How to Sew Leather by Hand: the Comprehensive Guide

Whether you’re creating a bespoke wallet, fashioning a chic handbag, or designing a rugged pair of boots, stitching lies at the heart of your creation. Armed with the right tools, quality materials, and a healthy dose of patience, anyone can embark on this rewarding journey. Let’s delve into the world of leathercraft and unravel the steps to successfully sew leather.

Join us as we explore how to choose the right leather, prepare your leather pieces, select the correct tools, and finally, guide you through the sewing process step by step. By the end of this guide, you’ll be well on your way to sewing leather with confidence and precision.

Assembling Your Leather Sewing Kit

Embarking on your leather sewing journey necessitates a specialized toolkit. Ordinary sewing tools simply won’t suffice when tackling this robust material. Key tools include:

Leather Needles: These are stronger than regular needles, with a triangular point designed to pierce leather without tearing it.

Strong Thread: Polyester or nylon thread offers superior durability compared to cotton. A waxed tread may also be suitable.

Leather Punch: This tool creates even holes in your leather piece, simplifying the sewing process.

Thimble and Finger Protectors: These will protect your fingers during the potentially strenuous process.

Leather Sewing Machine (Optional): While not a necessity, a dedicated leather sewing machine can significantly expedite the process, particularly for larger projects.

Preparing to Sew

Having the right tools on hand is only half the battle. To sew leather effectively, preparation is key. Unlike cloth, you cannot pin leather as it would leave permanent holes. Instead, use binder clips or paper clips to hold the leather together without marking it.

Tracing your pattern onto the leather can be done with a silver ink pen or tailor’s chalk. If you’re working with dark leather, consider using a white ink pen. Be careful and precise; mistakes made during this process are difficult to rectify due to the leather’s unforgiving nature.

Remember to keep a steady hand while cutting the leather. Straight, clean lines will make sewing much simpler. It’s advisable to practice on scrap pieces of leather first, as mastering this skill will give you the confidence you need for your actual project.

Sewing Leather

Step 1: Mark Stitching Lines

Begin by marking your stitching lines on the leather. These lines, typically running about 1/8th to 1/4th of an inch from the edge of the leather piece, indicate where your stitches will be placed. You can use a groover tool to mark these lines, which carves a small groove into the leather, guiding your stitches and contributing to a clean finish.

Mark stitching lines

Step 2: Punch Stitch Holes

With your stitching lines marked, it’s time to create your stitch holes. Using a leather punch or an awl, make evenly spaced holes along your stitching line. Be mindful to punch through to the other side in one smooth motion to avoid ragged holes. This is where the glue will adhere and where your stitches will be placed, so precision is key.

Punch stitch holes

Step 3: Thread the Needle

Take a piece of thread approximately four times the length of your stitch line and thread your needle, doubling the thread over, and knotting the ends. If you’re using two needles for saddle stitching (a popular technique in leatherwork), thread one needle at each end of your thread.

Step 4: Apply Leather Adhesive

Now, before beginning to stitch, apply a thin layer of leather-specific adhesive along the stitch line on the back side (the side that will be inside) of both leather pieces. Carefully align the holes, then press the pieces together firmly. 

Align leather while gluing

To help align the leather, you can insert toothpicks or needles into the holes. Allow sufficient time for the adhesive to dry, as indicated by the manufacturer. This step ensures that your leather pieces will stay in place during the sewing process.

Step 5: Stitching

Begin stitching from the back side of the leather, pushing your needle through the first hole. If you’re using two needles, push one through the next hole, then back through the same hole with the other needle, creating a loop. Pull tightly, ensuring your thread is secure. Repeat this process along your entire stitch line.

Stitching leather

Step 6: Finishing the Stitch

When you reach the end of your stitch line, you’ll need to finish off your stitch. This is usually done by backstitching (stitching backwards for two or three stitches), then cutting the thread close to the leather. Be careful not to cut into the leather.

This comprehensive, step-by-step guide should provide you with the detailed instructions needed to successfully sew leather. As with any craft, practice is crucial – don’t be disheartened by initial challenges.

Related Video: How to Hand Stitch Leather

Finishing Touches

Upon completing your stitching, the finishing stage is crucial to give your piece a polished, professional look. This involves trimming excess threads, burnishing rough edges, and applying a leather conditioner to keep your creation supple and durable.

Burnishing is the process of rubbing the edges of your leather piece to create a smooth finish. It can be done using a wood slicker and some gum tragacanth or another burnishing agent.

Care and Maintenance of Leather

Lastly, care and maintenance are vital for preserving the longevity of your leather creations. Avoid exposing leather to excessive moisture or heat, as these can cause it to dry out and crack. Regular cleaning with a mild soap and application of a quality leather conditioner will help maintain its luster and longevity.


Sewing leather is a rewarding craft, blending tradition with personal creativity. As you explore this journey, don’t be deterred by initial challenges. Embrace the process, refining your technique with each stitch. With time and practice, you’ll master the craft of sewing leather, creating beautiful, durable pieces to cherish.


Can I sew leather with a regular sewing machine?

It is possible to sew leather with a regular sewing machine, but it may require certain modifications. Use a leather-specific needle and a strong thread, such as polyester or nylon. Also, a Teflon or roller foot can help prevent the leather from sticking. However, keep in mind that regular sewing machines may not handle thicker leather as effectively as a heavy-duty or leather-specific sewing machine.

Is there a specific type of thread that should be used when sewing leather?

Yes, when sewing leather, it’s recommended to use a strong, durable thread. Polyester or nylon threads are generally good choices. Natural fiber threads like cotton are less durable and can deteriorate over time, so they are not recommended for use with leather.

What should I do if the leather seems too thick to sew?

If the leather is too thick to sew comfortably, it can be thinned down by a process called skiving. This involves shaving off a thin layer from the flesh side of the leather to reduce its thickness. Skiving should be done carefully and evenly to avoid damaging the leather.

How can I make sure my leather pieces align properly when sewing?

Apart from using leather glue to adhere your pieces together before stitching, you can also use binder clips or special leathercraft clips to hold your leather pieces together without leaving marks. Additionally, ensure you’ve correctly marked and punched your stitch holes on both pieces of leather, as alignment here is crucial for a clean final product.