Home Sewing Tutorials How to Sew Vinyl, Faux Leather, and Oilcloth

How to Sew Vinyl, Faux Leather, and Oilcloth

written by Sarah July 26, 2013

I’m using the word “Vinyl” as a general name for all kinds of fabric with a plastic consistency or non-fiber feel. This includes artificial leather, pleather, oilcloth, etc.  Generally speaking, these fabrics are all man made to serve a cheaper or more ethical purpose. But what exactly is the difference? Let’s take a look:

Cherry OilCloth Sewing Parts Online

Vinyl: This is a pretty generic term. It comes in a variety of forms, but for the most part it’s a type of plastic. It’s waterproof, durable, flexible, and super cheap (relatively speaking).

Artificial Leather :  These range from resembling animal hide to the wearable latex-look of Patent Leather.  It’s much cheaper than buying real animal skin, and for a growing population of people, more ethical.  It’s also water resistant and comes in many styles, textures, and prints. Some will have a cloth backing and others will not.

Oilcloth: This super slick material often comes is fun, brightly colored patterns that are printed on the surface. It’s water proof, durable, and very flexible.  It’s a great starter fabric for kids crafts and generally low maintenance. Traditionally, Oilcloth was duck cloth coated with boiled linseed oil to give it it’s waxy, waterproof quality. Now, it’s mostly vinyl with a design printed on one side.

You may think of vinyl and think of laminated fabric or PUL fabric. Although these have a plastic-like film, they are more of a hybrid fabric and are handled just a tad differently. We’ll explain why in an upcoming post!

Roller Foot on OilCloth Sewing Parts Online

The Foot: Walking Foot -or- Roller Foot – or- Non-Stick Foot

The surface of Vinyl is sticky and slippery at the same time. It’s notoriously difficult to feed with a standard general purpose because Vinyl needs a little extra help. A Walking Foot will help pull the fabric through at the same rate as your feed dogs. The Roller Foot and Non-Stick foot are also fantastic tools for feeding Vinyl, as well as many other fabrics.

The Needle: 100/16

You can normally find these in packages labeled “Leather” or “Denim“. Both work wonderfully. You can even use Denim Twin Needles for perfect parallel stitching.  If you find a Leather or Denim needle that’s a size 90/14, you’re in the clear. It’s all about the needle design.

The Thread: Quality All Purpose or Heavy Duty

If you don’t expect to be constantly tugging at the seams, general purpose thread works well. However, if the vinyl you are using has a fair bit of weight to it and  you expect your seams will experience stress, use Heavy Duty thread instead. It’s often beneficial to pull the needle thread to the back and manually tie a few knots.

The Pins:  None.

Using pins will cause permanent holes which compromise the strength of the fabric. And any holes can easy to tear into bigger holes. Wonder Clips are a great, but you can also use paper clips or bobby pins as an alternative.

Stitch Length: 3.0 mm or greater.

Anything less than a 3.0 stitch length causes the seam to perforate (think of when you tear paper out of a notebook). It really compromises the strength of the seam. As far as width, try to keep it wider than 2.5 mm.

Pressing: No iron.

An iron will instantly melt the fabric. Instead, finger press the seams. If you have some serious creases, try leaving it out in the sun or somewhere warm. You can even turn on a hot shower and get the creases that way. You can also add weight (like a heavy textbook) to flatten out creased or set seams.

Did you find this information helpful? Share with your friends or download the Quick Reference Fabric Card for your own use!

Sewing Vinyl by Sewing Parts Online

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44 comments

Diane January 18, 2017 at 6:58 am

Hi, , I enjoy your emails/posts. I was wondering though if you wouldn’t mind adding the recommended needle sizes for various projects to your downloadable reference cards?

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Sarah January 18, 2017 at 9:53 am

Hi! We have a flowchart that shows the recommended needle size here: http://www.sewingpartsonline.com/blog/finding-perfect-sewing-machine-needle-infographic/

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Casey July 2, 2016 at 12:37 pm

Hi!
Some great tips here, but I’m also wondering how you could make the edge of a circular vinyl piece lay and stay flat, once the piece has been turned right side out?? The vinyl and pvc can’t seem (ha-ha) to keep the circular shape, always creating short straight edges.
I’ve tried a few things, but any suggestions are greatly appreciated!
Thanks so much!

