Learning how to sew is a cornerstone when working with leather. When I first learned how to sew on leather, it opened the door for any project. Over time, I have only improved, gradually building confidence to become the crafter I am today, tackling new projects that set the groundwork for all my future projects.
Sewing on leather is the process of creating a strong bond between pieces of leather. By using thread to intertwine between the pieces, the leather is forced together. Sewing leather can be done by hand using various hole-making tools or with a strong sewing machine — both with their pros and cons.
Learning to sew on leather can quickly expand the number of projects a crafter may tackle. Let’s cover this fundamental technique and how to apply it in projects.
What Is Sewing on Leather?
Sewing on leather is a method used to create a strong bond between leather pieces. Often done by hand, sewing on leather is critical to creating various projects. Hole punches, awls, or stitching chisels will be used to pierce pilot holes, allowing harness needles and thread to pass through with little resistance.
Hand-sewing leather is more cost-effective and accessible but will be much slower than a sewing machine. Sewing machines may always be used for sewing on leather. Heavy-duty or industrial machines may be required to pierce through the durable material, making the initial investment cost much higher.
However, with sewing machines completing projects in a fraction of the time, they may quickly prove their worth. Both methods for sewing on leather accomplish the same goal of bonding pieces together with thread, with no single method being better than the other.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- Reasons You Might Choose To Sew on Leather
- Variations or Styles of Sewing on Leather
- How To Sew on Leather Overview Table
- Skill Level of Sewing on Leather
- Tools and Supplies Needed To Sew on Leather
- How To Sew on Leather Step-by-Step
- How To Get Better at Sewing on Leather
- My Personal Research on How To Sew on Leather
- Helpful Insights on How To Sew on Leather
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
Sewing on leather is often seen as a difficult task for newcomers. When I first started leathercrafting, I also had this misconception. I started with the wrong tools and needles, pushing me away from the craft. However, when I finally used the proper supplies, the process became more simple.
A lot of the early struggles that many crafters face come from their supplies — dull sewing tools, needles that are too large, and low-quality thread. Having the right tools for the job makes a world of difference when working with leather. Unlike other materials, leather is puncture-resistant and thick.
It requires sharp specialty tools to make proper holes and durable needles with a smaller eye. These changes make it much easier to sew on leather and begin improving in the craft. While the tools used don’t have to be the most expensive, they should be quality enough to make sewing easy.
Reasons You Might Choose To Sew on Leather
The most common reason to sew on leather is to create a bond between pieces. While there are other methods, stitching the leather is the most versatile and often the strongest. Sewing can be done on any leather type and thickness. Sewing on leather does not always have to be for bonding leather together, however.
Another common place sewing may be used is as a decorative element in a project. Many high-quality leather items will have plenty of sewn leather that serves no functional purpose. It may be in the form of embroidery or simply continuing a stitching line for the sake of continuity.
Variations or Styles of Sewing on Leather
Hand or machine sewing are the two most common variations when sewing on leather. Since hand sewing has a lower starting cost and is the most accessible way to sew leather, it is often the most popular. Hand tools, such as a hole punch, sewing awl, or stitching chisels, create holes for the needles to pass through.
A thread connected to two needles will then be pulled through each hole to create the stitch. This is a time-consuming process but does not require any machinery. Sewing machines, on the other hand, are high-investment pieces of equipment but are much quicker, completing projects in a fraction of the time when compared to hand sewing.
In addition, little to no prior work is required to begin sewing on the leather. The sewing machine will simply plunge the needle through like it would other fabrics. Unfortunately, however, not every sewing machine can sew on leather and sometimes requires an industrial sewing machine to pierce through multiple layers of thick leather.
Both methods for sewing on leather accomplish the same goal of bonding pieces together with thread, with no single method being better than the other.
How To Sew on Leather Overview Table
|Area of Preparation||Details|
|Technique||How To Sew on Leather|
|Overall Level of Skill (1–5)||2–5|
|Time to Complete (minutes/hours)||Dependant on the project|
|Workspace Needed||Can be done in a small area, dining table|
|Skills Needed||Hole punching, needle threading, and thread tension management|
|Tools and Supplies Needed||Thread, harness needles, hole punch, stitching chisel, awl, or sewing machine|
|Key Helpful Tip||Practice on scrap leather to become more consistent when sewing on leather|
Skill Level of Sewing on Leather
Sewing on leather is surprisingly easy to start but has an almost endless skill ceiling. To sew leather one must simply make holes and pass thread through them in a repeating order. This within itself is not difficult, but it is more than enough to lock the leather in place properly. Where sewing on leather becomes more difficult is the appearance of the stitching itself.
