Before I started working with leather, I watched videos and tried to understand the process. Every project I watched would inevitably require hand sewing. At the time, I thought I could never do that. However, when I finally began the craft, I realized hand sewing was easier than it looked.
Hand sewing leather is a technique used in leather crafts to bond pieces of leather together with thread. It requires forming holes in leather with other tools for the needle to pass through the material. Also known as saddle stitching, hand sewing offers added durability by locking the thread.
Hand sewing leather is a staple in leather craft, with various ways to enhance the final look. Let’s look at how to hand sew leather and tips to improve.
What Is Hand Sewing Leather?
Hand sewing leather is a technique used in leather craft to bond pieces of leather using thread permanently. A hole is made before a needle with thread locked onto it passes through, creating the stitching.
Various sewing methods can be used to sew leather by hand, such as a “saddle stitch.” Saddle stitching is the most common type of hand sewing leather. Using two needles and passing through the same hole, a saddle stitch creates a locking effect when pulled to tension.
Saddle stitching is often seen as a more durable stitching method than machines; if one stitch breaks, the second will hold it in place, preventing the thread from unraveling. Sewing leather by hand may be time-consuming, but it allows entry to the craft without needing expensive machinery.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- Reasons You Might Choose to Hand Sew Leather
- Variations or Styles of Hand Sewing Leather
- Hand Sewing Leather Overview Table
- Skill Level of Hand Sewing Leather
- Tools and Supplies Needed for Hand Sewing Leather
- How to Hand Sew Leather Step by Step
- How to Get Better at Hand Sewing Leather
- My Personal Research on Hand Sewing Leather
- Helpful Insights on Hand Sewing Leather
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
A misconception I had when starting to work with leather was hand sewing is too complicated. This idea came from watching others perform the task perfectly and quickly, making the process seem daunting. After speaking to other crafters or showing friends and family my process, they often saw it as complex.
However, I’m glad to say it is much easier than it seems. Hand sewing leather is a part of leather craft you just need to dive into. Improved technique and speed will develop with practice, leading to a nicer final product. My advice for those new to the craft or hesitant about hand sewing is to try the basics. Early attempts may not be flawless, but you will quickly see what you are capable of.
Reasons You Might Choose To Hand Sew Leather
The most common reason to hand sew leather is to create a permanent bond. While glue and other products hold the leather, they are only temporary. Hand sewing leather is a more durable, repairable, and longer-lasting solution. Many may also choose hand sewing to maintain the “handmade” element of the craft.
For hobbyists, the goal is to create leather products using traditional hand tools, making hand sewing one of their only options. For those starting in the craft, hand sewing leather is also very accessible and requires little to no investment. You do not need large, expensive machines.
A hole punch, awl, or chisels, and needles and thread are all you need for sewing. Finally, hand sewing can be used for decoration by creating designs on a leather project. Embroidery can be done anywhere on a project and can add personal flair.
Saddle stitching is often seen as a more durable stitching method than machines; if one stitch breaks, the second will hold it in place, preventing the thread from unraveling.
Variations or Styles of Hand Sewing Leather
The most used method for hand sewing is saddle stitching with no cast. This method uses two needles and a single piece of thread. The needles are pushed through the hole in a repeating pattern. For example, if you start with the back needle going on the bottom, then the front needle passing on top, this pattern will need to remain consistent.
Saddle stitching with consistency will leave a slanted thread on the front side but a straight thread on the back. A more advanced method of hand sewing is saddle stitching with a cast. The process is very similar, with one main difference. After the back needle passes to the front, the thread will be wrapped over the needle once.
When both needles have completed the pass, the wrap will cause a small knot in the hole, forcing the threads to the top and bottom. When done consistently, both the front of the leather and the back will have beautifully slanted stitches.
