Before I started leathercraft, I was always enamored by the quality some artisans were able to achieve. One part that always stood out to me was their perfect saddle stitching. Not only was the end product beautiful, but also durable. Even as a more experienced crafter, I focus on improving my saddle stitch in every project.
A saddle stitch is a method for hand sewing that utilizes two needles and a single thread. By passing the needles over each other, the thread interlocks. This method requires extra time but provides durability. If the thread breaks, the locking thread would hold it in place, making repairs easy.
Hand sewing using a saddle stitch may seem intimidating. However, I’ll explore how to achieve the best possible stitch each time and take the mystery out of this traditional technique.
What Is a Saddle Stitch?
A saddle stitch is a method of hand sewing used in leathercraft. It differs from other methods by using two needles on a single thread that passes over each other, interlocking the thread. By using a saddle stitch, hand-sewn goods are more durable and, to many, more aesthetically pleasing.
If the thread were ever to break, instead of completely coming undone, it would be held in place by the interlocking pass created by the second needle. This benefits the item’s longevity and provides a much easier way to repair it. Instead of removing the entire stitch, a saddle stitch can double over the area, restoring the item’s integrity.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- Reasons You Might Choose to Saddle Stitch
- Variations or Styles of Saddle Stitch
- Saddle Stitch Overview Table
- Skill Level of Saddle Stitching
- Tools and Supplies Needed for Saddle Stitching
- How to Saddle Stitch Step by Step
- How to Get Better at Saddle Stitching
- My Personal Research on Saddle Stitching
- Helpful Insights on Saddle Stitching
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
The most common misconception about saddle stitching is regarding the thread’s durability. While it is true that a saddle stitch creates an interlocking thread, the stitch does not strengthen the thread itself. A thin linen thread that is saddle stitched is still more likely to break than a thick polyester thread that is machine sewn. The only difference is what happens after the thread has been broken.
With machine stitching, a broken thread will begin to unwind. As the items are pulled apart, they will be completely removed. A saddle stitch, on the other hand, will be locked by the overlapping thread. Preventing the item from falling apart even when pulled apart. This makes saddle stitching more repairable, but the durability comes from the thread itself.
Reasons You Might Choose To Saddle Stitch
Saddle stitching is a great option for hand-sewing leather. This method secures an item’s front and back sides without needing to fully backstitch. Additionally, the overlapping threat will begin to interlock. The interlocking thread makes repairing broken stitches much easier.
Those concerned about a stitching line’s longevity should saddle stitch. Instead of re-doing the entire stitch line, saddle stitching allows for targeted repairs that will be as strong as the original stitching. Saddle stitching also offers a beautiful final look when done masterfully. The stitch lays slanted in a hole with little to no inconsistencies.
Variations or Styles of Saddle Stitch
The two main variations on saddle stitching is casting or not. A cast is a motion of looping your thread around the needle to create a small knot. This forces the thread in two opposite directions, creating the iconic slanted stitch seen in leathercraft. Using a cast while stitching does not change the stitch’s strength and is purely for creating a nicer stitch on both sides of the leather.
Stitching without a cast can produce similar results. The main difference is nothing is forcing the thread to sit in the holes. While you may pull them into position in the front, the back of the thread will remain closer to a straight line rather than slanted.
Saddle Stitch Overview Table
|Area of Preparation||Details|
|Overall Level of Skill (1-5)||2–4|
|Time to Complete (minutes/hours)||Varies by project size|
|Workspace Needed||Work table with a stitching pony|
|Skills Needed||Straight hole punching and consistency built through practice|
|Tools and Supplies Needed||Stitching pony, hole punch, stitching chisels or awl, needles, and thread|
|Key Helpful Tip||Consistency is key to producing a beautiful final stitch line|
Skill Level of Saddle Stitching
Saddle stitching can be slightly more confusing than regular hand sewing as it uses two needles instead of one. However, one can pick up the basics quickly. While anyone can learn to saddle stitch at a basic level, those who create refined leather pieces must practice their technique.
Working to improve the final look of a saddle stitch can be challenging. The casting method must be used, thread tension must be consistent, and every detail matters. While mastercraftsmen make the task seem effortless, many variables must be controlled when making the perfect saddle stitch.
Using a cast while stitching does not change the stitch’s strength and is purely for creating a nicer stitch on both sides of the leather.
Tools and Supplies Needed for Saddle Stitching
When saddle stitching, the first thing you will need is something to create the holes for the thread to go in. This can be a hole punch, stitching chisels, or an awl. Each tool will have its own characteristics, with stitching chisels being the most popular due to their speed and hole shape.
Needles of any kind are necessary, but harness needles are recommended. Harness needles have a blunt tip that will prevent you from poking yourself as you stitch. Threading is also necessary and is commonly made of linen or polyester. Linen is a traditional thread but may lack strength. Polyester has strength but has an artificial final look which many do not like.
Finally, saddle stitching requires a stitching pony or clamp. This tool holds the leather in place while you stitch, allowing complete control over where the thread falls. While a stitching pony is not necessary for basic saddle stitching, to improve technique, it is vital to have both hands free to have complete control over the thread.
How to Saddle Stitch Step by Step
- Pierce holes in the leather with your preferred tool to begin saddle stitching.
- Cut the thread to the proper length.
- Lock needles in place at both ends.
- Place one needle through the hole furthest away from you. Ideally, you stitch towards yourself rather than away to prevent your hands from rubbing against finished threads.
- Pull the needle through the hole and center the thread by pulling it to tension and ensuring you have equal amounts of thread on both sides.
- Use your left-hand needle to push through the back of the leather and pull it entirely through the hole.
- Your right-hand needle will then pass on top of the thread that has already been seated in the hole.