Most crafters will strive to create a perfectly slanted stitch on both sides, with little to no visible space from the punched holes. As one progresses in the craft, they may have to learn various techniques to further their sewing skills. This may include how they make the holes, the supplies used, and how the thread is knotted before being seated in the holes.
Each detail when sewing on leather plays a large role in the outcome, making the perfect stitch a tough task. It requires a good understanding of how the stitch is made and the proper techniques to create them on any thickness and type of leather.
Tools and Supplies Needed To Sew on Leather
Sewing on leather requires some specialized tools due to the thickness and durability of the material. Here are the essential tools you’ll need for sewing on leather:
- Awl, chisel, hole punch, or sewing machine
- Wing divider
- Punching pad
- Harness needles
This helpful video by Skill Tree teaches how a normal sewing machine may be used to sew some leathers and the necessary modifications and the limitations of domestic machines.
How To Sew on Leather Step by Step
Sewing on leather requires careful preparation and execution due to the material’s thickness and durability. Here are the general steps for sewing on leather:
- Using a wing divider, draw a line from the edge to plan where the holes will be made.
- Pierce through the leather using a hole punch, stitching chisels, or awl.
- Attach two needles to each end of a piece of thread, place one end through a premade hole, and adjust them to an equal length.
- Push one needle through the next hole and pull the thread out of the way. Push the other needle through the same hole on the opposite face of the leather, avoiding the thread.
- Grab both sides of the thread and pull it to tension, seating the thread into the corners of the premade holes to provide a slanted stitch.
How To Get Better at Sewing on Leather
The only way to get better at sewing on leather is to practice. Consistency is key, and understanding how to sew on various types of leather will help develop good habits. To practice, take scrap leather of various types and sew on them. The training focuses on making the stitches look as nice as possible on both sides of the leather.
Using different leathers will provide an idea of how each of them needs to be treated. Firm, thick leathers, for example, may allow for a higher thread tension. While thin, flexible pieces will need a more delicate touch to prevent bunching. Another great way to practice sewing on leather is to mimic tough sewing situations.
Corners, gussets, and hidden stitches will all be a part of the craft. Using scrap leather to practice these areas will make performing them easier on real projects. The more familiar one is with the process needed to create a nice stitch, the better they will be at sewing on leather as a whole.
Dr. Eman Rafat Saad, from the Apparel Design & Technology Department, Faculty of Applied Arts, at Helwan University, in Cairo, Egypt, researched the impacts of seemingly small changes when sewing on leather and found that the required thread tension may quickly change due to things such as the needle shape, thread size, and type — showing how each small part of sewing leather can impact the final look of a stitch.
My Personal Research on How To Sew on Leather
First starting to sew on leather may be daunting for those unfamiliar with the process. To research, I decided to try various small products suggested by the community to see if they felt beneficial, passing along quality information that may make sewing on leather easier for other crafters.
One frustrating part of sewing on leather is having difficulty pulling the needle through the leather. Typically, when this happened, I would take a pair of pliers and pull it through. One suggestion I came across was to use finger cots. Finger cots are latex finger coverings meant to be placed on the thumb and forefinger.
They are made to keep the thread clean and protect the wearer from poking themselves as they work. Since they have a textured grip, some crafters have suggested them for tough sewing areas. To test this, I glued together a few layers of thick, firm leather and made a few holes using my smallest awl blade.
I first tested without the finger cots to see how difficult the sewing would be. I used relatively small needles that passed through the hole easily enough, but I had trouble getting the eye through. Although I did not need pliers, I did find myself stopping to get a better handle on the needle itself.
My first impressions when I put the finger cots on were not positive. They felt restrictive and made it more difficult to feel small objects. I proceeded to test them when sewing and found a much different result. Although I was initially clumsy, the needles stuck to the cots very well. When pushing the needle through, I even felt less pressure on my fingers.
Similarly, pulling the needles through was slightly easier. Instead of slipping off while pulling, the cots help stick to the needle. While it didn’t make the needle pass through any easier, I did not have to readjust to get it through.
When sewing leather together, it is often held in place by glue or tape. However, an adhesive is impractical for those who punch their leather holes in advance. As someone who makes a lot of large projects, nothing is worse than pieces becoming misaligned when sewing. Locking pins are small needles with a cap that holds pieces in place while sewing on leather.
Admittedly, I used a similar solution to locking pins before testing them. I would take extra needles and push them through the holes to help hold everything in place. Locking pins accomplished the same goal but had one big notable difference. Since the pins were locked together, they did not fall out during use and covered the pointed tip.
