If there is not a standard use for these terms then there should be. To me hand stitched means that there are no machines involved in the process, that the needles are placed and pushed through the leather by hand. Hand sewn means an individual sat at a sewing machine to join the leather together. There are many mass produced leather goods labeled “hand sewn” but don’t be fooled into thinking they are hand made.
Hand stitching is better than hand sewing when you want a stitch that stays locked if the thread ever breaks either through trauma or wear. The kind of stitch I use almost all the time is called a saddle stitch. A needle is attached to both ends of the thread and you pass the needles through the same hole, back and forth, as you move along your line of stitching. This means the thread is under pressure in the seam, so if it breaks somewhere along the line it won’t unravel like a machine sewn seam.
Another advantage of hand stitching is that you can use high quality threads of various sizes. I use two kinds of thread: linnen from France (seen in the belt hanger above) and braided polyester Tiger thread. Most of the time I prefer Tiger thread because it lays flat, it is extremely strong and durable, and it passes through the hole with little friction. I either punch the holes for the thread with a stitching iron or mark them with a pricking iron. The stitching iron makes the holes so that you can immediately come back through with your needles and thread. This is particularly handy when working with thin leather. The problem with a stitching iron is that the holes might be too large and therefore unsightly. With a pricking iron you make the holes with a special kind of awl and stitch as you go. Both methods require a lot practice to acquire the skill to make an even and beautiful stitch.
The advantages of machine sewing are speed and you can make very small stitches with very small thread, such as you see on many shoes. It can a take a lot of time to set up a sewing machine for a particular job. If you are sewing a lot of the same kind and type of leather in the same pattern in a production line then a sewing machine makes the job a lot easier and faster. If the seam is hidden then there is no point to use a saddle stitch if you don’t need the strength.
Hand stitching takes a lot of time and effort to master, but once you have the skill it is often quicker than sewing when making custom or one of a kind items. And a machine sewn seam will never look as nice or be as strong as a hand stitched seam. Only top of the line mass produced leather items will be hand stitched, and they will be very expensive. Only small, independent craftspeople like myself offer hand stitched items at a price the average person can afford, at least in my experience.
Thanks for reading.