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The art of hand stitched leather goods

hand stitched leather wallet in Colville Leather Devon workshop

Here at Colville Leather, we do things ‘the old-fashioned way’. All of our beautiful hand stitched leather goods are made using only traditional tools and techniques. Every single stitch on our belts, wallets, keychains and bags is done by hand, and boy is it a precision art.

This skillful art form has survived centuries of innovation and advancement, remaining true to its humble origins as it passes down through generations of leather artisans.

In this article, we explore the traditional art of saddle stitching, before taking a closer look at what makes hand stitched leather goods so special ...

How we make our hand stitched leather goods

When crafting our range of leather goods, we use a traditional saddle stitch. This type of stitch is perfect for creating strong and durable products that can withstand everyday use, just like our belts, wallets, keychains and bags. What’s more, the aesthetic of saddle stitching is in-keeping with the overall classic design of our Colville products.

Saddle stitching can only be done by hand due to the complex nature of the stitch. This traditional technique, which is steeped in centuries of history, takes many hours of time and dedication to perfect.

Let’s take a look at the saddle stitching process in detail.

Preparing the leather

First of all, we use wing dividers to mark out a stitching line in the leather.

colville leather wing dividers for hand stitched leather goods

Next, we use a pricking iron to carefully mark out where each stitch needs to go along this line.

We then use this pricking iron to punch holes in the leather. Our particular model can punch six holes at a time, which is a lot more efficient than punching each hole individually with a stitching awl.

Threading the needle

We use strong, waxed, rot-resistant thread to stitch all of our leather products. This adds to the durability of our finished goods.

Once we’ve cut the required length of thread (at least four times the stitching distance), we attach and lock a harness needle to both ends of it.

It’s then time to begin stitching.

Starting to stitch

Our stitching pony holds pieces of leather together to ensure our stitching is as precise as possible. This tool clamps to the work bench, or can be placed between one’s legs whilst sitting. We keep the stitching line in clear view and at a good height at all times.

Colville Leather Stitching Pony for handmade leather goods in our Devon workshop

A saddle stitch is started by threading one of the needles through the hole closest to you. After this, you should have one needle in each hand. A top tip is to hold both of these needles up and check there’s an equal amount of thread on each side of the leather.

Push the needle in your left hand through the second hole. Once it is through, pull the thread away from you. Then, push the needle in your right hand through that same hole, behind the first thread. Again, it’s important that the thread is pulled away tightly after the stitch has been made. This helps to keep the edges of the leather nice and close.

Repeat the sequence

Keep on stitching, repeating this sequence. The key to even stitching is to be consistent - always push the same needle through the holes first, followed by the second needle.

The thread is pulled back and forth on either side of the leather, in a ‘running stitch’. Both needles go through each hole, which gives the seam extra strength and longevity.

Finishing a stitching line

We always go back over two or three stitches to add extra strength to the seam.

To finish, we make sure to leave both ends of thread at the back of the work. We then hold them taut and cut them off as close as possible to the leather - there’s no need to knot the threads.

For a step-by-step guide to saddle stitching, check out this handy Instructables guide.

Hand stitched leather vs machine

You may be wondering why we choose to hand stitch our leather goods. Wouldn’t it be quicker and more efficient to use a machine instead? For us, the results just wouldn’t be the same. We’re proud to sew every stitch by hand. Here are just a few of the reasons why:

Honouring an ancient craft

We take great pride in honouring the ancient craft of the leather artisans who came before us. Rather than interfering with traditional leathercraft techniques by adding in the use of machinery, we like to remain faithful to tradition. After all, we have a duty to continue this ancient craft and reintroduce people to the longevity and beauty of traditionally made leather accessories.

Is hand sewing stronger than machine?

Is hand stitched leather better? Well, the technique makes it more durable.

When a sewing machine is used to stitch two pieces of leather together, two separate pieces of thread are twisted around each other in a ‘locking stitch’. A machine-sewn lock stitch will unravel if any piece of the thread breaks. This will ruin the seam and result in a much weaker product.

A hand sewn saddle stitch, however, is much more reliable. It stays intact even if a thread breaks. This is essential for items that are handled on a regular basis.

Rich authenticity

There’s just something so irresistibly charming about leather goods that have been crafted fully by hand. A hand stitched leather wallet or belt oozes charisma. It has a unique, rugged quality and special sincerity that’s never been tainted by machines.

Quality guaranteed

Hand stitching our products also means that each finished item has been nurtured from start to finish under our watchful eyes. Therefore, we can ensure unbeatable quality in every leather artefact we make. TLC is woven into every stitch with pride - the same can’t be said for machine stitching.

Find out more

We’re proud to hand stitch all of our products here at Colville Leather, and hope you’ve enjoyed the insight into this authentic process.

If you’re curious about any of our hand stitched leather goods in particular, you can find more details across our website.

And, to find out about some of the other traditional tools we use, why not take a look inside the Colville Leather Devon workshop.

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