Crafting leather is an art form which requires attention to details, but also to the quality of the materials which are to be used within the product which is being crafted. And while the leather quality should be the top priority of for the professional leather artisan, there are other factors to consider. First, one must consider the glue and binding of the product. Secondly, the stitching of the leather, specifically how to choose the best thread for fine leather work, should be considered.
Keeping the binding in mind
If you have ever purchased a pair of cheap shoes, then you understand the threading issues which can become dominant in leather products. Fraying threads are often the first signs that poor thread choice has been used. Typically, there are two main factor which can contribute to fraying on your leather. When the stitching is inconsistent or when the stitching is too tight, the product is apt to have areas where the threads fray. Additionally, if the thickness of the thread is not appropriate to the thickness of the leather, then there will be fraying.
Keep in mind that when you choose thread that the binding method needs to be at the forefront of a person’s mind. If the binding and glue is to be on several overlapping leather pieces, then the thickness of the leather will require a thicker diameter of thread. However, if the stitching is tight and there are not too many overlapping pieces, then a thinner thread may be used.
Understanding the product and thread relationship
Apart from the functionality of the binding, a leather artisan must take into account the aesthetics of the thread used based upon the product for which it is being used upon. For example, if you are trying to find the best wallet for men, a finer thread will give the wallet a delicate look. However, if you are trying to craft a leather workman’s belt, the thicker thread and wider stitching may be more ideal for obtaining that rugged and “workman’s” look.
Going beyond the aesthetics, when an artisan is trying to determine how to choose the best thread for fine leather work, he or she should consider their target audience. Women, tend to cater to products which have a definitive delicacy. This would mean that a thread of 832 or 0.43mm thread diameter should be used. Men, on the other hand, tend to want a more aggressive look to the leather. 432 or 0.63mm thread diameters may be appropriate. Yet, these diameters are dependent upon the thickness of the leather and the product which is being offered to the target audience. Specifically:
- 332 or 0.77mm – Should be used for sturdy binding and stitching such as that to be found on the handles of leather handbags, on the inner seams of cowhide pieces (such as at the armpit), and for rugged aesthetics.
- 432 or 0.63mm – Is a bit thinner than the 0.77mm thread but no so much as to make it a major thread. This thickness may sometimes be used in replacement of 332 threads, especially when blending various stitching styles.
- 532 (0.57mm) and 632 (0.51mm) – I have placed these two thicknesses together because they are the standard sizes for threadwork. They are ideal for the wallet for men, the handbags for women in that they are no too thick and not too thin. Additionally, if you are attempting to give off the perception of durability to a product, the 532 and 632 threads tend to do so more than the 832 diameter selection.
- 832 or 0.43mm – Reserve the use of this diameter for extremely fine and delicate detailing. Such items as watch bands, slim wallets, accessories, embroidery on lambskin and on detail work with nubuck leather may choose to use such. It is not recommended that the thread be used on thicker leathers such as Alligator leather or cowhide as the diameter does not equivalate to a durable and quality product in thicker leather work (unless glues and other diameters secure the binding).
Keep in mind that the thicker the thread, the looser the stitching will appear in most cases. Yes, the product will tend to take on a sturdier look, but as an artist, you will want to ensure that the presentation of durability does not overshadow the presentation of quality and craftsmanship within the product.
Once the technical aspects of how to choose a thread for fine leather work has been determined, the professional leather artisan then must determine the color of the thread. It is advised that the thread match the leather. And while there have been a few products which have attempted to contrast the thread with the leather, primarily in using white thread on black leather or vice versa, I have found that such a methodology takes away from the design and frankly gives the piece a cheap appearance. It is ok to use the white to black/ black to white theme on the finer details of a product, so long as the overall thread is not competing with the overall design of the product. What you want as an artist is to make the leather the shining star of the product. Therefore, the color of the thread should blend with the leather, not compete with it.
On the rare occasions where a contrasting color would be more idealistic for the product, craftsmen must understand the complimentary and contradictory colors. Browns and yellows work, Greens and blacks work, white and almost any other color works, reds and blues work. Yet, purple and red do not, green and red (unless you are going for a Christmas look) generally do not, orange and yellow tend to compete when used together and so they do not. My advice is to have a color wheel or make a hue chart if you have any trouble with thread color selections.