Overall, they are a simple product but can make hand sewing much easier, especially when sewing large floppy leather or when not using a stitching pony to hold leather in place. While needles can be an okay alternative, the way the pins lock in place ensures the project will not separate when working.
After finishing a sewn leather project, the thread must be locked in place. While there are many ways to accomplish it, the most popular method when using synthetic thread is to burn the ends. Doing so melts the thread into a hard wax that sticks to the leather and is too large to pass through the hole. This is often done with a lighter, potentially leaving marks on the leather if not careful.
A thread zapper uses a small heated tip to accomplish this goal, eliminating the use of fire. The thread zapper I purchased had a retractable tip for safety and had to be held to provide the heat. During my first attempt, I was unable to burn the thread, as I found out the tool needed to heat up before it could melt the thread.
This takes seconds but requires the power switch to be held on until the tip is red. When I tried it again, it worked wonderfully, quickly, and neatly, melting the thread in place. While I preferred the neat wax it created over the light, I felt like the zapper was more difficult to use.
Since the heat is concentrated on a single area, the thread ends had to be cut short. Typically, I like to leave myself a little extra room to work with, as once the thread catches fire it will slowly spread. This smaller end required more accuracy.
The ergonomics of the tool also were not my favorite. The tool was chunky, not allowing my fingertips to guide the heated point like a pencil. While I can see why many people prefer the zapper to finish the thread, to me, it was actually more difficult than using a lighter.
I was mostly pleased after looking at a few of the small products used for sewing on leather. Areas that I thought were fine had room for improvement. These items were designed to help ease the sewing process on leather, and I would say they did. Additional grip, holding an item in place, and having a precise burning tool can really help many people who may struggle with these areas while sewing on leather.
Helpful Insights on How To Sew on Leather
Can you sew leather on a normal sewing machine?
Depending on the strength of the sewing machine and the needle chosen, it may be limited to soft, thin leather, but not much else. Unfortunately, leather quickly becomes too durable and dense when working with thicker pieces, requiring industrial sewing machines to pierce through multiple layers of thick leather.
Can you sew onto leather?
Yes, leather can be sewn in a wide variety of ways. However, it is a more difficult material to work with than other fabrics. Holes must be premade, as the material is too durable to pass needles through. A sewing machine requires both a strong enough machine and sewing needles to pierce through the leather.
How do you sew leather by hand?
Leather can be sewn by hand by creating holes in the leather with a preferred tool. Then, two needles will be attached to a single thread. The needles pass through the premade holes, crossing one another. One needle will be pushed through a hole, and the second will go through the same hole above the thread already seated in the hole. It will then be pulled to tension, finishing off the stitch.
What is the best stitch for sewing leather?
Saddle stitching is often considered the best stitch for sewing leather. This method uses two needles on a single thread and intertwines to lock them in place. This helps with the repairability of a leather item. If a part of the thread were to break, the intertwined thread would lock it in place instead of fully unwinding.
What tools do I need to sew leather?
Hand tools required for sewing leather are a hole maker, needles, and thread. The hole-making tool can be a variety of things. Stitching chisels, awl, or hole punches are common ways to create holes in leather. Chisels and a hole punch will also require a soft hammer and a hard surface to drive the tools through the leather.
Do you need a different needle to sew leather?
Yes, when using a sewing machine, it is important to purchase a leather needle. They are spear-shaped and more durable, allowing them to cut through the leather more easily without breaking. When hand sewing any needle can be used, but specialty harness needles work the best. They have a small eye and blunted tip and are more durable.
Is it better to sew leather by hand or machine?
Both methods of sewing leather have their pros and cons. Sewing by hand can be a great low-cost option that creates an intertwined stitch that will not unwind when broken. On the other hand, a machine is much more expensive but is the most efficient. Typically, smaller projects are sewn by hand, and larger ones with a machine.
- Sewing on leather will require specialty tools or needles.
- Machine sewing is much faster but has a higher investment cost.
- A saddle stitch locks thread together, providing more repairability.
Sewing on leather is one of the most important skills to learn in the craft. With it, almost any project can be tackled. Learning to sew leather may also help convey your talent, showcasing the technique through slanted, consistent stitches, making each project look more professional than the last.
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- How to Make a Leather Belt – 11 Steps From my First Project
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- How to Split Leather – Step by Step Guide to Leather Splitting
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- How To Sew Leather – Techniques and Step-by-Step Approach
- How To Shrink Leather – Options Based on Leather Type
- How To Stretch Leather Boots Easily To Get the Right Fit
- How To Make a Leather Wallet – Steps From a Crafter
- How To Cut Leather – Useful Crafting Methods and Options