Introduction: How to Saddle Stitch Leather

Picture of How to Saddle Stitch Leather

Hand sewing leather is easier than you think! I like to sew leather using a saddle stitch. It's similar to a backstitch in strength, but differs in that you put both needles through each hole. All you need is a little bit of patience, strong hands (or strong pliers!!) and some good tools.

In this instructable, I'll go over the very basics of hand sewing leather using a saddle stitch and what tools you'll need. I'll also share some tips I've learned along the way about getting the best possible look out of your saddle stitching.

Check out my other leather ibles for more leatherworking basics:

Step 1: What You'll Need:

Picture of What You'll Need:
  • an x-acto knife or sharp scissors
  • leather needles (blunter and larger than normal - like darning needles!)
  • waxed linen thread
  • a prepped piece of leather for stitching

Optional but awesome: a stitching pony. You can buy them online or even make your own! Check out this fantastic ible by antagonizer over making your own stitching pony.

You can also jury-rig your own together using clamps. Sewing leather is just so much easier when you don't have to hold the leather piece too. :D

Step 2: Prep Work

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First, you'll need to prep your leather for sewing and punch some holes - click here to see a few ways to do that.

Then, you'll need to thread a leather needle onto each end of a strand of waxed thread. Click here to learn how to do that!

Step 3: Starting the Saddle Stitch

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(While you can absolutely sew and hold the leather with your hands, I've found that it's easiest to place the leather into a stitching pony or other clamp.)

Start by threading one of the needles through the hole closest to you. Hold both needles up and make sure there's an equal amount of thread on each side of the leather.

Now you'll have one needle in your left hand and one in your right.

Step 4: Making Your First Stitches

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The most important thing about saddle stitching is being consistent with your motions. You will always start the next stitch with the same hand, and insert the next needle in the same way.

Once the thread is through the first hole, take the needle in your left hand and push it through the next hole. Pull the needle through and pull the thread away from you.

Now take the needle in your right hand, and push it into the same hole, behind the left thread. (Check the second photo to see what this should look like!)

If you're concerned about getting perfect stitches, you always want to place the second needle going through a hole behind the first thread. If you place it in front of the thread, it will get in the way of your next stitch and make the stitches uneven and bumpy.

Pull the thread tight by pulling both needles away from the leather after every stitch. This will also keep the leather edges nice and close.

Step 5: Keep on Keepin' On

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Keep on stitching, using the same rhythm for every stitch. For me, this is always left needle first, right needle second.

Make sure the right needle always goes behind the left thread for more even stitching. :)

When you near the end of the stitching line or nearly come to the end of your thread, head to the next step to learn about finishing.

Step 6: Finishing a Row of Stitching

Picture of Finishing a Row of Stitching

Start with both threads through the last hole in your row of stitching. Now we're going to backstitch much like you would on a sewing machine.

You'll want to make at least two to three stitches back over the stitches you've already made - one isn't quite strong enough. :)

Take your left needle and push in into the hole behind the one it's in, and do the same with the right needle.

It can be a little tricky to pull the needles through these holes again - a pair of pliers and a stitching pony can really help you out.

Make sure to pull the thread very tight after every one of these backstitches - if you don't the stitches will be significantly larger than the other ones.

Step 7: Cut Off the Ends and Marvel at Your Stitching

Picture of Cut Off the Ends and Marvel at Your Stitching

This is where an x-acto really comes in handy - it'll give you a clean finish.

Hold the thread ends taut and cut them off with the knife. Use your thumbs to press the tiny end bit down against the stitching.

Step 8: Troubleshooting

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You might find that this is really. hard. sometimes. Below are some of the issues I ran into when I first starting sewing leather, presented with frustration intact. (And some solutions)

I can't pull the needle through!! WTF??

