HD. They are both very reasonably priced and will do a good job every time with heavy fabric. Not only denim and jeans but also leather.