Sewing Leather by Hand | Stonestreet Leather
Sewing leather by hand is a great way to make unique and customized leather products. Here Stonestreet Leather shares some tips on how to get started.
How to Sew Leather by Hand
How to sew or repair stitches in leather at home is a common question for those without access to an industrial sewing machine. Here, Stonestreet Leather breaks down everything it takes to sew leather, from the tools you’ll need to the sewing process itself.
Sewing leather by hand is a bit of an art form. It's not as easy as sewing fabric, but it's not impossible. With the right tools and a little bit of practice, you can hand sew leather like a pro.
LEARN HOW YOU CAN SEW LEATHER
If you’re always eyeing leather goods- pants, skirts, jackets, bags, just about anything leather- and wondering, “Hey, could I make that leather belt myself?” We have good news for you. Believe it or not, sewing with leather is not as difficult as it looks, and beginners to both leatherworking and sewing can do it.
So, if you’re looking for a challenge and want to create something unique and long-lasting, read on to find out how you can sew leather successfully by hand.
How to Sew Leather by Hand
Knowing how to sew leather by hand is an important skill to learn in leatherwork, and while it can seem daunting, it’s relatively easy to master. Leather hand sewing differs from fabric sewing in that leather hand sewing requires you to sew through pre-punched holes, which will ensure that your stitches are evenly spaced.
This means that sewing leather by hand requires slightly less precision and concentration than doing so with fabric. Additionally, leather needles are often blunt and large, making them less likely to poke you and easier to keep your eye on.
Sewing Leather Bags
You can create just about anything with leather, but a popular choice is a leather bag. Sewing leather bags can be a perfect leather sewing projectsince most require an awl and a hand sewing needle or a leather needle for your sewing machine if you’ve got one.
To sew a leather bag, you can purchase either a half or full skin of leather. A half skin should be sufficient to create a smaller bag.
Also, remember that skins are often irregularly shaped, so you will have to work around this when making your bag. You can cut a piece of paper that can be used as a template. Place the template on the leather and cut around it. If you’d prefer to avoid this, you can purchase leather pre-cuts.
LEATHER SEWING KIT
To begin, you must accumulate your tools into a simple leather sewing kit. If you’re considering learning how to sew leather, you may feel overwhelmed by all the tools you need, but it’s likely that you already have most of these items in your home.
For a basic leather sewing kit, you will need the following items:
A sewing awl
Small clamps or binder clips
As for your leather, any type will do, but vegetable-tanned leather (like our vegetable-tanned single shoulder) is the most common type of leather to work with. While this material is likely much thicker than many of the materials you are used to working with, it offers great stitching practice for methods that can be applied elsewhere.
Leather Sewing Needles
Different applications of sewing require specific styles and sizes of needles. Unlike other materials, leather is most commonly measured by the ounce, with the thickness gauged by the ounce measurement.
For example, a 4 oz. piece of leather will be 1/16” thick, and an 8 oz. piece is ⅛” thick. We recommend the R point Groz-Beckert stitching needle for leather under 4 oz, as the R point is on the sharper side, allowing it to punch holes through all types of materials easily.
However, a cutting point needle is most recommended for thicker leather pieces. We recommend a tri-point needle, which has a distinctive point and shape designed to penetrate and slick thick leather material easily.
Waxed Thread for Leather
Waxing thread is essential to leatherworking. It makes regular thread stiffer, less stretchy, and more resistant to water and mildew. If you are learning how to sew leather, it’s useful to know how to wax your thread.
If your thread is not already waxed, we suggest waxing it with candle wax or beeswax, which is done by holding the thread between your thumb and pulling it a few times. This creates friction that will allow the thread to take the wax easily and will help prolong the thread’s lifespan.
An awl is a sharp, pointed tool that is used to make holes in materials so that they can be sewn. It is an essential tool for anyone learning how to sew leather.
There are many types of awls, but the ideal one for sewing leather is a stitching awl. A stitching awl typically has two needles that are joined at the top by a metal shaft.
The advantages of using a stitching awl are that it can make two holes at once and that the holes will be perfectly spaced apart, which is crucial for even stitching.
SEWING LEATHER: PREPARATION
If you are learning how to sew leather, learning how to prepare your leather for stitching is just as important as knowing the stitches themselves. Leather is a unique material, and inconsistencies are to be expected, but many believe that its flaws are what give it its artisan value.
When cutting out leather, it’s important always to use care, especially if there are marks you don’t want on your final product. Before cutting your leather, you should carefully lay out your pieces to ensure your pattern pieces fit in a way that maximizes the leather piece.
Check out our full selection of leather at Stonestreet Leather to find the best pieces for your project.
Sewing Thin Leather by Hand
When compared with thick leather, thin leather is ideal for sewing by hand, but both can be done with careful preparation. An industrial sewing machine is not needed for leather sewing as long as you use thin, soft skins such as lambskin leather.