There are two things you can do to fix this:

  1. Use an awl to punch through the holes again. Leather tends to close up over time, so those holes you punched won't be as open as they were when you first punched them. Just take the leather, lay it on a piece of cardboard, and use the awl to reopen the holes.
  2. Grab a pair of pliers! Sometimes it can be so hard to grip the needle with your fingers with enough force to get it through. Using pliers to grip the needle in one hand and bracing the leather with the other can absolutely help. This will also help when backstitching.

The holes in my leather look AWFUL after pulling thread through them, WHY?!

Chances are your leather is super dry. The friction from the thread can cause the holes to look a little shredded sometimes - the flesh can flake and get fuzzy. If you find this happening, apply some jojoba oil (or whatever you prefer!) to the stitching holes.

My stitching looks wavy and terrible - WHAT HAVE I DONE?!

If you find yourself with wonky stitching, chances are is was an issue with the holes you punched or the way you sewed the leather together.

Make sure that when you're punching holes, you're doing in in a stitching groove or you've used a stitching spacer to get a nice straight line.

Also, if using an awl - make sure your holes go straight through and the skinny edges of the awl's hole are at a 45 degree angle. If you're punching holes and the skinny edges go horizontally, you're holding it wrong. Click here for more information.

If it's not an issue with the holes you made, it could be your stitching:

  1. Be consistent. Always bring one needle through the holes first, and have the second follow behind.
  2. Always pull the thread tight after every stitch.
  3. Don't puncture your already stitched areas with your needle - always try to keep the needle going into the holes next to the thread - not through it.


DavidA54 (author)2017-01-26

How do I determine the length of thread I need to sew on a project? I cannot find how to measure or determine. Thank you

j0shu4 (author)DavidA542017-02-16

Total stitching length multiplied by 5 gives you a little bit extra at the end. Others say multiply by 4 or even 3.5, but there have been times where at the end of the stitching run I was left with VERY little thread and it was hard to stitch. When you multiply by 5 the THICKNESS of the leather is taken out of play a lot of the time.


So when finishing the stitch, are you basically just running the saddle stitch backwards 3 or 4 times and then cutting needles off? Wouldn't that leave the thread to come loose after very little irritation? If I'm correct could you also give me another way to finish? I'm just starting out, but have a little experience with leather craft; any advice would help get my head around how this stitch works.

Thank you very much

Nope! The stitches will stay in place due to friction. Because the holes are so small, and you're weaving the thread through twice, it makes everything really durable. Just make sure you're pulling the thread tight after each stitch. :D

I've been using the wallet I made in this instructable for a year and a half now, and there's no fraying or thread ends sticking out at all.

VrindaB (author)2016-03-04


Just found this site . Since I'm just starting out in leather working can you suggest a handbag pattern (easy i.e. a shopper) to start with. I am thinking a stiffer leather is easier to cut and sew ? and any suggestions for where to purchase a stitching pony ?


Since I'm just starting out in leather working

jessyratfink (author)VrindaB2016-03-05

HollyMann has a instructable up for a lovely leather tote bag - that would be a great starter project. :)

Stiffer is not always easier, though! I would stick to 4-6 oz leather for something like a bag. If you go thicker than that it may get tough to sew if you haven't done it before!

I bought my stitching pony from Tandy Leather. Springfield Leather, Amazon, and eBay are also great places to find one. eBay has the cheapest ones, but I have no idea of their quality.

jayludden made it! (author)2015-11-29

I tend to have super wonky stitching when I try to saddle stitch. I know that my holes are evenly spaced and in a straight line because I laser cut my leather. If I'm trying to saddle stitch, I usually user a speedy stitcher (like this one: ) Otherwise, I backstitch because it looks consistently nicer than a saddle stitch. Any tips? I wonder if a diamond shape might work better than a circle shape for the holes? Or perhaps I should be stitching with smaller holes or spaced further apart? I'm uncertain. Do you have any tips?

jessyratfink (author)jayludden2015-12-16

Oh, that looks great! I love the shape of the top flap.

