How to Hand Sew Leather

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Leather should be tooled or decorated before hand sewing the seams.
Leather should be tooled or decorated before hand sewing the seams. (Image: Anton Kochergin/Hemera/Getty Images)

The sleek look and durability of leather makes it good for many projects, from jewelry to purses to clothing. Hand sewing leather is not quite the same as sewing with fabric. Special tools and heavier thread are required. The stitches used for hand sewing leather are important for keeping the seams even and strong.

Getting to the Point

Most leather is too thick for a needle to pierce, so holes must be made in the leather for each stitch using an awl or leather punch. Stitches should be evenly spaced along the seam. A blunt needle with a large eye works well for saddle stitch. For leather thin enough to be sewn without punching, use a leather needle. This type of needle is thick enough not to bend when being pushed through leather and has a sharp, three-surface chiseled head that penetrates cleanly. Leather requires more force to sew than fabric, so use a padded thimble to prevent the needle from being pushed into the skin.

Seeing Double

The most common hand stitch for leather seams is a saddle stitch, also called double hand sewing. Two threads are used, beginning on opposite sides of the leather. Each thread is drawn through the same stitch hole separately, crossing inside the hole and ending up on opposite sides of the leather with each stitch. It is important that the threads pass each other without piercing. While saddle stitch takes some practice, it forms a strong, flat seam that will hold even if one of the threads breaks. Saddle stitch can be used on any weight of leather and is recommended for seams in heavy leather.

Getting Whippy with It

Thin leather may be sewn with a whipstitch. Rather than creating a smooth, flat seam, whipstitch wraps around the outside edge of the leather from one side to the other to add a decorative look along the edge. Variations such as the single-loop stitch add to the decorative effect. In single-loop stitch, the thread is drawn through the previous stitch from the bottom of the front to the back before being taken through the leather again. The stitch looks a little like the thread is braided across the edge of the leather.

Holding It together

Ordinary sewing thread is not heavy enough for hand sewing leather. Instead, heavy linen cord, polyester utility cord or one strand of three-cord nylon is used. The thread is often coated with beeswax before sewing. The wax makes the thread smooth and slick so it passes through the leather easier. Waxing the thread also keeps small fibers from being rubbed off as it is passed through the leather, preventing thread from fraying and breaking while being sewn.

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