Some project require joining leather either for style or function. Leather sewing tools offer the means to make this an easy and fun part of leather working.
Leather sewing tools are comprised of a wide range of items used for stitching leather. they generally include needles, thread, sewing machines, and tools to hold leather while you sew. Within these groups there is a great depth of options available that fit across needs, styles, and preferences.
So which tools help most for the type of project you’re working on? Let’s find out more.
What are Leather Sewing Tools
Leather sewing tools and leather sewing equipment make up an area of leather craft tools that include stitching and joining leather. They are mainly tools for stitching leather. Often these tools are used by hand, though also available are machines. Additionally, there are tools that help hold the leather while it is being sewn. So, much beyond the standard needle and thread, though those are certainly important too.
While leather can be joined by hardware such as rivets and grommets, sewing provides for a wealth of functional and aesthetic means by which to join leather material together. Leather sewing tools are used to make endless leather goods including wallets, bags, belts, clothing, and shoes. Let’s check out some of these tools.
Types of Leather Sewing Tools
Leather Sewing Needles
Leather sewing needles are narrow, cylindrical pieces of steel with a sharp point on one end and a small opening, or “eye” on the other. Thread is secured through the eye, and the sharp point of the needle is pushed through material. As the needle goes through the material it pulls the thread. As this is repeated along the edge of leather pieces, resulting in a line of “stitches”, the thread binds the leather pieces together.
Sewing needles have been used for over 40,000 years. Today, these tools for stitching leather come in a wide assortment of options. There are leather-specific needles that have wider points to help pierce thick leathers. There are curved needles (they have a semi-circular, half-moon shape) that make it easier to push through thicker materials such as leather and canvas. Very small needles make it easier to sew smaller, thinners leathers while leaving a smaller hole.
Some of these leather needles are just a big needle for sewing. The extra size and strength is needed to push through the heavy material.
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There are also needles for powered leather stitching machines, each with unique sizes and performance characteristics based on the intended use. A sewing needed, either hand-needle or one used in a leather stitching machine, will likely be something a leather worker comes across during their leather craft experience.
Two-Prong Leather Lacing Needle
Two-prong lacing needles are a type of hand-sewing needle with two prongs that are used for sewing with leather lace. Typical needles have an eye where thread is passed through and secured. This can be tricky or impossible with some leather laces, and the lace, once tied into a knot by the needle eye, would b too large to pass through the lacing hole in the leather.
Two-prong lacing needed have two prongs under spring tension instead of an eye. The prongs are separated and the lacing material slid between them. When released, the tension between the prongs holds the lace flat, and in place. This helps it maintain a thinner profile when passed through the stitching holes, especially diagonal ones.
These needles are usually made of metal, and are valuable piece of leather sewing equipment for hand-sewing with leather lace. Here’s how they work:
Saddler’s Harness Leather Needle
Saddler’s harness needles are a specialized sewing needle with a blunt tip and strong eyelets. Since leather can be a thick, and tough material, these needles help guide thread through without marking up the leather, and while being sturdy enough to hold up.
Common varieties of needles might also break at the eye when used with thicker threads and through tougher materials. The eye is a thinner part of the metal, and susceptible to breakage. Saddler’s harness needed are stronger all around, including at the eyelets.
Often used for saddlery, they can also be used for bag making, shoe making, and any leather work that requires sewing with thick thread through thick material. Here’s what they look like, and how to thread one:
Leather Sewing Machine (Leather Stitching Machine)
A leather sewing machine is a powered, mechanical tool used to join materials together via stitches. Stitches are connecting points made between materials by singular strands of fibers or threads. Whereas hand sewing involves carefully making each stitch one-by one, machine sewing allows for much faster, automated stitching.
Leather sewing machines (sometimes referred to as leather stitching machines), at a high level, have spools of thread, a sewing surface, a needle, a power source, and a control pedal. The materials to be sewn are guided under the needle, and when the control pedal is pressed, the needle moves up and down, inserting stitches into the material.
As this happens, the material is moved through the machine and stitches continuously in a linear fashion. The result is a row of stitching that is clean, consistent, and strong. If a leather crafter is producing a volume of items, or looking for a consistent finish to their products, leather sewing machines are indispensable tools.
Also since they are powered tools, the amount of human effort needed to continually press a needle through thick thread is greatly minimized. What might have taken hours by hand, might take only minutes by machine.
