Introduction: Leather Corset Stitch Bicycle Handlebar Grips
I am in the process of restoring a 1970s bicycle that my neighbour had put in the garbage. I really wanted to add some vintage style to it so I decided to swap out the original plastic for some leather. It was a very simple project that I think would be a great for any beginner and it will add a lot of style to your bike.
Don't forget to check out the video at the top and if you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.
Below are links to tools and materials I used in this article. It is either the exact tool/supply or something very close.
- Leather dye (optional)
- Gum tragacanth (or other edge cote)
Note: The links in this article are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Step 1: Removing the Old Grips
The first step was to take off the old grips. I cut away at the foam padding and then slid off the original plastic piece. I also ended up removing the handlebars just to make things easier, but you could leave them on and complete the project that way.
Step 2: Cutting the Leather to Rough Size
I am using 5-6oz veg tanned leather for this project. I used the old plastic grips to get an approximate measurement. I put it on the leather and rolled it over 360 degrees and made a mark. I used my square to line up the cut and to make sure it was perpendicular to the edge I was referencing.
I cut a line that was twice as long as the plastic grip (~9 3/4"). I then cut it in half and now I had enough pieces to make both handlebar grips.
Step 3: Cutting the Leather to Final Size
To find the final size I wrapped the leather pieces around the handlebars and then made a mark where they overlapped. Again using my square and an xacto I cut the pieces to their final size.
Tip: It is better to err on the side of making them a big large. You can always cut more off, but according to the scraps in my drawer (which are a bit too small) you cannot add more on.
Step 4: Marking and Punching Stiching Holes
Using my compass set at 1/8" I marked lines on the long edges of the pieces.
I used the lines to line up a leatherworking pricking iron. I placed the leather on top of a scrap of wood. I lined up the tines on the line and then hit it with a mallet until it had completely gone through the leather. I then pulled the iron out and moved it down the line. In order to ensure that the spacing remains constant I made sure to put one of the tines from the pricking iron in one of the holes I had already punched. I kept going down the line until I had punched holes into the entire line. I then repeated this on the other side.
Note: for this project only the long edges need holes. Do not put holes into the short edges.
Step 5: Dying the Leather (optional)
I am painting the bicycle a light blue colour and I though a dark brown would go nicely with it. So I grabbed some of my water based leather dye and put it on the smooth side of the leather. After it dried I put a second coat on because I find the water based leather dye leaves streaks if you only put one coat.
Tip: Use an ice pick or awl to hold the leather in the stitching holes. This makes sure that you will be able to get full coverage and you won't get finger prints.
Step 6: Prepare the Edges
Because I was sloppy when applying the leather dye I ended up getting some dye on the short edges. I had to sand them off and that made the edges not look great (they looked a bit mushroomed). In order to fix that I decided to bevel the edges using a #2 edge beveler. I also think a beveled edge looks nice, so my sloppiness has added benefit.
I then coated the edges with gum tragacath and burnished them using a wooden slicker. Burnishing is just a fancy term for rubbing lightly.
tip: You could also use beeswax or tokinole to coat the edge.
Step 7: Threading the Needle
I wanted the corset stitch to stand out so I decided to go with a contrasting coloured thread. I still haven't gotten comfortable in estimating the length of thread I will need for a project, so I usually end up grabbing more than I think I need. (in this case I ended up being about perfect in the amount of thread, so I am glad I grabbed extra... thread is a lot cheaper than taking the project apart and starting again)
The way I thread my needles is to first put the thread through the eye. I then take the short end and pass the needle through the this bit of thread. Lastly I pull it tight. I repeat the same thing for the other end of the thread. I am sure there are better ways to do this (like this article by Jessy Ratfink https://www.instructables.com/how-to-thread-a-lea...) but this way works for me. Use whichever way works best for you!
Step 8: Corset Stitch
I learnt how to do the corset stitch from my friend Ethan Carter. He has an instructable that explains how to do the stitch so well that I think it would be best you learn from him.
If you would prefer to hear my non-expert way of explaining the corset stitch read ahead. To start the stitch I pushed the needle through one of the holes on one end. I grabbed both needles and pulled the thread to equalize the length on each side. The first stitches go through the top two holes twice, this creates a loop. I took the approach of always starting with the same side (the side closest to me). Choosing a side and sticking with it makes the final pattern look nicer. For the first cross I pulled the needle through the first open hole on the opposite side coming from the top pointed towards me. I then threaded the needle through the parallel hole on the other side, from underneath.
Now I moved to the needle from the side furthest from me. I did the same steps from above, but I pulled the needle through the holes I had just finished threading (note: try to make sure you don’t accidentally put the needle through the thread.) I would continue this pattern all the way down and every so often I would pull the threads tight.
Here are some tips that I found helpful.
1. I started the first few stitches off of the project. I found it easier when making the initial loop because
2. I let the work piece hang off of the edge of the handle as I was working on it. This allowed me to get the needle into the holes from a better angle.
3. I kept the stitch pretty loose as I was working on it, again this allowed me to get in from a better angle.
Step 9: Finishing the Stitch
To finish the stitch you end with a loop at the top and the working ends of the thread underneath. I cut the needles off and then tied a simple knot. I then cut the loose ends of the thread to about 1/8" and used a lighter to melt the the threads together. While it was still hot I used the metal part of my lighter to push the threads tight against the underside of the leather. Combining the knot and the fire will make it very unlikely that the stitch will fail.
Step 10: Final Touches
The original plastic grips covered the ends and I didn't really like the way the open ends looked. A quick search on amazon and I found these simple aluminum handlebar end caps.
I then reinstalled the handle bars and called this project complete.
Step 11: Admiring Your Project
The best of every project, admiring your work! I really think these turned out better than I expected, especially compared to where we started. I can't wait to finish this bicycle restoration and give them a try.
I hope you found this project as fun as I did. If you did I would appreciate if you check me out on other social media:
Second Prize in the