Introduction: Custom Watch Strap Kit

About: I like to build neat stuff. So far that's been a lightweight hiking stove, leathercraft kits with great instructions, and even Pittsburgh's largest makerspace.

This project was a real joy to work on. My friend Mat and I have been making leather wallet kits for several months and have been wanting to add a handsome custom watch strap to our collection. We use the same top-grain goat skin leather and waxed linen thread as our thin and bifold wallet kits and allow the user to customize the colors.

It comes as an un-assembled kit that also includes a Seiko 5 mechanical watch movement, and this Instructable shows you how to make it, teaching the traditional saddle stitch in the process.

You can buy the kit on our website.

If you already own leatherworking tools and have a favorite leather, you can also download the cut files at the bottom of this step.

Step 1: Tools & Materials

Included in the kit:

  • 1 stitching pony
  • 2 stitching pins
  • 1 Nikwax leather DWR treatment and application cloth set
  • 2 English harness needles
  • 2 French corded, waxed linen threads
  • 6 pieces American full grain, vegetable tanned goatskin leather
  • 1 Seiko 5 automatic mechanical watch body
  • 1 stainless steep buckle
  • 3 spring bars
  • 1 spring bar removal tool

Also needed:


Step 2: Applying the Finish

The leather we use is "naked," meaning it doesn't have a surface treatment. There are nice things about that, and the patina it develops over time, but for something that gets as much exposure as a watch strap, we wanted some level of protection. After testing a bunch of options, we chose Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather. It does darken the leather a bit, but not a lot, and doesn't give it a lot of shine or the plastic feel of many other options.

Squeeze a small amount on to the cotton application cloth and apply a thin single coat to the smooth side of each piece of leather. You don't want to saturate it – just make sure there's an even application. We did this on a piece of the packaging from the kit to keep our work surface clean. Allow the pieces to dry for about 15 minutes before handling.

Step 3: Stitching Pony Assembly

Stack the two stitching pony bars with the "stitch this side first" and "stitch this side second" marks on the same side, smooth faces out. Line up the rubber band notches on one side, and stretch a rubber band around both parts. The fit will be tight, and it helps to hold your thumb over one side of the band as you stretch the other.

Then stretch the bars open and insert the longest leather piece in the middle of the two bars. The top stitching holes should be approximately 1/4" above the top of the bars. Hold the bars together and place the second rubber band. Now place the bars in the notches on the stitching pony legs.

Step 4: Cutting the First Thread

The kit comes with two, equal length pieces of thread. Measure out and cut two 8 inch lengths (approximately the length of the long stitching pony bar) from one of them. One of these short lengths will be used in the next step (Step 5). The long piece will be used in Step 13. The other short length should be set aside with the second-smallest piece of leather (the one with twelve holes) for use in Step 24.

Step 5: Threading the Needles

Note: This step is somewhat complicated, but it makes sure your needle won't become unthreaded during stitching.

You will perform this step first with one of the short thread lengths from step 4.

  1. Carefully insert one end of the thread into one of the needles, making sure all three strands of the thread make it through the eye before pulling through.
  2. Pull the thread a couple inches through the needle, long enough for the point of the needle to double back through the thread.
  3. Grab this end of the thread approximately 1/2" from the end and twist it in the opposite direction of the cording, opening up the strands. Don't unravel the ends of the strands.
  4. Pass the point of the needle through these strands and pull the resulting loop back past the head of the needle and on to the thread.
  5. Gently pull on the thread to tighten up the loop. The thread should now be comfortably locked on the needle.
  6. Repeat for the second needle on the other end of the thread.

Step 6: Saddle Stitching - Pulling the Thread Through

We use a traditional hand-stitching technique called the saddle stitch. It creates a robust, attractive seam.

Start by positioning the second-longest piece of leather above the piece in the stitching pony, so the 5-hole end seams line up. The smooth sides of both pieces should be facing you.

Next, insert one of the needles through the right-most hole and pull it through with your other hand. The tip of the needle should go in easily, but the eye is larger and may provide some resistance. It may take a quick jerk to pull it all the way through. Once through, pull the two ends of the thread even. Be careful not to pull the thread out of the needle.

Step 7: Saddle Stitching - This Side First

One of the stitching pony bars should be labeled "stitch this side first." Insert the needle into the second hole on that side and pull it all the way through. You will start on this side for every stitch, which will create a nice, consistent looking seam. The label helps if you lose track.

Step 8: This Side Second and Above the First

Turn the stitching pony so you are facing the "stitch this side second and above the first" side. Hold the thread you just pulled through down against the stitching pony with one thumb and insert the needle connected to the other thread through the same hole. As the label notes, it should go in and come out above the first thread.

Once the second thread is through, grab both threads near the seam and pull them taut with a medium amount of pressure. Keeping the pressure consistent at this step will also give you the most consistent seam.

