Hand Stitching Vs. Machine Stitching Leather: Pros and Cons of Each

Woman hand stitching leather and a piece of leather being stitched on a sewing machine.

When it comes to sewing leather, you can either sew by hand or with a sewing machine.

Those who are well-versed in the craft might say that hand stitching is the best, while newbies or people who sell a lot of leather items might say that using a sewing machine is the way to go.

Hand stitching vs. machine stitching leather: what are the pros and cons of each? Hand stitching with the saddle stitch will prevent unraveling, but it’s time consuming. However, hand stitching allows for portability, and the supplies are much more cost effective. Purchasing a sewing machine can be expensive and the final products might unravel, but machine stitching is faster.

Continue reading for an in-depth look at all the pros and cons of hand stitching and machine stitching.

An explanation of the saddle stitch will also be provided along with recommended sewing machines that work great with leather. 

What Are the Pros and Cons of Hand Stitching?

You could probably make the assumption that there are two kinds of leatherworkers: those who swear by hand stitching, and those who prefer to use a sewing machine.

Many hand stitching advocates will say that hand stitching is dead or that it’s a forgotten art thanks to the sewing machine.

Of course, how you choose to sew leather is up to you and your preferences, but the people that advocate for hand stitching do have a few points!

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this potentially forgotten art form.  

Pros

Durability

This is probably one of the biggest advantages of hand stitching.

The saddle stitch, which will be discussed further in this article, is a sturdy stitch that prevents unraveling.

If a thread breaks, you’ll still be able to use your leather item until you’re able to fix it without worrying about the entire thing falling apart.

This means that hand-stitched items typically last longer than items that were sewn with a machine.

Just be sure that you’re using the right type of leather for your project.

Cost-Effective Materials

Since you’re stitching by hand, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on a sewing machine.

Instead, you need needles, thread, and a stitching pony, which are far more affordable than an entire sewing machine.

You won’t have to replace a stitching pony very often and there aren’t many pieces to replace other than needles and thread.

Portable

If you like to sew on the go or on the couch in the living room, hand stitching is easy to take with you.

You don’t have to lug around a machine; all you really need is your project, a needle, and thread.

One of a Kind

One-of-a-kind items are often sought after by some buyers, and that’s just what hand stitching will give you.

Because you do it by hand, no two items will look exactly alike, even if you try your best for continuity.

Handmade items are great gifts that will make the recipient feel appreciated. Sewing machines still produce handmade items, but the stitching looks more uniform than if it were done by hand.

Cons

Time

Time is the biggest complaint of hand stitching. A sewing machine will allow you to work pretty quickly, but sewing by hand will take a big chunk of your time.

If you only have a short amount of time to work, hand stitching could end up being a headache.

Not earning enough money for your hard work could also be an issue if you’re making items to sell.

The more time you spend on a project, the more you will need to charge to make the product worth your time.

Failing to charge enough means you have to do more work to make enough money, and eventually, it could take the fun out of the craft.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Machine Stitching?

Sewing machines are quite useful when it comes to leather. Many leatherworkers are adamantly against using them, so let’s take a look at what makes them a good option and what doesn’t.

Pros

Speed

When machine stitching, you can finish an item quickly.

If you’re making something for someone’s upcoming birthday or you’re fulfilling an order that needs to ship as soon as possible, a sewing machine is the way to go.

You don’t have to worry as much about precision and you won’t spend nearly as much time on a single stitch as you would with hand stitching.

Comparable Strength

People used to say that machine sewing leather resulted in a poorly-made product that would break super easily.

However, modern materials don’t have that reputation anymore. Thread made of nylon or polyester is quite durable and should last as long as the thread you use with hand stitching.

Cons

Sewing Machines Are Expensive

You can use the sewing machine you already have at home, but you might need to purchase a walking foot.

Because leather is so much thicker than materials usually used with a sewing machine, you have to adapt it to work with leather.

There are sewing machines made specifically to work with leather, and I’ll go over those shortly.

Stitches May Unravel

The stitches can unravel if a thread breaks. Sewing machines use the lock stitch, where two threads are intertwined between the two pieces of leather.

The saddle stitch uses in hand stitching makes each piece of thread go through both pieces of leather, which is why hand stitching won’t unravel.

Not Portable

Sewing machines aren’t very portable. You can take it with you, but it might be difficult, especially if you have a bulky machine.

Plus, you will probably need to plug it in, so you’re limited as to where you can take it. You can get a hand-crank version, but those are typically larger than a regular machine.

(Head over to my other article on machine sewing leather for more tips and recommendations.)

What is Saddle Stitching for Leatherworking?

Saddle stitching is a stitch used when sewing by hand. It uses two pieces of thread to create two rows of stitches in just one row of holes.

Since two threads go through one hole, it provides more support that will prevent unraveling should a stitch break. 

To learn more about how to make the saddle stitch, read Mr. Lentz’s easy-to-follow tutorial and watch the following video starting at the seven-minute mark.

What Sewing Machine is Good for Leather?

Sewing machines are more efficient and will allow you to work faster.

If you plan on sewing a lot of leather items for friends and family or to start your own business, you should invest in a sewing machine that is meant to work with leather.

You will need a sewing machine with a walking foot or a walking-foot attachment.

The REX Portable Walking-Foot Sewing Machine is heavy duty and is meant to work with thick materials like leather.

It comes with a walking foot, so all you have to buy is the machine. Although it might be pricey, it’s a great value for what it does.

The Janome HD3000 Heavy-Duty Sewing Machine is simple and effective and will get the job done.

It doesn’t come with a walking foot, however, so you will need to purchase one separately.

It does, however, come with leather needles, which are needed to work with leather.

The YUEWO DIY Shoe Repair Machine is a hand-crank version of the walking-foot sewing machine.

This specific machine is meant to work on leather items like shoes, purses, and other accessories, so you have the guarantee that it will work with any kind of leather product you want.

It does require you to crank it with your hand, so it might take some time to learn how to use this machine. 

Don’t miss out on my more in-depth guide to sewing machines for beginner leather workers.

Conclusion

Whether you choose to stitch by hand or with a machine, either will allow you to make unique products with a bit of practice.

It’s always a good idea to become familiar with both ways so you can be a well-rounded leatherworker.

If your sewing machine breaks, you can continue by hand. If you’re in a time crunch, you can continue with a machine. That’s what I would call a win-win!