Thrift to Fashion – Leather Edition

Written by Laura Ulak

Think you don’t have anything to wear in your closet to a costume event?  Are you SURE?  Because that old leather jacket from High School might be just what you need.

Reclaiming leather from old jackets in your closet or the thrift store is not just eco-friendly (and nice to cows!) it also gives you nice quality leather at a fraction of the cost of new.  And that wear on the jacket that gives it character?  That can do the same thing for your costume.

Leather jackets or pants or skirts (look in all 3 areas at the thrift store) can run as low as $4.00 if you find one on sale.  They come in various colors and shades, and in all different sizes.  I prefer to look for ones that are either in fairly large pieces with few seams, or just in large pieces period.  Leather trenches, plus size jackets and prairie skirts (yes, I found a ruched leather prairie skirt once!) can be a treasure trove of material to work with.

You have to be more creative in your cutting with pre-sewn leather.  Often you can use the back of a jacket as the back of a bodice – if you are willing to have a seam there.  You can open up sleeves and find big chunks of unseamed leather.  Collars can be removed and put on a new outfit.  I save all my old scraps that are at least as large as my hand for use in appliqué.

Here are some examples of leather outfits that started out as thrift store (or closet!) finds:

This bodice was made using the leather from an old black jacket, and the sleeve of a red leather jacket.  It was lined in cotton, and the rampant lion was appliquéd on top of the black leather before construction.

That prairie skirt I was talking about?  That became a leather Victorian style corset with D-ring lacing in the back.  It has been used as a pirate bodice:

And as a corset for an Asian style Steampunk outfit:

A small leather pair of pants was turned into a belly dancing bodice:

Two different leather jackets were used to make similar style bodices that have been used as pirate wear and wench wear and the leather scraps were used to make gauntlets:

Another leather coat was used to make this pirate bodice:

But you don’t have to cut up your leather to repurpose it.  There always seems to be a leather vest or two sitting around the thrift store.  Add embroidery or gears to it and you have a Steampunk vest:

Another vest was modified into a wench bodice:

Or you could just remove the sleeves on a faux leather jacket, add some elastic to the back to bring in the waist and you have another Steampunk vest:

But leather isn’t just for bodices.  Got an old white leather jacket sitting around from your Whitesnake groupie days?  Cut off the sleeves, remove the zippers from the cuffs (oh yeah!), and sew on buttons all along the edge and when attached to a pair of garters, they make an excellent pair of Steampunk spats.  (and ok, the leather bodice was made from a leather skirt and a left over piece of white leather):

When working with leather it is best to use either a roller foot or non-stick foot for your machine.  If you don’t have either, use tissue paper or printer paper sandwiched between the foot and the leather to help move the leather along.  Don’t ever pin leather – use weights for cutting, and double stick tape or large paperclips or clothespins to hold it together.  There is a rubber cement for leather that works well for holding seams open.  And remember to lengthen your stitch when sewing on leather – wider is better.

How To Sew Leather, Suede, Fur is a great book for learning how to sew on leather, suede or fur.  It was published in the 70’s, but the info is just as good now as it was then.

So stop looking in your closet with frustration and start looking in there with inspiration!  Please post in the comments with any additional tips and tricks!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Thrift to Fashion – Leather Edition

  1. Gregory

    I love the spats in the final picture.

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