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The back stitch - Introduction and Safety Tips

backstitch
Fig.1 - the route of the back stitch thread.


Firstly an apology to any left-handed people reading this, the author has no experience of or ability with left hand sewing.
A reversal of all 'handed' instructions will be required.

Work safely! A responsible adult should supervise children at all times.

Hand tools should be sharp at all times. Blunt tools require excessive force in use and can lead to nasty accidents.
Because your tools will be sharp, handle with thought and care at all times.

HINT; Most student leatherworkers make sheaths and covers for their tools as part of their introductory work.

Once you have a few of the correct tools and a little skill, hand stitching is easier than it first appears.
Follow this guide and you will be turning out work far quicker and more neatly than you would have thought possible.
There is no mystery to leatherwork, just care, cleanliness and the proper tools for the job.

Leather is expensive, always plan work ahead and think carefully before cutting or stitching.

Please work safely and enjoy your leatherworking.

Preparing the work

Marking a stitch line with dividers
Fig.2 - Marking a stitch line with dividers
Mark up the work with a pair of dividers or a steel rule.
Mark a line 2-6mm from the edge of the leather to be sewn, depending upon the size of stitches.
See Fig.2.
 
Using a pricking tool to mark stitches
Fig.3 - Using a pricking tool to mark stitches
Use a marking tool to carefully mark the stitch positions along the line just made.
See Fig.3.

There is no need to press too hard; it is sufficient to make an indentation that will be visible during stitching.

If you do not have a pricking tool you can use a ruler and awl to mark stitch positions, but you will not have the stitch angles indicated and neat work will be more difficult.
Now cut the required length of thread. For back stitching it needs to be at least four times the stitching distance.

Attach and lock a harness needle to one end of the thread. You may need to taper the thread to pass it through the eye of the needle.
See Threading a needle

Wash your hands if necessary. Leather stains easily and is very difficult to clean.

Place the leather in your clamp. The stitching line should be in clear view and at a good height while you stitch. It is usually easier to stitch towards you.
If you do not have proper clamps two 400mm x 60mm pieces of wood taped together around the work piece and held between your knees as you sit will suffice.

You are now ready to start stitching.

Starting to stitch

The awl in use during a backstitch
Fig.4 - The awl in use during a backstitch.
Inspect the awl blade.

It has an elongated diamond profile that will pierce a slotted hole in the leather.
The slot should be made at the correct angle each time so that the stitches can lie properly.
This is achieved by turning the awl until two of the blade facets are facing you and the one on top - i.e. furthest away - is parallel with the top edge of the leather.
Pierce the leather with quick push, do not twist or waggle the blade as you may break it and will certainly open up and round the hole excessively.
With the leather in your clamp, pierce the first TWO slots with the awl.
See Fig. 4.
If the blade does not pass easily through the leather it should be sharpened before continuing or you will break it before the line of stitches is complete.
See the Awl sharpening guide.
Push the needle through the second slot
Fig.5 - Push the needle through the second slot.
Push the needle & thread through the SECOND slot from the left side (back) of the work.
Pull the needle through with your right hand.
See Fig. 5.
Push the needle back through the preceeding slot
Fig.5 - Push the needle through the second slot.
From the right side of the work push the needle through the PRECEEDING slot and pull it through with your left hand.
See Fig. 6.
Leave a long end when pulling the thread through; this will be trapped in the future line of stitches to lock it.
 
The awl piercing the second slot
Fig.7 - The awl piercing the second slot.
Whilst holding the needle in your left hand, pierce the next hole with the awl.
See Fig. 7.
The needle enters the work from left to right and the left thumb catches a loop
Fig.8 - The needle enters the work from left
to right and the left thumb catches a loop.
Push the needle into this slot from the left and pull it through with your right hand.
Use the thumb of your left hand to capture a loop in the thread.
See Fig. 8.
 

Passing the needle under the loop.

Pass the needle through the previous hole with your right hand
Fig.9 - Pass the needle through the previous hole with your right hand.
Push the needle back through the previous hole and under the loop of thread.
Take care not to pierce the thread already running through the hole.
See Fig. 9.
Pull the backstitch tight before the front one
Fig.10 - Pull the backstitch tight before the front one.
Pull the 'back' stitch tight with your right hand - and catch the loose end under it - before tightening the front stitch with your left hand.
Take care not to pull too tight on the first few stitches or the loose end will pull out.
See Figs 10 & 11.
Then pull the front stitch tight
Fig.11 - Then pull the front stitch tight.
The stitches viewed from the back of the work
Fig.12 - The stitches viewed from the back of the work.
Repeat this process until the end not forgetting to lay the loose end under several stitch loops at the back of the work to capture it.
Finish the work by stitching back for two or three stitches and cutting off the thread flush at the back of the work.
The back and front of the work should look like Figs 12 & 13.
The stitches viewed from the front of the work
Fig.13 - The stitches viewed from the front of the work.
Using a bone folder to flatten the stitches
Fig.14 - Using a bone folder to flatten the stitches.
Run the flat side of a bone folder over the stitches to press them into the leather if you wish.
This is optional but it protects them from wear and can improve their appearance.

See Fig. 14.

Finish and Burnish the Edge

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