Introduction: Designing and Laser Cutting a Simple Leather Top

Hello Instructables world! For our first Instructables we decided to do a tutorial on how to make your own laser cut leather top. This is a simple cowl draped halter style suede top, and we'll teach you how to do a basic drape and pattern for your desired look, as well as steps to laser cutting.

Special thanks to our friends at NYC Resistor who let us use their laser cutter!

Step 1: What You'll Need

Here are the tools you'll need for this project!

1. Access to a laser cutter from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the machine.

2. A sewing machine that can handle leather. We used a Juki industrial straight stitch machine.

3. A dress form (Ours is a size 8 industry standard form)

4. An ironing board and iron

From left to right:

Muslin (or another fabric that's easy to work with and is similar in weight to your final fabric, we used medium weight cotton muslin)

Ruler/straight edge

Armhole curve

Leather transfer tape

Writing utensils (I like to use a sharpie for draping and a regular pen for leatherworking)

Fabric shears (I have both my leather shears and fabric shears out on the table)

Leather hand punch

Hardware (approx 3 yds of chain of your choice, seamless rings, and closure clasps)

Needle-nose pliers and nippers

Leather (We chose a .5 oz lamb skin suede. This will drape more densely than muslin. If you'd prefer a more structured drape, use a thicker leather, such as lamb skin or a thicker suede.)

Pattern paper

Tracing wheel (not pictured)

Teflon sewing foot (not pictured) or masking tape for the bottom of your sewing foot

Project level:

Pattern-making: BEGINNER

Construction: INTERMEDIATE

Step 2: Prep Your Muslin!

Pressing and blocking muslin is very important when draping a pattern. It keeps your fabric on grain to prevent warping - finding your center front is very important in draping!

1. Press your muslin so it is nice and wrinkle free. This will help you to have a more accurate drape.

2. Block your muslin. Because muslin is a simple weave fabric, when you make a snip in the fabric, you can simply tear it across the weave or weft. This ensures that you get a straight line. Tug the fabric until the edges are perfectly straight. Press again if you'd like.

3. Fold one side of the weft (the side with the selvedge) to make a sturdy center front line

Step 3: Drape Your Cowl

Pin the muslin at the neckline, aligned with your center front (CF), and at the shoulder.

Begin pinning your cowls. Simply grab the fabric and fold it to where you'd like, similar to making a pleat. Mark the cowl both on the folded side and the inside fold. I like to use a sharpie as to accurately mark both in one stroke. Now mark the neckline according to where it falls nicely across the front. Trace the shoulder by feeling where the ridges of the shoulder seam on the dress form, making it as straight as possible, as this will be a raw edged garment.

Step 4: Draping the Body

Mark the armhole. A standard armhole is about an inch and a half in from the shoulder plate on a dress form. This is for ease when setting a sleeve so you can move your arms to and fro! We'll be adjusting this line later, as it is a sleeveless top.

Now mark the side seam and pin the muslin at the waist. A dart should emerge at the waist where there is excess fabric. This dart will hold the waist in, making for a nicely fitted garment. Mark the dart as you did the cowls.

Now to rid of the bulky fabric hanging at the waist, simply snip vertically to release the tension. This tension will keep the fabric from falling smoothly should you choose to extend the pattern down past the waistline.

Step 5: Finishing Your Drape

Simply trim excess fabric away and draw lines to adjust where you'd like the hem and armhole to fall. Mine are marked in red chalk. Remove your drape from the form and lay it out flat. You're now ready to make this drape into a pattern!

Step 6: Patternmaking

1. Lay your drape out as flat as possible, either under or over your pattern paper.

2. Draw a straight vertical line where you will align your CF. The bracket with arrows is a marker for "on the fold," meaning the pattern will be mirrored across the CF. Trace your pattern carefully, marking the cowl folds generously.

3, Use the armhole curve tool to smooth an armhole.

4. Calibrate your darts and cowls by folding them on the paper and, using a tracing wheel, mark where the hem and shoulder fall. When you open the fold, you should have a line to trace in which your fabric will sit straight.

5. Draw arrows for where your cowls will go. With this many notches it can get confusing what goes where. The arrows will help!

