Introduction: Leather Cutout Mask

I do love cutout leather. This mask is simple yet gives you just the right amount of edge. I adore this design for so many reasons: it's really straight-forward, minimal yet intriguing, and best of all you can do your own thing with it. I myself am really quite the minimalist so I love a strong, basic design and the idea of using only a few, simple tools. Personally, I love doing detail-oriented work by hand that slows you down a bit--so different from our every day lives. I know this idea doesn't necessarily appeal to everyone, I have created this mask by cutting the shapes by hand but of course you can utilize a laser cutter for this. So, like any good how-to, let's start with a little list of what you'll need:

1. Leather (I used a 4-5 oz. Veg. Tanned Cowhide)

2. Pencil

3. Box Cutter/Blade (I used an angled utility knife from Tandy Leather)

4. Basin or sink to soak your mask in

5. Oven to use for the shaping and hardening process (some people prefer to just air dry or use a blow dryer for this process, I like to use an oven set to the lowest heat)

6. A face! Your own or a model head for shaping the mask on

7. A leather punch (Pictured is a Craftool Rotary Leather Punch from Tandy, set to the smallest hole)

8. Gloves

9. Sponge

10. Q-Tips

11. Leather Dye

12. Leather Finish

13. 1/8" Braided Elastic Cord


-Large Needle (optional though very handy when lacing the elastic into the holes)

-Edge Beveler ( I didn't use one on this project because of the tight cuts and preference for a raw edge)

Step 1: Trace or Draw Your Design

Forgive the odd shape of the piece of leather, I used something I cut another mask from. Flip the leather over to the flesh side (the rough side). You can dampen your leather and etch in your design from an existing drawing you've made or, as I did in this version, you can draw your design directly onto the leather by hand. I liked creating this mask very organically, letting the shapes come together in their own way. This is where you have tons of freedom, so go for it! You can make the cutouts as close together or as separated as you would like. Things to think about: 1. I started the sketch with the eye holes measured from my eyes and allowing enough space for the bend of the nose that you'll later be adding when shaping. I allowed my design to grow around the eye holes, drawing an overall shape then filling in with the small cutouts. 2. I wanted to add punched holes for the elastic to go around my head so I made sure there was room for this at about a 1/2" from the corners of each eye.

Step 2: Cut! Cut! Cut!

After you have created your whole design on the leather, it's time to cut! This is the most intricate and time-consuming part of this specific mask but I promise you, the end result is so worth it! Start by cutting out the whole outline of the mask. Next, I cut the eye holes out. Then I started cutting all of the delicate areas. I would CAREFULLY cut on the line on the flesh side, then flip to the grain side (the smooth side) to carefully extract the corners of each little shape. You don't want to overcut on these lines, so it's slow going. Last in this step, I cleaned up the edges and corners a little better so there weren't fine strands hanging around. You may choose to use an edge beveler at this point to clean up your lines and edges and add that slightly angled look to your cuts. I skipped this step because I like a somewhat raw edge and my cuts were so small, beveling wasn't ideal. I think after all the cutting was said and done, I probably spent about two hours on this step because I chose to make so many, small and intricate cutout shapes.

Step 3: Soak the Mask & Preheat Oven

Now that you have everything cut, it's time to soak your mask. Use a basin or sink with enough water to totally submerge the leather mask. You also want to preheat your oven at this point. Preheat to the lowest temperature on the oven, mine was 175 degrees F which is somewhat hotter than ideal but still fine. Often the lowest temp will be 125-150 degrees F. When the leather is soaking, you will see (and hear) some sizzling and fizzing. This is air escaping out of the hide. I have a photo of one of the little geysers of air creeping out of the leather, basically you want to soak until all of this is done. When the air bubbles are done and the oven is preheated, you are ready for the next step.

Step 4: Drying and Shaping

Now that the oven is preheated and the mask has soaked in water, you can place a piece of baking paper down on the oven rack to protect the leather from grill lines (I place it rough/flesh side down). You don't want to use metal or foil due to the risk of burning the leather. Leave in the oven at 5 minute intervals. When the first 5 minute timer goes off, it's time to start shaping. This process is extremely important as you need to be able to make the mask wearable and comfortable by shaping it to your/the wearers face and most importantly, nose. Really force that nose area into shape! I'm pinching the portion between the eyes constantly and forming the remainder of the mask to comfortably fit my face by just shaping it around my little head. PINCH THAT NOSE!!!! Then, when you are satisfied with the initial shaping, place the mask back into the oven for another 5 minutes. Shape again in the same way, further emphasizing the shape you have created. I do this process of 5 minute oven intervals and face shaping 3-4 times. You're hardening the leather at this point so do this until it's dry but don't over do it.

Step 5: Punching Holes for Elastic

I like to punch the tiny holes for the elastic head band before dying my mask and after shaping. This way, I know where the best placement is to have the right kind of tension on the face. Go from the outer corner of the eye, my placement was about 1/2" away from the corner of each eye. I use the smallest setting on my rotary punch tool and make TWO small holes on each side for the elastic strap. I do this because I will later be lacing the elastic through the holes so that there will be a loop making two straps around the head, one that will be knotted and allow for resizing of the mask on the wearers head as needed.

Step 6: Dye the Mask

At this point, you're ready to dye your leather mask with the color of your preference. I have chosen to make this mask black, I also really love this style in gold. Gather your sponge, gloves and dye. Protect your work surface with some newspaper. I like to use Q-Tips for the edges and really tight corners. Brush the dye on evenly and gently over the front of the mask, I use circular motions to avoid strokes and any kind of rubbing or streaking of the color. Cover the whole front of the mask, then using a Q-Tip or a small brush, go in and cover the sides, edges and corners that you might have missed with the large sponge. Allow to dry completely.

Step 7: Protect With Leather Finish

Now you can protect your leather with a leather finish. Go over the dye side on the leather using the sponge with the same technique you used for the dye process. Allow to dry completely.

Step 8: FINAL STEP! Loop the Elastic Cord

Almost done! Now all you have to do is loop the elastic cord in the holes you punched earlier. I like to start on the bottom hole on one of the sides of the mask. Lace the elastic through a needle (I find this easier) and then go from the back of the mask through the bottom hole on one side to the top hole. Then, bring the elastic across the back to the top hole on the opposite side and loop to the bottom, final hole. Bring the elastic to the back of the mask and make sure it is long enough to fit around your head...twice. Knot the elastic. Burn the ends of the elastic to finish it off and avoid fraying. You will have two straps around the back of the head. This way, the mask is easily adjustable. And you're finished! I hope you love your new mask! Perfect for masquerades, Halloween, balls and whenever you feel the need to be a little mysterious.

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