Horny G Leather

Slippery Needles Makes Hard Hand Stitching

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This might seem like a silly question, but does anyone have advice about being able to get a good grip on needles when hand stitching? I try and use the old Al Stohlman method of a needle and an awl in one hand and a needle in the other, but I find myself constantly setting down my awl to grab pliers to pull my needle through. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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I'll wallow the needle around and stretch to hole a little, it'll close right up when you hammer your stitch line. I've also used a fid to open the holes a little.

Edited by snubbyfan

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I wear nitrile gloves when this happens. They're essential in the summer with crummy AC in the shop. 400 for $20 at Costco. No better deal anywhere.

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Thanks guys!

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IMHO, if you constantly need pliers, there is an issue that needs to be addressed. The problem is not the slippery needles, per se.

Could be the needles or the eyes are too big. What size thread? Could be too big for the holes. Is your awl a diamond shape? Is it wide enough for the needle and thread combo you are using?

Needles generally hang up not because they are slippery, but because they can't pass freely through the leather.

Nigel Armitage talks about this in videos he did for a forum member. The member was using needles purportedly made for leather stitching that were simply enormous and could never have been made to work appropriately.

So look at the whole process and see if a modification here or there doesn't eliminate the trouble.

Good luck!

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For most sewing, such as fabric, the needles are pointed and both pierce the material, ie make the hole, and feed the thread through it

Leather is tougher and thicker than most fabric and will exert a clinging effect, or a drag, or friction, on a needle as it passes through. So the usual practice is to make a hole first with an awl; remove the awl; then pass the needle through the hole. To do this with the minimum of effort the needle must be narrower than the hole, or the hole have a larger diameter than the needle; or a combination of both

Leather needles, aka harness needles, have a blunt, rounded tip so that it can be fed gently through the hole without catching on the leather

If you cannot sew easily, you need narrower needles or bigger holes; so push the awl further through, or get a bigger one

The exception is when you are sewing very thin, soft leather. As this is usually used to make gloves, the needles are called glover's needles; they are triangular in cross section, and sharp

Even if you get the needle & hole combination right you might occasionally need to use pliers, eg when backstitching, but this should be an exception

As mentioned, Nigel Armitage has a couple of good videos about this

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Nitrile gloves? Oh I would go crazy, if I had to stitch with such things on my hand....
I aslo think, that there is just some wrong size in your stitching set up. i.e. the awl can match the stitch in length, but maybe its just not "thick" enough. The thread might be right, but the needles too thick, etc.

Another thing:
If you constantly use pliers on your needles, you normaly scratch the needle-tip a lot, so you just make it harder with every use to push/pull them through. Also, if you don´t move that kind of "knot" (where you "stitch" through the thread) directly to the needle, it might be a little bit easier. Just try some variations on some scrap-leather!

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Agree on the pliers roughening the needles. Makes matters worse. Buy smooth, flat nose pliers. No grooves to mess up the surface of the needle. Got some for $4.00 at a Menards store.

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I learned from member Chuck Burrows (Wild Rose Trading Co.) that the rubber finger tips like secretaries use work great. Problem solved!

Michelle

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This is one if the few times where cheap tools may be better. Good pliers with hardened jaws will mark the needle more than cheap ones with soft metal jaws. If the needle is harder steel than the pliers it shouldn't scratch. I put pure beeswax on my fingers and it seems to help with traction. I personally can't wear finger condoms cause my hands sweat and they slide off. 20 mins in full rubber gloves and my hands are wrinkled from all the sweat.

Edited by TinkerTailor

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Pliers, rubber grips, and similar tricks will help solve the difficulty of pulling tight needles through leather, but they won't overcome the basic cause, which is that the needles are too tight. You should be able to push & pull needles through the leather easily & smoothly just with bare fingers.

Since a standard awl makes an adequate hole, and you would have to search quite a lot to find a very small/narrow awl, it is more likely that your needles are too big

I very much suggest that you find some smaller needles. Even if you can manage with those you have, the correct, smaller, size will be less tiring in the long run

Also, have a look at this video by Nigel Armitage on YouTube; 'Saddle Stitch In Detail'. Between about 3min 30sec and 4min 30sec he discusses needle size

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All true, zuludog.

But there are always times when bare fingers just don't do it. Backstitching is one example.

Michelle

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Even if you get the needle & hole combination right you might occasionally need to use pliers, eg when backstitching, but this should be an exception

Sometimes, if the needles are just slightly too tight for bare fingers, but not so tight to need pliers, I use a thimble.

I also use a thimble if my fingertips get a bit tender. As I do this as a hobby, and not full-time, my fingers don't become hard enough

You can use a round/scratch awl as a small fid to stretch a hole slightly for backstitching without damaging the stitching or permanently enlarging the hole

Edited by zuludog

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A medical needle holder or clamp is good to have on hand for those times when you need to yank a needle through. They are basically a hemostat with no teeth to scratch. I keep one dangling on my little finger and swing it up to grasp when I need it. Find them on Ebay, or use a hemostat, but only grab the needle with the smooth part of the jaws near the hinge, not the serrated portion closer to the end. Have used these in surgery for years, natural for me to carry it over to leatherwork.

