Saturday, August 24, 2013

Edge Finishing and Hand Sewing Leather

I have been working on a project involving edge-finishing and hand-sewing leather, which are two areas of leathercrafting I've been trying to learn more about recently. I've spent a lot of time lurking around on, which has many answers provided by amateur and professional craftspeople - some with many, many years of experience. I've picked up lots of really helpful tips...

The idea for this design is to add stitched detail around the eye openings on one of my molded hoods. This one didn't turn out too great, so I'm using it to experiment with a bunch of different techniques. The idea was to make the eye openings just little slits, but surrounded by a piece of oblong vegetable-tanned leather. I wanted the stitching to be prominent, so it becomes a part of the design. 

I start off by cutting the oblongs from a 1-inch strap of 6-7 oz. veg-tan leather. 
I use the strap-end cutter to round the ends, and the oblong bag punch to cut the slits inside. It's pretty tough to get the punch through the veg-tan, so I usually end up completing the cut with a hole-punch and x-acto knife.  

 I create a stitching groove with my stitching groover... It's adjustable so you can vary the distance from the edge. Usually you want to be about the thickness of the leather away from the edge - that's a good rule-of-thumb. 
 It's kind of tricky, but I grooved along the inner slot as well, just to create another shadow line. 
 Now I use the edge-beveller to knock the sharp edge off the leather and give it a round shape. 
 The edge-beveller has a groove in the bottom, so it just slides along the edge of your workpiece. 

 Done with the edging...

Now it's time to start finishing the edges. Here are some of the things different people use for edging: Sandpaper, canvas, saddle soap, edge-coat, parafin wax, beeswax, and a wood edge-slicker. I found the edge-slicker on ebay for around $5, including shipping from China! 

On these pieces I lightly sanded with the sandpaper, and then used gum-tragacanth on the edges. 
 I buffed the edge with heavy canvas cloth. 
 I laid the piece on my granite surface plate, and rubbed briskly with the canvas. You actually want to generate a bit of heat, and that with the pressure and friction help bind the leather fibers together. 
 It should give you a clean, smooth and shiny edge. 
 Once it was dry, I applied a bit of brown Fiebing's edge kote, using a small brush for inside the opening. 
 I cut the openings for the eye using a hole-punch and x-acto. 

 I actually tried drilling the nose-holes. Wasn't easy - there was no goo support underneath, and I ended up making the holes out of alignment. Good thing this is just a production test! 

I think the bare eye-slits look pretty cool at this point. May have to do a hood like this in the future...

But for this one, I'm sticking with plan "A". 
 I apply some contact cement to the hood and the eye pieces. Even though they are getting stitched in place, it's common practice to use glue to hold things together while sewing. 

For a good primer on hand-sewing technique, this book is the bible: "The Art of Hand Sewing Leather" by Al Stohlman. It takes you through the process in very clear, illustrated step-by-step instructions. 
 It's a bit overwhelming at first, (there are actually 33 steps to his technique), but the steps all make sense, and once you practice a bit, it starts to come naturally. 

One of the challenges of this project is the back side opening is hard to see because it's inside the hood. 
 You have to use the outside needle to guide the inside needle through the hole. 
 Of course, the things I like to do are never easy... Compared to machine sewing, this is almost painfully slow at first. 
 But eventually, you settle down, and get into a rhythm. It's not a race...
 And when it's done, you have every stitch exactly where you want it. 
And it will last for a really long time!
 Thanks for visiting! Until next time... 


  1. it reminds me of the leathercraft lovechild of ironman and C3po very cool :)

    1. Thanks, thisgirl... It does have a bit of a robotic feel - I do have a couple of metallic paint colors. Hmmm.......

  2. a piece of solid workmanship.
    great Job. :)

    1. Thanks Maskenfreund! I feel like I have a way to go yet, but it's good to learn new techniques.

  3. Absolutely stunning piece of work. Thanks for sharing your experiences on this blog with us. It is very inspiring... How do you get the leather to mold so beautifully into shape?

    1. Thanks, Maid Heather! You are so welcome. I'm always happy to hear from people who get something useful out of the blog.

      For more details on making the molded head case, visit:

  4. Loved this one,thanks for sharing your techniques! I couldn't help but notice you're setting your grommets by the hammer method, I figured you might be interested in an easier way so I took some pictures of the setup I use and put them in a photobucket album.
    It uses Harbor Freight's $50 1 ton arbor press. The half ton has sufficient pressure I guess but the frame is too small for me. I drilled a couple of holes in the ram and using a little stainless steel cable clamp with a 90 degree mount, can swap out 1/4, 5/16 and 3/8 punches and grommet dies with two machine screws and nuts. I uploaded the biggest res photos, hopefully they are self explanatory. Note I incorporated a rubber bungee tie down for a ram pullback- kind of required or it just falls down. It's a bit of work to figure out how to secure the dies, if you have the right size thread tap you can bolt them from below. For punching holes I just put a piece of wood on it. Ideally I guess two of these would be better so I could punch the holes and set the grommets without swapping out but this is still better than a hammer for me. Any questions feel free to contact me. (assuming you get my email address with this post?)

    1. You're welcome, batvette. Glad to know when people find something helpful!
      I am still using a mallet to set my grommets, as I don't have a machine that fits the die set you need to set them. Your modified Harbor Freight setup looks cool, but I don't have the ability to drill the holes in the metal ram.

      I'm definitely looking into getting a hand press to be able to set things more quietly, as I'm often working late into the night.

      I didn't get an email with your comment (it comes with a blogger do-not-reply mesage), but if you want, you can reach me directly here: christopherfetish{a} Thanks so much for sending the photo set, and kudos on the ingenuity.

  5. Yeah the noise was what motivated that. Even a rubber faced dead blow hammer makes quite a racket at 1 am. As for drilling that ram you don't need anything exotic, it's actually pretty soft. (It's not tool steel, like a pair of vise jaws, which I recently tried to drill with dismal results) A sharp bit in a hand drill kept cool with cutting fluid, press hard and a very low speed will go right through it.

    1. Doing any shaping of metal has always been something I've stayed away from, because I don't know what I'm doing. You are inspiring me to give it a try!