In this tutorial I will show you how to make some easy and comfortable „armour“ for your next LARP costume or cosplay project...or just for fun! However, in most LARP systems, this will not be accepted as armour and therefore not give you the benefit of absorbing damage. Still I think it looks pretty cool and it's a good start into working with leather because apart from the leather itself you will only need very basic equipment. Chances are, you have most of it at home already. Only a mannequin with measurements close to your own measurements is crucial to this tutorial. But there are some tutorials out there on how to make your own with minimal effort and these are cheap, fast and work perfectly fine.
So, let's get started :-)
Step 1: The Equipment You Will Need:
ruler (the longer the better)
contractor (any you can measure/draw 90° with)
masking tape (I used 20mm and 50mm, but use whatever you have)
scissors (no fancy shit, just scissors. For thick leather use a cutter)
all purpose glue
a crayon (for drawing the lines on the leather)
a felt-tip pen
clips (or just use clothes pegs)
a piece of scrap fabric (for the mock up parts)
Optinal, if you want to finish off with some stitching: thread, needle, thimble and pliers and a an awl (which is not in the picture) if you don't wish to destroy your hands entirely.
Step 2: How Much Leather You Will Need
How much leather you need will very strongly depend on your clothing size and the pattern you chose. If you have a size XS/S and you follow the tutorial very strictly you should do fine with around 60-65 strips (width: 1 cm, length: 40 cm) and 1 additional strips for the lacing on each side which is around 80 cm long each. The mock up shoulders and side parts will give you an idea about the amount of leather you will need for the final ones, but it probably won't be much more than an A3 page, no matter how big they are or what shape.
Step 3: Preperations
Prepare your mannequin by wrapping some masking tape around it. I will prevent the fabric cover from moving and also (if you carefully measure the spots) serve as guidelines for your pattern. I decided to mark the hipline and the underbust line as horizontal guides and the middel at front and back as vertical guidelines. Then I added some lines to where I felt the outer lines of my armour would go well. It also helps to mark the free space in between the side lacing and the maximum height of the armhole. If you are not sure where your armholes should go or how wide they should be, simply put a well fit vest or another of your garments on the mannequin and mark the armholes with masking tape.
Step 4: Shoulder and Side Parts/Lacing Mock Ups
Next make a mock up of your shoulders and side parts. You can also skip the step if you feel confident enough to make the whole armour from strips. I wanted to go safe and decided, I would make the shoulders and the sides from a different leather – but it's really up to you. For the shoulders I used the exact shoulders from the McCalls Pattern M6941. That's why it looks a bit like something Daenerys Targaryan or maybe the Sandsnakes would wear – but then again: use whatever shoulders from whatever pattern you like! Or just make your own. If it looks good in the mock up it's probably going to look good on you as well! For the side parts I just used rectangular squares of fabric.
Step 5: Stabilizer/Outer Lines
Roughly mark a straight line with masking tape to trace the line of the first and last strip. Too much masking tape is confusing me already, so I dotted the ones that matter.
Then, pin a strip of your leather to the ends of the shoulderparts that will be connected to the woven parts. This will end up in your armour as a stabilizer, so use a material that you will like in the finished armour.
Step 6: The Cutting Games
Next, you need to decide the width of your strips. I chose 1 cm, but I also tested 4 cm and I really liked it as well (I have a picture of it in the last panel). You can estimate the length of the strips as well as the number of how many you will need by measuring the parts on your mannequin you wish to cover. Then take your leather, draw lines and let the cutting begin. If you want to, you can use a metal ruler and a really sharp knife. Or you take scissors (like me).
Step 7: Preparing the Strips
Glue the strips to the short strip that you pinned to the shoulderparts before. Apply some pressure and let it dry well. For my size and style I used 10 strips (1cm each) with a length of approximately 40 cm on each side.
Step 8: Start Weaving
Now you can pin back your Stips to the shoulders. Start weaving like in kindergarden and hold the strips in place with pins or clips.