- To tighten, pull each thread in its respective direction. For example, since the left-hand needle is on the bottom, pull the thread downwards. This helps create a slanted stitch. For each stitch, the left hand will start first and be pulled toward the bottom of the hole. Consistency is key to creating a good-looking final stitch.
- Once you have finished sewing, backstitch two or more holes to ensure the thread is locked into place.
Check out this detailed video demonstrating how a saddle stitch is performed, with or without a cast. Nigel Armitage of Armitage Leather explains exactly what causes the thread to slant.
How to Get Better at Saddle Stitching
As with anything, to improve, you must practice. Though there are a few tips that will help when practicing saddle stitching. The first is to use medium to thick and firm leather. Thin or floppy leather will want to bunch up, and creating a nice stitch early on will be more difficult. With firm, thick leather, you can practice tension and have more leniency, helping you build an understanding.
While saddle stitching, pay close attention to each thread and motion. Consistency is the most important part of creating a good stitch. Watch where the thread sits, if it twists, and how it moves when you pull it to tension. A close eye will point out the mistakes and allow for correction.
Lastly, when possible, use slanted holes. While round holes will be easier to pass the needles through, a slanted hole will show you exactly where the thread sits. If you make a mistake with slanted holes, it will quickly show and allow you to correct them. Practicing to perfect your saddle stitch is invaluable.
Kana Sugimoto, and Shin’ya Nagasawa, from The Design Journal, An International Journal for All Aspects of Design, discussed how customers view saddle stitching. They showed how Hermès had dominated the highest end of luxury fashion through their unique use of saddle stitching, showing how luxury can become associated with a brand through their construction methods.
My Personal Research on Saddle Stitching
From my experience, many new crafters will start with large-spacing stitching chisels before moving to smaller sizes. I was no different. To research, I wanted to test if there was a difference when creating the perfect saddle stitch. I used 5mm, 4mm, and 3mm spacing, stitched with .6mm thread. I also picked 3oz soft leather to highlight any difficulties.
I started with my largest spacing tools, as I felt it would be the easiest and quickest to sew. For my technique on each piece, I used a cast to ensure the front and back of the thread were slanted. Stitching the leather went smoothly, but the larger spacing made the leather want to bunch up if I was not careful with my tension. Ultimately, both sides looked great, with only slight bunching in a few areas.
While the difference in spacing may not seem like a lot, as the spacing decreases, more stitches will need to be fit in the same amount of space. In this case, the difference had its tradeoffs. Initially, I recognized that tension was less of a problem and figured things would simply be easier.
However, as I began to speed up and was more careless, there were very small but noticeable issues. The slanted lines on the back were just as nice, but a couple of stitches on the front were not as slanted as the others.
When starting the smaller spacing, I better understood what might happen when sewing. After stitching, the same feelings occurred. The tension was less of an issue, but I found it crucial to pay close attention to how the thread was sitting. With less distance and thin leather, the threads no longer sorted themselves out as much. They needed more guidance with every stitch to keep them slanted.
There were very small but noticeable differences in how spacing changed the saddle stitching. A larger spacing needed more tension control but provided extra time for the thread to seat properly. The thinnest spacing did the opposite.
While there were slight differences, I do not believe it would impact most projects. I specifically chose thin, supple leather that only served to highlight the changes. Even with the differences, all the spacings provided a nice saddle stitch on both sides.
Helpful Insights On Saddle Stitching
What is the saddle stitch?
The saddle stitch is a method of hand sewing. Compared to other methods, what makes it special is the use of two needles to create an interlocking effect. Saddle stitching will overlap and intertwine, meaning if a thread breaks, it is held in place by the rest of the thread instead of completely falling apart.
What is saddle stitch used for?
A saddle stitch is seen in almost all leather crafts and is used for everything from watch straps to travel bags. This is primarily due to the need to hand sew in the craft, as the machines necessary to sew leather can be expensive. However, even luxury fashion brands may use a saddle stitch to showcase their desire to create a handmade, durable product.
Why is it called a saddle stitch?
It is suggested that the term “saddle stitch” comes from the origin of how the sewing method was used. Leather saddles have been found as far back as 365 AD. The sewing method was crude by today’s standards, evolving over time yet keeping the term for the makers who invented it.
How do you saddle stitch fabric?
Saddle stitching fabric will be the same as leather, with one key difference, no premade holes. If you are hand-sewing fabric, you must guide your needle on top of the thread that has already passed through the fabric. If done correctly, the saddle stitch may still be created but will lack the slanted look.
Can a sewing machine do a saddle stitch?
No, while machines can now produce a slanted stitch that resembles a saddle stitch, it lacks the same properties. Machine sewing does not interlock the threads through front and back passes. Instead, it keeps the same thread on the same side, locked through a loop, meaning if the thread breaks, it can be pulled completely out with little resistance.
What thread do you use for saddle stitch?
Hand-sewing thread will be used for saddle stitching. This specific thread comes in linen, polyester, or nylon. It is typically thicker and waxed to provide added durability. While other threads can be used, they are not advised as they may break more easily.
What is the strongest stitch for leather?
The strongest stitch for leather is typically considered the saddle stitch. However, saddle stitching does not make the thread any stronger. To have increased strength, thread type, size, and qualities will determine how strong the final stitch is. However, the saddle stitch allows for the repair of an item more easily as the thread is interlocked.
- Saddle stitching is a strong method for hand sewing.
- With a saddle stitch, broken thread can be repaired by resewing the area rather than replacing the entire stitching.
- Practice is essential to create a consistent slant that saddle stitching is known for visually.
Saddle stitching is a popular form of hand sewing for good reasons. The beautiful slanted stitch outcome allows us to display our talent and the additional durability matches the heirloom quality leather is known for. While saddle stitching may take some time to perfect, putting extra love into our projects is worth it.