How To Upcycle Leather Jacket – Eco Fashion Sewing

How To Upcycle Leather Jacket

By Mariana Kirova

There are 4 steps to refashion your small leather jacket or vest by adding small skinny jeans:

  1. Extend the jacket by adding a panel at the front (add 5cm for one size up width-wise)
  2. Make sleeves from colour matching skinny jeans legs
  3. Make a collar from the waistband of the jeans to improve the design
  4. Finish off with accents of self-covered buttons, binding worn out edges or else to lift up your upcycle leather jacket project.

Follow the design details in this article to see how I've done it, the best one I'm so happy with so far. I love the flower skinny jeans turned into sleeves! No way I could've got into those size 8 as pants, but they are stunning combo for the black leather as sleeves!

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Reworked Leather Jacket by Eco Fashion Sewing

It is very exciting for me because this upcycle is my first artwear project published in my favourite US magazine Altered Couture - in the winter issue 2018 (published Nov 2017). This was one of the couple big happenings for me as a fashion upcycler in 2017 - 2018.

I thought if I put this article together it might inspire you to tackle leather (which is not that hard as you think).

This is not the published article from the magazine, however, here you'll find more details, information on the materials, the design and plenty of photos.

The Final Look

Combined with small size skinny jeans that I thrifted a year ago for a couple of bucks, my old leather jacket looks more beautiful than ever! I love it, it's like a boutique designer wear. :)

If you think leather is too far advanced for your sewing skills, think again. Regardless my sewing experience, I haven’t done many leather transformations and continue to 'learn on the go'. Below are the details of this old leather jacket refashion.


  • Soft leather jacket or coat is the best choice for the leather material. Charity and op-shops offer plenty of it. You can sew it on a domestic sewing machine easy. For this reworked leather jacket I used the leftover body of an old leather jacket of mine, with no sleeves or a zipper.
  • Any small size skinny jeans of your taste would be good for the sleeves. If possible, look for natural material, rather than blends or synthetic polyesters (mine was lightweight twill cotton, great on the skin). Test whether the legs fit your arm up to the shoulder before buying. It would be good to check the bargains on the sale rack, you know it is the best spot to source for cheap items that don't sell (small sizes rarely fit anyone, so lots available).

Additional Supplies

  • Front panel with buttons from a leather coat or jacket
  • Buttons: self-covered (for the front closure); and same number 2-/4-hole small plastic (for inside the closure)
  • Snap fasteners (or bra-strap-holding snap accessory)
  • Basic sewing supplies – sewing machine, snips, scissors, etc.
  • Specialty sewing supplies – leather non-stick or Teflon presser foot; leather sewing needle size 90/14 or 100/16; upholstery polyester thread
  • Optional: leather glue (variety of brands); dress form
Some supplies used in the project
Some supplies used in the project

The Design

Refashioning a leather jacket takes time to do, so it is worth to think of a piece that will suit most colours of your wardrobe pieces.

I've chosen black-grey-white colour scheme (aka achromatic). It is easy to find black leather and goes with almost anything. If you choose to combine another base colour, try to match that colour in the sleeves. If the sleeves are multi-colour, one of them should be the same as the base.

A floral print will make the black leather jacket more special and will soften the material by adding femininity. Sharper print will add sophistication, blurred will create more artistic kind of style.

So, don't feel restricted. Add any other pattern or colours of your choice (not just flowers).

The design is equally important, as is the quality of sewing to finish it off. So, play around and see how the different print will change the style and choose the best one you like.

Make big ECO impact in 3 easy steps: 1) Use what you already have, 2) Buy only local, 3) Buy only second hand. Enjoy your guilt-free making!

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Sewing Level

We all face sometime the thought “But I’m not at that sewing level yet!”. The reality is that this only leads to NO action. As so many other things, with sewing, the only way to learn how to do it is by doing it (insightful, ah?).

Therefore, believe in yourself. If you already have some sewing projects behind you, then you are totally ready to tackle leather! Take this inspiration and don't look back.

Reworked Leather Jacket Details

The Front Panel

Working with black will give you plenty of options to source good soft leather material. In my case, the leftover front of a woman leather suit coat I kept for a while was now exactly what I needed. I used the buttonhole side of the front to upsize the small jacket and extend.

For each one size up – add across horizontally about 5cm (2in). Or put the jacket on and measure at the bust, waist, and hem to ensure correct width of the panel. Add another 2cm (3/4in) for seam allowance too. Or use a zipper closure instead, if that's in your stash. Both closures should work.

Extending only the front of a small garment is by no means something they’ll teach you in the fashion school.

But, in my opinion, upcycling clothes should be easier. Thus, more people will be able to do it and enjoy making clothing. Therefore, if an idea of a design looks great on you, ignore the rules and do the best you can to make it.

The Sleeves

Use the old sleeves or other similar to trace around. You can also make the sleeve head by using the armhole of the body as in this project (some setting in the sleeve info there as well).

