Paper leather, also known as washable paper or kraft paper, is in fact not leather at all although the name might indicate otherwise. Paper leather is made using cellulose pulp (from trees) and latex and the advantages of the material are that it looks much like real leather and is water-proof and washable, as well as strong and tear-resistant. It is essentially a vegan alternative to using leather, it is sustainable and ecological. You can make pretty much anything using paper leather, from home decor to handbags and accessories. When making bags, depending on the style, you won’t necessarily need interfacing on the paper leather bag. The material is quite stiff in itself. You can sew it using a normal sewing machine but be aware that as the needle creates holes on the paper leather, it does seem to lose some of its integrity. For instance, if you attach a strap, you might want to reinforce it somehow (e.g. with interfacing) as it can tear. If you are making a backpack or a tote, you can assume that someone might carry heavy things in that bag as opposed to a small crossbody bag. Therefore, the paper leather might tear where you have attached the handles unless you make sure that they are attached with more than a couple of stitch-lines.
If you are, for example, making a tote bag using washable paper, you will first need to cut out the shapes and then you will need to make them wet. You can submerge the paper leather in a bathtub or sink, for instance. Once it is thoroughly wet, crumple the paper with your hands and make it into a ball and twist and turn it in different directions. This step is what creates creases and makes the paper leather look more like genuine leather. It also helps wring out excess water. After this step, gently iron the paper leather to make it easier to sew and to make it less wet. Make sure it is still damp though as this will allow you to shape the bag after you have sewn it. Then, sew the seams on the inside of the bag. It’s best to use a thicker polyester thread and make the stitch-length quite long as the shorter you make it, the more holes you end up having on the paper leather which in turn can compromise the strength of the material. You should sew the bag quite quickly after washing and ironing the paper leather as you don’t want it to be dry. It is much easier to turn the bag when it’s still damp and this is the step you should do right after you have sewn the seams together. Depending on what types of handles you are using, you can attach them before or after sewing the main body of the bag.
Many craft stores sell paper leather although usually in smaller pieces and these may not be suitable for making larger bags or other items. There are also lots of different finishes to paper leather, from smoother to more leather-like textures. A brand that we love is called Texon Vogue and it comes from Germany. Paper leather is a great alternative to real leather and it is a versatile material. It is also practical as you can put it in a washing machine. Give it a go and see how you like it!