Saddle Stitching

When teaching a leather craft or making an item for someone, I am often asked about the machine used to sew such thick leather or through so many layers in tight areas.  People are often astounded when I explain that this is all hand sewn, with an awl and two needles.

Some earlier work. Good, but not great, stitching.

I learned saddle stitching before the internet was a thing and without a book.  I was sewing leather bags, moccasins, and clothing in a relatively poor and untutored way.  As I became more savvy over the years I was able to analyze older pieces and read an article or two about saddle stitching and cordwaining that began to make my work look more professional.

Saddle stitching is the only way to build a large, complex leather project without some ridiculously expensive machinery.

While I have considered making a video to give an introduction to saddle stitching I know there are many master craftsmen out there far more skilled to do this properly.  One of them is Nigel Armitage of Armitage Leather.  He is a member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen of Britain which I understand is nothing to sneeze at (I can hardly imagine the level of dedication most of these men and women have for their crafts).

Image result for Guild of Master Craftsmen

On to the show…

This is probably the best and simplest tutorial I have seen online about learning the basics of saddle stitch.  If you are new to this, remember, the pricking iron is not an absolute necessity for starting out but it will make you seams straight and beautiful.  If you don’t own one, you can still mark and follow a line or even mark the stitches with a ruler and awl (I did this for a very long time).

I hope this answers some question for those getting interested in leather work and saves you some of the headaches I experienced without proper instruction.

 

Art and Craft Fair

I would not have ever thought myself a craft fair kind of guy yet here we are…

A sneaky photo of the maker discovered this afternoon.

Last year, our local community center hosted an arts and craft fair as a way to bring local artisans together and raise money for public programs (art classes, GED education, computer skills, tax assistance, etc.).  Being new to the area we joined in last year and were invited back for a second go around last weekend.  It was a good cause and a way for us to make a little extra spending money for the holiday season.

Stacey’s jewelry, sewing, weaving, and holiday arts.

Times are tough and it seems that most people have little to spare on superfluous items this time of year.  Despite this, it was still a profitable venture and a portion of everyone’s proceeds went to a good cause.

Details…

Two very good outcomes from joining in this effort were:

  1. Forcing us to buckle down and finish a load of projects in a very short period and
  2. Putting us in touch with a lot of local makers we may not have met otherwise.

There are some very talented people out there and it is often difficult for them to show their work. Venues like this allow the small, part-time players like us to showcase some of what we do.  Now, as a primitive tech artist, I steered myself more toward items that were affordable and would appeal to the average person; especially someone looking for gifts appropriate for the holidays.  I even brought a few walnut cutting boards as they are fairly popular gifts.

Painters, printers, writers, jewelers, and even wonderful candy and jam makers were there and we a grateful for the opportunity to participate again this year.

I thought I’d share a few bench photos leading up to the fair.

Possibles Bag

Here is an update on the most recent possibles bag I have been working on:

The buffed leather reflects a lot more than I realized while photographing.

Sorry the photos aren’t so great but here is the description: Made from 7 oz (~3 mm) Hermann-Oak full-grain harness leather top dyed and antiqued Fiebings medium brown with a single patch pocket inside. It still needs a little edge detailing, waxing and buffing before it is truly done but that will happen later today.

The interior is natural but will darken with use and waxing.

Rustic, laced construction, unlined, 18th century “English-style” bag.  The main pocket is 8 x 8 inches (1.5 litre in volume), while the overall body length is about 12 inches. 

The edges are all burnished for a smooth and comfortable feel in hand. The thick oak-tanned will soften with time and use.

The eared shape is to keep the bag from riding around to the front or back of the torso during use. This leather will age nicely and will last longer than any of us with normal rugged use. 

All sewing is double needle free-hand saddle stitch.

1 1/4″-wide strap extends to about 56″ to fit the most well-padded or heavily coated hunter. Going out for trade in the next couple days.

A Leather Purse and Wallet

Here is a shop update on a couple of the many leatherworking projects undertaken lately.   I decided to use up all the leather I have been storing and put it to good use.  I have about 100 projects I’d like to make for myself but the Yule season is coming, gifts are expected in many quarters, and we have an invite to show our wares at a local crafts fair.  So, without further fanfare…

A waxed leather bucket-style purse. I hear these are the rage in certain groups now. I remember seeing many in this style back in the 1980s coming out of Morocco and Spain.

And I decided to make a few bomb-proof wallets of various designs to go with it.

A surprising amount of work can go into even a relatively small project like this.

Temporarily gluing the welt to the bottom.

Sizing the bottom to the side before sewing.

The exposed welt after sewing and turning the bag.

Marking and punching the holes. Tiresome for the hands.

Choosing an appropriate lining; strong and beautiful.

Drawstring added, holding the leather edge biding while sewing.