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You can put short lengths of plastic or rubber (better) tube over the jaws of hemostats. Very good positive grip without any damage to the needle.

Oh, and I like the idea of keeping on your finger while you stitch. :)

Michelle

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Instead of picking up pliers, Pick up a piece of beeswax and grab the needle with that and pull it throw. After doing that once or twice your fingers will grip the needle easy and give you better finger grip.

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I've got a pair of hemostats with heatshrink tubing on the jaws all the way to the hinge. No marks on the needles, and easier to keep up with than pliers.

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I have realized that it is hanging up on the eye of the needle. I was using Tandy needles. It looks like the eye is larger than the John James needles. Has anyone else had problems with Tandy needles?

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I use to use Tandy's large eye needle for stitching to make it easier to thread. I had a couple break at the eye because they were so difficult to get through the leather. I think the pressure of the leather around the awl hole was too much for the steel of the needle. I changed to normal needles. They go through the hole easier, or seem to anyway. Threading them wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be.

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I just got some John James needles yesterday in the mail, there seems to be a big difference between them and Tandy's. The eye is much smaller. I should be test driving them by Wednesday.

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Going back to Nigel Armitage, I just recently watched a video of his regarding a sharp and properly dressed diamond stitching awl. Well, worth watching. Nigel says you can't sew without it, and shows how he preps his diamond awl. I am trying to chase down a cheapy sharpening stone just for this reason.

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ok my 2 cents .. I use a chisel sometimes but an awl more lately. Here is what I use that works. I use the Tandy Needle Number 1192-10, Sz 0 harness needles. While I might be able to go with thinner thread I like the look of .040 or .045 when I sew a holster or sheath together using 2 pcs of 8 oz or more. I usually use .040 when I awl and .045 when I chisel. Maine thread is what I have been using almost exclusively for the last 2 months. When I thread my needle for using the awl and using .040 I cut my thread to length and I take a razor blade and scrap the last 3 inches at either end. You can see when you start to shave off fibers. When I have thinned down the 3 inches at either end I rub it through a block of bees wax and twist it back up. It is now about half the thickness of the thread.I put my needle in about 1.5 in and fold.

Now that tight spot at the eye comes right through the hole. It is a huge help but I still like to use a rubber finger tip on my right thumb to pull through the second needle. Just makes things faster. I dont have very large hands and I can use a size 13 fingertip rubber on my thumb. They are very durable and I think a box of a dozen was 3 dollars. I only need to use the pliers sometimes when I am back stitching at the end and I have a little spring loaded jewelers pliers I got from Harbor freight. I think it was also about 3 bucks and it had no teeth and being cheap junk the metal is so soft the needle actually dents the inside of the jaws. Has worked great and I have been using the harbor freight pliers for some 6 months easy without any problems. Other than that I dont need to use the pliers so long as I prep my thread and use my little rubber.

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A two-years old thread, but people do come back to read....  me two-cents....  had a student with me the other day and she was having this issue.  I clarified the issue she was having and it made me look here.  There can be numerous issues if one is having to tug on the needle and fingers are not gripping the needle

1.  Most like, the holes are not large enough.  Either the stitching irons are too small for the thread or the awl is not sharp or large enough.

2.  Has the thread 'knotted' behind the eye?  A loop behind the eye assist in this and if it has knotted, that comes from tension while pulling on the thread.  I refer to this as a small fist.  One is attempting to pull a fist through the hole.  Mind the loop.

3.  If using a stitching iron, when were the holes made?  I've seen countless times, people make the holes on a Thursday and won't stitch until Friday.  Bad practice indeed.  Not long after the holes are made, they are starting to close.  Don't make your holes at 4pm, knowing you're going to call it quits at 5pm. 

4.  Needles and thread need to be paired with the stitching or pricking iron and awl.  If the holes are too small, one will struggle to get the needle and thread through if they are too large for the holes made. 

5.  From what point is one stitching in regards to the stitching clam?  If the hole to be stitched is 3cm above the jaws, the leather is too flexible.  Move it down closer to the jaws of the clam.  It's more stable and the needles will not struggle through the hole.

6.  Pliers are nice to have, especially when back-stitching.  Best ones to have are dental pliers.  The metal is softer, without grooves or teeth in the jaws and some don't fully close.  They won't mark the needles and they are relatively inexpensive.

Edited by HondoMan

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People do come back to read.

I was having large problems with my finger slipping off the needles.  I have to wash my hands a lot, I figure this is the culprit.  Long story short, nitrile gloves got me back up to speed.  Thanks!  I'll have to find and try the finger condoms.

 

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I just use secretary's thumb cots. The rubber ones with the bumps on them. Work great.

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