There are many machine options available. Important considerations when choosing a machine include knowing how heavy the material is that will be sewn, and how durable the machine is. A sturdy, well-maintained machine can last decades or longer. Here’s a helpful demonstration along with some tips:
Leather Stitching Pony
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A stitching stitching pony is a wooden tool with two arms used to hold leather items securely while they are being hand-sewn. Leather can be a thick, tough material. Sometimes, having two hands free makes feeding a needle and pulling thread through a much easier process. They are similar to a stitching horse, though much smaller.
The stitching pony is generally placed on a chair, and sat on. It’s position is secured by the weight of the person sitting on it, and two vertical arms that extend up that will hold the leather. They’re joined in the middle with an adjustment screw, so the space between them can be widened and narrowed. The leather to be sewn is placed in between the arms, and the arms are tightened, holding the leather in place.
It is always important to ensure that any material that touches leather during the leather working process is soft, and won’t leave any unwanted imprints or marks behind. Since it’s made of smoothed wood, the stitching pony provides a gentle surface for gripping leather. If preferred, something soft such as a cloth or other leather can be placed between the stitching pony arms and the leather being worked, further providing protection from scratches.
For leather crafters that hand-sew often, a stitching pony can be a helpful leather working tool. Here’s one mounted to a table:
Leather Stitching Horse
A stitching horse is a wooden piece of leather sewing equipment with two arms used to hold leather items securely while they are being hand-sewn. Having two hands free makes feeding a needle and pulling thread through leather a much easier process. They are similar to a stitching pony, though much larger.
The stitching horse generally stands on the floor, and includes a seat for a person to sit on. Two large, vertical arms that extend up, and can accommodate very large and thick leather items. They’re joined in the middle with an adjustment screw, so the space between them can be widened and narrowed. The leather to be sewn is placed in between the arms, and the arms are tightened, holding the leather in place.
Stitching horses generally feature smooth, wooden surfaces on the arms which protects the leather. It is important that any working surface that comes into contact with leather is soft/smooth, and will not leave unwanted marks or scratches on the material being worked. For additional protection, a soft material can be placed between the arms and the leather being worked, such as soft fabric or even other leather.
For those working on larger leather pieces that require heavy sewing by hand, a stitching horse could be a help addition to the leather working shop. Here’s a more modern design stitching horse that was hand-made:
Table Leather Stitching Clamp
A leather table stitching clamp is a wooden tool with two arms used to hold leather securely while it is being hand-stitched. They’re joined in the middle with an adjustment screw that can make the space between the arms wider or narrower, ensuring a tight hold around the specific leather being worked on.
It works similarly to a stitching horse or stitching pony, though rather than being sat on, this simply clamps to a table or other work surface. Here’s one mounted to the work table:
Leather Stitching Clam
A stitching clam is a wooden tool with two arms used to hold materials, especially leather, securely while it is being hand-stitched. They’re joined in the middle with an adjustment screw that can make the space between the arms wider or narrower, ensuring a tight hold around the specific leather being worked on.
while similar to stitching ponies and stitching horses, the stitching clam is a little more simple and just slides under one leg for support. It’s position can be adjusted for the proper angle of stitch access, as well and personal comfort. If one does a fair amount of hand-stitching, with smaller to medium-sized leather pieces, a stitching clam might be a help. Here’s one in use:
Leather Sewing Tower
A leather sewing tower is a wooden tool used to hold leather pieces while being sewn by hand. It is often helpful to have both free hands for stitching work, and a leather sewing tower helps makes that possible by providing a versatile group of holding clamps and surfaces on which to secure leather pieces for stitching.
They are generally secured to a table top. Extending out (about 9”-12”) is an arm, onto which two additional arms run, with screws to adjust their distance. Leather can be clamped between each of these arms and the main extension. The main extension can even be position higher or lower on the device.
The flexibility of positions and the shape of the main extension allow for leather to be positioned securely for a number of stitching needs including right-angle stitching. They are similar in function to stitching horses and stitching ponies, For those that do a lot of leather stitching and might prefer the feel of a sewing tower, it’s certainly another option to add to the leather craft tools list. They are a helpful piece of leather sewing equipment.
Leather Sewing Awl (Stitching Awl)
A sewing awl (also referred to as a needle awl or stitching awl) is an awl with a pointed needle end and an eye on it. This is one of the most helpful leather stitching tools. This allows threads to be passed through the needle and pushed through leather material when stitching two or more pieces together.
