Sewing with natural fur can be a little intimidating at first but hopefully this quick tutorial will help alleviate some of the anxiety many people feel.
Let’s start with the best tools for the job:
- A sharp knife (I use an x-acto but a box cutter, razor blade, or similar works)
- Strong thread (I use waxed linen or silk buttonhole, depending on the hide)
- Binder or quilting clips
- Marking pen
- Cutting mat
- Triangular leather needle
Here is a close-up of a triangular leather needle. This enables you to pierce the hide easily. For thicker hides it may require using an awl or similar to pre-punch holes.
The first thing to do is create straight edges with the ruler. You can either mark the lines or just cut along the edge of the ruler. It is important to hold the hide taut and use a smooth cutting motion, pressing gently, only going through the hide, not into the fur itself.
The reason to use a knife over scissors is to reduce damage to the fur. These pictures show the difference in loose fur between using scissors and a blade.
Now that you have clean edges you need to match the nap so that all the fur is laying the same direction.
Place clips every 3”-4” to prevent shifting. For extra security on long seams you can also make a set of marks on each side about halfway between clips. This provides a visual to make sure things aren’t slipping.
Now you are ready to start joining the pieces!
For thin hides (rabbit, ermine, etc) I use silk buttonhole thread and generally don’t need a thimble. For thicker hides (bear, cow, etc) I use waxed linen thread and a thimble, sometimes even pliers.
My preferred length is about 24” of a single strand and I don’t knot my thread because that can pull through the hide. Instead, I secure the end with the first couple stitches.
The stitch itself is a double whip stitch.
Place the needle about 1/8” from the edge on the backside and pierce through both layers, drawing the thread through until there is a tail of about 2” remaining. Take the needle to the backside again and pass the needle through the same hole again. Take care to not pierce the thread already in the hole.
For this first stitch you will do a simple square knot with your working thread and the tail to secure the end.
Your next stitch starts an 1/8” away from your first and again goes through the same hole twice.
Continue to the end and use square knot through your final stitch to secure the thread. If you need to rethread your needle in the middle of the seam use the same square knot technique as the start to secure the new thread.
A couple things to keep an eye on:
- Make sure your stitches are pulled tight to avoid gapping but not so tight that the hides scrunch up
- Use your needle to push any stray hairs back between the layers as you go
- Remember to double check your alignment lines to keep the pieces even
When you are finished sewing gently pull the pieces apart to flatten the seam. Sometimes it needs a little rubbing and fiddling to lay flat.
Brush the fur to get it all laying in the same direction and you are ready to use it!
When applying to fabric you can sew it directly on with the same double whip stitch using binding clips to hold everything in place. I use a regular sharp sewing needle for this as a leather needle will cut the fibers of the fabric. When working with thicker hides it may be necessary to use an awl to pre-punch the hide.
Make sure you fold any raw fabric edges under to avoid fraying but there is no need to fold the fur under. In fact, folding the fur leaves a bulky line that doesn’t lay properly.
Here the video I created for this tutorial: https://youtu.be/0GU3BnZQWqI