Monday, September 17, 2007

Adventures in leatherwork

I've been trying some leatherwork lately. I did a bit a while ago, and didn't really know what I was doing, so I've since done a bit of looking & learning.

A friend asked me about working leather -- coming at it from a fabric-sewing point of view, here are the differences.

Leather is a bit hard on the hands (I'm sure that'll get easier as I build up the strength in my fingers, and I bought a pair of flat pliers, which helps when the needle won't go through a stubbornly tight hole) but the big adjustment is that you need to work leather when it's damp, so the awl will go through. The holes you make tighten up a bit when the leather dries.

Unless you're working with REALLY thin stuff (the kind of leather you'd use for gloves), you have to punch your holes before sewing using a four-sided leather awl, which punches a diamond-shaped hole.

Then you use blunt needles -- two needles, one on each end of the thread -- to make what's called a "harness stitch" through the leather. The thread makes a figure 8 through the holes; you put one needle through, then the other needle goes through the same hole in the opposite direction. You use waxed linen thread (modern sewers don't usually wax their thread, though 18th c. seamstresses/tailors do).

Leather does stretch while it's wet, and you can't pin the leather the way you can pin fabric; so you either fit the pieces together, punch a few holes with the awl and tack them together with a bit of thread, or use something like binder clips or clothespins to hold the seam together.

I found a stitching pony (aka stitching clamp) on ebay, which holds the piece while you sew it; that does help speed things up considerably.

Pretty neat, though! It's fun learning something and having it turn out well. Pics coming soon.


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