I was having issues coming up with the right verb (it's not distressing or aging fake leather, but altering was too vague) in the title, so if anyone has a more suitable word please let me know.
There are quite a few resources out there on making real leather look old and worn, but few for artificial leather. Or so I discovered when I decided I needed to make a patchwork leathery coat for a costume. Though none of these techniques result in perfect imitation leather, I thought this may be of interest to someone. All of the above images were made from only 2 pieces of vinyl.
Please Note: I've only used the following on lengths of fabric I intended on cutting up and sewing. I'm not sure how any of this would work on a premade garment, like a vinyl jacket or fake leather shoes.
Also, I apologize for the lack of "process" pictures. I didn't think to take pictures while I was doing it.
Step 1: Picking Your Vinyl
The techniques you can use is determined by the type of fake leather you end up with. The cheaper stuff seems to come in two basic types : thicker upholstery vinyl and thinner stretch vinyl for clothes. While the painting techniques of steps 2 and 3 can be applied to any vinyl, the last steps would only work on the thicker stuff. Of course, the thinner stuff is more comfortable to wear and flexes better.
The two different vinyl fabrics I use here are:
I even left reviews for them, if you want to check them out.
Also, try to find a vinyl where the texture of the knit backing does not show through to the front. You can see this best in picture 2 - that regular, repeated pattern that screams fake (I forgot to take a picture before I modified it). It ruins any illusion of authenticity and no amount of sanding seems to get rid of it.
Step 2: Painting Technique 1
This one is easy and beautiful. With the right colors, you can get a worn and dirty pattern like in picture 2 or an interesting variegated pattern like in picture 1. I was going for "underwater alien skin" on the first. More natural colors would result in a more earthly look.
Begin by watering down the acrylic paint until it's fairly runny (think watercolors). Paint a wash of this across a section of the vinyl. Then, spatter rubbing alcohol across the surface while still wet. Experiment using paintbrushes or your fingers for this. The drops of rubbing alcohol will cause the paint to spread and run, creating unpredictable but beautiful results.
For reference, picture 1 is two layers of similar turquoise paints with tiny but dense splatters of rubbing alcohol.
Picture 2 is only 1 layer of brown with thick, heavy spatters spread farther apart.
Step 3: Paint Technique 2
I was going for a veiny, membranous look and ended up more with marble I think, but it's a lovely result nonetheless.
acrylic paint (this will be the color of the veins)
spray paint (this will the the base color of the vinyl)
string / yarn / twine (the diameter of the string will be the approximate width of the veins)
I began by painting a flat layer of blue acrylic across the surface of the vinyl. After it dried, I coiled and tangled some spare crochet cord across the blue layer. I varied the size of the holes between the pieces of string for a more natural look. Then, I sprayed a thin layer of flat black spray paint over the surface. The string blocks the spray paint from adhering to certain places on the vinyl, resulting in the veins.
Again, varying the color determines whether the result is more natural or exotic looking.
Step 4: Heat Technique 1 (and a Warning!)
WARNING! The following should only be done in a well ventilated area, as fake leather is plastic and burning it releases horrible fumes.
The following three techniques will only work on thicker vinyl. Thinner stuff will only burn and/or not hold the texture very well. This makes an interesting crinkle texture.
oven mitts or pliers (to move around hot objects)
Tear off a piece of tinfoil a bit larger than the plate of the iron. Crumple it up. The finer you crumple it, the finer the wrinkles will be. Open the tinfoil back up, and smooth it out a little (but not completely or else you'll lose the wrinkles).
Set the iron to its lowest setting. Lay the tinfoil down on the vinyl and place the iron on top of it. You may need to press the iron down a bit. The tinfoil should heat up and melt the vinyl where the wrinkles touch. Remove the iron immediately after the vinyl melts to prevent it from burning. Repeat this process working section by section until the entire surface of the vinyl is covered. Use the oven mitts or pliers to move the tinfoil around to avoid burning you
If nothing seems to be happening after a few seconds, turn up the heat on the iron and try again. It may take a bit of trial and error to get both the heat setting and timing down. However, make sure you don't leave the heat on the vinyl for too long, or else it will burn, bubble, and potentially peel away from the backing (as in picture 2) while smelling even worse than it did before.
Step 5: Heat Technique 2
flat metal objects (washers, paperclips, bits or curls of wire, small gears, whatever you can find)
oven mitts or pliers (to move around hot objects)
The process for this much the same as the previous step. Arrange the metal objects however looks best on the surface on the fake leather. Lay a fresh sheet on tinfoil over them, and place the iron on top. Again, press down the iron for a few seconds, then release and check under the tinfoil to make sure their impressions were left behind. If not, increase iron settings and try again.
The layer of tinfoil is needed between the iron and vinyl to prevent the hot plastic from sticking to the iron and making a gooey mess.
Repeat this process as needed. BE CAREFUL, as the metal objects will be hot. Use the pliers or mitts to move them.
Step 6: Heat Technique 3
soldering iron (with an old dirty tip, you don't want to ruin a new one)
This step takes forever.
Using a tip you don't care about anymore, repeatedly press it into the vinyl in short, tapping motions.
A three by two foot section of fake leather took me an entire afternoon to cover in this way.
You can also use the soldering iron to "draw" designs on the vinyl. It looks sort of like a branding mark.
It makes an interesting porous design, but you've got to really be patient.
Step 7: Other Tips and Tricks
- If the vinyl is too shiny for your liking, you may be able to sand it a bit to tone down the gloss. However, this can also peel the plastic off of the backing, so do a patch test first.
- Some acrylic paint will peel if the vinyl is stretched too far. This can't be fixed entirely, but if you water down the paint first and paint in layers it seems to help.
This section may be modified as this project continues.