It essentially functions like a thick, strong needle. Instead of being pushed through by hand, or with a finger thimble, it can be pushed through via the handle, held by the hand. This is usually helpful, and sometimes necessary, as leathers can be very tough, thick materials. Having a sturdy way to pass thread through them can make things much easier.
For certain jobs, the leather sewing awl tools for stitching leather will be critical to have in order to make the work easy and come out looking great. Here’s a demonstration on how to use the popular Speedy Stitcher leather sewing awl:
Leather Stitching Wheel
A leather stitching wheel (also referred to as an overstitch wheel) is a tool designed for marking stitch hole locations on leather. It is comprised of a wheel metal with sharp points that go all around it. When rolled onto the leather, the points leave a slight impression in the material. It serves as a perfect guide for pricking or stitching later on, especially in a straight line.
When you’re planning to hand-sew a piece, it’s helpful to know exactly where the stitch holes will be. While, one might use pricing irons to make these marks, each time the iron is moves it might not be perfectly aligned with the previous one. A leather stitching wheel, if used aligned to a straight-edge, will provide a straight guide of hole marks in a very consistent pattern.
These tools come in various pattern sizes so you can find one that matches the stitch volume you need per inch. A range is certainly preferred as you might want larger spacing on thicker, larger leather pieces. And smaller, narrower spacing on smaller, more fine leather pieces.
Leather stitching wheels wheels can also be used after the stitching is complete, to go “over” the “stitches”. This gently presses them down, securing them more closely to the leather surface and leading to a more durable and aesthetically pleasing stitch.
Some overstitch wheels come with a “fence”. This is an additional metal piece that attaches to the tool, allowing for a variable distance to be set for the wheel to be from the edge of the leather. For example, if you want the stitch line to be 1/4” off the leather’s edge, the fence can be set to 1/4” and then wherever the tool is used the markings will be at a consistent distance from the edge. Here it is in action!
Leather Sewing Kit
Sometimes, it’s easier to buy a small kit of leather sewing tools, rather than each piece individually. Often, they will have enough of the basic tools, needles, and thread to make small jobs easy without costing a lot. Some of the more common places that carry leather sewing kits include:
- Hobby Lobby
Leather sewing thread is a type of thin yarn, used for joining leather materials together. Threads are very common leather working tools and come in need endless colors. They also come in various “weights”, or thicknesses, each with benefits depending on the type of leather being sewn.
Generally, thinner leathers will use lighter “weight”, thinner threads. Thicker leathers will usually be sewn with thicker, or heavier “weight” threads. Thread weight choice can be a matter of function. For example, is it strong enough to hold the materials together and not wear out easily from rubbing or abrasions? Thread can also be selected based on aesthetic preference. For example, does the color look great on the leather it is used with? Does the seam size create a nice, finished visual appearance.
Along with colors and wights, threads are also available many different material types. So much thread! 🙂 Each material type have unique properties that can make it beneficial for some types of leather work over others. Let’s see a little more about each and which you might want to add to your leather craft tools list. Here’s a great overview of the different types of leather thread:
Waxed Thread for Leather Working
Waxed thread is a type of thread that is lightly coated in wax. The wax stiffens the thread, making it stronger. This also enables the thread to be more abrasion resistant, water resistant, and stretch less over time.
Waxed threads are great for leather working as the provide a very durable thread that handles well and looks great. Ideal for hand-sewing, these threads are available in a range of colors and thicknesses (weights).
Bonded Nylon Thread for Leather Working
Bonded nylon (or polyester) threads are a very strong, synthetic thread. Whereas many threads are composed of material strands twisted together, bonded nylon is also physically bonded together. This makes it a much stronger thread. The properties of it being nylon (essentially, plastic), make it very sturdy, water resistant, wear resistant, and last a very long time.
For many leather working projects, bonded thread is a staple thread used. They are available in a range of colors and thicknesses, so one can be selected to best suit the project you are working on. Nylon threads are also great for machine sewing and hand sewing as well.
Linen Thread for Leather Working
Linen thread is made of natural, cotton fibers. While not as strong as waxed or bonded nylon threads, it still provides solid holding strength for thinner leathers and leather goods that will not experience a lot of daily wear.
While functional, linen thread can also be decorative in the color selections chosen. Also, since it is a natural fiber, the look of line thread is certainly a bit different on finished leather goods. If you’re working with fine leather accessories or want to try a different visual finish, line thread might be worth added to the leather craft tool list.
Linen thread is generally best for hand sewing, though can be used in lighter machine sewing applications as well.
