Sewing thread and needle advice needed


Well-Known Member
I've been "mostly" making my own sheaths for about a year now. But have to this point had the sewing done at a local saddle shop as I focused on acquiring tools for and perfecting my designs, construction methods and decorations. But even though it only takes them a minute or two to sew up a sheath for me. And I am willing to pay them fairly well for that time, I have noticed that they have begun to regard my occasional visits as a PITA. Which I understand. If they have deadline on a $3K saddle, such distractions may be unwelcomed. So now I'm ready to make the step into hand sewing my sheaths.
The thread that I like most that they use on my sheaths at the saddle shop is 346 gauge. And that or a similar size is what I would prefer to continue using. So I'm interested in learning what size needle I would need to use for this size thread for hand sewing. And for sources of both good quality needles and thread at good prices. As I have noted huge variations in prices.
Any other advice also appreciated if you see a flaw in my plan. Thanks.
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Just a thought, but perhaps ask them, even see if they'll sell you what you need. If they're giving you the impression you're a PITA, they might welcome it as a way to sorta 'get rid of you'.
I bought my needles and waxed thread from Be sure to buy 5-8 needles though, some will break on your or what have you. I drilled out all my sew holes as well, and saddle stitched everything.
For needles, look for Harness Needles. The big eye needles are easy to thread yes, but are even easier to break.

There are three sizes of harness needles at your local Tandy that you can handle. The largest are a very robust size and wont break or bend easily, but back stitching is a bit of a chore. The middle size are less robust but easier to bend but so much better on the back stitches.

I use both, but more often use the middle sized needles, the ease of use offsets the break resistance to me. I usually break one a month or so, depending on my workload. I do this seven days a week so you can do the math, they're good to go if you dont work as much.

The thread I use most is the "sewing awl thread" from Tandy. Its strong, but sticky. I prefer the waxed thread though so its all good. I do like the natural color versus the white of other brands. Their black thread is fantastic. Your mileage may vary.

I hear great things about Tiger Thread. They have a huge volume of colors and weights. Its a toy store for thread lovers.

If your a traditional person go with linen thread. Tandy carries a really nice linen thread now in both waxed and non waxed. Both are dyeable.

In my experience, do not use machine thread for hand stitching. I've tried so many different types and none of it works well for hand stitching in my experience. There is a reason they are so different, each style needs its own set up, what works for one doesn't necessarily work for the other.
I also use large harness needles for most of my hand sewing. Waxed linen thread in both 5 and 3 strands works very well. I would suggest a stitching pony and a sewing palm. You can build your pony quite simply.


Just found a photo that includes my pony and a palm for each hand on my leather bench. I've developed a technic where I sew with both ands as I saddle stitch.

Thanks for the replies. I like the stitching pony idea and believe I can make one. Could you post a link to source of thread or tell a specific vendor and item number? Thanks.
Here at the beginning, I'd advise to get small batches of thread to try out and see what works for you the best. Some like natural threads while some prefer synthetics. Its a matter of feel and personal preference.

Tandy is a good place to get a good feel of whats out there, they have small spools of just about every type they carry, even linen. Sometimes the manager might have a length just sitting that he'd either give or give a good deal on.

Some will razz Tandy, but you really cant beat going and handling the product yourself.
OK, went to Tandy and bought (yikes) nearly $100. worth of tools/thread. Large diamond awe, 4 prong hole chisel, thread, and snap setting tools. Have my 1st sheath nearly ready to sew. Next question. What's the rule of thumb in determining what length of thread to start with. I will be attempting a saddle stitch.
I started out with a commercially made stitching pony but found that I needed to make a few modifications to it. I found that the wing nut was too small to get it to tighten down the clamp without hurting my fingers so I drilled the holes in the clamp larger and inserted a larger bolt which allowed a larger wing nut and a more comfortable grip. While I was at it I installed a washer, lock washer, and a nut on the inside of the clamp to keep the bolt from turning in the hole. That's in addition to the washer that was on the outside of the clamp. I tried to stitch without a stitching pony but I found that having one makes life so much easier when it comes to stitching up a sheath.

A hint on the order of stitching. First glue and sew in the belt loop. (If you glue and stitch the body before doing the belt loop you'll not do it again-and you needn't ask how I know). That brings me to another point. Save your pattern until the sheath is finished. I make my belt loops as a separate piece from the sheath body instead of integral to it. I then glue up the sheath and the welt, whether a pouch sheath or one with a separate front and back, and then sand the edges even. With even edges I can then lay out the stitching groove with a groover and a stitching wheel to lay out where I want the stitches. I then pre-punch the stitching holes. If during pre-punching you get a hole off you can use your awl to straighten out your hole and then use a tooling spoon to smooth over the old hole.

