Let’s Go Vegan: DIY Faux Leather


A few posts ago, I posted an update to my original tutorial on making leather doll fashion. I assumed some of you might not have access to stores selling leather or even its vinyl or pleather look-alikes, which is why I included a few online resources. And while that provided a solution, the truth is, it is still difficult to find more than three colors: black, brown and...if you are lucky...tan. While preparing the report for our Milan Fashion Week report I needed a specific color of leather that was not immediately within my reach. That’s when I decided to try out a craft technique I found for  for DIY (Do It Yourself) faux leather...otherwise known as “Vegan Leather.”

The technique for creating it involves painting layers of acrylic paint on fabric. On some sites, there were comments questioning the interest in making such a thing especially given the cheap price of vinyl. And yes, if you have access to glove weight leather or vinyl, or if you are selling your creations, this project might not be of interest to you at all. But if you are keeping up with the trends and your budget is limited...or if you simply have limited access to the desired materials in the color of your choice...or perhaps you are vegan...this tutorial wproposes a creative solution.

Full disclosure: While the end result of this technique approaches the look of the real skin, it lacks the buttery touch of leather and tends to be a bit brittle. However, there are numerous advantages to making your own “leather.” First of all, you have control of the weight and color and can create the exact quantity of material needed. The cost is very small. Sewing it is easier on your sewing machine than real skins, and you can have lots of fun experimenting with the surface texture; you can decorate it with painted designs or even manipulate it to create pretty embellishments! 

MATERIALS NEEDED
To transform fabric into “leather” you will need lightweight fabric, acrylic paint, a sponge brush and paper towels. 

FABRIC

The fabric you choose is a factor in how supple or stiff your “leather” will be. Stay away from heavy cottons, canvas, duck, linens, unless you are making accessories like hats or handbags. On the other hand, for articles of clothing, I found that lining materials: lightweight polyester, acetate, habitai silk, are the best. They have structure but, unlike cotton, their surfaces are slick enough to hide most of the grain. You can choose a similar color to the one you will be painting. It is interesting to work within the depths of the tone, however the paint you will be using covers well so it really doesn’t make a huge difference in the end. Nonetheless, I found it best to start with a dark tone (like black) if your “leather” will be dark.

PAINT

You have a choice between using a good grade of artists’ acrylic paint or latex acrylic house paint. Both are water soluable and cleanup is easy. I made the Fendi dress (above) using a brush and Windsor Newton artist acrylics which is easy to work with and is somewhat supple when dry. However, my end result was a bit shinier than I wanted which prompted me to experiment with acrylic latex paint (satin finish). Some stores sell tiny “tester” containers (50ml) of paint for a couple euros or dollars. With latex paint, I got the look and sheen I wanted, but the end result—depending on the color--tended to be a little brittle. Strangely, the black was more supple than the beige! The garments I made with the black latex paint were nearly identical in appearance to those made from real leather! But I highly recommend you experiment, experiment, experiment to get just the look you are going for.

BRUSHES

The problem with traditional brushes is that later on, the brush strokes are noticeable and you must work hard to rub them into the fabric. A sponge brush better conceals the fabric grain and distributes the paint more evenly. You will still need a soft rag or paper towels to rub the paint into the fabric. 
(1) You can use a brush, but the strokes might show. (2) Sponge brush is better; dilute paint with a little water; (3) brush on even layer (4) use a soft rag or paper towel to work paint into the fabric; (5) the end result using Windsor Newton acrylic paint and a brush.

TECHNIQUE

1. Begin by protecting the surface of your work area with plastic.

2. Next, be sure to iron your fabric before you begin because the paint will not hide any creases or wrinkles! (photo a)

3. If you are using artists’ acrylics from tubes, squeeze out a little and mix with a little water to obtain a fluid consistency (photo 2 above). Moisten your sponge brush. If you are using latex acrylics (house paint) moisten the sponge brush or roller just a little and squirt a little paint onto the brush. Brush your first layer of paint into the fabric.

4.  Brush the paint from side to side (photo b), then top to bottom (photo c) until the surface is well covered and the paint has been worked into the fibers of the fabric. Because the paint is wet, your fabric will also be wet. When you are finished painting be sure to lift it up from the plastic protection and place it on another surface (parchment or waxed paper for example) so that it can dry.

5. Let the fabric completely dry. This is, after all, the foundation layer.

6. When dry, paint an undiluted layer of paint evenly across the surface—side to side, top to bottom. (photos b, c) With a soft rag or paper towel, rub the paint into the fabric (photo d). Let dry.

7. Paint a third (last) layer of paint onto the fabric (photos b,c). Note: three layers of paint seem ideal. Two layers is not sufficient to cover the fabric properly and more than three will greatly stiffen the end result.

8. Let this layer dry slightly. While it is still damp, take your fingers and rub the paint into the fabric (photo e), moving in all directions (photo f). This will add a certain patina to the surface, replicating that of real leather.


TIPS

As with leather—keep your design and pattern simple. Sewing this material is pretty straight forward, but the tricky part is when you have to turn sections of the garment (like sleeves, or paint legs) right side out. I have not yet made anything requiring this. However, should I encounter problems, I would probably give the fabric the first coat of paint. Let dry. Assemble the garment. Stuff the sleeve or leg with plastic, then carefully apply the two layers of paint afterwards. Again, I haven’t tried this out, so this is only a thought. I will post an update later to this page.

Don’t iron directly on painted areas. If you must, iron the material face down on a piece of cotton and place a pressing cloth on top to protect your iron. 

You can hand sew your “leather” but you will need to wear a thimble as you are now sewing through paint! Be sure to knot the thread at the beginning and the end of each row of stitching.

Unless you are lining your garment, you do not have to turn down the edges or hem. The paint has saturated the fabric, thus sealing off the fibers. In short, you can get away with cut edges!

One last thing...this is unchartered territory in terms of interaction between the paint and the doll’s skin. When working with dark or bright colors, it is recommended you line the garment!


Have fun with this. There really are no rules except to be as creative as you want to be! Feel free to gather, pleat or even create little medallions to embellish your garment. You are, after all, still working with....fabric!

P.S. I used Velcro to close the garments.

One thing I noticed while working with my “leather” is that it can be cut into fringe (without fraying) just like the real thing.

Have fun experimenting with the base fabric. Paint over quilted or textured surfaces. The end result may not resemble anything you have ever seen, but you might just stumble upon a really interesting look! One thing you should avoid—painting over plastic. I tried painting over plastic bags and wrappings. Though the black paint held up better than the beige, the paint will eventually flake or peel off. 

That said....I admit not listening to my own advice. Just for fun I made this kimono jacket out of painted bubble wrap!!!

All photos and text property of Fashion Doll Stylist. 2018. Please request permission and credit us prior to reproducing. Thank you.

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