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Ellen July 6, 2016 at 10:05 am

Hello Casey

Sewing curves can be very tricky! I found a article that has a lot of great tips and pictures that should help you sew a smooth curve. They’re using cotton in the article but the same techniques should apply (minus the ironing bit because you’re using vinyl). Here you go: http://www.sew4home.com/tips-resources/sewing-tips-tricks/sewing-smooth-curves-every-time

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Nataja Zanelle November 5, 2016 at 4:20 pm

Awesome read! Really helped for my newest sewing project

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Angel B. November 2, 2015 at 8:45 am

Great info, I needed it. I only do hand stitching and I am attempting to repair a vinyl “VersaFit log” that is weighted and used for working out. The tear is at the load bearing handle, so I hope I can fix it without a machine. Perhaps patches are needed after the repair to reinforce?

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Sarah November 2, 2015 at 12:59 pm

A patch would probably be a good idea to provide some extra stability.

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Dottie October 9, 2015 at 2:23 pm

This was wonderful information. Thank you very much.

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Katy Habib September 18, 2015 at 4:07 pm

thank you for the info. we have a signage company and i have to sew banners. i have a industrial machine. This information is going to be a great help

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Simplicity 2600 in Faux Leather | Artistic Musings June 5, 2015 at 9:39 am

[…] when sewing and a denim universal needle so it could puncture through the fabric. This post by Sewing Parts Online was so […]

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sherry liest June 3, 2015 at 12:56 am

Thanks to everyone I have the info I need to make a large vinyl “window/door” for a grandchild’s stuffed animal bean bag. This is a neat storage for stuffed animals & she can pèek in or swap out her favs & use the bean bag as a seat.

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Mitzi May 22, 2015 at 6:53 am

Outdoor fabric was too costly, so I got the idea to make the awning using polyester shower curtain liners. I found some white ones online that were 72″ x 96″ and bought two, so the fabric cost was less than $23.00. I tweaked the design a bit, cut it out (the right size this time) and sewed it together yesterday. MUCH easier to sew and it should repel rain… after all, what is rain but a big outdoor shower! After I put it out there, I will take a picture and attempt to post it on your facebook site.

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Sarah May 22, 2015 at 8:06 am

What a clever idea!!! I can’t wait to see it!

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Mitzi May 3, 2015 at 2:39 pm

Well, PHOOEY. The vinyl is simply too thin.. Even adding fabric strips at the seams didn’t stop a few other places from pulling apart. My design was not stable enough, either.. The awning sagged too much. I did get some of that McNett seam sealer and applied it but, since I won’t be using the vinyl awning, I don’t know if the seam sealer would have worked or not. I will have to tweak my design and make it with outdoor fabric instead. Back to the drawing board and sewing machine!!!!!

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Sarah May 5, 2015 at 2:33 pm

Oh no! I’m so sorry it didn’t work. But good for you for getting back at it! You will make it work!

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Mitzi April 21, 2015 at 1:29 pm

I finished sewing the awning and did a dry run last Saturday only to discover that the front to back length was about 3″ too short. AAARRRRGGGGHHHhhh! After taking it down, I discovered one seam had ripped open a few inches (from the stress of not fitting right), even though I had reinforced it. Instead of adding more vinyl, I decided to add a piece of outdoor fabric (which is what I used for the reinforcing strips) at the top to increase the depth of the awning and make the pipe sleeve more flexible because I discovered that the vinyl had developed pinholes at the crinkles from inserting the pipe thru the top sleeve. So all is repaired and I am waiting for a warmer and less windy day to try putting it up again. Sounds like a good idea to seal the seams. Can you tell me the name of the sealant and if it would plug up any small pin holes that developed from the crinkles while sewing? I also need some ideas as to how to repair the ripped seam. I would like to show you a picture when it is all finished and up. How do I post a photo?

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Sarah April 23, 2015 at 8:14 am

Hi again! I’m sorry you encounter some problem, but I suppose that’s why sewing is an adventure! I did some research and have heard great things about McNeet Outdoor Seamgrip.

I just found out we can’t post photos in comments, but if you get a chance, would you send me a photo to my email (sarah@sewingpartsonline.com) – I LOVE outdoor sewing projects and would love to see what you did!

Good luck! Stay positive!

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Mitzi March 27, 2015 at 6:33 am

Correction: My machine goes to 6 stitches per inch so that is what I am using. The house is cold so the vinyl is really stiff and the size is bulky to work with, but it is going together fairly well. I anticipate being done with it today, but I won’t be able to put it up until we have a warm day again.

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Sarah March 27, 2015 at 10:38 am

The bulk is definitely hard to work with. I made a vinyl grill cover and the hardest part was supporting all the weight of the fabric while I sewed.

