Sorry for the awlful pun, but I just couldn't resist. I have had the idea of getting a sewing awl for quite a while, but like every good cheapskate maker with a little spare time, I decided to make one out of scrap just to try it out. I found some Instructables mentioning sewing awls, and I found a few Youtube videos showing how to use one. By watching and reading, I figured out that the fancy little thread bobbins are just a convenience, you can do the sewing with a much simpler awl.
Here are a few videos I found that show you how to sew using a sewing awl.
The real thing you need is a sturdy needle with a hole in the end, set in a handle. That's what I set out to make.
Step 1: The needle
I took a number 3 finish nail and flattened the end by pounding it with a hammer. Finish nails are commonly mild steel, so you don't need to heat it in order to flatten it. I set mine on a small anvil to pound it, but about any smooth, hard metal object could be used as a makeshift anvil.
Once I had flattened the tip of the nail, I drilled a small hole. The edges of the hole were a little rough; rough enough that they would have snagged any thread or string. I tried a few different things to deburr the hole, including using a larger diameter bit as a deburring tool, and using fine sandpaper. I eventually got the the edges smooth.
Finally, I took a small file and sharpened both ends. The business end for obvious reasons. But the back also end needs to be sharpened enough to drive it into the handle. It helps to hold the nail using a pair of Vise-Grips when filing. You could also clamp it in a vise to file it. I was away from my shop so I had to make do.