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I'm planning to sew a costume based on a character who is wearing what appears to be a leather duster. I'm trying to pinpoint what fabric to use, as leather is expensive and I can't afford to buy enough at a time to make a full jacket. I'm considering other options such as upholstery vinyl, but it doesn't have the same weight and looks visibly thin when it drapes or folds (maybe backing it with interfacing would work....? I haven't worked extensively with interfacing.)

What alternatives to leather are there? I'm looking for options less than $15/yard, give or take, that closely mimic the texture and weight of real leather.

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Waxed cotton has the weight and drape. Here's a wiki link https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waxed_cotton

Another benefit to waxed cotton is its ability to "heal". Once punctured leather, pleather, and vinyl will keep that hole. Also waxed cotton would be great as your mockup so you can tailor and make adjustments.

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Check your local thrift and goodwill stores. You might be able to find a suitable sized duster which only needs a little repair, some leather treatment or a good cleaning to fill the bill.

If not, you might find a larger sized leather (or leather-like) garment from which you can harvest enough quality leather to make your costume.

If not even that, you might find multiple smaller garments, each of which can provide some of the leather(-like) fabric that you need.

When all else fails, the back panel of even a beat up leather coach will usually be in better shape that the rest of it.

  • This is how I collected real leather for my book bindings. – Matt Nov 6 '17 at 17:56
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Bonded leather comes to mind.

Bonded leather is made by shredding leather scraps and leather fiber, then mixing it with bonding materials. The mixture is next extruded onto a fiber cloth, or paper backing, and the surface is usually embossed with a leather-like texture or grain.

From wikipedia

This is already used in clothing, accessories, upholstery etc. In its basic form it is particles of real leather glued together. Generally is pretty cheap.

Since you can make this have a feel and texture similar to real leather it would be a good choice depending on what you are ultimately going for. They would come in a wide variety of colours and texture depending on supplier availability. Keep in mind that thinner bonded leathers can tear easy from sewing at the seems and are usually backed with some cloth like material to help with the hold.

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There is a paper/synthetics mix out there which is advertised as vegan leather (I'm sorry, I wasn't able to find this in English). You can wash, iron and sew it, as well as paint on it and iron pictures on it. I worked with it and I have to say it is quite hard and sturdy, but I only washed it at 30°C and did not wrinkle it very well. It has a leathery look and comes in different colors, but the product from snappap is a bit expensive. There might be cheaper alternatives from other companies though.

This might not be the right material for clothing, but for small leather like applications it's suitable.

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Fake leather (AKA 'pleather') is widely available in your chosen price range, and the weight and texture are (as you'd expect) pretty close. Fake leather isn't nearly as strong as the real thing, but for a coat this shouldn't be an issue.

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Check out this seller's items on eBay - numerous choices of "faux leather for costumes," etc.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Black-Matte-Pleather-Faux-Leather-Stretch-Polyester-Lycra-Spandex-Fabric-BTY/222687551531?hash=item33d936602b:g:NMMAAOSwXeJYJOBl:sc:USPSPriority!92602!US!-1

The fabric in this link looks very supple and drapes well - it comes in black and brown and the price is right, $6.99 a yard, and shipping is only $3.50.

A major feature of this (and most) faux leather yardage is that the fabrics are typically 60" wide. You'll need much less total yardage with this wide width because faux leather typically doesn't have a grain, you can cut your pattern in any orientation.

Real leather is actually quite stiff and doesn't drape nicely - unless it is suede or lambskin which are both super expensive.

Since you say you are making a costume, I assume it won't be worn everyday (but you never know!), so I wouldn't go to the trouble to try and retrofit a used leather garment or piece things together. Real leather is difficult to sew, either by hand or by machine, and as it ages it gets quite stiff.

Faux leather - as others have indicated - is also an ethical alternative to real leather and you can rest easy knowing that only two or three Polyesters were sacrificed for your costume.

Note: be sure to practice on a test swatch before you start sewing your actual garment. That will help you get your technique down and let you get a feel for how the fabric handles.

Good luck! Sounds like a cool project.

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