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The saddle stitch - Introduction and Safety Tips

saddlestitch
Fig.1 - the route of the saddle stitch thread.


Firstly an apology to any left-handed people reading this, the author has no experience of or ability with left hand sewing.
A reversal of all 'handed' instructions will be required.

Work safely! A responsible adult should supervise children at all times.

Hand tools should be sharp at all times. Blunt tools require excessive force in use and can lead to nasty accidents.
Because your tools will be sharp, handle with thought and care at all times.

HINT; Most student leatherworkers make sheaths and covers for their tools as part of their introductory work.

Once you have a few of the correct tools and a little skill, hand stitching is easier than it first appears.
Follow this guide and you will be turning out work far quicker and more neatly than you would have thought possible.
There is no mystery to leatherwork, just care, cleanliness and the proper tools for the job.

Leather is expensive, always plan work ahead and think carefully before cutting or stitching.

Please work safely and enjoy your leatherworking.

Preparing the work

Marking a stitch line with dividers
Fig.2 - Marking a stitch line with dividers
Mark up the work with a pair of dividers or a steel rule.
Mark a line 2-6mm from the edge of the leather to be sewn, depending upon the size of stitches.
See Fig.2.
 
Using a pricking tool to mark stitches
Fig.3 - Using a pricking tool to mark stitches
Use a marking tool to carefully mark the stitch positions along the line just made.
See Fig.3.

There is no need to press too hard; it is sufficient to make an indentation that will be visible during stitching.

If you do not have a pricking tool you can use a ruler and awl to mark stitch positions, but you will not have the stitch angles indicated and neat work will be more difficult.
Now cut the required length of thread. For saddle stitching it needs to be at least four times the stitching distance.

Attach and lock a harness needle to both ends of the thread. You may need to taper the thread to pass it through the eye of each needle.
See Threading a needle

Wash your hands if necessary. Leather stains easily and is very difficult to clean.

Place the leather in your clamp. The stitching line should be in clear view and at a good height while you stitch. It is usually easier to stitch towards you.
If you do not have proper clamps two 400mm x 60mm pieces of wood taped together around the work piece and held between your knees as you sit will suffice.

You are now ready to start stitching.

Starting to stitch

Awl piercing the first slot
Fig.4 - The awl piercing the first slot.
Inspect the awl blade.

It has an elongated diamond profile that will pierce a slotted hole in the leather.
The slot should be made at the correct angle each time so that the stitches can lie properly.
This is achieved by turning the awl until two of the blade's facets are facing you and the one on top - i.e. furthest away - is parallel with the top edge of the leather.
Pierce the leather with quick push, do not twist or waggle the blade as you may break it and will certainly open up and round the hole excessively.
See Fig.4.
 
If the blade does not pass easily through the leather it should be sharpened before continuing or you will break it before the line of stitches is complete.
See Fix and Sharpen an Awl
Pushing the needle from the left
Fig.5 - Pushing the needle through from the left.
Keep the awl in the palm of your right hand and push one of the needles through the hole from the left.
See Fig.5.
Getting the threads the same length
Fig.6 - Getting the threads the same length.
Draw out the thread until there is an equal length on either side of the work.
See Fig.6.

You now have to learn to handle three implements with two hands. Follow the pictures and with a little practice it soon becomes second nature.

You may find it easier to vary the tool swapping technique to suit your own comfort, this is fine as long as you are working safely and comfortably.
 
The awl piercing the second slot
Fig.7 - The awl piercing the second slot.
Hold one needle in the left hand and grip the other needle between the index and middle fingers of the right hand.

Support the back of the leather with thumb and forefinger of the left hand but be sure to keep them clear of the impending awl exit point!

Pierce the next hole with the awl.
See Fig.7.
The awl seen from the back of the work
Fig.8 - The awl seen from the back of the work.
The stitches on the left hand side of the work can only be neat if the awl is used accurately and at the same angle for each hole.

This comes with practice; don't worry too much about this until you have mastered tool swapping.
See Fig.8.
 

Using the needles

Pass the left needle through first
Fig.9 - Pass the left needle through first.
Let the awl rest in the palm of your right hand (support it with your little finger).
The right hand needle rests between the first two fingers of the right hand.
Then bring the left needle forward and hold it between the thumb and first finger of the left hand.

Push the left needle through the slot you have just made.
See Fig.9.
The right needle crossed behind the left
Fig.10 - The right needle crossed behind the left.
Holding the right needle between thumb and first finger, place it behind the left needle to form a cross.
See Fig.10.
 
The needles gripped across each other
Fig.11 - The needles gripped across each other.
Form a cross with the needles.
See Fig.11.
Pulling the left needle through
Fig.12 - Pulling the left needle through.
Grasp the left needle between thumb and index finger of the right hand and pull it through.
Note that the THREAD is being pulled, you should try to do this whenever possible to minimise strain on the eye of the needle.

The left hand is holding the thread under slight tension thus ensuring it slides to the bottom of the slot.
See Fig.12.
 
Pushing the right needle through
Fig.13 - Pushing the right needle through.
The right needle seen from the back of the work
Fig.14 - The right needle seen from the back of the work.
Now swivel your right hand and put the tip of the right needle into the same slot.
It should be behind (i.e. on top of) the thread.
See Figs.13 & 14.
 
Hold the thread clear of the right-hand needle
Fig.15 - Hold the thread clear of the right-hand needle.
Keep the thread under tension at the bottom of the slot and take care not to pierce it with the right-hand needle or a knot will occur.
This is easier than it sounds, as harness needles are quite blunt.
See Fig.15.

Pulling the stitch tight

Casting - lifting the back thread over the right needle
Fig.16 - Casting - lifting the back thread over the right needle.
Cast the thread over the right needle. This causes the back thread to lie neatly when tightened.
See Fig.16.
 
Pulling the right needle through
Fig.17 - Pulling the right needle through.
Pull the needle through with the thumb and forefinger of the left hand.
See Fig.17.
Pull the stitch tight evenly
Fig.18 - Pull the stitch tight evenly.
Tug both threads with equal tension until the stitch closes. Try to keep the loops equal in size.
Stitches should be tight but not so as to hurt your fingers.

The wax will hold the stitch tight whilst you prepare the next one.
See Fig.18.
 

Finishing off

Go back over two or three stitches to finish
Fig.19 - Go back over two or three stitches to finish.
Repeat the previous sequence as required.

Finish the run by going back over 2 or 3 stitches and leave both ends of the thread at the back of the work (the left side).
Cut them off as close as possible to the leather.
There is no need to knot the thread; indeed this will spoil the look of the work.
See Fig.19.
Using a bone folder to flatten the stitches
Fig.20 - Using a bone folder to flatten the stitches.
Run the flat side of a bone folder over the stitches to press them into the leather if you wish.
This is optional but it protects them from wear and can improve their appearance.
See Fig.20.

Finish and Burnish the Edge

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