Falling in Love With Leather Hand-Stitching

Falling in Love With Leather Hand-Stitching

A discriminating eye can spot the ever so slight differences of a gentleman’s bespoke tailored suit by certain clues:  the lining referred to as ‘canvassing’ that holds the shape of the suit, the cleanliness and fall of the shoulder line, how perfectly the patterns in the material lineup, the quality of the fabrics, the lapel roll, the sleeve buttons (beautifully functional as opposed to added just as a decorative element), ‘stacked’ buttons on the sleeve, the structure of the pockets, along with additional distinctive characteristics.  

However, one other hallmark of a quality custom suit is the technique of ‘pick stitching’ is a true feature of a bespoke suit that is so subtle and adds the finished look to the exposed edges (the lapel, pockets, and buttonholes). 

The art of hand-stitching is a core aspect and luxury element within other high-end industries.  Luxury car connoisseurs covet not only the attention to detail in the performance engineering and sensual outer components but to the meticulous building of the leather interiors of the most desirable and iconic automobiles.  For example, take the meticulous work of sewers of the British Bentley automobiles is as remarkable as bespoke suit tailors.  The hand-stitching of the Mulsanne’s steering wheel involves over 620 individual stitches and five hours to create the epitome of luxury that Bentley has established for over a century.  

Another renowned example of hand-stitching comes from the world of major league baseball with the MLB’s official baseball produced by Rawlings® Sporting Goods.   Rawlings’s factory located in Costa Rica where each ball is handsewn and makes over 2 million balls a year for the league.  Of course, automation has been attempted, but technology has yet to successfully replace the skills of Costa Rican sewers to cover a “pill” with cowhide and using waxed red thread  to double stitch exactly 108 stitches.  

Sorting Out Machine Sewing Versus Hand-Stitching

Spotting the difference with regards to the building of leather travel bags or handbags is determined mostly by the stitching techniques.  A designer will either have products mass manufactured with the use of sewing machines or with very high-end bags, the use of a craftsperson to hand-stitch. Most upscale brands who either sell in their own retail houses or high-end department stores are more than likely machine sewn.  Keep in mind, even if it is advertised as handmade, it more pertains to a sewer using a machine with their hands, a small detail that can mislead a consumer who doesn’t understand the difference in industry definitions.   

With regards to sewing machines, the technique is called lock-stitching which is essentially successive stitching using two threads that are fed from below and above the leather.  Many bag designers use this common technique in mass-producing their products.   The best way to identify a lock-stitch is the ability to have a continuous pull of a loose thread from the material resulting in all the stitches in that line unraveling.  Most leather designers who use machines may also incorporate sewing details of decorative or embroidered stitching, as well as adding embellishments to distinguish their brand (Chanel’s padded cross-stitch for instance).

Elements of the hand-stitch technique

The Artisan’s Main Tools

·         Pricking Irons  
Used to prick uniform holes for marking the place for the awl to penetrate the leather.  An artisan will accumulate different irons with various numbered holes (10,8,6,4,3,2 and 1) for different distances.  Keep in mind, usually, the closer the holes, the smaller the accessory and thinner the thread; thus, the more precise the stitches will look on a luxury product.  Pricking holes takes a great deal of training to ensure the stitches are straight.

·         Stitching needles
Needles are made in various sizes and are usually larger than typical sewing needles.  The tip is slightly blunt since it is not needed to pierce holes in the leather which will be done with the pricking iron and awl.

·         Waxed thread
The coating of wax on the thread allows it to slide through the holes easier and provides certain protection of the thread from moisture. The types of thread can impact the outcome of a finished product.   Man-made nylon and polyester thread can be burned lightly to seal the ends.  On the other hand, natural linen thread has to be pulled intact through the holes to seal the thread in place because it doesn’t burn.  A beeswax block is used to coat the thread to ensure an easier pull through the holes of the leather. Beau Satchelle typically uses variations of French threads depending on the project.

·         Stitching pony
Either a floor or table T-shaped wooden clamp built to hold leather during the stitching process; usually the jaws are covered with leather to protect the leather being stitched.  Some master crafters prefer not to use a stitching pony, yet, for most artisans, it provides control and protects the leather from excessive handling during the stitching process.

The Artisan’s Technique

The invention of sewing machines was responsible for the decline of leather hand-stitching, except among traditional artisan ateliers and houses who still thrive in Europe.  Sewing machines allowed for the ability to mass-produce hundreds of handbags or travel bags in a short time span as opposed to the many hours or days it takes to stitch one leather item.  Yet, in comparing the difference between the two types of stitching, saddle stitching will always be superior when sewn by a skilled professional. 

Unlike machine stitching which loops top and bottom threads to join the materials together (one clue is, if one stitch is cut, the other stitches will begin to unravel), saddle stitching is the process of two needles crisscrossing through each hole with the thread completely passing through the same hole and each stitch remains independent of each other, even if cut. The stitches will have a more angled look than a sewing machine which will sew in a consistent straight line.   

In addition, an experienced leather artisan will come as close to perfection as humanly possible from thousands of hours of learning sewing techniques with different leathers and exotic skins.  A master artisan will learn his or her own stitching rhythms with regards to how much tension can be placed on the thread so the stitches can be perfectly lined up and ultimately crease and flatten the leather.

Needless to say, admirers and owners of hand-stitched leather products, appreciate the superior craftsmanship that goes into the smallest details of hand-stitched products which is as close to perfection when compared to a sewing machine.  Be assured, in commissioning a bespoke leather piece, a Beau Satchelle owner will fall in love with the uniqueness and exceptional stitch work done to create the ultimate luxury leather bag or accessory.   – AJ

Share your thoughts in the comment section below or on Twitter

Hat Tip to the following photographers:

Kevin Menajang – watch straps

Kevin Menajang – saddlestitching

Macau Photo Agency – Bentley Continental GT3R Handstitched Steering Wheel

La Compagnie Robinson – Punching Stitching Holes with a traditional pricking tool

Ash Edmonds – Hand-made leather American Footballs by Odin Leather Goods

Lifetime Leather  – Saddlestitching Black Crew Neck T-shirt

Flete Becher – Baseball stitching

Toubibe – Leather Luggage

Okan Caliskan – Leather Sewing Machin

Dennis Ottink – Custom Tailored Suit


Customer Favorites

Leave a Reply