A thimble is a protective device that fits over a finger, and used to assist in pushing a needle through materials when sewing by hand. they can me made of many different materials including metals, woods, leathers, and plastics.
When sewing by hand, the needle needs to be pushed through the materials being sewn. Certainly with some thicker leathers, this can require a fair amount of force. That force, applied from a finger onto a tiny needle head could be painful or in some cases dangerous, especially over time with repeated stitching.
A thimble covers the finger and provides a harder surface for pushing the needle. So smart! 🙂 Thimbles are available in different sizes, and different surface finishes/styles, so one can be found that works best with the types of needles and style of sewing being performed. Most leather workers that hand-sew will have one, two, or many needs around the workshop. Here’s how they work!
Leather Lacing Fid
A leather lacing fid is a metal tool with a pointed end used to stretch and enlarge lacing holes when working with leather. They commonly have a wooden handle for comfortable holding.
It’s preferable to have a tight-fitting stitch and appropriately-sized lacing holes on finished leather goods. Depending on the tools available, a leather crafter might find they need to slightly enlarge or adjust some lacing holes, and in those cases a lacing fid can come in handy. Here’s how it works:
Hand Sewing Punch
A leather hand sewing punch is used to punch small, round holes into leather. They are usually made of stainless steel, with two grips, a punching surface, and a punch tip. The punching surface is generally circular shaped and rotatable, with about 6 differently-sized holes of differing sizes.
When using it, the preferred hole size can be rotated under the top, and the leather laid onto the punch surface. The handles are then squeezed together, pushing the punch tip down into the selected hole size, and a hole is cut into the leather.
This is another style of hole punch, and can be a quick way to put clean holes into thinner leathers. Here’s how it works:
Leather Stitching Punch
A leather stitching punch is a metal tool with a group of round punches grouped in a straight line. When making holes along a leather’s edge that will be used for running leather lacing through, it is helpful to have the holes both be a consistent size, and a consistent distance between each other.
If this is done with a standard hole punch, each hole need to be measured, lined up, and punched. A stitching punch makes this much easier as hitting it once will punch several holes into the leather at the same time. Stitching punches might have 3, 5, or more blades.
The size of the holes and number of blades available varies, so the crafter can choose one or more stitching punches that would help most for their particular project. Sometimes, these are called “stitching irons”. Here’s the leather stitching punch in action:
Wood Burning Tool (also used as a Thread Trimming tool)
A wood burning tool is an electrically-powered tool that is used to burn marks into wood. They generally have a handle, and a metal extension that gets very hot, powered by electricity. When the metal tip is hot, it can be used to burn marks into woods.
This same tool can be used to trim threads, especially nylon and synthetic threads. When sewing by hand, sometimes little pieces of thread are left over after finished the stitch and tying it off. In order to create a visually smooth, and clean finish, the thread can be snipped.
Since scissors can only get so close to the seam, due to the natural material thickness of the scissors, sometimes a little bit of thread fray is left behind. Burning it with a wood burning/thread trimming tool is a very easy way to get rid of these tiny bits of thread.
Just hold the tool lightly on the thread for a very short period of time, and it will burn away. The wood burning tool can also be used to burn designs and markings into leather. Leather crafters have different preferences for finishing threads, for some, this the leather craft tool of choice. Here is how they burn into leather:
Hand Held Lighter
When sewing by hand, sometimes when the stitch is finished there is a little bit of thread left behind. Even after trimming with scissors, there remains just a bit of thread fray. Since the scissors have a material thickness to themselves, they can’t always get precisely close.
Burning the remaining bits of thread away is a practice some leather workers perform, and a common hand-held, or disposable lighter can work great. Certainly, ensure safe handling practices. When done correctly, this can be an inexpensive and effective way to finish thread trimming on leather goods. Here’s an example on a lacrosse stick string that easy to see; the same can be done with nylon leather thread:
Wether you’ve sewn by hand for years, or love the power of sewing machines, sewing tools will likely come to be a very valuable, and helpful addition to the leather workshop. If you’d like to see my overall leather tools list, click here.
What thread do you use for leather?
Commonly, waxed nylon thread is used or leather working. It is strong, durable, and the wax coating provides a protective surface for the thread while also making it pass through the leather holes relatively smoothly and easily.
Can a regular sewing machine sew leather?
Generally, yes, a regular sewing machine can sew leather, though only if it is thin leather. Heavier leathers require more power, a stronger needle, stronger thread, and stronger machine parts to do an effective job.