This tutorial will provide you with the following skills:
- How to make a cheap body form
- How to make your own patterns
- How to tool leather with hand tools
- How to finish leather
- How to stitch leather lacing
(See links in Instructable for tools on Tandy website)
Ball point pen
Ruler, Triangle (if making grid by hand)
Hard tooling surface (preferably chunk of scrap granite counter-top, get it from a counter-top place for free from their dumpster)
Sturdy work bench (I made mine out of 2x4's)
Tracing mylar (or other plastic)
High density sponge
Leather gel antique (stain)
Fiebings Leather Sheen
Step 1: Making a Form, Patterning, and Art Prep
Making a Body Form
The first step in creating a custom fitted leather breastplate is making a form. You can make one very cheaply with an old T-shirt and duct tape, two things you probably have around the house. Pick a T-shirt that fits the person somewhat tightly
- Have the person wear the T-shirt and begin duct taping the shirt
- Cover the entire shirt with duct tape (do not stretch it to put it on tight)
- Then, cut the shirt off the person and tape it back together
- Next, stuff your new form with other clothing items. Once stuffed, it retains the same form as the person.
Patterning can be a difficult and tricky process. Find a suitable patterning material. I used some scrap leather, but anything flexible with a small amount of stiffness is good. You will make mistakes in cutting. However, you can always duct tape pieces back on
- Create a strategy for where you will put the seams. I made this for a female with D-cups so I had to account for those. I put my seams at the top of the shoulders, the center of the sides, and the apex of the breasts (to create doming).
-When you get the right shoulder the way you want it, take the piece and flip it over and trace a copy onto your material. This will give you a mirror image. Use the center of the chest as a reference point for mirroring. If the piece goes across the entire front or back, fold it in half to mirror. As you make pieces, tape them onto your form. You will cut too much off in some places. It is Ok. just tape a scrap back on and re-cut. That is why we are doing this on scrap and not on your precious leather.
-Complete the patterns fitting nicely but not snug. Then, take all your pieces off of the form.
Prepare your artwork by drawing in a sketchbook. If you can't draw, copy things you like and resize them accordingly. A border, central piece of art, and accents make a good design. I made a Celtic theme, so I will tell you how I made it.
- For the border, figure out how wide you want it (see picture)
- Make a square strip grid with diagonals
- The repeating Celtic spiral starts with a diagonal
- Then, it rounds until it is tangent with the edge on the next square
- The swirl is centered on this 2nd square (use the diagonals for the center)
- Complete the exit of the swirl to be tangent with the edge of the grid
- Then, follow the next diagonal. Repeat for as long as you need
- For the dogs, I traced the pattern of my piece onto the sketchbook
- Then, pick a design out of a Celtic book and draw it freehand. Place the dogs onto the pattern piece accounting for lacing (leave a margin)
- For the Celtic spiral, I picked one out of a Celtic book that I liked and followed the steps
- The trick with spirals is to move your compass center offset to continue the inward spiral every 120 degrees
Step 2: Leather Tooling and Leatherworking
- Pick a leather thickness you like in vegetable tanned tooling leather. Mine was about 5 oz
- Cut out all of your leather pieces from your pattern
- Cut tracing film (mylar) to the size of your drawing / pattern piece and tape it onto
- Trace out all of your drawings onto mylar with a red thin tip Sharpie
- Tape the mylar onto one edge of your leather piece. DO NOT PUT TAPE ON TOP GRAIN LEATHER! Wrap it around and tape to the back.
- Using a spray bottle on mist setting, spray water onto the leather and tape down the other edge.
- Trace over the lines with a ball point pen. The wet leather will take an impression. Re-wet leather as needed. Make sure it is taped well so the pattern isn't skewed.
- After done tracing, take the mylar off and prepare to tool!
- Using the stylus modeling tool trace all of the outlines. Re-wet leather as needed
- For all of the areas that you want recessed, use a spoon modeling tool. Recess (bevel) all of the outside edges to make the tooling pop!
- Figure out the lengths of your straps by marking where the buckle and tongue will be on your pieces. Account for fold over for the buckle and make sure the strap will be long enough
- Cut out your straps to the width of your buckle
- Cut a slot out of the center of the fold-over for the buckle. This should be sufficiently long so the finger of the buckle has clearance
- Using a super skiver, skive the back side of the buckle strap down to about half thickness. This makes the fold over nicer and fits the strap to the buckle
- Punch a hole in the end of the straps and to your main panels for the size of your rivet. I used some medium nickel cap rivets
- Pick a lacing hole distance. I chose about 8mm.
- Mark all of your holes out using a winged divider compass or what you have on hand
- Using a 3/32" punch (slightly smaller than the lacing), punch all of the seams (except for the seam that will have the buckles/straps
Step 3: Leather Finishing
CAUTION: Leather finishing products are meant to finish cow skin, aka: leather. They will also do a great job at finishing your skin, aka: human leather. Wear disposable gloves... unless you want saddle tan colored skin...
- Using a high density sponge, apply leather gel antique in a swirling motion (see belt example). You can apply multiple layers. If it gets too dark, use a wet sponge in a swirling motion to get some off. Leave the antique gel in the recesses. It will make the design pop out.
- Finish the back with Edge Kote, providing a smooth back finish.
- If you wish to put paint on the project, do so now, after the stain has had 24 hours to dry. I used ordinary craft acrylic paint
- Finally, put a protective finish on the leather. I like to use Fiebings Leather Sheen because it is in aerosol and is really easy. It is fine for something that won't be constantly worn.
- Put contact cement on the skived part of the buckle and let it set up for 15 mins
- Making sure that the metal buckle finger will be flipped to the correct side of the buckle, fish the strap around the buckle and line up the two glued sections of strap. Press the two sides together and hold for 50 seconds. Once the sides touch, they aren't coming apart.
- Taking your buckle straps and tongue straps rivet them onto their pieces
Step 4: Stitching
- Starting from the back, come up through hole: Left, 1. Leave excess that will be sewn into the stitch so it won't pull out
- Then go down through hole: Right, 2
- Next come up through hole: Left, 2
- Then down hole: Right, 1
- Continue up Left, 3
- Then under the 1-2 intersection
- Next, go down Right, 3
- Follow the remaining repeating sequence: Up Left 4, Under intersection 2-3, Down Right 4...
Finally... ENJOY your awesome creation!!!