Introduction: Mushroom Themed Plague Doctor Mask
Nothing says "global pandemic" quite like a plague doctor mask! Since I've been working from home, I figured this would be the perfect time to dive into leather working. This is actually only the third thing I've made with leather, so if you're new to leather, just take your time and stick with it all the way to the end! This project is fantastic for practicing your stitching consistency, and you'll also have an opportunity to practice leather carving as well. In all, I have somewhere in the ballpark of 30 hours into this mask given all the stitching and carving, so definitely give yourself plenty of time to complete it.
I've attached the plans I made for this mask both in PDF and PNG formats, so you can scale them if you want to. I definitely recommend cutting out the pattern and taping it all together to get a feel for the overall size before you start cutting your leather. Also, remember to print out two copies of the side panels, and remember to trace them out as mirror copies.
I made this mask for a friend, so the inspiration comes from a drawing she did of a mushroom forest. The sides have carved mushroom patches, and the middle stitch is actually a stem leading up to the giant mushroom cap on the top! You can find some of her other work on Instragram (@a.koi.lion), so definitely check out her work if you like this mask!
- 5-6oz vegetable tanned leather (~2ish square feet)
- The veg-tan is undyed, so you can use any kind of dye and finish you want. If you want to skip the dye, you can just get pre-dyed leather
- Wax thread
- Leather needle (these are more dull but beefier than regular sewing neee)
- Leather dye (I used black)
- Edge dye
- Leather balm (I used a microfiber cloth to apply it)
- Diamond hole chisels
- Swivel knife
- Bevel stamp (I used a large smooth one and a finer bevel stamp with some light patterning )
- Edge bevel (mine has an interchangeable tip to use as a stitch groover)
- Scissors (I has some regular scissors for cutting out the pattern and some thread-cutting scissors for the wax thread)
- 1/4" grommets
- Small buttons
- Small wood hammer
- Cutting mat
- Polycarbonate block (use this as a backing for the diamond hole punches and the hole punches needed for the grommets and buttons)
- One-way mirror film (optional, for the lenses)
- 1/8" acrylic (used for the lense)
- Lighter (used for fusing the ends of the )
You can find most, if not all, of the tools needed for this project in a basic leatherworking kit, and the dye and leather can be ordered from stores like Weaver Leather or Tandy Leather.
Also, make sure you get the punch sets needed for your buttons and grommets if you didn't get them with the grommets and buttons.
Step 1: Cut and Detail Leather
Once you're happy with the size of the mask, you can start cutting out pieces. Since I'm working with a rather large piece of leather, I find it easiest to do a rough cut of the pieces with about an inch of margin around the template. This makes the pieces much easier to work with when doing the finer cuts.
You can use a box cutter for cutting the leather, but start with a fresh blade. Cutting with dull blades is a bad idea in general, but the dull box knife will tear the leather and leave you with messy edges. Also, for inside corners, it's a good idea to use a small hole punch to punch out the corner before you make your cuts. This will help you avoid overcutting, which will weaken the corners.
Once all the pieces are cut out, use the stitch groover to leave a mark along the edges. Follow these lines with the diamond hole punch, taking care to make sure the joint will have the same number of holes on both pieces. If you don't have the same number of holes along the seam, your pieces won't match up perfectly. HOWEVER, with this pattern, the bottom edge of the side panels will need to have three extra holes than the side of the chin piece and the side of the beak underside. Two holes will use used to stitch up the tip of the beak, and the third will be used to skip over the gap between the chin piece and beak underside. There are pictures of this in the next step.
Also, you may have noticed that the edges between the chin piece and beak underside are not the same length. Still make sure to punch the same number of holes in both pieces, but the length issue can be fixed by wetting the chin piece and carefully stretching it into shape! One of my favorite things about leather so far is having the ability to kinda sculpt it into shape for complex curves like that.
Another important thing here is making sure the holes punched on the eye rings line up with the holes punched on the side panels. The easiest way to do this is to punch the holes on the eye ring while it's lined up with the eye cutout on the side panel. You can then punch the holes on the side panel again if you couldn't get the punch all the way through both pieces of leather.
