BillinTR

First Sewing Attempt--PITA

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I have been working on my first leather project. It is a side/hip quiver for archery. Across the top where I am making belt loops I have been sewing a double layer of 6/7 oz. veg tan together. This first attempt at sewing has been problematic to say the least.

The layers were glued together with contact cement. Then I edge grooved for the stitches followed by laying out the stitch spacing with an overstitch wheel. Clamped my leather and prepared to proceed as per Al Stohlman's book. Spent some time making sure my awl was sharp and feel I got it very sharp. I know there are people who are going to say it needs to be sharper but I have been sharpening various types of blades for many years and believe I did a good job.

Problem one: I could not push the awl through that thickness of leather to save my butt. In making some maximum effort to get it through I actually slipped and bent the awl blade to about a 45 degree angle. Even if I had succeeded in piercing the leather there is no way I could have stitched a total of about 18 to 20 inches working that hard. I wound up doing what most people on here will probably preach against but I drilled my stitching holes with a Dremel. Kept the holes as small as possible and the result was presentable if not ideal. I currently don't have a stitching chisel or pricking iron but it seems as though that would be the answer to this problem.

Problem two: My intent was to have white stitching contrasting with a medium brown leather. But by the time I was done working the thread all the way around the stitch line the white thread was dingy to say the least from handling and pulling the stitches tight. I wound up staining the stitch lines to match the leather. Again not what I wanted but presentable. How do people manage to keep their light colored threads so clean while handling when sewing thick leather?

Like I said this is a first project and I expected there would be lessons to be learned. I checked out on line videos including those by Armitage and I have the Al Stohlman book. In the Armitage video he uses a pricking iron but according to what he says in the video he only uses it to mark the stitch holes. I have subsequent projects in mind but they will all involve fairly heavy leather to be sewed.

Any comments would be welcome.

 

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I find stabbing the awl into some wax makes all the difference.  Night and day difference.  I have some beeswax melted into a hole on the pony that makes it so easy to hit if the awl is getting sticky.

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You may well be more advised to use a pricking iron or chisel to start with, the chisel will go right through whilst the pricking iron is often used to make it through the first layer and then finished with the stitching awl, 6mm is quite a thick leather to go through just with the awl especially if not 100% sharp, with diamond awls for stitching its only the point you need to sharpen not the sides after the point

With the more modern pricking irons you can hammer them right through just like the chisels if you want to

If the leather is very hard then a good coating of Neets foot oil may soften it up, leave for about a day after oiling it on the surface, it will darken the veg tan a bit

 

Edited by chrisash

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I second the idea of using a stitching chisel to punch all the way through both pieces of leather. For me, that not only makes the stitching easier but also makes the back side neater looking than pushing an awl through. With regard to light-colored thread taking on a tint, I've had that problem at times as well. I make sure to keep things clean, including my hands, wax that goes on the thread, clothes, anything the thread touches such as the floor). Depending on the project, you might be able to stitch two or three shorter runs rather than one long run in order to start with clean thread multiple times. In my experience, threads sometimes pick up color from the leather itself. I've not had any luck cleaning thread after the stitching is finished, so now I test it on a scrap and switch to dark thread if need be. 

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5 hours ago, BillinTR said:

How do people manage to keep their light colored threads so clean while handling when sewing thick leather?

To help keep the thread in my project cleaner, I use a longer length of thread than I need for the stitch-line. I usually find its the first 1 - 2feet of thread that gets dirtiest, so I make sure that section is cut away when I finish sewing and it leaves the cleaner thread in the project.

For the stitch holes, where possible, I glue the seams together, then I use a stitching chisel to punch the holes right through.

Edited by Rockoboy

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What is everybody's opinion on the best value in a stitching chisel/set?

 

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Sorry to read about your problems; you're right, using an awl on thick leather is not that easy. It can help if you support the back of the leather with a cork - but a proper cork, not the cheap plastic things

Stitching chisels vary from a cheap set from Amazon to expensive imports. the problem with Amazon is that cheap makes are a bit variable; they might be OK, they might be rubbish

But I'd say that as good a place as any to start would be Tandy, either the Craftool, with the black finish and round knurled handles, or the Craftool Pro which are flat with a silver metallic finish. At least then you'd know where you are with them. In your position I'd suggest visiting a leather craft store; either Tandy or perhaps there are others near you. That way you will be able to try them out. Start with a 2 - prong, 4mm spacing and see how you go

Take your awl and the rest of your stuff; any decent sales staff will be able to help and advise you

Any cheapish stitching chisel can be improved by polishing the prongs. Make a file or wand by gluing some wet & dry paper to a sliver of wood like a lollipop stick; something like 400 and then 600 grit. Lubricate the prongs with beeswax as you knock it into the leather. You can start off with a steel hammer, but this will damage the chisel after a while, so get a soft hammer - wood, nylon, hide, whatever. an auto parts store might be cheaper than a specialist leather hobby store

Depending on how awkward the piece of work is, sometimes I just make holes with the chisel on one side of leather before I glue them together. Then after gluing the awl only has to go through one thickness  

When you've knocked in the chisel, resist the temptation to waggle it about as you remove it; use a straight pull. You can hold down the leather with a short length of wood 

About 18 months ago I stopped using a stitching groover, I just mark the line of the stitching with dividers, and haven't had any problems

Edited by zuludog

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Welcome to the forum, Bill. A few thoughts spring to mind.

