Introduction: Braided Leather-Look EVA Foam

Welcome! This tutorial will teach you to braid and paint EVA foam to resemble braided leather. I'm currently creating a costume from World of Warcraft's recolor of their tier 2 raid armor set for a troll druid. You can view the whole armor set here. After much frustration and several discarded attempts at recreating the twisted cord that appears on the gloves, I decided to exercise a bit of creative license and changed it to a braided cord. The result is this technique.

Step 1: Supplies

  • 2mm craft foam sheet, preferably black
  • Pencil, mechanical or newly sharpened
  • Metal ruler
  • Craft or utility knife
  • Duct tape
  • Heat gun
  • Fabric paint medium
  • Acrylic paints in dark, medium, and light tones
  • Flat paintbrush with stiff bristles
  • White glue
  • Hot glue gun

Step 2: Notes on Color Choice and Paint

Regarding craft foam color:

It's best to start with a foam color that's logical for your final outcome. I chose black because I ultimately needed a midrange blue. Dark-to-midrange tones are fine with black or, if you can find it, the deepest color related to your needs. This dodges the need to paint the base color in a lot of tiny little nooks and crannies, and speeds up the completion of your project.

About the paints:

I use acrylic paints mixed with fabric paint medium. Acrylic paints can be purchased inexpensively at most craft stores, offer a vast variety of colors, and are interchangeable from brand to brand. Fabric paint medium is added to acrylic paint to improve adhesion to fabrics and provide flexibility. This latter point in particular is important when working with EVA foam, as the piece to be painted is usually expected to retain its flexibility. I've successfully used this mixture on several other pieces. Fabric paint medium can be found in the same area as acrylic paints.

I'm expecting the user to have some understanding of appropriate base, mid, and highlight colors. My experience is with painting tabletop gaming figures, and I find that those techniques lend themselves well to this project. Many excellent tutorials exist online. Do a little research. Test out your color choices beforehand.

Step 3: Measure and Cut Braid Strips

Note: Foam is a light color here for visibility.

  1. Starting from the edge of the foam, measure and mark three dots. This project uses 5mm strips, but you can make them wider or narrower.
  2. Turn the foam 180 degrees and repeat the process, starting on the same edge as the other end.
  3. If you wish, draw out the strips completely. Not really necessary considering you marked both ends with dots.
  4. Mark a line across all three strips approximately 5-10mm from one end of the strip.
  5. Cut apart the strips with the knife and ruler, using the ruler to keep your lines straight and crisp. Stop at the line you drew across the strips. This will keep them connected at the top, providing an anchor for braiding.

Step 4: Braid!

    1. Anchor the strips with duct tape to your work surface.
    2. Pick up the left strip and FOLD it over the middle strip. Now the middle strip has become the left strip. Folding as opposed to sliding over the middle strip creates a rounded, three dimensional braid.

    Step 5:

    Now pick up the right strip and fold it over the middle strip. Keep the plaits snug. Continue in this manner until you reach the ends of the strips. Secure with duct tape.

    Step 6:

    Step 7: Turn Up the Heat

    Heat up the braid with your heat gun. The foam will move and shrink subtly. Let cool. Once cooled, the braid will be locked in and the edges will be somewhat softened. I don't think this step is necessary, but I think it leads to a more natural look once the paint is applied.

    Step 8: Paint!

    1. With duct tape, secure the braid to your work surface.
    2. According to package instructions, mix the base paint with the fabric paint medium.
    3. Apply the base coat fairly liberally with a nylon or similarly stiff-bristled flat paintbrush. Don't worry about covering every millimeter of the surface; the foam's color can show in the deepest recesses as long as it is the darkest color. Make sure you hit the sides, too. Two coats may be necessary.
    4. Drybrush two coats of the midrange color.
    5. Carefully drybrush (really dry drybrush) the highlight color, hitting only the edges and highest points. I prefer to carry the highlight along the sides, too. It really makes the braid pop.
    6. If you wish, seal with watered-down PVA glue.
    7. Trim the ends and secure with hot glue.

    Step 9:

    And there you have it! Happy crafting :)