How to Sew Leather (and Other Tough Materials)

It’s been said that leather is the toughest material in existence. This can make it difficult to sew and make repairs on, but we have a step-by-step guide for sewing tough materials like this with ease. Check out our article now!

The “how to sew leather by hand” is a guide on how to sew tough materials like leather. The article includes step-by-step instructions and pictures of the process.

Note from the editor: This is a guest post by Michael Magnus.

Sewing may seem to be a purely female pastime (outside of the tailoring industry), however simple sewing capabilities have been a necessary for survival since the Paleolithic era. Sewing isn’t only about creating pretty doilies; it’s also about learning how to put things together swiftly and efficiently for survival with little gear and maximum strength. 

When you break a seam on your clothes, you’ve surely observed that it’s simple to rip out at least 5 or 6 stitches by mistake. This is due to the fact that sewing machines employ a stitching technique known as the “lock stitch,” which causes a chain reaction if one stitch breaks. You should use a different approach, the saddle stitch, if you want something that will withstand failure better. This stitching process, which has been employed by saddle builders for years, is more robust since it only breaks one stitch.

The saddle stitch is tough because it can be made using improvised equipment and may be used to patch/attach/close a variety of thick fabrics; whether patching a rip in a tent, filling a hole in a sleeping bag, or building a sheath for a hatchet, learning how to saddle stitch is a useful ability.

We’ll demonstrate this hand stitching method on one of the hardest fabrics you can deal with: leather, in this article.

Let’s get serious about sewing like a guy.

Needed Equipment

  • 2 needles for stitching
  • Waxed thread is preferred (if not pre-waxed, you can wax it yourself with beeswax, a candle, etc.)
  • Ice pick, sewing awl, or hammer/nails are all options.
  • Binder clips, tiny clamps, or anything similar are all good options.
  • Fork
  • Pencil (optional)

We’ll use two pieces of vegetable tan leather to demonstrate this stitching procedure. Although this material is thicker than many of the other materials you would deal with, if you can reproduce this process with robust leather, it’s likely to work elsewhere. This is useful for repairing canvas or textile since the same fundamental principles and approaches apply.

Step 1: Get the Leather Ready

Holding leather in clips. Keeping the two pieces from sliding so that the stitching remains straight is sometimes one of the most difficult aspects of hand sewing leather. You can do it without binding, but with a little help, you’ll get better results. Binder clips are what I’m going to use here, but you may also use an adhesive or even nails. This binding is especially useful if you’re fixing anything like a tent or a sail that has to be repaired on the spot.

Align the outer edges with the rough sides together and the smooth sides out, then use the binder clips to keep them together. This will guarantee that the stitching holes are aligned and that everything is straight.

Set the Spacing in Step 2

Spacing a leather with fork.

What we want to do is create some kind of even working space for ourselves. For this, a fork will usually enough. It isn’t completely straight, but it serves its purpose. The goal is to make a guide by imprinting what the spacing should be and where the holes should go on the leather. To achieve uniform spacing, overlay the previous impression (creating just three fresh marks each time). 

 

If you’re working with canvas or another kind of material, you may use the same approach with a fork but mark the spacing using a pen or whatever you have on hand.

Step 3: Putting Holes in the Ground

Creating holes in a leather.

Puncturing holes using a sewing awl is great, but you may be restricted in your toolkit. If you have access to an ice pick or a strong shank, that would suffice. It really slices the leather for stitching with the correct instrument, while an ice pick or a shank would rip a hole. In the end, having a sewing awl on hand may result in a more long-lasting repair, but you must work with what you have.

Making holes in a leather with nails and hammer.

Another approach is to use a hammer and nails. You may bind the two ends of your materials together by hammering a nail into place if you locate a log or piece of wood. After that, you may use the fork technique to define stitch lines and then hammer a nail to produce stitching holes.

Knives are usually ineffective for this phase. A roughly spherical hole is good, and the puncture from a knife is elongated. If that’s all you have, you may be able to finish this stage by making knife punctures perpendicular to the material’s edge to ensure that the spacing is maintained. This gives the stitch more space to pull out, but use what you have on hand.

To actually create the holes, puncture all the way through the leather using the pattern produced with the fork. You may need to pierce from both sides, depending on how thick the leather is and how sharp your piercing device is. If this is the case, press through to the point where you can see where the hole will come through, then turn the leather over to complete the hole from the other side.

Sewing is the fourth step.

A man sewing a leather.

We’ll prepare the thread now that we’ve drilled holes in each piece of leather. To use the saddle stitch technique, you’ll need to measure and cut at least 3.5 times the length you’re going to sew.

Optional: If your thread isn’t waxed, you may wax it now using beeswax or candle wax if it isn’t already. To do so, tug the thread a few times between your thumb and the wax. The friction from the pressure will assist the thread absorb the wax, extending the thread’s life and preventing the stitch from loosening.

Start by putting a needle on either end of the thread and pushing the first needle through the first hole. Even out the quantity of thread on either side of the material so that each needle is nearly identical distance from the piece of leather once you’ve drawn a threaded needle through the first hole.

 

The thread should easily pass through, but depending on the size of the needle compared to the size of the hole, you may need to use pliers to assist pull the needle through. If you do use pliers, make sure you’re drawing the needle straight through instead than at an angle, since this is more likely to break the needle.

You’ll begin stitching figure eights back and forth through the holes after you’ve set up. Begin by threading the first needle through the second hole and through both pieces of leather, then threading the second needle through the same hole in the other way. In principle, the holes on each piece of leather should be generally aligned; nonetheless, you may need to alter slightly to obtain the perfect angle to go through both holes.

Note: If one needle crosses through the thread of the previous pass, pulling the stitching tight may be difficult. To prevent this, pull the thread to one side after the first needle has gone through to make a free route for the second needle.

You’ll keep doing this all the way down your guide holes, tugging the thread tighter with each pass through to tighten the stitch. We’ll sew through the remaining holes twice to “lock” the stitch (more on that later), so now is a good opportunity to assess if the needle will pass through easily a second time. You could be alright if you’ve experienced no problems up to this point. However, if you’re having trouble putting the needle through, you may want to use your awl or icepick to expand the final few holes so that they pass more easily.

Finish the stitch by going through the last holes in the same figure 8 manner as before. When you reach to the finish, use the same procedure to go back through at least two sets of holes. Because these are already little holes and we will have filled them with twice as much thread, you may find it a bit more difficult to get it through.

Pull the thread taut and clip the thread once you’ve stitched back twice.

You’ve successfully finished the saddle stitch. It isn’t usually attractive, but it is quite durable and practical. This knowledge will come in helpful whether you’re camping, sailing, or surviving the zombie apocalypse and need to mend something. 

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Michael Magnus is a North Texas-based digital advertising educator, consultant, and freelancer. Magnus promotes the art of leatherworking as a recreational leathercraft historian and content developer with the Elktracks Studio Foundation when he is not teaching or spending time with his family.

 

 

The “sewing thin leather by hand” is a difficult task to do, but it can be done. To start, you need to find a way to heat the material without burning it. Once the material is heated up enough, use an awl or needle and thread to sew it together.

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