How Does a Sewing Awl Work?

    CRAFTS CLASSES
    TO INSPIRE CREATIVITY
    by Janet Beal

    About the Author

    Janet Beal has written for various websites, covering a variety of topics, including gardening, home, child development and cultural issues. Her work has appeared on early childhood education and consumer education websites. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Harvard University and a Master of Science in early childhood education from the College of New Rochelle.

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    An awl is a simple tool -- it's basically a metal shaft with a sharpened point at one end and a handle at the other. Traditionally used by sailors to mend sails, awls have been used to punch holes in all kinds of materials for centuries. Anyone who has threaded yarn through a sewing card or a strip of leather through a piece of pre-punched leather has benefited from work done with an awl. Sewing awls, like sewing machine needles, have both the point and the eye at the same end. This construction makes it possible to make a "lock-stitch" by hand. A lock-stitch has thread on both sides of the material being sewn; by pushing one thread though a loop in the other each time a stitch is made, you can "lock" the stitching together.

    What's an Awl? What's a Sewing Awl?

    An awl is a simple tool -- it's basically a metal shaft with a sharpened point at one end and a handle at the other. Traditionally used by sailors to mend sails, awls have been used to punch holes in all kinds of materials for centuries. Anyone who has threaded yarn through a sewing card or a strip of leather through a piece of pre-punched leather has benefited from work done with an awl. Sewing awls, like sewing machine needles, have both the point and the eye at the same end. This construction makes it possible to make a "lock-stitch" by hand. A lock-stitch has thread on both sides of the material being sewn; by pushing one thread though a loop in the other each time a stitch is made, you can "lock" the stitching together.

    How Do You Use a Sewing Awl?

    To use a sewing awl, you must be able to reach both sides of the material you are sewing. Measure out twice the thread you expect to need to sew your project -- be generous so there is extra thread to tie off your work. Thread the eye on your sewing awl, and push the awl through your material. On the first stitch, press the thread between the awl handle and your thumb to anchor it on the top of the material. Reach under, loosen the thread at the eye and pull the unanchored end of the thread through the hole you made with the awl. Pull that thread taut and secure it gently with your free hand. You are now ready to begin lock-stitching. Insert the awl a stitch-width from your first hole, usually 1/8 inch. Use the thumb of your non-dominant hand to pull a small loop in the thread next to the eye, then use the same hand to push the bottom thread through the loop. Ease the awl back with your dominant hand to tighten the loop and pull down gently with your opposite hand to lock the stitch. Do it again and again -- that's all there is to it.

    Where Can You Use a Sewing Awl?

    Practice your lock-stitching on a piece of cardboard or heavy fabric, until your stitches begin to look the same, are an even size and go the direction you want -- it's harder to go in a straight line than you imagine. Many sewing awls come pre-threaded, but you may not want beige stitches on a black belt. Heavy sewing thread is usually made of linen, is often waxed, and may be marked as "carpet," "button" or "canvas" thread. Your stitches will show, so you need to plan how they will look. Once you're comfortable, bring on the leather-goods, deck-chair cover, bedroom-slipper or torn rugs. Strong fabric needs strong thread -- and vice versa. As you build your technique there are all kinds of projects you can do. It's said many an old salt could mend a torn sail in the middle of a storm with a trusty awl -- good to know, but please start your sewing-awl career safely on the dock.