And after you have all the holes punched, you can work on the leather carving. Start by drawing a design on one of the side panel patterns. You can use the mushroom caps I included in the patterns as stencils or free-hand it. Once the drawing is done, use something fine, but not sharp, like a ball stylus to trace your design onto the leather panel. Make sure you're leaving a light imprint you can see when the leather is wet and not tearing into the leather. After that, get the leather wet and use a swivel knife to cut along the lines if your design, cutting in about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way through the leather. Keeping the leather wet, use the cut as a guide for your bevel stamps. To be honest, I was kinda surprised at how much depth I was able to create by "layering" a couple of mushrooms in the carving. Just take your time with this step, and you can get some pretty fantastic results.
If you want to add any decorative stitching, follow the same process of drawing on a template cutout and transferring it to the leather with a ball stylus. Then, instead of carving up the lines, you'll just use the diamond hole punches along those line.
Finally, don't forget to punch out a handful of holes for grommets since you'll need someway to breathe while wearing the mask..
Step 2: Dye and Finish the Parts
This is a pretty straightforward step, so here's some quick notes:
- Wait for the leather to dry before adding the dye. If you just finished with the carving, let it sit out a few hours or overnight.
- I used edge dye instead of going through the process or burnishing the edges.
- Apply dye until you have a uniform coloring and wait for the dye to dry before adding a finish.
- Applying dye to the back of the leather is optional, but I like the consistency in the look. If you do choose to apply dye to the back, it will soak up A LOT more dye than the front. Also, give this at least a couple of days to fully air out before wearing it
- It's definitely a good idea to wear gloves for this step.
Step 3: Assemble the Parts
This is, by far, the most time-consuming part of the project, and if you don't do this kind of thing regularly, your fingers will be sore for days after the project.
So, there are two different stitches used on this mask. The cross stitch is used in the cutout on the underside of the beak and along the middle ridge, and the saddle stitch is used for the other seams and all of the decorative stitching. I went with white thread since I wanted the stitching to be really prominent on the mask, but the tradeoff is that imperfections in the stitching will show up much more easily against the black leather. It's at this point that you'll add the grommets and buttons as well as the acrylic lenses. Also, the order of these steps is more important than other portions of the project since you'll end up stitching all around a 3-dimensional object.
- Start by sewing up gap in the underside of the beak with a cross stitch.
- Sew the chin panel to the beak underside with a saddle stitch. This will be a little tricky given the shape of the panels, so even if you stretched out the chin panel in the previous step, you may still need to coerce the two pieces into shape.
- Apply any decorative saddle stitching to the chin and beak underside assembly
- Add grommets to the beak underside.
- At this point, it's a good idea to make the lenses and add them to the side panels, but this can be done after the side panels are attached.
- Cut out the lens and add the one-way mirror film if you want that on the lenses. This will definitely decrease visibility, but I really like the look of the mirror effect with the black leather
- Use a saddle stitch to attach the eye ring to the side panel
- Once you are just past halfway around the eye ring, slide the lens in. You'll need to coerce the rings to fit over the lenses, but the snug fit is important for keeping the lenses in place.
- Finish the stitch around the rest of the ring
- Start the saddle stitch on the THIRD hole in from the tip of the beak on the side panel but on the FIRST hole of the beak underside.
- At the end of the beak underside, instead of immediately going to the chin panel, do a SINGLE stitch on the side panel not connected to anything, and then continue on with the chin panel. If you punched the right number of holes, the last side panel hole should line up with the last chin panel hole.
- Start your cross stitch on the holes where the saddle stitch ends on the beak underside
- Continue to the two unused holes on the bottom of the side panels. This will make a nice, sharp beak that hides the fold in the beak underside panel.
- Continue up the beak to the top of the forehead.
Step 4: Enjoy!
Now you've got a completed plague doctor mask! Use it as part of your next costume or as a fantastic gift for a friend!
If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to message me or drop it in the comments below for others to see!
Runner Up in the