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NOTE: This was posted, earlier, in another thread, but it's so wonderful -- and I was so pleased with myself -- that I decided to escalate the damage by reposting it to its own thread.

Why A Hand-Stitched Strap? (reposted from: "Poll: Exotics vs. Embossed Cowhide Leathers: Does anybody really care?")

So, since I started this thread -- and since some of you know I'm a hobbyist strap-maker -- this post might seem like I'm either being "defensive" about my interest in hand-stitching, or -- just as bad -- I'm "grinding my own axe," by discussing the virtues of hand-stitching vs. machine-stitched straps.

I want to put that to bed; my interest in relating what I've learned about strap construction is selfless, innocent, pure as a February snowstorm, and completely above reproach. Unselfish, too -- you can take my word for it, and I vouch for myself, completely.

Okay, now onto the business of strap-stitching, and why hand-stitched is FAR superior to machine-stiched. First, there's the dynamics of the different forms of stitching, and why the hand-stitch is inherently superior to machine stitch. Please look at the illustration drawn by Al Stohlman, the god of leatherworking.


The illustration shows both a "lockstitch" and the double-needled, leatherworker's hand stitch, sometimes referred to as a "saddle stitch." The lockstitch is the common sewing machine answer to locking layers of fabric or leather together. The machine employs an under-deck mechanism -- either a "looper" or a "shuttle hook wheel" -- which traps the thread from the needle above, forms a loop or "chain" and binds the two layers of fabric, leather, etc. together.

The hand-stitch employed by leatherworkers (among others) employs two separate needles, instead of one, and each needle passes through each hole from opposite sides of the assembly, forming a matrix that doesn't bind the threads to each other, but binds the leather instead. (if that sentence doesn't make your head hurt, nothing will...)

If you look at the machine-stitch or "lockstitch," you can see that the top thread (the "show thread" you see when you look at the top of your strap) is trapped by the "bobbin thread" in the middle of the strap's layers or leather. These two separate threads "saw" at each other in the center of the assembly. Synthetic thread stretches and flexes (unlike linen thread!) so, over a period of months and years, the threads wear at each other, and typically the thinner "bobbin thread" will cut through the heavier "show thread" causing a stitching failure. Stohlman's illustration demonstrates what happens when a lockstich fails -- the assembly's stitch line unravels.

The hand-stictch ("saddle stitch") is much stronger, much more durable, and much less likely to fail. The two threads bypass each other, instead of trapping each other in the stitch-hole: This means no friction and far less likelihood of breakage. If a saddle stitched strap fails (thread breaks), the strap will NOT unravel, and it is repairable. If a machine-stitch "lockstitch" fails (not "if," but "when") your strap is "toast."

Now, let's discuss thread. The typical machine-stiched strap employs synthetic thread. As noted above, synthetic thread stretches; linen thread DOES NOT STRETCH! This means that -- once pulled up tight, "setting the stitch" -- linen-stitched straps remain tightly stitched; synthetic stitched straps, not so much. Synthetic thread breaks down when exposed to UV ("sunlight"), whereas linen thread is impervious to sunlight.

The Irish linen thread I use has higher tensile strength than machine synthetics, and it's "waxed," which means it has higher lubricity, higher chafing resistance, and it helps senior citizens cross busy intersections!

Irish linen thread is a "natural fiber" and no small animals are made to suffer during its manufacture, nor are any jobs outsourced to China.

If the above isn't worth a $50 premium -- e.g. ,as a way to ensure the longevity of your heirloom alligator strap -- then your priorities are different than mine, and we've already established (see first paragraph) that my judgement and character are beyond reproach.

Thanks for reading!!
 

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Great info. I copied to the Watch Strap Forum.:biggrin:
 

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Ladd, this is very interesting.

I certainly like hand-stitched leather, depending on the application.

For watch straps, I especially like this type of stitching with antique, or textured leathers, which I'd wear in a sporting or casual scenario. For a dress strap, I prefer the clean lines and uniformity of the machine stitch. That said, I'll vouch these straps do not wear as well as hand stitched.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Ladd, this is very interesting.

I certainly like hand-stitched leather, depending on the application.

For watch straps, I especially like this type of stitching with antique, or textured leathers, which I'd wear in a sporting or casual scenario. For a dress strap, I prefer the clean lines and uniformity of the machine stitch. That said, I'll vouch these straps do not wear as well as hand stitched.
I hear you. I understand and "get" that some favor the machine-made look. Personally, the thinner gauge bobbin thread on the underside of high-quality straps always looks tacky to me, buy that's why there's buttered and unbuttered popcorn at the cinema; we've all got different tastes.

I just wanted to point out that there's more than cosmetics involved. I've got an old skeleton-rigged drover's saddle and bridle that were stitched when Jesse James was the guy robbing banks, and not the guy building chopped motorcycles; the linen thread in that Texas saddle is still good to go, today. So is the linen on many Egyptian mummies after thousands of years. It's tough stuff. (pharaohs wouldn't settle for machine-stitched!)

I'm not as much of a strap-nazi as I appear, Timbo -- just having some fun with this, really. Keeps me out of the wife's hair. :lol:
 

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I hear you. I understand and "get" that some favor the machine-made look. Personally, the thinner gauge bobbin thread on the underside of high-quality straps always looks tacky to me, buy that's why there's buttered and unbuttered popcorn at the cinema; we've all got different tastes.

I just wanted to point out that there's more than cosmetics involved. I've got an old skeleton-rigged drover's saddle and bridle that were stitched when Jesse James was the guy robbing banks, and not the guy building chopped motorcycles; the linen thread in that Texas saddle is still good to go, today. So is the linen on many Egyptian mummies after thousands of years. It's tough stuff. (pharaohs wouldn't settle for machine-stitched!)

I'm not as much of a strap-nazi as I appear, Timbo -- just having some fun with this, really. Keeps me out of the wife's hair. :lol:
Sieg Heil!! Arbeit macht frei!
 

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Hmm... I have straps both hand and machine done and from my experience a quality strap is just that. Usually the leather itself wears before stitches come apart so to tell you the truth unless it's a strap custom made for a special watch I don't think the extra money is worth it to me. To me what's more important is the added quality a custom strap usually has via a vis thicker strap, special finishing etc.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
<SNIP>To me what's more important is the added quality a custom strap usually has via a vis thicker strap, special finishing etc.
I agree with you. But I'm not sure it's an "either/or" discussion: Hand stitching isn't the only reason to buy a custom strap (and pay the additional $50), but it's an added benefit and helps to ensure longevity. Most of the small operators who make straps hand-stitch them and don't make a big deal out of it. Hey, it's not the cure for cancer, and it won't repeal ObamaCare. :wink:

The reason for posting this thread (apart from the fact I've got too much time on my hands, and this ankle monitor inhibits my rollerblading) is that there are a few forumites who might not have known why hand-stitching can be a big plus, especially on an expensive, exotic-hide strap. Maybe it's just that I'm old (nah...), but I've had a dozen or so straps with stitching failures during my lifetime (two of my dad's, R.I.P.), but never had a saddle-stitched strap fail. All I can tell you is that I was disappointed when a couple of my favorite old straps came apart.

As far as the strap's leather giving up the ghost, that can DEFINITELY be avoided with sound leather-care protocols.
 
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