Introduction: Leather Fish-Scale Cuffs

About: Costume and experimental fashion designer and artist. Maker of clothing and accessories for time traveling cyborg superheroes, and lucid dreamers. Interested in fusing couture design and leatherwork with weara…

I've been seeing this type of detailing used a lot lately on leather clothing and festival wear, and I wanted to see if I could replicate it. As it turns out, it's quite an easy technique and I think the results are so beautiful, with an organic, slightly biomechanical look, like gills, scales, or part of a skeletal structure... in other words, right up my alley.

The basic process involves laminating two layers of leather together, then cutting slats in the leather and flipping each slat over to expose the underside and create texture. It looks especially good if you use a different color leather on the top and bottom layers like I did here. I sewed my leather using a hand machine equipped with a leather needle, which worked fairly well, but you definitely need to make sure you are using thin, garment weight leather if you don't have an industrial sewing machine.

I used this technique to create simple cuffs because it was an easy way to showcase the detailing, but I can imagine a million other applications on clothing and accessories... I'm sure I'll be trying some of them.

Step 1: Supplies

  • Two colors of thin garment weight, leather ideally less than 1.5 oz - I used white and silver about which gave my cuffs an especially fishy quality. Tandy is a great place to buy leather, or fabric stores often carry garment weight leather. You could also use this technique with pleather, vinyl, felt or a faux suede. Anything that won't fray will work.
  • Leather glue
  • Disposable paintbrushes
  • Sewing machine
  • Leather sewing machine needles
  • Thread to match your leather
  • Double sided tape
  • Snaps and snap setting kit
  • Hole Punch
  • Hammer
  • Awl
  • Exacto knife
  • Fabric and paper scissors
  • Measuring tape
  • Ruler
  • Pencil and paper

Step 2: Make a Pattern

To create a pattern for my cuffs, I first measured the diameter of my wrist using a tape measure. Then I transferred this measurement to paper and used it to create my pattern. I drew a shape that I thought would look nice as a a cuff, larger in the middle and and smaller towards the ends.

I added 1/2" to the diameter of my wrist for the snap overlap, and left a 3/8" border around the edges. Using a ruler I drew in the lines where I would cut the leather, decreasing the width of the slats slightly from the center to the edges. I made the slats in the center 3/8" wide and the ones on the ends 1/4".

I also marked two holes on each end where the snaps would go.

When I was finished drafting my pattern I cut it out with scissors.

Step 3: Trace and Cut the Leather

I taped my paper pattern down lightly onto the leather that was going to be my top layer, and then traced the outline with an awl. To transfer the internal cut lines I traced right over the paper with my awl, pressing down fairly hard to be sure the lines were clearly defined.

When I was done I checked that all my lines had transferred and then cut the piece out with sharp scissors, leaving about 1/2" of excess leather around the outline.

Then I used this piece to cut an identical piece out of my second color of leather. You only need to cut out the outline this time, no need to trace the internal lines.

Step 4: Glue the Leather

Once both pieces were cut, I spread an even layer of leather contact cement on the flesh side (underside) of both pieces. I waited until the glue was tacky, then carefully laid one piece on top of the other, making sure they were aligned with no wrinkles. I used my hands to press them together firmly to ensure a strong bond.

Step 5: Cut and Flip the Leather

I let the glue dry for a few minutes, then cut my inner slat lines with a sharp exacto knife on a cutting mat. I found the best way to avoid cutting beyond the end of the lines was to start from one end of a line, cut halfway, then rotate my leather and cut the rest of the line from the other side. I made sure I cut cleanly all the way through both pieces of leather.

When all the lines were cut, I flipped each slat over and pressed it down, exposing the silver underside. I flipped all mine in the same direction, but switching directions in the center of the cuff could also create a nice look.

Step 6: Stick the Slats Down

I cut a strip of silver leather (or whatever your underside color is) 1/2" wide and a little longer than the cuff.

I ran a strip of thin double sided tape down the whole length of this silver strip and then centered the cuff on top of it. Now I stuck each flipped slat down onto the double sided tape. This part is a little tricky, you want to just barely overlap the edge of each slat on top of the previous one. This will, of course shorten the length of the entire cuff slightly, making the outer edges of the leather warp. Don't worry about this, you won't be able to tell when you have the cuff around your wrist.

Step 7: Sew

To permanently secure my slats down I sewed a straight line down the center of the cuff with my sewing machine. I made sure to switch the needle in my machine to a leather needle first, which makes sewing much easier. It was still a bit tricky though. This is where the thickness of your leather really makes a difference, the thinner your leather, the easier it will be to sew. If you have access to an industrial machine, or ideally a walking foot machine, that will work best.

I also made sure to position the cuff with the slats folded toward me so they wouldn't get pushed up by the presser foot as I sewed.

Step 8: Finish

Now I trimmed the excess leather from around the outside of my cuff with sharp scissors.

Then I punched holes in both ends and added snaps using my snap setter and hammer.

And I was done! It only took about half an hour to complete one cuff, so I decided to make two with inverse color schemes.

Step 9: Cuff Yourself

Now you can go out and rock your new wrist-wear! Be ready for people to ask you how you made it, and don't be surprised if they assume it involved some sort of complex technology. One of my favorite things about this technique is that it has an almost digitally fabricated aesthetic, while actually being hand made.

In this Instructable I chose a very simple application for this leather detailing technique because I wanted to show how easy it is to create such a beautiful effect. However, I'm even more excited to try it on other, more complex projects. As well as making beautiful jewelry and accessories, it would be a great way to add detail to leather garments or help create on an aquatic themed halloween costume.