What's the Hype Behind Handcrafted?

When someone spends a significant amount of time making something for you with their own two hands, there's a very good chance they intend for it to last. I'll bet the phrase "planned obsolescence" never even crossed their mind.

Handcrafted goods tend to be designed and made to the highest quality possible, determined by the skill of the craftsman. There is good reason for this. You see, when more time is spent making something, the most significant cost to the craftsman is not what it cost him or her in materials, but actually the time itself that it took to make. When this is the case, handcrafted goods are likely to be made out of the highest quality materials available, because the savings made by lowering the quality of the materials are minuscule in comparison to the overall production cost. Therefore, there is nothing really to be achieved in the end by handcrafting an item with anything less than the best materials, other than a lower quality product and a dissatisfied customer. 

When it comes to leather goods, which when looked after properly can last someone a lifetime and potentially even be passed down, purchasing handcrafted products can often guarantee greater quality. The kind and grade of leather used, the construction methods employed, and the complexity of the design all contribute to the finished product's function, durabilty and price. The grade of leather and quality of construction are often always superior in handcrafted leather goods, while the overall design tends to be simpler, favouring minimalist designs, to keep down the cost of time. It is not uncommon to see wallets in a department store with 12 card slots, multiple compartments for bills and receipts, an ID window, and a coin pocket which is all kept together with a zipper for just $50, and not $500. This is possible when lower quality leather, and lower paid workers are used in the production process.

All of my products are saddle stitched by hand. Saddle stitching requires two needles, looped at each end of a single thread. Each needle passes all the way through the leather in a figure of 8 pattern. This is the most durable form of stitching, and might be referred to as a running stitch. If one thread were to break, the stitch would still remain tight, and there would still be an intact thread holding everything together. It would also be very unlikely that the stitching could unravel, as it would need to be pulled through the leather each time from the opposite side.

Machine stitching, on the other hand, uses two threads. The threads in this case do not pass all the way through the leather; they are instead looped around each other halfway through the holes punched through the leather by the needle. This is the most durable form of machine stitching, and is called a locking stitch, or a lockstitch. For most uses, machine stitching is absolutely fine, but that does not mean that it is as durable or as reliable as saddle stitching. It only takes the stitch to be broken in one place for it to loosen, and once that happens it is much easier for the entire stitch to unravel. This is because each thread stays on its own side of the leather, instead of looping through the leather in a figure of 8 pattern.

Saddle stitching vs machine stitchingSaddle stitching is impossible to achieve with a machine, therefore it is always done by hand. It is much more time consuming, however, which is why you will usually pay more for this type of construction compared to a product stitched by a machine. On the plus side, you now own something that should endure decades of use, and you know that the product you enjoy using so much probably passed through just a single pair of hands, and took him or her hours, instead of minutes, to handcraft.

Sewing leather together often requires heavier gauge, waxed thread to produce a durable stitch, especially with heavier weight leathers and for heavier duty applications. You'll meet the limitations of most sewing machines very quickly when trying to stitch leather together, so it requires specialist machines. These machines are capable of punching through multiple layers of leather, and are often geared down to work much more slowly than their fabric sewing counterparts. The presser foot of sewing machines, which pulls the leather through the machine so that the stitch spacing is even, can easily mark the leather along either side of the stitch line. This is something that it avoided entirely with hand stitching. Wonky stitch lines are also impossible to fix when stitching leather; once you've made a hole, that hole is there to stay. Saddle stitching therefore has the benefit of being, arguably, the more precise method, given that saddle stitching is performed at around six stitches per minute, compared to the dozens performed by a machine. There's a lot less room for error when you work at that speed! 

The main reason I saddle stitch all of my products at Rivet & Chain is not just to improve durability, but it's that I feel that hand stitching adds to the overall aesthetic of a finished product as well. I can use the best thread available when saddle stitching, and a neat finished line of stitching is so much more rewarding to achieve by hand than by machine. 

By buying handcrafted, you also understand that each and every product is slightly different to one another, and that subtle imperfections are what make each item beautiful and unique. The nature of organic materials also means that small variations in the surface, such as small scars and marks acquired throughout the animal's life can appear in a finished product. This means that your product was made for you, and make it truly yours. I intend for my products to be bought once, to be repaired eventually when needed, and be conditioned when required to keep them at their best. They are heirloom quality. They will never be meant to be thrown away. 

"The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten."

- Benjamin Franklin -


1 comment

  • Ceejay

    Hey. Loved the article. New to leatherwork. I love saddle stitching.

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