One of the most difficult parts of sewing leather by hand is keeping the two pieces from slipping and keeping the stitching straight. This is where the binder clips come in. Keeping the smooth sides out and the rough sides together, hold them together with the binder clips to ensure that the stitching holes align well.
You will next want to give yourself even spacing to work from, which is where the fork comes in. You aim to create a guide by making spacing impressions on the leather. Making only three new marks each time, overlap the last impression to ensure even spacing.
Next, use your sewing awl to create holes. Pierce a hole through the leather, following the pattern made with the fork. You may need to puncture the hole from each side, depending on how thick your leather piece is.
However, punching the holes from the other side can create small irregular bumps that can cause a slightly variable stitch. Also, beginners often tend to make mistakes and not punch stitch holes in a straight stitch line.
Next, you will need to stitch your leather using the holes you just created. Before you begin stitching, take note of the various types of leather stitching to figure out what’s best for your project.
Types of Leather Stitching
When learning how to sew leather, it’s important to know the various types of leather stitching to ensure that you achieve the desired look and durability.
The most common stitch for hand sewing leather is the saddle stitching process. Contrasting a straight stitch, which shows only every other stitch, the saddle stitches fill each stitch on both sides. This creates a single unbroken line that resembles a stitch made by a sewing machine.
Hand stitching leather with a saddle stitch is the most common for hand-sewing leather. This makes for a stronger stitch because the other thread will still hold if one thread breaks.
Other leather stitching methods include the single needle method and the double-needle method, but in this guide, we will only be discussing the saddle stitch method since it’s the most recommended.
Types of Leather Lacing Stitches
Lacing is a leather sewing method that uses colorful lace for a decorative look. Frequently used with tooled leathers, leather edge lacing created a combination of styles that complement one another for a professional finish.
Best suited for lacing lightweight leather edges, the single loop stitch uses as little lace as required to cover the edge. This method is best for small, simple projects.
The double loop stitch covers a wider area, which is ideal for heavier projects. This method is best for projects where two leather thicknesses need to have more lacing to cover the edge.
If you desire a thicker accent on large projects with two or more thicknesses, consider using the triple loop stitch.
HOW TO STITCH LEATHER
Once you have created your holes, it’s time to prepare the thread. If you use the saddle stitch method, you will want to measure and cut the thread 3.5 times the length you plan to sew.
First, start with a needle on each end of the thread and push the first one through the first hole. Then, even out the amount of thread on each side of the leather, ensuring that both needles are equally spaced out from the material.
Start sewing a few stitches in a figure-8 motion back and forth through the holes. Take the first needle through the second hole and go through the full piece of leather, then put the second needle through the same hole in opposing directions.
Continue doing this all the way down the holes, ensuring that you firmly pull the thread to stitch tight each time you pass it through.
Once you reach the last holes, you will sew through them twice in the same figure-8 pattern you’ve used with the other holes. This ‘locks’ the stitch, finalizing your saddle stitch. Complete the stitch by tightly pulling the thread and then trimming it.
You now have a functional and durable saddle stitch. Whether using the stitch to create an everyday item or for outdoor recreation, this simple stitch will always come in handy. Congratulations – you’ve learned how to sew leather!
Although mistakes and variations may be inevitable in the beginning, they shouldn’t be looked at harshly but as something that will make your leather sewing projects unique.
If you’re looking for your next project, check out our guide, which explains how leather is made.
SEWING MACHINE FOR LEATHER
While sewing leather by hand is doable, it’s easier with a sewing machine. One problem with leather crafting is that there’s no room for mistakes. One incorrect stitch is enough to ruin your material, creating a permanent hole in the product.
This is where the precision of a sewing machine can be helpful, but there are a few downsides. Whether you’d prefer to hand sew your leather or use a sewing machine relies on weighing these pros and cons.
Leather Sewing Machines Cons
One downside of using a machine when sewing leather is that leather tends to stick to the presser foot of the throat plate on many standard sewing machines. To counter this, you can place a piece of tape over the bottom of the foot, but most machines won’t accept the material’s thickness.
If you insist on using a sewing machine for leather, opt for one with a longer stitch length option, which will offer a more secure seam.
Best Sewing Machine for Leather
When choosing your sewing machine for leather, please pay attention to motor power, stitch length, stitch speed, reliability, and its ability to tackle thickness. Since leather is such a tough material to work with, we recommend a sewing machine labeled as ‘heavy-duty.’
The Janome HD1000, Singer CG590, and Toyota FSG325 are contenders for the best sewing machines for heavy-duty materials like leather. While the Singer CG590 features better specifications, all three sewing machines offer enough features for most home leather projects.
Leatherworking is an art that takes time to master, and it’s always great to have a helping hand along the way. If you are looking for high-quality leather manufacturers for your leatherworking needs or have any questions about leather, don’t hesitate to contact the experts at Stonestreet Leather.