Six Ways to Drastically Improve Your Saddle-stitching Technique
My absolute #1 favorite part of traditional leatherwork is the hand saddle-stitching part. Most people don’t get into traditional leatherwork if they don’t like to hand-stitch because it’s a major part of leatherwork, right?
Now if you are one of those people that are thinking, ugh i’m not really into saddle-stitching it might be because you’re making a few mistakes that are either making the saddle-stitching physically very difficult or mistakes that are causing you to produce results that don’t look very good.
I’m talking about crooked and sloppy stitches.
Saddle-stitching can leave you feeling frustrated if you’re not using the proper tools and techniques and producing beautiful, consistent, straight, slanted and perfect stitches.
But it doesn’t have to be a tricky process.
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Below i've listed six ways to drastically improve your saddle-stitching and produce beautiful stitches.
1 | Make Proper Stitching Holes by Using Stitching Chisels or Pricking Irons
One of the biggest reasons that your stitches might look sloppy and crooked is if you’re not using the proper leatherworking tools like stitching chisels or pricking irons. This is a must if you want clean and consistent stitches.
If you are using a fork, a nail or a drill or some other non-leatherworking tool to create your stitching holes, you’re not going to get beautiful slanted perfect stitches.
Your stitches can only look as good as the line of stitching holes that you make before stitching so make sure you get this step correct from the beginning.
2 | Use Saddlers Harness Needles
I’ve had students come through the Mastering Traditional Leatherworking Basics course and wonder why they have to buy specific leatherworking needles and why they can’t just use a needle that they have laying around the house. There are a few reasons.
Saddlers harness needles have a blunt tip making it easier to saddle-stitch and not puncture your stitching thread. If you’ve ever done this, you know what a mess it can be. More on this below.
Additionally you need the eye of the needle to be small enough to pass through your hole. When people tell me that they’re having trouble actually pulling the stitches through the leather, I can usually guess that it’s because they’re using a non-leatherworking needle with an eye that is too big. If you’re having trouble pulling your stitches, then something is wrong.
3 | If Your Leather is Too Thick, Skive It!
Another common mistake that can make saddlestitching physically very hard to do is when you use leather that is too thick. This is not to say that you can not use thick leather.
When using leather that is thick, anything heavier then 4/5oz you need to skive your edges, or thin the edge of your work where your stitches will go.
Doing so will make it easier to saddle-stitch, will create more durable work and you will also produce a much cleaner end result.
4 | Using a Stitching Pony to Achieve Consistent Stitch Tension
Inconsistent stitch tension is a major no-no that you want to avoid when saddle-stitching. Stitch tension refers to how tightly you pull your threads after each stitch.
If the tension is inconsistent, meaning some stitches are pulled tighter than others, then that tightness or looseness is going to show up in your work in the form of puckered stitches or loose stitches.
Instead, when you pull the threads after each stitch make sure you are pulling with the same gentle force each time and that each stitch is consistent. Not to tight and not too loose.
5 | Use Blunt Tipped Needles to Avoide Puncturing the Threads
Obviously, you don’t want to be doing this. During saddle-stitching you’ve got your 2 needles on either side of your work and with each stitch you’re passing these threaded needles past one another inside the work ultimately crossing them over to the opposite sides of your work.
When you're first learning how to saddle-stitch one of the most common mistakes is that one of your needles 'runs into' or punctures the thread that it is passing. This can be messy and frustrating for the new leathercrafter. If your needles go through the stitch hole easily then chances are, you have not punctured either thread. However, if one of the threaded needles sticks and the stitch cannot be completed, then you have probably pierced your thread and you need to stop and fix the mistake.
So when you’re saddle-stitching, make sure that you are using blunt tipped needles (not sharp) that will not easily pierce or puncture through the other thread.
You want them to play nice and “wave” as they pass by each other.
6 | Move Your Project in the Stitching Clam or Pony As You Saddle-stitch
And finally, whether you’re using a clam or pony the message is the same. Continuously re-position your work in your clam or pony as you stitch. You want your work to be centered and the clam or pony to be cradling it at the point where you are stitching.
You don't want to be stitching a part of your wallet for example, and have it hanging outside of the jaws of the clam. This leaves your work floppy and could affect your stitching tension, angle of of your awl (if you're using one) and ultimately produce poorly executed stitches.
Your work will benefit from being snugly held in place within the clam or pony jaws while stitching. You'll be able to maintain control over your stitches and help keep the tension consistent as well.
If you’ve ever felt discouraged by the end result of your saddle-stitching because you’ve produce sloppy and crooked stitches or if the actual act of saddle-stitching has left you physically exhausted, you might be making one or more of these mistakes.
In order to avoid producing sloppy stitches and bring the fun back into your saddle-stitching practice make sure you’re using the proper traditional leatherworking tools and techniques. It will make your leathercraft hobby that much more enjoyable.