Strobel sew by hand

If you’ve ever wanted to sew your uppers for sneakers like the pros, but don’t have access to a Strobel sewing machine, don’t give up. Sew your kicks by hand!

How to hand sew “Strobel” construction.

  1. The needle goes all the way in, then pulled back slightly which creates a loop in the thread.
  2. Pick up the loop on the kerf side (very important!)
  3. Pull some thread to make the loop bigger (this pulls the thread from the spool up the grooved side of the needle)
  4. Pull the loop over the insole and upper.
  5. Gently press the needle in to the loop for the next stitch, but don’t cover the eye.
  6. Pull out the slack from the loop to set the stitch.
  7. Repeat!

What exactly is a strobel stitch?

Strobel sewing the insole to the upper is actually a chain stitch. In many types of hand sewing, regardless of double or single needle, you have to measure out the thread ahead of time. With a chain stitch like this, like the Strobel machine itself which has no bobbin, the needle is fed directly off the spool. The good news is you can very likely sew to your heart’s content without running out of thread. The bad news is that if you drop your awl, kick your spool, turn away or pull the thread at the wrong time, you can easily pull the whole thing out. Ok, being able to pull the stitches out easily also means you can easily fix a section that you might have liked to sew differently.

When Strobel sewing an upper with a machine, the fancier models have a differential feed (one feed wheel turns faster than the other) so you can gather the upper at the heel and toe. Sewing by hand, you have to be cognizant of the need to do this and gather as necessary.

To make shoes this way, the perimeter of the upper and the perimeter of the insole have to match exactly. Compared to designing uppers with a lasting allowance, designing uppers for Strobel construction requires a high level of accuracy in locating the feather line and a lot of finesse to deal with the toe and heel. Components are handled differently and the last is typically just stuffed in once the insole is one.

Often there are at least 6 registration marks to make sure the insole and upper align properly in production. I drew a line connecting the center of the heel and toe and eyeballed it as I went. It worked out fine, but it means as I approach the center line, I know how much to gather, but after passing the centerline, the amount needed is ambiguous. Experience with uppers helps, or add all the registration marks.

Ok ok, these boots above aren’t actually sneakers, but the process is the same. One of these days I’ll make some sneakers.

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