Elliptical image og leather guitar strap end
Library articles

Saddle Stitch 2

Hand-crafted - without sewing machines

Saddle stitch is the classic method of hand-sewing leather.
Each stitch is separately formed, typically producing a saw-tooth pattern.
This is Part 2 of 3 of an article about some of the details.
Saddle-stitch for lining of hand-sewn leather

How it is done and why it is worth the effort

Holding the work

The pieces of leather to be joined are held together using a type of quick-release clamp - traditionally a device called a 'stitching clam' that looks like a very long pair of tongs. (A stitching 'pony' is similar but is more restrictive).
Once the work is clamped it can be stitched

Preparing the thread

The length of thread is rubbed through beeswax. (The craftsman on the video uses a large block). The thread that I use is linen, which is made from flax. The ends are threaded and locked onto a pair of specially-designed, not-very-sharp needles.

A specially-made type of awl, (a small, sharp, spear-shaped blade), is pushed though the layers of leather leaving a diamond-shaped hole. One of the needles now gets pushed through this hole.

The thread is pulled through until its mid-point is within the awl-hole.


One of the needles is then passed though a second, newly-created hole and the other needle is is passed through the same hole from the other side.

This is why the needles are not very sharp - the holes are already made and splitting the thread on the reverse stitch must be avoided or the thread cannot be tightened.

Evenly-spaced holes and double stitches follow along the stitching line to the end of the section.

The row is usually finished off by running the threads back through the last few holes again, locking the ends into place. (In the video, he finishes by running well beyond where needed, avoiding double-thread stitches).

Why it is all worthwhile

Each diamond-shaped hole is made one at a time because, although it has a very sharp point, the awl does not have cutting edges - the fibres are pushed apart - so the holes begin to close up after a while, gripping the threads within the leather.

If a stitch breaks the rest are still held tight.

So: a stitch breaks and the rest are still held tight.

Yeah, I said it twice.

Looks beautiful, as well, of course.

NEXT: Machine Lockstitch and Conclusion

A saddle-stitch machine?

A machine could be made that pushed a needle through fabric, grabbed it, rotated it and passed it back through to the other side, imitating human hands. In theory.
Complicated though. Seriously complicated the more you think about it and consequently expensive.
So nobody sells one.
(You might find some print-industry adverts for their machines described as 'saddle-stitchers', but they mean where the stitch is made rather than its structure).

Watch an expert in action

I came across this video, from which I have taken the screenshots, (right).
Whilst there are other good examples, this one impressed me both with the apparent experience behind his skills, (he makes it look easy), and the clarity of the filming. (It takes time and effort to set up and produce a simple-looking video sequence like this - I've tried it.) See theirs:
Illustration of part of the saddle stitch process taken from a classic text on the subject.
[Al Stohlman (1977)
'The Art of Hand Sewing Leather'
Tandy Leather Co.
ISBN 978-1892214911]

Saddle Stitch 1 Saddle Stitch 2 Saddle Stitch 3
Still images from 'Piqué Sellier - Saddle Stitch' (Hermes): (See source, left)
Saddle stitch tools in use
Click images for close-ups
Click HERE to see their original video
(Headphones would be good)
Click image for close-up
Stohlman - Saddle Stitch (14-15)
Screenshots of stitching clam being positioned (See Watch an expert...)