Why I Love to Hand Stitch

My stitch horse was made from Mr. Ginder's design.

One of the first things that Mr. Ginder taught me was how to hand stitch, using traditional 2 needle saddle making methods.  This is now where I spend much of my leather working time, and it is extremely satisfying.  You can’t be in a rush when hand stitching.  The image that always comes to my mind is Buddhist monks smoothing sand (except the stitching will last a lot longer!).

If I had to list the single most important thing that I learned from Mr. Ginder, it is hand stitching.  It is simple but takes a lot of practice and effort to get it to look good.

The stitch horse shown in this photo is one of my most treasured possessions.  Mr. Ginder designed it to accommodate the width of a saddle skirt (see the picture on my blog that shows me stitching a skirt with this stitch horse in ~1984).  My best friend, Lynn Messinger, made the stitch horse with dovetail and mortise and tenon oak joints.  It is a lovely piece that is incredibly functional!  I never cease admiring it, even after nearly 30 years of use.

Detail of hand stitching on bike bag strap.

I do have a sewing machine and use it for belts.  They are just way too much for hand stitching, despite the fact that I did completely hand stitch my worm belt (machine was not working…).  However, I almost always am happier with hand stitched work.  It is clean, it is VERY strong, and you have almost complete control.  As important, it is relaxing and meditative.  Many of my problems are solved when I’m hand stitching.

When I was learning to hand stitch in Mr. Ginder’s shop, it wasn’t always meditative.  Even the regular jabs in my fingers followed by minor bleeding was trivial compared to Ginder’s dogs.  These were large German Shepherds, and they were definitely in charge of Ginder’s shop.  As they were throwing themselves at the gate and foaming at the mouth, Mr. Ginder would be shouting at them to shut up.  Then he’d tell me that they are just fine and to come back.  Right. . .

First, I need to admit that I never got bitten during the year that I studied with Mr. Ginder.  So he was clearly right.  However, every single time I ever showed up, they were still throwing themselves at the gate and making me wonder just when I would get shredded to bits.  Once I was settled down in the shop doing something like hand stitching, they would basically leave me alone and focus on the poor customers that happened to come in to the front.  At that point, I was on the dog’s side of the fence, and they treated me as if I were on their team.

One of Mr. Ginder’s favorite phrases–said when I was struggling or messing something up–was “you’re not holding your mouth right!” (followed by a good chuckle).  This has become one of the guiding lights in my life, for many things beyond hand stitching.  Next time something goes wrong, just remember that phrase.  It has several layers of deep lessons….probably not too different from a Buddhist sand garden.

3 responses

  1. Like many Artistic crafts, there are huge amounts of technique to master before one can truly be creative. Art’s little blurb on hand stitching makes that point as stitching is key to successful leathercraft. I hope Art, that you continue to educate us on other related technologies and techniques to better appreciate what you do.

    • I’d love to find the time to give lessons. As an intermediate, I hope to eventually make some YouTube videos demonstrating techniques. One very interesting thing for me is the juxtaposition between old craft tradition with blogs and emails. In some ways, the old shops are transformed into something new, not all bad. I wish that I could provide the smells of the shop and a cup of coffee over social media!

  2. Fully agree on your hand sewing story. There is almost nothing you can not sew this way. I do hope to purchase a machine this year for the long stretches on the inside of my leather bags.

    Thank you for sharing.

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