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Handsewing Leather With The Saddle Stitch

Hand sewing leather is an often-overlooked, but vital part of leatherworking. There is no substitute in leatherwork for the proper stitch. Unless you are making a key chain or something extremely basic that has no need for real strength, the best leather craft stitch available is the saddle stitch for hard-use items. After all, you don’t want to go through all the trouble of making a great design and working hard to put it together just to have it fall apart because the stitch was too weak! There are a few other options for stitches and you can also use lacing (or even rivets) to close a seam, but in general, there is no substitute for the saddle stitch. This saddle stitch tutorial will go over the steps necessitated in the saddle stitch.

You will need waxed thread or artificial sinew (I have heard of people using dental floss and fishing line, but I don’t really know if that will work well or not and they aren’t really recommended), two leatherworking needles, and a pair of pliers or something to pull the needles through the small holes. A stitching pony will make your work a lot easier if you do much hand sewing. It is a device that holds the leather for you so that you have two hands to use in the stitching.

Stitching Pony

There are two ways to perform a saddle stitch, but I’ll describe the way that I do it:

1) Procure a piece of either waxed thread or artificial sinew that is about 2.5 times the length of the seam that you will be stitching and attach a needle to each end. For example, if the seam is 8 inches long, pick a length of thread that is around 20 inches in length. This will leave a little extra at the end, but that is far better than coming up a couple inches too short and having to redo it!

2) Start at one end of the seam and push one needle through the first hole. Pull enough thread through so that there is an equal length of thread on each side.

3) Pick up one of the needles (let’s say the right needle) and push it through the hole immediately beneath from the right side and pull it tight out the left side, without stealing thread from the left needle. You will probably need to use something to help pull the needle through, because it will be a tight fit and hurt your hands.

4) Now take the left needle and push it through the same hole from the left and pull it out the right side of the hole. You should now have the needles hanging on each side with approximately even amounts of thread again.
5) Keep alternating back and forth, pushing both needles through each hole and tightening them until you reach the other end.

6) When you get to the other end, start stitching again back the way you came for a few holes. This locks the stitch in place so that it won’t start to unravel.

7) Cut the thread and tuck the loose ends in the stitches or use a lighter or match to melt the ends together if they are synthetic (be careful not to burn some stitches apart if you do this – I’ve done it before).

You are now finished with the stitching! It isn’t the most fun part, but it isn’t too bad. The reason for the saddle stitch is now obvious – you now have stitches running both ways over the length of the seam. If a stitch one side gets broken or cut, the other side will hold the seam in place.

If you are serious about leatherwork and leather sewing techniques, get The Art of Hand Sewing Leather by Al Stohlman. It is the Bible for this kind of work.

Enjoy leather working!

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