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Mitzi March 26, 2015 at 9:21 am

I am making a vinyl “roof” to provide some shade and a bit of rain protection for a small deck (approx. 8×6 feet). The vinyl is fairly lightweight, but I plan to support it well by adding sleeves for PVC pipes to reduce sagging or ponding from rainwater. I will be using polyester thread rated “Outdoor”. I have a Singer sewing machine and the stitches are “per inch”. I do not know how to compare this to a stitch length of “3”, but the longest stitch I can sew is about 8 per inch. After reading about the hanging weight of the shower curtain, I think I might also need to add strips of outdoor-type fabric to the seams just to be on the safe side. I hope one fabric strip per seam will be enough. I plan to sew the seams 1″ in from the edge of the vinyl. I hope this all sounds reasonable. Wish me luck!

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Sarah March 27, 2015 at 10:36 am

It sounds like a GREAT idea! Love the idea of using PVC pipes for support! You definitely want to stabilizer those seams with outdoor fabric. When its all finish, you can even use outdoor sealant (found at home depot/Lowes) to really protect those stitches. I’d love to see a picture when you finished – Good Luck!

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June Thornton February 16, 2015 at 3:18 am

This is a helpful site. II am going to repair a jucuzzi topper. I make alterations and seamstress for people. Now and then I get a request for a repair I am not to sure of. How do II set up heavy thread in my bobbin? What do II do to the tension and presser foot pressure settings?

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Sarah February 18, 2015 at 2:17 pm

Hi June! To use heavy thread in your bobbin, you’ll need to loosen the bobbin tension screw, which is located on the bobbin holder. Your presser foot pressure adjustment depends on the thickness of the material you are sewing. If you are sewing thick material (I’m assuming you are given the heavy thread), then you want to reduce your presser foot pressure dial.

I hope that helps. Please let me know if I can help with anything else. Good Luck!

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Carolyn November 20, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Thanks for the tips. I am attempting to make a clear vinyl curtan panel, although I’m worried about the hanging weight. Any advice you can give would be appreciated. Thanks.

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Sarah November 28, 2014 at 8:35 am

Wow – that sounds awesome! If you get a chance, I’d love to see a picture of the finished project!
Because of the extra weight, I would definitely stabilize the seam with a strip of muslin. Are you inserting grommets or making a tunnel for the curtain rod?

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Michele White September 29, 2014 at 12:35 am

Thanks for the info. I make bibs for my grand daughter out of what I think is oil cloth. I will try walling for and bigger stitch.

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virginia Walker September 24, 2014 at 5:40 pm

Thanks so much I am attemping to make a clear vinyl purse/backpack wish me luck.

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Geraldine September 18, 2014 at 4:00 pm

This was very helpful. I knew I needed to enlarge my stitches but was not sure by how much so this was great info. also was told I could use regular poly thread but will purchase a heavier one now as my project will have lots of stress on the seams. I am attempting to make a football tackling dummy for a 9 year old grandson. Thank you so much for your wisdom.

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Sarah September 19, 2014 at 11:43 am

I’m so glad we were able to help! And good luck with the football tackling dummy – that sounds AWESOME! We would love to see a picture when you are finished – first time I’ve ever heard of a homemade version!

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Connie March 25, 2014 at 9:55 am

How do get leather to glide across sewing plate? I find that it sticks

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Sarah March 29, 2014 at 2:30 pm

With some good old fashion scotch tape. Cover the plate with some scotch tape and the leather will slide right over it.

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nyx August 19, 2016 at 2:36 pm

Wow! I was already in awe of the helpfulness of your article, and now this tape trick for leather. thank you!!!

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mohini das October 15, 2013 at 12:54 pm

I am looking for a company/contractor that can sew spandex to Teflon or vice versa.
Any ideas where I should begin my search?
thank you

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Sarah October 17, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Hi! You should check out your local sewing supply/fabric store. The cutting counter usually has a list of seamstresses for contract sewing work.

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Brenda Baird September 22, 2013 at 10:04 am

Good informative website. Sarah is very competent and complete.

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Sarah September 23, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Hi Ms. Brenda! Thank you so much for your kind words!

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Karen September 19, 2013 at 8:24 pm

I just recently bought some “faux leather” to make a purse. This was the kind of information I was in need of before I started. Thanks so much!

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Sarah September 20, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Glad we could help – and good luck with the purse! Are you using a pattern or drafting your own?

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Lindielee August 16, 2013 at 11:04 am

Thank you! This is exactly what I was looking for.

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Sarah August 16, 2013 at 11:54 am

You’re welcome! Glad the information was helpful!

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Donna August 25, 2014 at 8:22 pm

Perfect! Just what I was looking for. Thank you!

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Sarah August 26, 2014 at 10:11 am

Glad to help! Thanks for stopping by!

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jerilynn December 7, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Thank you so much for the information I needed, such as, needle size and stitch length which most sites don’t mention. Very helpful! Blessings, JL

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