Step 9: Finishing the Seam

Continue stitching the short seam by following these steps:

  1. Stitch this side first,
  2. Stitch this side second and above the first,
  3. Pull taut,
  4. Repeat.

If you follow the "Stitch this side first" and "Stitch this side second and above the first" stitching order, your stitches will all have a nice, slight downward slant to them. This is the hallmark of a professional-quality seam.

Step 10: Single Lockstitch

Take the needle on the smooth side of the leather and pass it back through the second to last hole, above the existing thread. This places both threads on the back of the piece so they can be tied together.

Remove the needles from the thread.

Step 11: Tie a Square Knot

Take the two threads and tie a square knot finishing the seam.

A square knot is just two overhand knots in alternating directions. Put the right thread over the left and pull it through for the first. Then the left over the right and pull it through for the second.

Cut the threads approximately 1/8" from the knot. Enough so it won't unravel, but no so much that it sticks out.

Step 12: Placing the Stitching Pins

Take the long piece of leather you've created and fold it in half near the seam, smooth side out. Place stitching pins through the top right-most hole and the last hole on the left before the turn. Secure them in place with the rubber stoppers.

Step 13: Bottom Band - Starting the Long Seam

Place the leather pieces in the Stitching Pony horizontally, with the stitching pins approximately 1/4" above the bar. Follow Step 5 to thread the needles with the long thread from step 4.

Remove the Stitching Pin from the top right-most hole (the Stitching Pony will hold things in alignment) and follow Step 6 to pull the thread through the top right most hole, and pull the threads even.

Step 14: Bottom Band - Stitching the Stop

Stitch to the bottom right-most hole using the Saddle Stitch. Once complete, return the stitch through the original hole, keeping the threads parallel for a nice lockstitch. This creates a stop that will hold the spring bars in place later.

Step 15: Bottom Band - Continuing the Seam

Continue the Saddle Stitch along the seam for the bottom band until you reach the other stop. Stitch down into the stop, but do not yet return the stitches for a lock.

Step 16: Bottom Band - Hiding the Knot Part 1

Create a lockstitch on the stop as you did in Step 10, but instead of putting the needle all the way through, angle the needle so it comes out between the pieces of leather. There are three pieces of leather at this part of the seam, so one thread will go through one piece, and the other thread will go through two. There should not be any leather between the two threads at the end of this step.

Step 17: Bottom Band - Hiding the Knot Part 2

Remove the needles from the thread and tie a square knot as you did in Step 11. But this time, leave more thread (approximately 1/4") when you cut. Then use the back end of the needle to tuck the loose ends back into the seam. The Bottom Band is complete!

Step 18: Cutting the Second Thread

Cut two 8 inch sections from the second thread, just as you did with the first in Step 4.

Step 19: Top Band - Short Seams

Thread the needles on one of the short threads from the previous step and place the longest remaining leather piece vertically in the Stitching Pony. Follow Steps 6 - 11 on the first seam, then reposition the pieces and bring the other end around and perform the same steps on that seam. You will create a loop, with the smooth side facing out.

Step 20: Cutting the Second Thread: Redux

Take the long remaining piece of the second thread, and cut it in half.

Step 21: Top Band - Stitching the First Seam

Follow Steps 12 - 14 with the Top Band, using one of the threads you cut in the previous step. After completing the stop, but before continuing the seam, place the smallest piece of leather (suede side facing you) between the two pieces of leather, lining up its holes with the second through fourth horizontal holes in the seam. Stitch through the three pieces of leather and completing the seam with a hidden square knot as you did in Steps 16 & 17.

Step 22: Top Band - Stitching the Second Seam

Begin stitching the second seam on the Top Band as you did the first, starting on the side opposite the short piece you inserted earlier. Stop four horizontal holes before the end of the seam.

Step 23: Top Band - Finishing the Loop

Rotate the top band so it sits vertically in the Pony. Now loop over the short piece, to stitch it into the second seam of the Top Band as well. It takes some careful stitching the get through all three pieces of leather. Finish seam with a hidden square knot as before.

Step 24: Stitching the Strap Keeper

Thread the short piece of thread you set aside in Step 4 on to the needles. Take the remaining short piece of leather and stitch a zig-zag pattern connecting the loops. Finish with a half lock stitch and square knot as you first did in Steps 10 & 11. Then pinch the loop flat with the stitching in the middle.

Step 25: Assembling the Top Strap

First, slide the Strap Keeper on to the top Strap. Then insert the buckle pin into the end of the strap and slide the spring bar into the strap and buckle pin. Secure the buckle in place with the spring bar replacement tool.

Step 26: Connecting the Straps

Using one of the remaining spring bars and the spring bar tool, attach the Top Strap to the watch body. Do the same for the Bottom Strap.

Step 27: The Finished Product

You're done! Now strap on your watch and enjoy being stylish and punctual at the same time.

We made this project so anyone could make a great custom watch strap and have a great time doing it. Please let us know how it works for you and how we can make it better!


Devin & Mat