The ‘ears’ for holding the shoulder strap sewn on, strap attached, and it is done!

The antler toggle helps keep the bag secure and adds a bit of primitive flash.

Difficult to photograph, but the liner gives the bag some class and a feeling of “completeness.”

This is a new traveler’s wallet design. Three pockets, large capacity to hold money, cards, and passport.

This one might be a bit too small to hold a check book but not a lot of us carry those these days.

The button stud is a favorite closure of mine as it is simple and effective without the need for a large hole.

After a quick buffing, the wax shines up nicely. This one should last a lifetime.

Cavalry Saddlebags

It isn’t cheap to find good saddle bags these days but excellent ones can still be made with a little time and dedication.  The U.S. Army M-1924 model is the culmination of a century of design improvements and feedback from real field use.  This model, in one form or another, saw  service across the West, through multiple wars, the staking of trails and the migration of a people across a continent.  Being a government contract item the design specifications are readily available through the General Services Administration.

Complex leatherwork projects depend on good plans and these are above and beyond perfect.

The plans are printable and can be scaled or drafted into patterns to transfer to appropriate leather; latigo or veg tanned.  Click the image for a full-screen version. Clicking again should provide oversized, printable versions for easy use and reading.

Even if you don’t own a horse, this design works well equally on a motorcycle or scooter and add a touch of class in any case.  Mine ride on a Vespa Super Sport.  I’ll share the Quartermaster version when I get them loaded.

Some New Leatherwork

There are some new projects coming off the bench.Here’s a new minimalist traveler’s wallet.  I’m still working through the design and construction process but like it so far. Simple three-pocket design; a vertical a horizontal card pocket  as well as a large one for bills.

A bucket purse made from an oil-tanned leather.  Welted and bound with thin harness-grade bark tanned leather with a heavier leather shoulder strap.

I try to put some sort of bling into projects.  This is a historic heart design was cut freehand and balances the antler toggle on the other side.

Fully lined with a batik print my daughter bought for a skirt.

Welted bottom.

Ghillie Shoe Commission

A while ago I received a request to make a pair of carbatinae (ghillie shoes) for a reenactor.  It was the first time I have done this long-distance without being able to measure the foot directly.  Luckily, we had good communication and I had a shoe last in his size so with these factors and the fact that this style is a fairly forgiving fit, I was able to create something he was happy with.

Being constructed from 12 oz Hermann-Oak harness leather, these should last for a very long time if not worn extensively on wet concrete.

I really love the simplicity of this design and continue to learn and modify my technique with each new pair.  With high quality commercially tanned leather, they can’t be made particularly cheap, but with high quality materials you certainly get what you pay for.

Very little sewing makes this shoe a fairly quick project to complete once the cutting is done.

This was the first time I used a last to make this type shoe but it was a big help in the forming stage.

Setting the pattern and cutting them out is most of the battle.

Once they’re broken in, they fit your foot like a leather stocking, allowing for a barefoot, but well-protected feel.  I certainly like this shoe.

Making a Stitching Pony

I have needed a stitching pony for a long time now…

The two-hour stitching pony.

Like so many other undone projects, this one has been stirring around in my head for several years.  Since my efforts have been so focused on sewing leather lately, the time had come for a new and useful tool in the shop.  I’ve looked at plenty stitching horses and ponies over the years and even used a few n person so I understood the basics of what I needed and began eyeing up the scrap pile for obvious parts.

Not absolutely necessary, but it’s nice to be able to open the jaws fully.

I decided to keep the project simple, small, and portable while making as few purchases as possible.  I was able to gather up the lumber, leather, hinge, screws, glue, and tacks in just a few minutes and get to work.  Power tools make jobs like this easy so the boards were quickly ripped, cut, and clamped up to dry overnight.  A little cleanup in the morning yielded a working model suggesting a few minor changes.  The opening of the throat was widened by 1/2″and I decided a longer bolt would be useful for fat projects.

This meant a trip to the actual hardware store setting the project bill up to $1.07 with a total work time of about two hours.  We’re good to go…

More Wallets

Maybe this is a little mundane but I’ve been using the cold and snowy weather as an excuse to do some cutting and sewing of leather.  I completed a passport wallet and finished up another minimalist wallet design.  I got the pattern for the larger travel wallet from Tony, the owner/designer at DieselpunkRo.  He sells finished goods, patterns, and gives a lot of good advice for makers working from his patterns on his Facebook group page.

My three newest creations.

If you follow his Facebook group, he will occasionally share free, downloadable patterns.  I have two patterns from him so far and they are both great.

 

The large wallet is a handy, four pocket affair that snugly holds a standard passport, cards, and cash.

 

This is another good starter project that easily yields a great product.

We were acting like shut-ins today because of a surprise snow storm so I’ve been able to jump to another leather-related project.  I’ll share some photos soon.