Using a diamond shaped awl or chisel definitely gives cleaner lines in my experience! The diamond shape gives more room for the thread to lay flat when saddle stitching, whereas with circular holes the thread is crowded and can't lay flat. :)

The holes in that piece do look a little big, too, which means the thread might not always lay in the same place when you pull it through. I'd recommend trying smaller holes first, and if that doesn't work, trying out a diamond chisel to punch the holes!

jayludden (author)jessyratfink2015-12-16

Maybe I just need to measure the dimensions & spacing of a chisel and make a diamond shaped hole pattern. I have a strong preference for using a laser whenever possible, instead of cutting by hand. Thanks!

HaileeM (author)2015-09-29

how hard would it be to make a phone holder with it?

wobbler (author)2015-09-27

Thanks for this. I intend to re-cover my favourite bike saddle with leather, so this tutorial (and your needle threading one) will prove invaluable!

steveastrouk (author)2015-09-27

This is a really neat Instructable Jessy. Very clear. I like your leatherworking instructables, they're exemplary.

BrentB2 (author)2015-05-22

How do you tie off the threads after the double back-stitch? What kind of knot?

jessyratfink (author)BrentB22015-09-27

No knotting is needed! Just cut the threads extremely close to the stitching. The backstitch holds everything into place. :)

uncbill (author)2015-09-27

Brent, no knot, because you've pulled the thread tight when you're finishing and cutting, the end disappears into the hole and stays there.

KristinM5 (author)2015-09-27

Dampening the leather before sewing helps with flakes and fuzz, using a dremel or small battery power drill on a low speed with an old needle works REALLY well to make easy consistent holes, and waxing your thread (even the pre waxed stuff) all help to make hand stitching leather go a lot easier (also re waxing the thread every few inches can help too). (Actually Prewetting leather THEN using dremel to make holes. If the leather is wet when holes are made, the leather won't swell while sewing, making stitching easier) and no your holes won't be oversized when they dry.

Luziviech (author)2015-04-19

i prefer using braided thread. It's easier to interweave the needles and it's possibly stronger than drilled threads.

Mackramer (author)2015-04-15

Always enjoy your instructables! Have you thought of doing an instructable on how to make a stitching pony? It looks simple enough.

jzledwards (author)2015-04-03

You really are very good at passing your knowledge on. Thank you.

Jerico94 (author)2015-03-26

Very nice job you got talent and a so beatiful hands God bless your art

grannyjones (author)2015-01-29

My dad's stitching pony was mounted on a sawhorse. He made chaps using two whole deer hides. The seams were a double row of saddle stitching and were all flat seams. The "belt" was heavy cowhide. He did a lot of riding through brush, so they served him well for years.

erichho made it! (author)2015-01-26

made it

zimitt (author)2015-01-15

This is a great instructable, nice job.

I have a tip if I may. If you put both your needles through the hole at the same time, ( one from each direction ) it will prevent your thread from being split or cut from the second needle. Some leather needles have 3 flattened sides that run from the tip to about 3/4" up the shaft, these flat sides come to 3 knife sharp edges. This type of needle is to aid cutting through the leather. These needles can be especially bad for cutting thread unless this technique is used.

Nothing worse than getting to the end of your beautiful seam and having the thread break.

Thanks for posting.

shantinath1000 (author)2015-01-08

I have had good luck with using a 1/16 inch drill bit to make the holes. It is a bit more time consuming but when you use a speedy sticher it makes work easier since the hole is about the size of the needle. here is a video of s speedy stitcher in action.

Jobar007 (author)2015-01-05

I really like to slightly oversize my holes when saddle stitching and then knot the lines through each hole. That way, if the stitching breaks or gets cut, I only ever lose one stitch.

Good instructions, as always.

jessyratfink (author)Jobar0072015-01-06

Oh, neat! I've never seen that technique. I'm gonna need to do some googling!

Jobar007 (author)jessyratfink2015-01-07

As far as I know, no one else does that. It can make for a bulky hole though if you aren't careful about your knot and thread size.

About This Instructable




Bio: I work at instructables by day, and turn into a stitch witch by night. follow me on instagram @makingjiggy to see what i'm working ... More »
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