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:
- 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
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
Step 3: Starting the Saddle Stitch
(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
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
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
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
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
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:
- 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.
- 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:
- Be consistent. Always bring one needle through the holes first, and have the second follow behind.
- Always pull the thread tight after every stitch.
- 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.