What Is A Sewing Awl And What Are its Uses?

Although I have sewn for years and I have never had the chance to use a sewing awl before.  Therefore, I  know very little about them.  So I did decide to do some research to learn more.  Then I went out and purchased one.
What is a sewing awl?  It is a larger scale needle type tool for use by hand when sewing leather or heavier weight fabric. The needle can be straight or bent.  It has a handle, and a metal graduated needle with a tip which is sharp to puncture holes through the fabric.
A sewing awl can have multiple application uses.  From using it for leather, canvas, duck cloth and even for scrapbooking and bookmaking.  Shoe repairers and leather workers mainly use this tool.  By utilizing an awl, you can create manual lock stitches with your thread.

Applications where you would use a sewing awl.

Sewing awls have been in use since the late 18th and early 19th century, and there is evidence that they were used even centuries before this.  Back in those days, the use of them was mainly with leather.  The method of a sewing awls is to punch holes or enlarge existing holes in materials.  The purposes can include stitching leather, canvas, and any heavy duty fabric.  Even mending materials that have rips or tears in them.  Some places where the use of awls are is in furniture upholstery, car interior upholstery, leather goods in general, shoes, bags, sporting goods equipment, boating applications like sails, and cushions.  The use of sewing awls can also be for making of handmade books.  You can also use this tool to sew the binding by hand.

Sewing awls come in different sizes and shapes.

Awls are available in all kinds of different shapes and sizes of needles.  For things like upholstery, the bent needle is the best shape of the needle to use so you can efficiently work with the material object when you can’t get to the backside of the fabric.  There are very thick heavy duty needles, and there are smaller needles for different applications.  Sewing awl kits usually come with a variety of different needles to choose between.  Some are interchangeable according to the appropriate needs of the project you are working with.  The needles have a groove in them which is for the thread to sit in.  When you are pushing the awl through the material, you don’t weaken the thread and create a twisted hole.

Threads for the sewing awl

With different projects you are working on the type of thread you will use will vary.  On larger heavier duty fabrics like leather, you will use a thicker kind of thread.  With leather never use a natural thread like cotton.  The use of chemicals and the process to help cure the leather will deteriorate the natural fibers in threads.  The main thread for use with sewing awls is the waxed thread.  It has a coating of wax which help it glide through the materials you are stitching with, and the wax also keeps the thread from knotting up while stitching.

Sewing awl shapes of the blades

Different kinds of needles create different types of holes in the material.  There is a diamond blade which is the classic type of needle hole.  It is in the shape of its name, a diamond.  Next, there is the flat blade, which once again is self-explanatory.  It creates a flat straight hole.  The hexagon is much like the diamond blade but has six sides instead of the diamonds four sides.  The oval which is an elliptical shape.  These different shapes create different types of holes in the material.  Therefore, each of these shapes creates a different look when you create the stitches with the thread.

Parts to a sewing awl

  • Handle – This is the part where you hold to push the needle into the material.  Some have storage inside the handle as well as this is where you put the small spool of thread.  The thread then extends through the handle down through the coupler/chunk into the groove of the needle. The shape of the handle can vary quite a bit.
  • Needles – These have the blades on the ends that cut and puncture holes into the material.  They are interchangeable and come in different sizes and shapes. There are straight and bent needles for various applications.
  • Coupler/chuck – This is unscrewed to place a needle into then tighten down to hold the needle firmly into place.  Thus, allowing the needles to be interchangeable.
  • Bobbin size spool – The thread is wound by hand onto the reel that is the size of a bobbin.
  • Lock wrench – Tool you use to tighten down the coupler/chuck.

A Couple Tricks To Using A Sewing Awl

Start with a project that is simple.  Learn how the awl goes through the material.  Making sure to line up and puncture through the material at even intervals.  If you are sloppy with this, it will be very noticeable in the stitching.  Always mark off where you want to punch each hole to keep the spacing equal.  You can also use a vise of some type to hold the material in place while you apply forceful pressure to pierce the leather or heavier duty fabric.  Also, experiment with the different types and sizes of needles to find the look you want.

Having a sharp needle does make a difference.  If you have a dull needle then punching the holes in the fabric can become very exhausting from having to push hard to get the needle through the material.

An Interesting Fact

Back around the year 1813, a child named, Louis Braille was accidentally gouged in his eye by a sewing awl.  Making this eye completely unusable.  Then the other eye had an infection that caused him to be blind in both eyes all before the age of 5.  Because of him becoming blind, it later led him to invent the Braille alphabet that is used to this day for the blind and seeing impaired.

The History

Awls were used by the indigenous people centuries ago in North America.  Old ones have been discovered, and these were made of bone, metal, and wood.  One of the oldest metal objects to be found in the Middle East is a metal awl.

The Speedy Stitcher is a well-known brand that was patient back in 1909.  It is among one of the most popular in use today.

Places to purchase

You can purchase sewing awls anywhere from hardware stores to sporting good stores to fabric and craft stores.  There are many different varieties of awls out on the market.  Some come with kits that include different needles in various shapes and sizes as well as threads to use to sew with.  They are pretty inexpensive ranging around $15 and up for different models and brands.  Just like most things, the more you spend on a sewing awl, the more accessories it comes with.

Sewing Awls are mechanical hand driven stitching machines.  I think it is pretty amazing that this tool was in use years ago and is still in use today.  These are a must-have tool if you are going to work with heavyweight leather.  Even an industrial sewing machine can’t sew through heavyweight leather.  Have the right tool to sew with makes sewing so much more satisfying and enjoyable.