I created this mask and a few other pieces for a customers Halloween costume. He wanted a faithful recreation of the Hessian Soldier costume from the television series "Sleepy Hollow". As part of the costume I made the mask, boot cuffs, a flint-lock pistol holster and a battle axe holster. What follows are the steps for creating the mask.
Step 1: Mask Forming
The first step in the process was cutting a panel big enough to cover the area of the face he wanted covered. I started with a relatively rectangular panel of 8 oz veg tanned cowhide leather with a V wedge protruding from the bottom. I soaked the panel thoroughly in water and had him press the panel to his face, working the leather into the eye sockets and around the nose, since those would be the most prominent landmarks with which to form the rest of the mask. Before I started to form the leather I cut out the eye holes and shaped the eye lids outward so they do not sit against the eye.
After the leather was formed I started sculpting the mask by hand. I started by pinching the leather at the brow ridge and at the cheek bones in order to recreate the ridges from the original mask. After that I pinched the ridge of the nose to make it more prominent. Once the Brow and nose were done I could focus more on the cheek bone ridge by pinching it more to lift the lower section. Folding the front of the lower section helps determine where the mask is level with the neck line or jaw line.
Step 2: Staining the Mask
After the mask has the desired shape and the eye lids are worked out then it is time to stain. When the leather was about 90% dry I gave it a good thorough coat of Fiebings USMC black stain. I applied a heavy coat all around until the stain sat on top of the leather. Initially it will soak in pretty quick and leave a grey tone, but a heavy coat will provide good, thorough saturation and a high gloss shine when you buff it. A good clear coat afterwards will protect that sheen.
Step 3: Rear Head Plate
Every mask needs a way to secure to the head. This one is no different. The original mask on the show uses a steel ring that the straps fasten to. The ring frames a tattoo on the soldiers head that I thought was pretty cool so I cut a disk of matching leather and tooled the tattoo design into it. The idea was that it would be a lot more comfortable to wear and still be able to incorporate that element of the costume without have to draw on the back of the head. I stained the disk USMC black and punched holes where the straps line up in the show.
Step 4: Bringing It All Together.
I cut sixteen 1/2" straps out of a sheet at 4 oz veg tanned cow hide leather and fastened eight of them to 1/2" self-stay buckles. The straps with the buckles were fastened to the head plate with a medium double-cap rapid rivet and the other eight straps were fastened to the mask using the same method. The mask straps were adjusted to the customer s head and the final holes were marked from that point at 1/2" intervals. Once the straps were tightened down the excess was trimmed and the strap ends stained to hide the alteration.
Step 5: Battle Axe Holster
The costume comes with a few accessories so I figured I would include them in this instructable so you can see the whole thing. I cut a panel of 8 oz veg tanned cowhide leather about 7 inches tall and wide enough to form a tube around the widest part of the handle, which just happens to be a 5 inche skull crusher pommel. I cut the panel about 9 inches wide just to have extra to work with if I need it (always better to have more and not need it than to need more and not have it. fact of life. You're welcome). I saturated the panel and formed it around something of comparable circumference (in this case a tube of caulk) and let it dry in place. After it was mostly dry I started to work the edges up to a half inch lip that I would then use to stitch to the extension panels off the baldric (white torso belt that holds the saber). I stained the holster and straps with an Antique Brown Gel that seals and protects as well. I hand stitched the extension straps to the holster after trimming a 45 degree wedge off the end to make sure the holster hung straight. Nobody likes a crooked battle axe holster. After that it was a matter of lining up the strap ends with the belt at 90 degree angles, marking 5 holes on each belt and strap, punching holes, and setting rivets.I lied. I didn't use rivets. I stitched the holster to the straps using a heavy waxed nylon thread in a figure eight stitch. Good, sturdy stitch. If you have any more questions about this process just axe me.
Step 6: Flint-Lock Pistol Holster
The Hessian Soldier costume also has a flint-lock pistol so we decided to make a straightforward holster for it that mounts to the baldric. I cut a wedge panel of 8 oz veg tanned cow hide large enough to encase all of the pistol with the exception of the handle for an easier draw. I doubt very seriously he would be required to draw this pistol on any occasion but why take that kind of chance. A simple fold shows that the pistol fits. I stained the leather with the same Antique Brown Gel and buffed to a high shine. I placed the holster on the baldric in a way that allowed it to be centered left and right and also sat above the hilt of the saber and below the brass plate. It is best to mark these landmarks while the person is wearing the belt so you know exactly where everything is located and exactly how it hangs on their body. Once the holster was centered I punched 2 holes in the top and 2 holes in the bottom of the holster through the baldric and set 4 rivets to hold it securely. After that it was a simple matter of punching a few widely spaced holes up the sides and setting a few rivets to close up shop. After that it was a solid single piece of kit that holds the saber/scabbard, battle axe, and flint lock.
Step 7: Boot Cuffs
The final piece to this ensemble (say that last word like you're trying to lick peanut butter off the roof of your mouth) is the boot cuffs. They are a simple piece that add a lot of character to the costume. Take an ordinary set of riding boots and measure the circumference (or just take a 6 or 7 inch panel and wrap it around the boot and trim off the excess. Either way works. Find center of the panel by drawing lines from corner to opposite corner and where the lines cross is dead center. punch a hole a half inch from the top at dead center and line up with the center of the boot and punch a hole as well. Three or four more holes on each side of the center point will give you enough securing points to secure the cuff to the boot. You can use snaps if you have to use the boots for something else or you can use rapid rivets and just make the connection permanent. I probably could have stitched them together, but this works just as well and the boots will only be used once a year for this costume. After I punch the rivet holes (in the cuffs and the boots) I stained the cuff panels black, buff to a high shine, and sealed with a coat of clear (super sheen or matte sheen works well if you have a desired sheen. Sorry though. No Charlie). Punch 4 or 5 holes down each side of the cuff and use a good sturdy latigo lace to tie it all up when you're done. Considering the zipper and snap that are already on the back of the boot you may need assistance with tying it up. From there you just have to mount your steed, don your mask, grab a flaming pumpkin and go to town.
Step 8: Look Awesome!
The mask does not the hero/villain make but it does a pretty good job of helping you get there. Along with the other pieces, this was one of the most exciting projects I have done in a while. It was great seeing it all come together and look the way I imagined it would, maybe even a little better. Once the garment pieces are done and everything is put together I will attach that photo as well.