Introduction: Movement-Enhancing Leather Sleeves

This Bustier was made for a dance performance, taking advantage of the flexibility of the arms and shoulders to create complex movement in the costume, thus enhancing the dancer's every gesture.

The main feature of this piece is the array of leather strips, draped over the shoulder and fastened to the elbow, creating two fixed points between which the strips move freely.

As the shape of the bustier itself varies enormously depending on who it is for, I will concentrate on the sleeves in this instructable.

Step 1: Materials

What you need:

To make the pattern:

- Measuring tape (+ a friend to take the measure) / Pattern paper / Pencil / Scissors / Pattern-making ruler (or long ruler + 'right-angle' ruler)

To make the Sleeves:
- Two 50 x 20 cm pieces of a stiff material
I used vegetable tanned full-grain leather, but it would also work with a fairly flexible vinyl (watch out for sharp edges against the skin), or a heavily bonded fabric. You can test the stiffness your material by seeing if a long thin strip of it can stand up in a nice curve, or if it falls together in the middle.
- Elastic band 2 cm wide
I used skin coloured elastic bought at a ballet-store
- A sharp scalpel/razor blade
I used a laser-cutter for this piece, but it is quite easily doable without, as all the cuts are straight lines.
- A cutting board/underlay
- A metal ruler (or a plastic one with a thick edge... the idea being that the customary tapered edge is easily cut by the razor blade)
- A leather sewing needle and an awl, (or a heavy-weight sewing machine that can sew through two layers of leather/vinyl)
- Thick 'leather' thread in the colour of your choice.

Step 2: Making the Pattern

Get a friend to help you to measure your arm.

You will want to take the measurement (x) from the tip of your elbow, along the back of your arm, over your shoulder, till the front of your chest where the collarbones meet.

1) Add 6 cm to that number (x + 6 = y), and draw a rectangle which is (y) long and 19,5 cm wide. (In my dancers case, this measurement was 62 cm. 62 + 6 = 68 cm. The rectangle in the example drawn here is therefore 68 x 19,5)

2-5) Follow the steps in the drawings.

6) Fill out the middle part with lines 1,5 cm apart. You now have 13 strips.

7) You pattern should now look like this.

Step 3: Prototyping

I would suggest that before you start cutting your leather, you try to put it together in paper first.

For that, copy the pattern onto another sheet of paper (thin cardboard is even better if you can get your hands on some), and use the razor blade and ruler to cut it out along the outer edges, then cut on the red lines. Be careful not be precise and not cut further than the red lines, as the 3 cm uncut edge all that is holding the strips together!

Fold and tape the elbow piece as shown.

Step 4: Try It on and Make Adjustments

Try it on:

(It helps if your friend is still around, as it can be difficult to reach on your own)

Cup the cone over your elbow, and tape or tie it around your arm.

Place the length of the strips over your shoulder and check that the end reaches your collarbone as shown on the picture.

Hold it in place on your chest with your other hand and move your arm/flex your elbow.

- If it feels like it is going to rip, or if your elbow constantly sticks out through the strips at the back, then you should add some length to your pattern before cutting it in leather.

- If it droops uncontrollably and doesn't straighten out when you move, you should shorten it.


Go back to the original pattern (where the strips aren't cut) and adjust.

To lengthen or shorten the sleeves, cut through the strip part of the pattern (perpendicular to the strips), and either overlap or separate the two halves until you have the right length. If you are separating them, the easiest is to tape one half to a piece of paper, prolong one of the lines, and then align the other half to that line at the distance need. Then fasten with tape through all the strips.

Step 5: Cut in Leather

Now you are ready to cut the final piece out with the new adjusted pattern.

Repeat the steps you did in the paper version, and cut two of them.
As you cannot pin, draw or tape on leather, the best is to lay something heavy to keep the pattern in place while you cut around with the razor blade and ruler.

With the awl, mark the ends of the lines you will be cutting (the points are circled here on the pattern). Be sure to make a very small hole, just enough to see when you take the pattern off.

Once you've taken the pattern off, align the ruler with the marks, and cut the strips.

Step 6: Assemble

At the elbow cuff, sew the sides together:

1) Measure out and use the awl to make evenly spaced holes along the edge of each side. This time you want clean holes all the way through the leather.

2) Overlap the sides and align the holes.

3) Sew with the needle and thread.

Make holes on the sides to sew on the elastic (see picture for placement).

Attach one side of the elastic band first and then measure out how much you need to fasten the cuff to your elbow before attaching it to the other side.

You now have two separate sleeves with elbow attachments.

Step 7: Bustier

As mentioned before, the bustier will have to be an instructable in itself, as there are too many variables regarding chest measurements and fit.

But the sleeves can easily be sewn on to any other garment and still have the same effect. A corset/halterneck/tight top will do, as will a tight fitted and closed jacket. The only requirement is that this top sits tight, and that the fabric is sturdy enough to hold the sleeves up (no flimsy jersey).

Another possibility is making a simple chest piece of the same leather, going over the breasts so as to avoid shaping it. Then you sew elastics at the neck and around the back to keep it in place.


Hope you enjoy.