6. Blend the shoulder line into a triangle, past the neckline. This will be folded back at the neckline and serve as a self facing. We can later trim this to accommodate the laser cut patterns.

7. Add a tab to your side seam, which will be folded back and stitched with a window of thread to mimic a grommet. Mine is 3/8" to be folded back twice.

Step 7: Laser Cutting Your Leather

Draft a design in whichever program you feel most comfortable in. We used a combination of SketchUp and Adobe Illustrator. Our design is available for download if you'd like to use it! First we took a photo of the pattern, laid out as flat as possible, to convert into an AutoCAD file, for an exact placement of designs. You can also cover the entire skin with a design and use it like a printed fabric.

We used a 60 W laser cutter with a 2" lens at the NYC Resistor. This particular laser cutter uses CorelDRAW to understand the file. You may have to convert the file depending on what program your laser cutter uses. For etching, in this case, line weight is 1.0 and for cutting, line weight is .01 (hairline).

During cutting, the bed emits a vacuum that can move your material around. Lay your leather out flat on a piece of plywood or cardboard and tape it down to keep from moving. Place it on the bed where you'd like the pattern to cut. We chose to make the top raw edged at the hem, so our suede runs off of one side. We folded the excess edges around the back of a piece of cardboard and taped it down as well.

Calibrate the power and speed of the machine to match your material. NYC Resistor has a comprehensible guide to power settings here: http://wiki.nycresistor.com/wiki/Laser_Power

We recommend doing a laser test first, in which the laser will trace the design without actually etching or cutting. We then did a small heat test in an unused corner of the suede to test power and scorching. The power settings that worked for us are shown above. Once calibrated to your liking, press print!

Gently remove the tape and cut pieces and dab the skin lightly with a damp paper towel to remove soot.

Step 8: Prepping Your Leather for Construction

Carefully cut your pattern out with a pair of sharp scissors. We made ours raw edged at the hem, so it is a little different from the original pattern. Should you choose to do this, simply blend the hem to run off the edge, as long as the length of the leather is to your liking.

Trace your cowls onto your leather. You can trace them in pencil first if you worry about losing the imprint. Using transfer tape (1/4"), tape your cowls down. Contrary to popular belief, leather is extremely stretchy and warps very easily while sewing. The tape will keep your lines perfect! Be careful, though, as the tape will not come off once it is on.

Trace your dart as well. You may want to trace it in pen on the backside to make sewing more accurate. Tape your dart while you're at it.

Step 9: Sewing Your Leather

Pick a thread that matches the color of your leather nicely. Replace the foot on your machine with a teflon foot to keep the leather from sticking while you sew. Test a swatch of the same leather and thread you'll be using to adjust the machine's tension if needed. A good stitch size for leather is 3.5 - 4. A stitch too small will perforate and tear the leather. You're ready to begin!

First, sew your dart. Some people dislike backstitching on leather, as it can perforate and tear, but if you backstitch into the exact same holes, you wont have a problem, while avoiding pesky threads sticking out of the hem. If you are not confident in backstitching precisely, feel free to hand walk your machine.

Tape your dart down on the other side and topstitch at 1/16".

Step 10: Sewing Your "grommets"

Stitch your cowls down along the edge at 1/8" (a standard machine foot is 1/4" on each side. This is a helpful reference for eyeballing a stitch) and all the way around the shoulder at 3/8", giving you a 1/4" frame for your punched holes.

Do the same for the little tab of seam allowance added to the side seam. Again, feel free to hand walk the machine for accuracy.

Step 11: Prepping Final Assembly

Trim the edges of your leather at the shoulder so they are even and straight.

Using the hand punch, punch one hole (or however many you'd like) in each cowl and on your side seam. I like to use a piece of thicker leather underneath to help to punch all the way through.

Pin your garment through these holes to the form accordingly. Now you're ready for hardware.

Step 12: Finishing Up

Attach chains, cutting away and adding as you please. Make the top neck and waist chains adjustable.

Step 13: All Done!

Try your garment on and revel in your own glory.

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Bio: DeadWood NYC is a Brooklyn based wearable tech company aimed towards a sustainable and conscious future. Fashion designer Debra Tigerlily and architect Oliver Allaux came ... More »
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