When first starting in leathercraft, all the supplies are foreign. To sew, I purchased a pack of needles from a local store and had little success with them. After switching to leather sewing needles, I realized the difference one small item could make. Leather sewing needles are more durable and provide more utility.
Leather sewing needles are specialty needles that focus on fulfilling the needs of a leather crafter. These needles are stronger, blunter at the tip, and have smaller eyes, providing durability while being easier to pull through thick leather. A pack of leather sewing needles may cost $5–$16.
It may seem like specialty needles are only marginally better with a higher cost. However, in this article, we will examine how leather sewing needles are cleverly designed to help crafters sew more easily, quickly justifying their higher price.
What Is a Leather Sewing Needle?
Sewing needles are supplies used in various crafts to help pass a thread through material. Leather sewing needles perform this same task but have some notable differences that are useful when sewing leather. They are more durable, allowing more force to be placed on them before breaking.
Leather needles have blunted tips to prevent injury and also have smaller eyes to more easily pass through the material more easily. These three changes make a leather sewing needle special in our craft, allowing hand-sewing techniques to be applied to the thickest leathers.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- When You Might Use a Leather Sewing Needle
- Leather Sewing Needle Quick Reference Table
- Leather Sewing Needle Types and Variations
- Leather Sewing Needle Characteristics
- Leather Sewing Needle Pros
- Leather Sewing Needle Cons
- Leather Sewing Needle Manufacturing Process – How They’re Made
- Leather Sewing Needle Costs
- Alternative Options to a Leather Sewing Needle
- Experienced Tips for Working with a Leather Sewing Needle
- My Personal Research with Leather Sewing Needles
- Leather Sewing Needle Care and Maintenance
- Helpful Leather Sewing Needle Insights
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
Sewing needles are often underestimated when it comes to workflow and finishing look. I was also guilty of this at one point. Threading a needle can be difficult, so I assumed a larger eye didn’t change much.
While threading the needle becomes easier with a bigger eye, each following step becomes more difficult. A bigger needle becomes harder to pull through leather, impacting the final stitching look. A large eye will stretch out the leather holes and, once finished, will leave gaps surrounding the thread.
While this is not an issue to some, this can be a game changer for many looking to improve their sewing. Therefore, the right needle may be more difficult to thread, but it can make the process easier and improve the results.
When You Might Use a Leather Sewing Needle
Leather sewing needles can be helpful for almost any leather project. Some common and alternative uses for leather sewing needles include:
- Sewing – The most efficient type of needle to use for sewing leather. A smaller eye allows the needle to pass through the leather more easily.
- Marking leather – Leather sewing needles can be used as a temporary scratch awl since their thin tip provides an accurate marking.
- Securing leather – Leather sewing needles align and hold leather pieces, via their stitching holes, by placing a needle through the two pieces. This can be useful when gluing or sewing, acting as an extra hand by pinning the pieces together.
- Applying leather supplies – The small needle tips also make great applicators for glue, burnishing cream, or other leather supplies. Leather sewing needles offer precision for fine details and can be easily cleaned afterward.
Leather Sewing Needle Quick Reference Table
|Tool||Leather Sewing Needle|
|Cost Range ($)||$5–$16|
|Recommended Maintenance||Wiped clean before use|
|Recommended Storage||In their original packaging or a needle storage item in a dry environment|
|Common Uses||Sewing leather, aligning pieces, and a temporary bonding method|
|How Long It Lasts (on average)||One year|
Leather Sewing Needle Types and Variations
A couple of different types and variations of leather sewing needles are available. The two types of leather sewing needles are straight and curved.
A straight needle is best for most projects and comes in many sizes. As the size of the needle increases, they become thicker, allowing for a better grip when pulling them through the leather.
A curved needle is used for box or baseball stitching. The curve helps loop back towards the inside hole when sewing 90-degree angles. Curved needles also come in a variety of sizes, but they are much more limited than straight sewing needles. These needles are typically kept thin, allowing them to pass through leather more easily.
Leather Sewing Needle Characteristics
Leather sewing needles are all made of steel, and the manufacturer determines the type and quality. John James is a popular needle brand that uses high-quality carbon steel for its products. This helps prevent the leather sewing needles from breaking when being pulled or bent.
Another popular brand is CS Osborne, who nickel plates their steel needles to help prevent corrosion. Each brand will focus on what makes a good leather sewing needle, so the materials used will change.
The sizing of leather needles can get confusing as brands will use various sizing guides. As a result, the best way to compare needle sizes is by looking at their dimensions. The diameter will determine how thick a needle is, with smaller sizes being able to pass through leather more easily.
Needles can start as small as .6mm. These are short needles best suited for thin threads and delicate projects. The largest leather sewing needles are nearly three times the diameter at 1.6mm. With a larger eye, these needles are much longer but may stretch small holes.
