5 Reasons Why You Want To Hand Stitch Your Own Leather Goods (And How To Do It)
- It’s beautiful. There is a certain look to hand-stitched leather goods that simply can’t be replicated by any machine.
- It’s affordable. The artisans who do this time-intensive work deserve to be paid well for their time, which is reflected in the high price of hand-stitched goods. When you hand stitch items yourself, you get all the benefits without the additional cost.
- It’s more durable. If a typical machine stitch thread breaks, the entire seam may unravel. The secure saddle stitch used in hand stitching prevents this from happening. But even if something were to happen...
- It’s easily repaired yourself. This keeps money in your pocket and discarded items out of the landfill.
- It feels really good. It’s not just the entertaining activity of watching the item manifest in your hands. Whenever you look down at your wallet or clutch or bag you will feel the pride and profoundly deep satisfaction of having made it yourself. Or, gratitude when thinking about the person who stitched it for you.
So how do you get started?
Purchasing a pattern is a valuable shortcut that can make the process quicker and more enjoyable than trying to figure it all out on your own.
Just like most machine sewists buy patterns to make clothes, leather crafters do too, and it’s a great way to step up the quality of what you can make. While some leather crafting books will have patterns included, they are usually not full size, and can thus be difficult to work with. These days, most patterns are available in 4 formats.
1. Paper - This is the most traditional form of pattern. In addition to buying the paper pattern, at a minimum you will also need to purchase: a hide of leather large enough for your project (plus extra to account for waste and errors), a self healing cutting mat, knives, several punches, a "poundo" board, a stitching awl, a mallet, a ruler, saddle stitching needles, waxed thread, any necessary hardware (like rivets, clasps, etc) and low-tack masking tape. You may also want a skiver, a beveler, a rivet setter and edge accessories such as sandpaper and a finishing compound.
Tape your pattern directly to the leather and punch out each stitching hole individually using the correct sized punch by striking it firmly with your mallet. Then, precisely cut along all the outlines of every piece. Take your time, and expect this process to take a while. One mis-cut can be a very costly mistake. Pay extra attention to any curved areas of the pattern and consider using half-round or quarter-round punches to assist. Some important precautions to keep in mind:
- Take great care to protect yourself from knife cuts - leather is essentially very tough and thick skin so leather knives are extremely sharp and will slice your skin easily. We’d recommend purchasing cut resistant gloves.
- Keep your knife perpendicular to your leather. This gets more important the thicker your leather is.
- Start slowly with your mallet - missing the end of your punch and landing on your finger is painful!
- Punching stitching holes is loud and time intensive - show respect to neighbors by limiting the hours that you work.
- Your hands will likely begin to ache after a while - take lots of breaks to prevent overuse injuries.
- Pay close attention to what your pattern includes - many come with little to no instructions which can make assembly extremely challenging.
The primary benefit of a digital pattern is instant delivery. Also, most digital patterns these days come with assembly videos. Be sure to preview the video prior to purchasing the pattern to ensure it is detailed enough to allow for successful project completion. If a pattern maker does not allow you to preview the video, this is a red flag and you should move on to a different option.
3. Acrylic - Acrylic patterns are reusable, and are ideal for those who would like to reproduce the same item multiple times and want to save the hours of lining up and taping paper. You will still need to complete all leather cutting and punching yourself, so the same tools and precautions are all required.
While acrylic templates tend to be more expensive than digital ones, you may find the price worthwhile to save the time of manually taping the paper pattern together. Pay close attention to what the acrylic template includes - some do not have stitching hole locations marked, which means you will spend a lot of time figuring out where those go!
4. Leather - Leather patterns (often referred to as “DIY Leather Kits”) are the easiest patterns to work with, and allow for projects to be completed in a fraction of the time. With a leather pattern, the entire cutting and punching process is already completed for you, saving countless hours time and preventing serious injuries. You won’t need to source or purchase full hides, spend hundreds of dollars on hardware, cutting tools or punching tools, so the overall cost of completing your first project is much lower.
Leather patterns have already been expertly and precision cut, preventing costly errors or sloppily cut edges. A leather pattern is certainly the best way for a novice to get masterful level results on their first project. It removes the dangerous and most time consuming aspects of leather crafting - opening it up to expanded ages and skill levels.
Many paper or digital patterns are purchased yet go unused due to the numerous obstacles that arise in the process. With a pre-cut leather pattern that includes detailed video tutorials, the obstacles have been removed and your efforts can all be focused on the more enjoyable process of hand stitching and seeing your project come to life in your hands relatively quickly. Some considerations:
- Pay close attention to the quality of the leather included. Anything called “genuine leather” is actually the lowest grade possible. You will want “full grain” high-quality leather sourced from a reputable and environmentally friendly tannery.
- Make sure the kit includes everything you need to get started, including detailed video instruction.
- Consider starting with a smaller project like a wallet or clutch, which will give you immediate confidence to move on to larger projects.
- If you know someone who likes to make things with their hands, DIY kits make wonderful gifts.
- Finished projects can be gifted to those you love the most, or even sold at local craft fairs or on Etsy for a lucrative side income.
Orcas Island Leather Goods is the absolute best source for the highest quality, all-inclusive DIY leather pattern kits. All you’ll need to provide from home is
- something to cut the thread (scissors, a knife or even a pair of nail clippers will work) and
- something to melt the thread ends, like a lighter (if you don’t have a lighter or are a younger maker without adult supervision, tying off the threads will work too.)
In addition to exclusive patterns, customization options, and detailed video tutorials, OILG provides timely one-on-one help and an online community for camaraderie and support.
Enjoy the beauty, affordability, durability, sustainability and pride of hand stitching your own leather goods by purchasing your first pattern and getting started with this meaningful and fulfilling activity today!
From our family to yours, happy making!