What I do to pre-punch the stitching holes is my drill press. I made up a jig that's nothing more that a short board that has a small hole drilled in the middle-it's small to keep the leather from being pushed down into the hole-and another hole at the edge. The hole in the middle is used for when I can lay the leather flat, as in stitching the belt loop in and the one on the edge is used for when the sheath cannot be laid flat, like when the loop prevents it. I then chuck up a curtain needle, any straight needle larger needle that's larger gauge that you're sewing needle will do. I do not drill the needle through the leather. I don't even plug my press in. I use the cam to push the needle through the leather at the spots marked out by the stitching wheel. I then go back to my stitching pony (I've already used the above operation to lay out, glue and stitch the belt loop or inlay onto the sheath)

Remember that you will need more than twice the circumference of the sheath to stitch with the saddle makers stitch so be generous with the thread. I use a waxed nylon thread. Waxed linen thread has been around for ages and probably works just as well. Whatever, rub the thread that you cut on a block of bee's wax. Thread a stitching needle on one end of the thread then take the needle and pass it through the thread in the long section, not the tail, and pull it snug. Repeat on the other end of the thread. Clamp your work into your stitching pony, sit with the bar under your thighs and you ready to stitch. (You might want to make sure to TV controller is within reach-just a thought) Now you're ready to stitch.

Some like to start out with a back stitch. To do that count down four or five holes a run the needle through and even out the thread. Then run the thread back up to the end and then back down over that thread and continue around. Others feel that the thread is solid and doesn't need any insurance against the thread breaking and unraveling and they will just start at the first hole. I feel that the waxed nylon is pretty strong and I do the latter. When you do reach the other end of the sheath then you will want to back stitch as you will be dealing with loose ends so you will want to stitch back over four or five holes to make sure that the thread doesn't come out. Some will make a knot or glue the ends of the thread on the finished end of the stitching but I haven't had any thread come out for me. Also, develop a pattern, either right then left or left then right. Always snug up the first stitch before taking the second stitch or you may end up with a situation where you split your thread. If your thread should break you can snip it close to the leather and start out with a fresh loop of thread. Just to back up the work about four or five holes and stitch back over the old thread.

Doug did and the rest of the guys have about covered it. Don't freak out if your thread turns out to be too short to finish the job after a little practice you can start a new stitch and if you do it correctly no one will notice you tied off the the thread and started a new one.

Here is a link to making a stitching pony by Wild Rose Trading Co., or Chuck Borrows.

I made mine just like the one in the tutorial except I made the height right for me and I used two hinges at the base. The hinge is nothing more than a self closing screen door hinge, they come in a pair most places that sell them. so used on on each side. That allows me a little latitude when getting the piece in and out of the stitching pony! Be sure to pad the jaws where they meet with some leather so as not to put marks in what you are sewing!!

I can't get Photobucket to work this morning again. So I will post a pic later of the one I made, if I can get it too work!!
re: Thread length - using 7-9oz leather with a welt (i.e. 3 thicknesses) a good standard length is four times the length of the seam. On larger sheaths I usually sew each side (when the stitching goes all the way around the blade) with a separate threads. One this allows the use of a shorter thread and IMO adds strength since you aren't using as much "worn" thread (each time the thread is pulled through a hole it wears a bit.
Now in the old days back when many of us still made up our threads of whatever size (3, 5,7 cord etc) from single cord then the standard length was the length between your outstretched arms (about 6 feet) no matter the length of the beginning seam. As one finished any left over thread was knotted together at the middle (there's a special knot for this shown in the book "The Art of Handstitching Leather") - only the smallest, rattiest pieces of thread were ever thrown away and if you ever make up threads like this then you'll know why you saved as much as possible Even today with pre-made threads like Barbours I save the smaller left over ends and use them up.
Thanks so much to everyone. Your help was much beneficial. I have completed my 1st hand sewn sheath.
Not perfect, but IMO not bad for 1st effort. All parts are double stitched. Knife is an old 1920's field find Marbles that I cleaned up and re-handle w/Elk antler. Purposely "antiqued" the leather finish. The knife is old, so I thought the sheath should look old as well.