Needles of a larger size are ideal for thick thread seen in saddle, trunk, or sheath making. Having a thicker needle may make it easier to grip, allowing it to be pulled through multiple layers of thick leather.
Typically crafters will have different needles to have the perfect supply for every job. When picking what is necessary, looking at the options available is best. The type of needle, size, and material all play large roles in how a leather sewing needle performs. Most crafters stick to straight rather than curved needles, as their applications are mostly universal.
For size, a rule of thumb is to go choose the smallest needle possible. For example, thick 1mm+ thread will likely work best with needles larger than .8mm in diameter. Anything smaller, and the thread will become impossible to push through the eye. Similarly, while a large needle works for most projects, picking one too large can lead to holes overstretching.
Once these two elements have been determined, the needle’s material will be looked at. Some needles use more corrosion resistance coatings, while others focus on the durability of the needle. Ideally with these guidelines the perfect needle can be chosen for any sized project.
Anna Vilhanová, Nadežda Langová, Robert Kłos, and Eliška Máchová, from the Department of Furniture and Wood Products, Faculty of Wood Sciences and Technology, at Technical University in Zvolen, Slovakia, researched the durability of a stitch with varying factors. One of those factors was the needle type.
They found using a different needle could change the durability depending on the spacing of the holes. Smaller spacing leads to more thread tension in smaller areas, which can be weakened by the type of needle that passes through the hole.
Leather Sewing Needle Pros
Leather sewing needles are a standard supply used in leathercraft that creates a permanent bond between leather pieces. The needles are specifically designed for sewing leather by providing a slim, durable needle with a small eye. This allows the needle to pass through easily without stretching the pre-punched hole.
In addition, the tip of the needle is blunted, providing some protection from harming yourself when sewing. This also prevents the needle from piercing the thread and causing knots. The blunted tips also stop the needles from damaging the surface of the leather when accidentally missing the premade hole.
Leather sewing needles are also sold in larger sizes while keeping a slim profile. A larger needle provides an easier surface to grip onto and extra length when pushing it through multiple layers of thick leather.
Needles may also be used to align and hold leather pieces, via their stitching holes, by placing a needle through the two pieces. This can be useful when gluing or sewing.
Leather Sewing Needle Cons
Most cons of leather sewing needles are caused by choosing the wrong needle. While leather sewing needles have a sleek design, this comes at a cost with a smaller eye, making thread more difficult to secure to the needle. Choosing a needle too small for the thread may make this task nearly impossible.
Another common issue with leather sewing needles is the needle being too large. When using a large needle on small holes, it will be difficult to pull the needle through and cause the hole to stretch and disfigure. This may impact the final look of the stitching, as a bigger hole leads to more empty space.
Leather sewing needles are also more expensive than others, often double the price. While overall, the needles remain affordable; it is important to note the price increase.
Leather Sewing Needle Manufacturing Process – How They’re Made
Leather sewing needles start as steel wire straightened and cut to length by various machines. The wire is then grounded at the point to create the blunted rounded edge that leather needles are known for.
Wires will then pass through stamping machines that flatten the end, punch the eye, and separate the needles. All the cut needles will then be hardened by heat-treating them. When cooled, they can be polished for any plating they may undergo. These final needles will then be packaged and ready for sale.
This detailed video by the History television network demonstrates the production of needles, showing exactly how they are taken from steel wire and turned into the needles used for crafting.
Leather Sewing Needle Costs
The two main factors when determining the cost of leather sewing needles are the size and brand. Well-known brands, such as CS Osborne and John James, price their smallest needles at around $5–$8 for a pack of 25. Roughly costing 25¢ per needle.
At the largest size, needles cost $15–$18 for the same pack of 25. This comes to about 68¢ per needle. These prices are premium compared to other needles sold at less than 7¢ each. However, their added durability and leather-oriented design choices make them well worth the higher price.
Alternative Options to a Leather Sewing Needle
If leather sewing needles are unavailable, regular sewing needles will work in a pinch. While it will be harder to pull through the leather, they can complete the same goal of stitching it together. Leather sewing needles can also be swapped for rivets or lace when attaching leather pieces together.
Both can act as permanent bonds and do not require sewing needles. Another option is to use a sewing machine instead of hand sewing. Unlike regular leather sewing needles, a machine will be quicker and require no pre-punched holes to sew.
Experienced Tips for Working With a Leather Sewing Needle
- Use the smallest needle possible at all times to create the nicest stitch
- Wear textured gloves to help grip the needles, pulling them through more easily
- Clean the eye of the needle to remove build-up wax, and allow the thread to pass through
My Personal Research with Leather Sewing Needles
Many variables play a part in the final look of a leather sewing line, needles included. To research, I decided to examine how various-sized needles work when sewing leather. For this research, I used 3.38mm stitching chisels with .6mm thread, a popular combination for small goods like smalls.