Hand Sewing Leather Overview Table
|Area of Preparation||Details|
|Technique||Hand Sewing Leather|
|Overall Level of Skill (1-5)||2–4|
|Time to Complete (minutes/hours)||Varies by project|
|Workspace Needed||Work table, or less|
|Skills Needed||Hole punching, needle threading, consistency practice|
|Tools and Supplies Needed||Hole punch, stitching chisels, or awl, as well as needles, and thread|
|Key Helpful Tip||To improve on consistency when sewing leather, keep note of what needle went in first and where|
Skill Level of Hand Sewing Leather
The basics of hand sewing leather is fairly simple. Once the holes are made, the thread must be locked to two needles. A single needle will pass through the first hole, and the thread must be made even by pulling it through. At this point, simply pass the needles through the same hole as you go down the stitching line.
Hand sewing leather can become increasingly more technical as you master the technique, improving consistency and speed and ensuring slanted thread on both sides. Hand sewing has many ways to improve beyond holding pieces of leather together.
A crafter who is well experienced at hand sewing leather will understand how to position the needles properly to create the best stitch. Creating knots within the holes to force the thread into the proper position. While also balancing thread tension to prevent the leather from bunching.
Tools and Supplies Needed for Hand Sewing Leather
One of the most significant benefits of hand sewing leather is the limited amount of tools and supplies needed. The first tool required is something to make holes. Traditionally this is done with an awl blade that pushes through the leather. However, stitching chisels or a hole punch can be used to create holes.
Once holes are made, harness needles, sewing needles with a dull point, and thread are used. The thread used for leather work is different from the normal polyester thread and typically comes waxed. Linen leather thread may require adding wax, as the wax helps lock the thread on the needle and provide durability for the final product.
How to Hand Sew Leather Step by Step
- Make a guide – Hand sewing leather starts with creating holes for the needles to pass through. Draw a guideline or groove into the leather to provide a reference for keeping the holes straight.
- Create holes – Then use an awl, leather chisels, or hole punch to create the holes; each tool has its benefits. To determine the amount of thread necessary, unspool a large amount of thread and place the tip on the first hole.
- Measure thread – Measure the length of all the stitches using the thread by following each hole. Once the end has been reached, multiply the length of the thread by folding it from the endpoint. Depending on the leather thickness, the thread length should be four to six times the length of the sewing holes.
- Place needles – Once the thread has been cut, lock needles onto both ends of the thread.
- Sew – To begin sewing, place one needle through the first hole and pull the thread until they are even. One needle will be on the front, or grain side of the leather, while the other will be on the back or flesh side. From this position, use the back needle to go through the next hole. The front needle will then be pushed through the same hole to avoid piercing the thread already in the hole. Pay close attention to where you place your needle, above or below the thread. Doing so will keep each stitch consistent and create the best final look.
- Place backstitch – Once all the holes have been sewn, a backstitch must be placed. To do so, complete the same sewing method but go backward. There will be more threads to avoid, so take your time. Backstitch two or more holes before finishing your thread.
In this helpful video by Nigel Armitage of Armitage leather, Nigel looks closely at how to hand sew leather. Explaining in depth how each stitch acquires its final look.
How to Get Better at Hand Sewing Leather
The best way to get better at hand sewing is to practice with a goal in mind. In most cases, the goal will be improving consistency. Take note of each action you make and the results. When using a diamond chisel, pay close attention to where the points of the holes are, and consistently place the thread in the same spot.
When practicing, vary the leather you are sewing to get a better feel of the technique. This includes supple, thin, thick, and firm leather. It is also important to practice corners and curves. The technique is the most important skill to improve on.
As sewing becomes second nature, speed will naturally improve. It is better to create the best look slowly than be fast with inconsistencies. Kana Sugimoto and Shin’ya Nagasawa from The Design Journal, An International Journal for All Aspects of Design, discussed the value of hand sewing in fashion brands.
