17th Century Buff Coat: Purchasing Leather, Butt-End Stitch Proof-of-Concept

This was originally posted on JMAucoin.com in December 2014.

On Saturday, I met up with a bunch of other friends at Tandy for a leather run. I had a good idea of what I wanted to get in terms of leather and tools, but was a little foggy in terms of specifics. Fortunately, the manager at Tandy was a huge help, and actually knew what a buff coat was (unlike my last trip to Tandy when I tried to make buff coat 1.0). Ended up leaving with two sides for the buff coat, lots of wax-linen thread, a curved awl blade, and some black scrap leather that I’m going to turn into the 17th Century cavalier”butterfly” boot-straps. A good, but expensive haul. Here’s what I’m using for the buff coat:

Body: 8-9oz Oak-Leaf Sides
Sleeves: 3-4oz Craftsman Oak Sides

Unlike sewing fabric or sewing a lot of other leather projects, the stitches on a buff coat a very different. There’s no right sides to right sides, sew, and turn right side out. Nor do you overlap one layer of leather on top of another and sew (like in my Edward Kenway cosplay). It uses a special butt-joint stitch in which you butt-end the two pieces of leather together and then make a hole that starts at the top of the leather but, instead of coming out at the bottom of the leather, it comes out of the side of the edge. Here’s a sketch from Osprey’s Ironsides: English Cavalry 1588-1688 (Warrior) book (great resource):


The end result is a slight ridge on the seam that buff coats are known for, like so:

Jerkin seam detail

I explained this butt-joint stitch to two of the Tandy employees and they gave me a look along the likes of…


Which is totally warranted. It’s a crazy stitch and you need a curved awl blade to make it happen. You also need thick leather to do this stitch. Even my 8-9oz side is almost too thin to do the stitching properly. Thicker the better, it seems.


So last night I cut off a couple of pieces from the 8-9oz leather and gave the butt-joint stitch a try. Despite knowing this is what they did in the 17th Century to make these coats, I was still giddy as a schoolkid when I got the holes to work and was able to sew it together just fine. Here’s the result of my test run.

Butt joint stitch test (with a few imperfections)
Butt joint stitch test (with a few imperfections)

As you can maybe see, a few of the stitches got screwed up. Couple of holes ripped during the awl phase and one ripped while trying to shove the needle through. I used a straight needle, but I’m thinking a curved one might work better, which sounds obvious but didn’t think of it when I was at Tandy. I need to pick one of those up.

I’m also really hoping most of this hide is 9oz because the 8oz is going to make the hole punching scary (but doable). Doing just this little section took me an entire hockey game, so it’s going to be a long project, I’d imagine. I’m hoping I’ll get in a groove at some point and it’ll go by fast, but sometimes the needle didn’t want to go through the leather, slowing things down. The construction is simple, but tedious, and I can see why these things were so expensive to make (forget the cost of the leather itself).

Here’s a closer look at the butt-joint stitch.

Close up of butt joint stitch
Close up of butt joint stitch

I’m going to save this test run as part of my A&S display to show exactly how the stitch works. It’ll be a nice addition to the final product for people to pick up and examine.

I was also incredibly surprised as how strong this stitch is. It sounds like it shouldn’t be that strong and yet you pull hard from both sides and the seams don’t give at all. Very impressed and I can see why a seam like this would be of benefit in the field.

Next step is drafting the pattern (probably basing it off of my 1630s doublet pattern), and figuring out how to dye the leather so it has that golden-brown hue. I’ll be turning to some of my fellow SCA friends for help in that regard. But yay for more experiments.

You can read all about my buff coat prepping and planning in an earlier post (lots of fun pics and buff coat examples and paintings).

Questions? Thoughts? Leave it below.


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