The smallest leather needle I could find was around .6mm thick, made by CS Osborne. Threading this needle was difficult, as the eye was roughly the same size as the thread. However, once I had prepared everything, the sewing was completely smooth.
My only concern was the potential for needles to bend or break since they were thinner than I was used to. However, once finished, the stitching line was perfect. I had nice slants throughout and once hammered, the stitching hole seemed invisible.
Typically, needle sizes only go up when the thread’s thickness increases, but to research, I kept the .6mm throughout. For the medium needle, I used John James 001, which has a diameter of 1.1mm. With this needle, threading was no problem and quickly accomplished.
Sewing the leather did not provide much resistance either. Though, the eye of the needle would need an extra tug every now and then. When finished, the stitch line was comparable to the small needle. The slants were prominent, and the holes were only slightly visible when hammered down.
I used John James 3/0, 1.6mm diameter, for the largest needle. While this needle is not the largest available, I had it on hand, and it is a popular needle brand. Threading the needle was way more difficult than any other needle. While I could easily pass the thread through the eye, locking the needle by piercing wasn’t working.
The needle would constantly split the thread, trying to lock it. I finally gave up and tied a small knot to hold it in place while sewing. Using this needle to sew leather wasn’t as difficult as I expected. While the needle got caught a lot, the large size made it easy to grab on and apply pressure making the sewing experience enjoyable.
When finished, however, this was by far the worst stitch line. The thread laid straighter than the others, with many inconsistencies since the holes became bigger. When hammered down, the holes were still visible.
It was clear to me that using a larger needle heavily impacts the final look of the stitch. However, this is only true due to the use of thin thread. What stood out to me more was how the needles behaved while sewing. The smallest being the easiest to pull through the leather.
The key to a pleasant experience while sewing is not always choosing the smallest needle but the right one for the project. I personally enjoy medium-sized needles, as they seem to fit most leather projects while not ruining the final results.
Leather Sewing Needle Care and Maintenance
How to Clean Leather Sewing Needles
As leather sewing needles are used, they will build up wax and other gunk that can easily be wiped off. A clean cloth can be used to rub the needles removing anything on them. It is possible to rinse the needles in water to help break down any stuck residue. If water is used, completely dry the needles to prevent rust.
How to Maintain Leather Sewing Needles
Leather sewing needles should be cleaned consistently to maintain them. As they are used, residue can build up inside the eye of the needle, making it difficult to thread them. When sewing with leather needles, try not to bend them when pulling them out. A straight pull keeps them from getting caught between the layers of leather. While bent needles can still work, they will make sewing more difficult.
How to Store Leather Sewing Needles
All leather needles must be stored with their tips covered at all times. While the point of the needles is rounded, they can still pierce the skin, causing bodily harm. Options include the original packaging, pin cushion, case, or pouch. In addition, needles should be kept in a dry environment.
While the plating applied to most needles will prevent rust, it is still possible for them to experience corrosion. Keeping leather sewing organized and dry helps lengthen their lifespan with use.
Helpful Leather Sewing Needle Insights
What is the best needle for sewing leather?
There is no best needle for sewing leather, but two brands are popular for a good reason. John James makes durable leather needles that most crafters use. CS Osborne is another leather needle brand, and offers smaller needles than John James. Both brands are great choices for leather needles, as they are both reliable.
What is the best needle for sewing faux leather?
Although there is no best needle for sewing faux leather, a few options are available, including sewing needles and leather sewing needles. Sewing needles are standard needles with a sharp point. They will go through the faux leather as it is less resilient than real leather. With these needles, faux leather can be hand-sewn like other fabrics. If leather sewing needles are used, the blunt point will prevent them from piercing through the material. In this case, the holes must be pre-punched before the needles can pass through.
What are leather hand-sewing needles?
Leather hand-sewing needles are specialty needles designed to fit the needs of leather crafters. They are thin, durable, and have a small eye; all great qualities that allow the needle to pass through easily. The biggest difference between leather needles and others is the blunt point. Since leather holes are premade, there is no need for a sharp end. This helps prevent injuries and can stop the leather thread from being pierced when passing through holes.
- Leather sewing needles can impact the final look of a stitch line.
- High-quality leather needles are more durable, with a smoother finish making them easier to use.
- The smallest needle should always be used when possible to prevent the leather from stretching.
With sewing being such a large part of our craft, good supplies go a long way. Leather sewing needles are expertly designed to make the process easy. They are premium needles but are a necessity for those working with leather.