I've been wanting to try my hand at making leather masks for a while now and recently I got a commision that left me with a huge amount of excess leather so I figured I'd give it a go. Since this was my first attempt I stuck with a pretty basic concept.
Step 1: Supplies
For this project I used 2-3 oz leather since I had a lot of it on hand. You can use heavier duty stuff and if you plan on making it really fancy with tooling and carving and such you probably should go with something no less than 3-4 oz.
My tools list was as follows:
- Utility Knife/Scissors
- Edge Beveler
- Hole Punch
Step 2: Pattern/Templating
Maybe I'm late to jump on the bandwagon but recently I've found that craft foam is a great material to use when making patterns for leather. It has a lot of flexibility like leather and can be formed a lot like leather as well, though you use heat rather than water. Also it's a heck of a lot cheaper than leather so you can make full mock-ups of whatever you're making without spending much money. It's more expensive than paper but unless you're really strapped for cash I'd say it's worth it.
The templating process was pretty straightforward. I took a scrap of foam that seemed about the size of my face and heated it just enough to make it pliable. Then I smashed it on my face. Now, don't go burning yourself. You don't need it very hot. I just wanted to be able to make it conform a little better to the contours of my face. Once I had it mashed onto my face I took a pen and carefully drew around what felt like the indention for my eye and then drew a straight line down what felt like the ridge of my nose. Give your face a break after that. It's got its work cut out for it later.
I cut out the hole and looked through it but it was way too small so I drew around it a little larger, cut that out and liked that size. I folded it in half on that nose-bridge-line, traced the eye hole onto the other side and cut that out. AH HA! Perfect fit. Once the eyes were set I just had to cut the nose gap. I cut a straight line across the bottom to get rid of the excess, then once again folded it in half so it would be uniform, drew a slightly curved line at the bottom corner of the fold line, and cut through both sides to get a nice little nose gap... which I immediately had to make bigger because I don't have a nice little nose.
Your eyes are the only things that really matter in a mask. You can mold the nose part to fit if you want a cover instead of a gap and everything else is personal preference. So once I had the eye holes it was just a matter of getting the shape like I wanted. I drew it out on the foam, cut it out, and it looked good so I went ahead and transferred it to the leather. I like to utilize every piece possible so I was making this out of scraps left over from the hat I made (this was the hole for the head). Because of that the piece wasn't long enough so I also had to cut out separate straps. With the pattern transferred to the leather it was a simple matter to cut it out.
Step 3: Wetforming
Once the pattern was cut out I went around the edge with an edge beveled real quick and then got on to forming it.
I sprayed it with water rather than soaking it because I didn't want it to take hours to dry. Then I just put it on my face and pressed it tightly against all the contours. Once I had it formed to my face I just sat back for a while with it on to let it dry some and set into that shape. Eventually it contours enough that you can carefully move around without it falling off.
After a while I took it off and set it on some packing bubbles. You could probably use a towel or balled up paper towels or anything really.
Step 4: Strapping
I didn't want the straps to overlap but I also wanted the connections to be strong so I glued some scrap leather to the joints and trimmed off the excess, than I punch holes and stitched simple X stitches over the seams. The straps ended up not being long enough so I added another section on one side. Since it wasn't on the front I didn't care if if overlapped so I just stitched it right on the end of the first strap.
I wanted to use a buckle to fasten it in the back and as luck would have it I had kept the buckles from a recently retired pair of sandles and they were the perfect size. I folded over the end of one of the straps, marked the hole for the buckle prong, punched it with my hole punch, then punched holes to stitch it and sewed it in place. To figure out the hole placement on the other side I just put it on, threaded it through the buckle, marked the spot with a pencil, and punched a hole there.
Once I had the straps on I tried it on and realized the straps kind of dug into the tops of my ears just a little bit so I marked the spot where the strap came in contact with my ear, took the mask back off, and cut a small curve on the bottom of each strap. With the mask on you can't really even see the curves but it's way more comfortable.
Step 5: Staining
This step was pretty simple. Get your favorite color stain and something to apply it. I used a little swab applicator from Tandy but you can use a rag or a sponge or whatever. Apply it evenly over the entire outer surface. I also stained the backs of the straps but left the back of the mask plain. As it dries buff it lightly with a clean dry rag or paper towel to avoid streak marks in the finish. You might have to do a couple coats for a full, even, stain.
If you want a bright color, or don't feel like dealing with (or buying) stain you can also use basic acrylic paints!
If you really want a professional look coat the edges with tragacanth gum and use an edge slicking tool to give it a nice finish, then apply a couple coats of leather sealant.
Step 6: Fight Crime!
Actually don't fight crime. Leave that up to the professionals. In fact, I wouldn't advise wearing a mask in a public place unless there is a costume event going on. However, if there is a costume event going on have at it! This could be a super hero mask, super villain mask, you could be a bandit, the Lone Ranger, etc. Have fun and be creative!