To ensure sleeves sit properly attach them temporary (preferably with a leather tape or just a few pins) and put on the dressmaker stand.

The sleeve is set correctly when curves very slightly towards centre front. At the end, the idea is your arm to move freely along and bend in front of your body, right? Hopefully, that makes sense and explains what I mean by 'properly' and 'correctly'.

There is no need of lining inside the sleeve. For a clean finish, I overlocked/serged the lining armhole, and then hand stitched to the leather armscye seam allowance to hold in place.

Gathered or with a folded hem, I finished off the sleeve by adding a leather tab. For seamless look first I stitched the snap on the right side of the tab, and then just folded and glued the end.

In fashion, the beauty is in the eye of the viewer. Natalie Chanin, founder of Alabama Chanin

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The Accents

Some accents on the body made from the sleeve material will give a complete and stylish look.

Use 4 strands of upholstery thread to attach the self-covered buttons. Sew them with just a few stitches and back up with 2- or 4-hole plastic buttons. That will prevent cuts in the leather from the thread.

You can cover worn out edges with bias binding made from the sleeve material and make it an intentional feature.


I had some great questions from Lisa who wrote to congratulate me and asked:

"One feature that I hope you can shed some light on is the 'bias tape' edge covering down the jacket front. Did you do a true bias-tape binding*, or just a strip of fabric?

How did you make it from the skinny jeans? How did you stitch it to the jacket, since there are many layers and it's quite thick there?"

*true bias tape is cut on 45 degree angle to the fabric salvage. That gives a good stretch even when the fabric doesn't have any.

Here's my reply:

You are right, skinny jeans don’t have much of a material. In this case instead of making true bias I used strips cut across the waist area. Because the good part of using skinny jeans is that they have good stretch in them (across, i.e. exactly where I needed it). That replaced the need of cutting true bias.

The jeans were also quite light and thin comparing to other jeans twill. To go over the layers I used thicker leather machine needle. Also, I went real slow. Many times where were a lot of folds on the seam I went by hand with the hand wheel of the machine (I might have had a needle or two broken though). Leather machine foot also helped to prevent leather sticking out while sewn (check 'Materials' above).

The Collar

The challenge to incorporate as much as possible leftovers of the skinny jeans led to making a decorative collar from the belt-waist part (this is what I meant 'on the go':).

To make it more versatile I made it detachable by using bra strap-holding snaps from my stash (you can find them in craft stores). Stitched them on the inside of the collar (the off-cut belt piece). And on the jacket I sewed chain loops. Loops are easy to attach to the seam thread of the jacket where the collar meets the main back pattern piece. It is easier and does not poke the leather avoiding any unnecessary holes.

Of course, the collar can be left loose, without sewing snaps and loops. Just make sure it won’t be lost when you take off the jacket.

The reworked jacket without the collar

The reworked jacket with the collar

Some Useful Links At The End

I hope this project will be that extra bit you need to start your own. Below are included some other links that might be useful.

Look inside or order Altered Couture magazine, Winter 2018There is so much inspiration in this magazine. (And don't forget, no inspiration is worth if doesn't lead you to creating yourself!)

If you are dealing with leather that needs freshening up or a good clean, check out the amazingly helpful Top for cleaning thrifted leather from Sheri of the inspiring, packed with great information blog Confessions of a Refashionista (she’s amazing and so eco-conscious!).

Despite made from new leather (please, do not buy new!), I admire the dedication and great results that the creator and founder of Live Free Creative Miranda shares in her leather jacket project. If you think of making a whole leather jacket yourself, her article explains in details the whole process and things she had to overcome. Keep it eco-friendly and instead of buying new leather, thrift it second hand from  the local op-shop or from friends.

Now it is your turn.

Have you ever reworked a leather jacket? If so, what things you had to overcome? Or you just think "I'm not there yet"?

I say: "Get rid of all these not-there-yet thoughts. Take out that leather jacket and enjoy being creative. Today."

Have fun creating from within,


Mariana Kirova

Mariana is passionate about garment upcycling and helping others making their own upcycled clothing. Graduated with Award in garment construction from WAIFT, Perth WA, Mariana is not a main stream eco fashion designer. She makes unique eco-friendly garments from unwanted clothes and materials and believes that small fashion professionals and DIY sewers can embrace sustainability in garment creation, thus changing the fashion world for good.

  • Rebecca says:

    Wow, I love this jacket, and I am so glad I found your blog! I would love for you to check out my latest post, Work Style, featuring Phannatiq. Have a great week!

    • Hope you’ll see the most important things when comes to clothing are the materials and our attitude to create a meaningful wardrobe, Rebecca. Thanks for your comment and good luck with your blogging!

  • Ari says:

    Thank you for this instructable! I’m trying to upsize a leather jacket into a nice vest, and this has helped immensely!

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