Step 9: Fill in the Sides
When you have finished weaving, take some more strips and fill in the sides with new strips (same length!) Only fill in half the way until the point where you want your side lacing. For me, these were 7 strips on each side.
Step 10: It Should Now Look Like This
This picture is to show you that the weaving pattern is still straight all the way down, including the “new” strips at each side. Like you can see in the picture, there is a tip building in the middle. Nothing fancy yet. Prepare for the most twisted step though...
Step 11: Cross Weaving
This is the most complicated part but if you stick to the pictures, really nothing can go wrong here. Now take the end first “fill”-strip from the left side and weave it on to the right side, finishing at the very right end of the row on the right. Continue like so with all the “fill”-strips. Just use the pictures as a reference. And don't worry: you can always undo your weaving.
Step 12: Glue the Ends of the "fills" in Place
When you like the result, glue the lose ends of the “fill”-strips with a small amount all purpose glue. This doesn't have to be permanent, it's just to avoid the whole thing from falling apart when you are going to lift it from the mannequin later.
You front part should now look like this. If you like, you can fill in the hollow parts with additional shorter strips and glue their ends on the backside. I decided not to, because I really liked the look. Trim the strips if necessary. I had to, because I used strips double the lenght that I had needed to (80 cm instead of 40 cm).
Step 14: Weaving the Back.
Now, for the back. You start the same like in the front. Glue on the strips so they form a line, weave and pin. Make sure the loose ends meet with the loose ends from the front in both sides (picture). For me, that's it for the back, but again, feel free to add another row just like in the front.
Step 15: Shoulders
After finishing the back, I cut out the shoulder parts from a thick suede leather. Use whatever you like, but the stiffer the better.
Glue the shoulders front and back together. I used a strip as a bridge. You can of course also sew them together.
While the shoulders dried, I prepared the sides for the lacing. I used masking tape to keep everything in place and prevent the glue from smudging. If you like, use a thin strip to make the whole thing more durable, but feel free to skip this step and continue with the next.
Cut out the pieces for the lacing. For me, they were around 16x6 cm, making the 3 cm in width because they will be folded in half later. Glue them to the sides and let dry. That was also the point where I glued the front parts of the shoulders to the front part of the armour. But it doesn't really matter at which point you do this.
Step 17: Securing the Front Part
As it is now almost safe to remove the armour from the mannequin without having it fall apart (be carful you don't shift the parts too much though), that's what we do. Take down the front. Flip it over so you can work on the inside. Reinforce all the parts that are likely to shift or fall apart with additional strips und glue (like in the picture)
Step 18: Securing the Back Part and Finishing the Sides
Alright. Let's go back to the back. I figured I would really like a connection in between the shoulder parts, so I made a pattern from masking tape (light green in the picture), cut the pice from leather and glued it to the shoulders using the same method (little "bridge") like with the shoulder. Glue the Shoulders to the back piece, flip over, reinforce...same like with the front
Step 19: Lacing and Decoration
Last mission for the adhesive is glueing the lacing parts together so the embrace the ends of the leather strips.
So this is the fun part: decoration! You can use eyelets or just punch holes. I decided
to make big holes and complete them, as well as the rest of the armour with decorative seams. For the lacing I used more strips, but thread will work too. Just be creative. Also rivets, studs or spikes should look fine.
Step 20: Congratulation! You've Done It!
This is what my finished armour looks like. If you have any questions or feedback feel free to email me. I will try to help you as best as I can. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Have fun doing leather works – it's not at all as complicated as it seems :-
Step 21: PS:
Here are some more pictures of variations/experiments. For the metallic silver one I used strips with a 4 cm width, the black leather one is also 1 cm in width, but looking completely different because of the shiny black leather. Also the weaving pattern is a little different. Feel free to vary: use different coloured strips, different materials, weave in some threads or fabrics....for a postapocalyptic Outfit you could even do this with old belts, old bicycle tubes or strings made from plastic bags. Go have fun!