If you have a sewing machine that can comfortably sew thick fabrics, it can sew through most garment-weight leathers. But there are some problems to this cozy scenario – for one, the leather you have is most likely too thick for your machine. It may give you skipped, broken stitches or worse would not even fit under the presser foot of the ordinary home sewing machine, let alone move ahead and sew the leather seams.
And the next problem is that the normal lockstitch that a sewing machine gives is somewhat weak for joining together leather. When you cut a lock stitch in any place, it unravels itself to some distance. Whereas, a hand sewing stitch is quite sturdy and will keep your leather together quite securely for quite some time.
Hand sewing leather is something of a challenge. Because of the thickness of leather, it involves a lot more hardwork to sew seam stitches joining leather pieces together. This invariably takes a lot of time than it would with simple fabric. But leather has an incomparable charm which is why most of us prefer this material over any other material.
Here are some simple steps to sewing leather by hand
How to hand stitch Leather
Step 1 Gather the supplies
Leather crafting is a very satisfying hobby that involves tools that may be very elaborate and expensive. But you can come up with some good leather work with the minimum basic tools too.
Read this post on the 30 best hand sewing tools for leather here, for more details.
- Sharp rotary cutter or a really sharp and sturdy exacto knife.
- A marking tool (special leather marking tool shaped like a fork or the overstitch wheel) – to mark the stitching holes evenly and equally distanced on leather. You will need a marking tool that will give you the marks with the exact distance you want between stitches. The numbers will be indicated on the tool as 5 stitches per inches etc.
- Awl to make (pre-punch) holes for sewing.
- Straight leather needle (2 numbers) You can use regular sewing needles if you are making holes before sewing. Otherwise you can use the leather needles with sharp triangular points at the tips for penetrating the leather.
- Waxed Linen cord is the best for handstitching leather. Alternatives are thick cotton thread which you wax at home (Strengthen the cotton thread by passing through beeswax) or pre-waxed cotton cord. But linen thread is recommended by all experts.
- Beeswax – Waxing extends the life of your thread. It also prevents fraying of thread while sewing.
- A leather clamp to rest leather as you sew – this is optional but very much recommended for ease in sewing.
- Good quality Leather ; Checkout these posts on the 25 different types of Leather and how to buy good quality leather.
Step 2 Prepare the needle and thread
Measure the area to be sewn. Multiply by 3. This is how much thread you should take on each of your needle; but make sure that the length is no more than 24 inches because it becomes difficult to manage longer than that.
You can rub the thread with beeswax to make your thread complaint and good for stitching.
Thread your 2 needles with each end of the thread. Instead of just inserting the thread through the needle holes you can make a knot by inserting the needle eye through the thread as in the picture below. Take it up and you will have the edge of the thread anchored near the eye of the needle. No slipping off. This is possible only with thin needles.
Step 3 Prepare the leather
Thick leather needs to be prepared for sewing. If it is very thick you may even have to gouge channels to facilitate sewing. This will lessen the thickness of your leather layers. There are special chiseling tools or you can use the exacto knife to make these.
Mark the holes for stitching : It is a good idea to mark evenly spaced markings on the stitching line to make the stitches. You can use the stitching wheel to make uniform marks through which you can carry your needles.
On these marks you can further make holes – but these are made as you are sewing leather. After you make each stitch you can make holes with the help of an awl along the marks you have marked. Ensure that you are making uniform sized holes which will be just enough to carry your needle through – nothing more nothing less.
Step 4 Start stitching
Best hand sewing stitch for leather is a Saddle stitch. You can also make close whipping stitches.
You need clean tight stitches which are evenly made.
Leather sewing Hand stitches
You can also read about Saddle stitch here.
On your stitching line make the first hole with a sharp awl. Insert needle number 1 through the hole.
It will look like this.
Now make the next hole. Bring the first needle (Needle A) through this second hole to the front side
Now take the second needle (Needle B) through the same hole to the back side.
( here you will be inserting both your needles through the same hole, one going to the front and the other going to the back – this actions is repeated to make the saddle stitches)
As you tighten the stitch, one saddle stitch is made.
Make your third hole now. Take the needle A to the back through this hole.
Bring the needle B to the front through the same hole
Continue making stitches this way.
Never pull the thread very tightly after a stitch is made. You will distort the leather or worse tear. But you have to pull enough to make the stitch firm.
At the end of the stitches remember to back stitch to the previous hole, make a knot and cut the thread closely. You can use a soft hammer to make the stitches smooth.
Learn more on Saddle stitch here.
This is made on the rightside of the leather.The edges of leather layers are joined together using a whipping stitch.
Using the curved needle on leather
This needle is used in places where you can sew with straight needles – when joining curved leather pieces. For eg labels for a tin. The curved edges can only be sewn using these curved needles.
Some very thick leather can be joined together using rivets. These are inserted after making suitable holes with a hole puncher and then the two sides of the rivets are joined together – this is a very sturdy joining method for the thick leather seams.
Learn more about hand sewing leather from the book – The Art of Hand sewing Leather by Al Stohlman.