They noted that, while various companies have used the saddle stitching method, Hermès has taken over the luxury bag industry with this method. The company trains artisans to create their bags with flawless saddle stitching throughout. Showing how improving at hand sewing can change the perspective of your product.
My Personal Research on Hand Sewing Leather
As someone very active in the leather craft community, I often see beginners struggle with creating slanted stitching. While most problems come from consistency, one additional issue may be hole shape. Therefore, I tested stitching results using round, diamond-shaped, and french style/ flat holes.
Using round-hole punches is a popular choice for hand sewing leather. The round hole makes passing the needles through the hole effortless. Round holes produce the straightest look since there are no top and bottom to seat the thread into.
My results were the same. Both the front and the backside of the thread were nearly straight. I decided to try casting the thread, which creates a knot within the hole, forcing one thread up and the other down. By doing so, I created a nicely slanted stitch on both sides.
Most crafters will start with diamond-shaped holes, as they are a popular budget choice and more easily found. The hole shape has defined top and bottom points with a wide body that helps the needles pass through more easily.
When sewing diamond-shaped holes without a cast, the front side of the leather slants nicely. However, the back side remains straight. When using the casting method while stitching, both sides end up slanted, much more than the round holes.
French Style/ Flat Holes
Another common option for making holes is the french/ flat style. Instead of creating a large opening, only a small slit is cut into the leather. This makes it more challenging to pass the needle through but leaves no extra space for the thread to sit.
While diamond-shaped and french style both produce a similar final result, the french style offers a steep angle by limiting where the thread can sit. Without a cast, french style holes still only produce a straight line on the backside. When the casting method is used, the final result is the most slanted lines on both the front and back.
The shape of the hole does provide some slight differences when using a casting method for hand sewing. For those looking to create the nicest stitch, I recommend diamond or french style holes.
The round holes fall short in their final look and should be avoided if slanted stitching is desired. While french style holes create the best-slanted look, diamond holes are comparable and are much easier to pass the needles through.
Helpful Insights On Hand Sewing Leather
Do you need to sew leather by hand?
No, sewing leather by hand is not always necessary. Some alternatives are lacing leather, machine sewing, or rivets. For those looking to avoid hand sewing leather, many leather designers provide patterns that do not require sewing.
What kind of needle do you use to hand sew on leather?
The needles recommended for sewing leather are harness needles. Unlike traditional needles, they have a blunt point which helps prevent injury. For needle size, choose the smallest needle that is comfortable to hold. Large needles may stretch the leather very slightly.
Do you need a special needle to sew leather?
No, while harness needles are recommended for sewing leather, any needle with a small eye will work. The benefits of using leather needles are a blunt point, durability, and small eyelets to fit through firm leather. Sewing finger cots can be used when using regular sewing needles to prevent injuries.
What size thread for hand sewing leather?
The size of thread used when hand sewing varies. For small leather goods that don’t require a lot of strength, .4mm–.6mm thread is a common choice. As projects get larger, so will the thread size to ensure durability is present, up to 1.4mm. However, the thread chosen depends on the crafter. There are no rules for thread size, and some may prefer the thickest thread possible.
Is hand stitched leather better?
Hand stitched leather can be better in a few ways. The first is the final look. By hand sewing thread, you have complete control over how the front and back of the finished piece look. Experienced crafters will create flawless slanted stitching on both sides. Hand sewn thread is also more durable. Since saddle stitching intertwines the thread when one stitch breaks, it is held in place instead of unwinding. This also helps when repairing a broken thread, as the area can be targeted without requiring a complete re-sew of the entire project.
- Saddle stitching leather is the common method of hand sewing leather.
- Consistency is the key to making the nicest stitching line possible.
- Hand sewing leather is both accessible in skill and cost.
Hand sewing leather is one of the most recognizable parts of leather working and is a marker for a crafter’s skill. As crafters, we love the heritage and ability to create with our own hands. While it may take time to master, improving hand sewing dramatically enhances the final look of any project.