Apparel Application

When purchasing skins for apparel applications, one yard of 54-inch fabric would roughly translate to 13 square feet of leather.  One yard of 36-inch fabric would equate to approximately nine square feet of leather.  Because leather is a natural product, approximately five to ten percent extra should be allowed for any natural imperfections (Sterlacci, 1997). 

American alligator hides are measured in centimeters across the widest part of the hide and generally priced per centimeter.  In addition, American alligator leather requires some matching of the tiles or scales because the tiles vary in size on each skin and from hide to hide.  The large alligators have larger tiles.  The farm-raised alligator typically range from four to five feet and have smaller tiles.  The belly and tail tiles are usually the largest with smaller ones on the sides.

Factors to consider when selecting skins for apparel applications

  • Garment-finished American alligator is recommended for all apparel applications
  • Small pattern pieces fit together more economically on the skin and result in less waste
  • When large garment components must be seamed together because they do not fit on one skin, make the seams part of the design

Cutting and Matching Skin

Although there is not grain line, leather is usually stronger along the length of the animal.  In planning a garment from America alligator hides, the placement of the pattern on each hide is critical.  For example, if there is a seam at center front, the tiles must be matched as closely as possible.  Since skins are usually long and narrow, it is difficult to fit wide pattern pieces on them.  The design and style lines of the garment must be considered.  On a jacket, for example, a two-piece set-in sleeve is easier to fit on a skin than a one-piece sleeve.  The size of the tile must also be considered in terms of where it is placed on the garment or garment component.  The right side of the skin should always face up so that matching can be checked as pieces are laid out.

Because of the necessity to match skins, cutting must be done on a single ply.  Pattern pieces that have a fold in them should be mirrored to create a full piece.  Heavy-duty shears or a leather knife may be used to cut the leather.  When using a knife, a wooden leather-cutting board should be used.  Each pattern piece should be traced onto the right side of the skin, along with any necessary markings.  All marking is done on the skin with chalk or a colored marker (Brenne, Sept/Oct. 2000).

American alligator leather can be used in almost any apparel application from outerwear to sportswear and accessories.


Standard industry seam allowances are used:  one inch fro straight seams and 1/4 inch for curved seams.  Because of the nature of the leather, it is easier to mark around each pattern piece, remove the pattern, and then cut the leather.  A lining conceals the wrong side of the skin and enhances the aesthetic appeal as well as the comfort of leather garments.

Needles designed to sew on leather should be used because they have a point that pierces the leather more easily (Guide to Leather-stitching Techniques).  The fit of garments must be carefully checked because it is very difficult to alter seam lines once they have been sewn.  Since the leather is thicker than most conventional textile materials, a Teflon walking foot on the machine will help layers feed evenly.  Stitches should be slightly longer than normal because too many holes from the needle can weaken the leather.  Seams that will be enclosed or crossed with another row of stitching can be backstitched.  Other seams should be secured with a knot. 

On particularly thick seams where there are several layers, the machine may skip some stitches.  Using a light industrial machine will help avoid that problem.  Alligator leather is often too thick in some instances for plain seams.  Lapped seams produce a more pleasing appearance without having too much bulk on the wrong side.

Quality of Workmanship

Good quality seams on American alligator are edge and top stitched to make them smooth and flat.  Since alligator leather can be somewhat thick, rolled edges may not be the best finish.  If seam allowances are opened, they should be glued and stitched for a smooth finish.  An industrial glue made specifically for leather can be used to adhere seam allowances to the garment.  This will prevent the seam allowances from creating bulk.  Using a mallet to pound seams open will help flatten them and create a smooth finish.

Quality leather apparel products will have skived edges (seam allowances are shaved so that they are thinner than the body of the garment) for smooth, flat seams.  In order to create apparel products with a professional appearance, removal of all bulk on seam allowances and enclosed seams is essential.  Curved seams must be clipped to allow the seams to flatten.  Hems may also be skived and glued or top and edge stitched.  Cold tape should be used to prevent the leather from stretching; it also serves as reinforcement on seams that will be stressed when the apparel is worn.  Fasteners should be completely concealed and flat.

Workmanship on alligator leather apparel products should be the highest quality, with straight seams and the appropriate stitching and thread.  In general approximately 8-10 stitches per inch should be used.  Overall, the appearance should be one of smooth, flat seams.