8 hours ago, BillinTR said:

Spent some time making sure my awl was sharp and feel I got it very sharp. I know there are people who are going to say it needs to be sharper but I have been sharpening various types of blades for many years and believe I did a good job.

I'm going to be "one of those people", a sewing awl cannot be too sharp. It can, however be too pointy. The difficulty I had when beginning sharpening awls was to not consider that it's essentially a tiny dagger. It has two long cutting edges which are what you're sharpening, rather than the point. Make the point too fine and it'll simply snap off, leaving a hook burr right at the end. If you can't cut a good couple millimetres into your leather by running the edge of the awl blade down it your awl is too sharp, you leather is too hard, or both. Like you I'd sharpened tools for years, mostly by hand with oilstones, but sharpening awls is something completely different. The steel is just so tiny it's difficult to get an accurate view on what's going on, even with magnification. Nigel Armitage has a video on awl sharpening, I believe in it he spends two hours working a new John James awl into reasonable shape and even then he's not completely happy with it.. (John James awls come rough as a badger's bum though. I much prefer Osbornes.)

Quote

Problem one: I could not push the awl through that thickness of leather to save my butt. In making some maximum effort to get it through I actually slipped and bent the awl blade to about a 45 degree angle. Even if I had succeeded in piercing the leather there is no way I could have stitched a total of about 18 to 20 inches working that hard. I wound up doing what most people on here will probably preach against but I drilled my stitching holes with a Dremel. Kept the holes as small as possible and the result was presentable if not ideal. I currently don't have a stitching chisel or pricking iron but it seems as though that would be the answer to this problem.

If it worked, drilling worked. Yours or somebody else's life isn't likely to hang on the strength of your quiver's seams so don't lose any sleep over it. I would recommend a stitching chisel probably. I prefer pricking irons myself but chisels massively reduce the amount of work the awl has to do. You might want to ditch the groover though, it serves very little purpose in this, and most other, applications.

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Problem two: My intent was to have white stitching contrasting with a medium brown leather. But by the time I was done working the thread all the way around the stitch line the white thread was dingy to say the least from handling and pulling the stitches tight. I wound up staining the stitch lines to match the leather. Again not what I wanted but presentable. How do people manage to keep their light colored threads so clean while handling when sewing thick leather?

This is a pretty common issue. What thread did you use, and did you wax it yourself? I presume you dyed the leather yourself? Linen is a little more susceptible to picking up dirt than synthetics. The old-timers used to mix up specific wax for white thread containing white powder (usually white lead, which is toxic). It's probably much easier for you to sew a long seam in several, shorter lengths of thread than one long one. A 3ft thread has to go through 3x as many holes as a 1ft thread so is 3x more likely to pick up dye. This also makes it less likely to drag along the ground and pick up dirt. I rarely stitch with a piece of thread longer than a fathom (from one hand to the other, with arms outstretched).

Quote

Like I said this is a first project and I expected there would be lessons to be learned. I checked out on line videos including those by Armitage and I have the Al Stohlman book. In the Armitage video he uses a pricking iron but according to what he says in the video he only uses it to mark the stitch holes. I have subsequent projects in mind but they will all involve fairly heavy leather to be sewed.

Nigel Armitage demonstrates several different ways of saddle stitching in his videos. Sometimes he just pricks the stitch marks, sometimes he chisels them all the way through. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of tool and technique. Traditional English pricking irons are only intended to mark the surface with very shallow cuts, in order that the awl does most of the work. I like it as I think it gives the best aesthetic effect and is much faster to run an pricking iron down a strap than to have to wrestle with pulling the chisel out each time I hit it, and worry about if I'm hitting it perfectly square. However as I mention a stitching chisel massively reduces the work the awl has to do. I too started with the Stohlman book but remember that there is more than one way to skin a cat, and I don't think that Al had the range of experience and information we take for granted 40+ years after he wrote it.

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You shouldn’t have to work that much for two layers of 6-7 unless it is dry and hard.  I second the suggestion that a bit of wax on the awl helps the awl cut thru the leather.  I also second that profile I’d the awl is just as important as sharpness.  

If I may impart a bit of wisdom learned from decades of woodworking which relies on sharp for many things.  My mentor who explained this so bluntly many years ago said to me “You don’t know sharp until you experience it!”   I always thought I knew sharp until I tried someone else’s tools.  Even after many years of sharpening experience which I have gotten very good at for woodworking purposes I struggled at awlwork until I experienced sharp & correct profile.  

A very good investment would be to purchase a Barry King awl blade.  I spent months sharpening a stock Osborne awl blade thinking my problem was my technique....nope, it was a crappy tempered and crappy profiled awl blade.  For $25 plus shipping, it’ll be the best money ever spent to experience sharp.  Just my two cents...best of luck and don’t get too frustrated.  Learning curve is pretty steep. 

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