I love working with leather and have been a big fan of laser cut leather for some time. A laser cutter is out of my price range, but with the aid of a Silhouette cutting machine, you can get a similar effect on your handmade leather goods!
Silhouette cutting machine - I used a Cameo but a Portrait or Curio should work just as well.
thin fashion leather - If it drapes/hangs well, it should be thin enough.
new cutting blade for the silhouette
24" long cutting mat for silhouette
Step 1: Iron
If you bought your leather folded like I did, you'll need to iron out the wrinkles. Lay a piece of scrap fabric onto the leather and iron on the lowest setting that will get it to smooth out. There are lots of other methods, so feel free to try others, but this worked for me.
Step 2: Pattern
Cut a piece of muslin, scrap fabric, or bed sheet into a rectangle that is roughly the size of your hide.
Lay a t-shirt onto the fabric and mark the top and bottom of the sleeve.
Remove the t-shirt and connect the dots.
These two lines will be the start of your sleeves.
Step 3: Arm Holes
At this point, you should try your pattern on. If it fits well, continue. If not, continue to cut the holes until they're a good fit. Mine ended up as a sort of tear drop shape.
Lay the pattern fabric over the leather and use a rotary cutter to cut the arm holes in the leather.
Step 4: Test Cutting
Place one of the armhole pieces of leather onto your cutting mat.
Set the silhouette blade to 7 with a speed of 1 and thickness of 33.
Cut a simple small design. I chose a letter d.
Use your hook tool to pull up the cut piece.
It didn't cut all the way through, you say? Now it's time to adjust the settings. I don't recommend setting the blade to 10 to begin with, because when I did that the first time, it cut through the leather and the mat.
Continue to test cut on the arm hole pieces by bumping up the blade settings until it cuts all the way through the leather. You may also want to try the double cut option.
All leathers are different and vary in thickness, so be patient and take the time to figure out the best settings for your specific piece of leather.
Step 5: Back Panel
Based on the width of your cutting machine, cut a section out of the middle of the leather. I have a Cameo, so I cut a strip that is 12" wide. If you have a Portrait, your strip should be 8" wide.
Carefully stick your strip to your mat so there are no wrinkles.
I've attached the design I used, though it may not fit your leather or your aesthetic. I actually created my design in Adobe Illustrator by tracing a section of a street map. There are lots of beautiful patterns and designs in the Silhouette design studio if you don't feel comfortable creating it yourself.
When designing your back and front, add a cut line from top to bottom on both sides to get a clean line on the edges.
Cut your back piece.
Step 6: Back Finishing
Use a hook tool to remove the negative space of your design.
In places where the leather was a bit thicker, you may need to use an X-acto knife to cut some pieces free.
Sew the two sides back onto the middle panel with a straight stitch on your sewing machine.
Step 7: Cleaning the Mat
The leather will leave a fuzzy coating on your mat.
To remove most of the fuzzies, lay strips of packing tape over the mat.
Then, use a scraper tool to press it firmly onto the mat.
Remove the tape.
Note: Using leather on your mat will definitely reduce its life span.
Step 8: Front
Lay another strip of leather onto your mat with a length that matches the vest from top to bottom.
When designing your front pieces, you will be cutting the leather on the mat diagonally from the top left corner to the bottom right. Make sure you add that line into your Silhouette cut design so you don't need to cut it with scissors.
By cutting the strip diagonally, the two front flaps will not be symmetrical. I personally like it that way. If you want it symmetrical, you'll have to cut the flaps on separate strips of leather or make them much smaller to fit on one strip.
Again, I'm attaching the design I created and used.
Step 9: Sew Front
You will still have raw edges on the front of your vest. So, you need to mark where you want to stitch the flaps onto the front of the vest. I opted to place the vest on my dress form, lay the flap over the edge where I wanted, and trace the edge with a pencil. It wasn't very noticeable and could be washed off with a damp cloth if it was.
Stitch the flaps to the front of your vest with the flaps on top of the raw edge.
Once stitched, use scissors to cut the raw edge off.
Step 10: Finishing Touches
When I cut my back piece, I somehow misread the length of my leather and there was an awkward spot where it cut off the edge. I used scissors to trim it into a more desirable and intentional design.
I also cut the shoulders, stitched them down at the top, and cut the armholes into a different shape.
Once I'd done that, the corners of the back and front flaps were awkwardly sticking up. To fix this, I put a couple stitches along the top of the shoulders.
Once you have your vest constructed, Use a wind-proof lighter to gently burn any frizzies from the edges of the cutouts.
Step 11: Enjoy!
Good luck cutting your own leather designs with your Silhouette!
With a laser cutter like the Epilog, I would be stoked to create and share more leather designs that are not only cut more intricately but engraved with fascinating prints as well. I would be able to cut and engrave for a wide variety of projects, and I would surely share them all with the Instructables community. Check out my portfolio if you're not convinced.