UPDATE 4/20/11: I am in the process of making another one of these as a commission, and I will take some more detailed how-it's-made shots so those of you who want to try it yourself can get a better idea of how to go about making one. =]
As always, thanks to everyone for the many compliments on this!
3/24/10 - I finally made a tutorial for this project! It can be read below.
Sorry it took so long!
This project is actually a do-over because the original one turned out less than acceptable in my eyes. The original was made in October '07 for Halloween and was made with thin scrap leather and little time was invested in it, hence why it needed to be revamped. As it turned out, the remake became a rush project too because I had 3 days to make it in time for Anime Expo 2008, which was where it debuted. I started it on Wednesday, July 2nd around noon and worked on it 10-12 hours a day until Saturday morning when it was finally completed. Approximately 40 hours went into the completion of the breastplate alone, which is made from 10-15oz leather. The skirt took about 5 hours to make, the bracers about 2 hours, the shoulders took about 5 hours, the ears took about a half hour, and the belt took about 2 hours to make. All in all, there's over 50 hours worth of work that went into this costume and in my opinion, many parts of it could stand to be redone for quality purposes.
In any case, it turned out very nice considering the amount of time I put into it and I got a lot of compliments on it at the Expo. I'm proud of it!
I've added pictures of it during the assembly to my gallery as well.
*Pictures of me in the full costume at Anime Expo 2008*
This website and their store front locations have been exceedingly helpful in all my leather project endeavors, so I highly encourage anyone interested in learning leatherwork to check them out!
Tandy Leather Factory [link]
The most important part of the whole thing was making the pattern. If your pattern is crappy, your project will likely reflect that. The more perfect your pattern is, the better your finished product with turn out, plus making a pattern makes it easier to recreate it if you should ever wish to do another.
I used card stock (if you don't know what that is, it's basically the type of paper that 3x5 cards are made of but a little thicker and sold in big sheets about 2'x3'). I used one reference picture because that's all I could find, and I drew each piece in 2D form on paper so I had a better idea of what it would look like, and then started measuring myself to see the size of each piece. I drew each piece by hand onto the card stock and then cut it out and checked to see if the paper pattern fit properly. Hint: Symmetry is important when you're making patterns like this breastplate, so to ensure it's symmetrical, draw one side of the pattern and then fold it over EXACTLY in half and trace the outline of the side you already drew onto the blank side before cutting out the second side, that way both sides will be identical to each other. Once you are sure the pattern card is exactly the right shape and is very symmetrical, trace the pattern onto the material (I used leather for the breastplate, and I haven't used any other type of material for it, so this tutorial does not necessarily apply to other materials).
Depending on the thickness of the leather, you may need a special knife designed for cutting leather. Suggestion: Find a Tandy Leather store or Leather Factory near you if possible and get some help learning how to use leather tools, ESPECIALLY the sharp ones or you will risk serious injury. Leather is a unique material that sometimes requires special tools to work with it and there are very specific ways those tools should be used or they can be very dangerous, so please consider getting one-on-one help from a professional or experienced leatherworker if you attempt to make something like this for the first time.
I used pretty thick and stiff cowhide leather for this project, so I had to use a head knife [link]
to cut out the pieces, but if you use thinner leather you may be able to get away with using heavy duty scissors, although your edges might be a little wavy. Either way, you can use what's called an edge beveler [link]
and round off the edges so it looks a little cleaner and smoother.
After the leather pieces are cut out, they will need to be carved and tooled for a 3D effect. I used a pair of wing dividers [link]
to draw the gold edges all the way around. NOTE: If you use wing dividers, it is highly recommended that you dull down the points or you will scratch the leather instead of making light grooves in it, and if you mess up, it will be hard to smooth out the scratches as opposed to smoothing out light groove marks. If you use this tool, set it to the width you want and don't change it because all the edges should be the same width. The only lines I did differently were the ones around the cups and the center line down the middle because the reference picture showed them that way. Some of the lines had to be drawn by hand.
For the by-hand parts (the gold edges that swirled or curled in or out), I traced the pattern onto a thin sheet of paper and sketched out the shape I wanted and then wet the leather and traced over the shape again with a ballpoint pen while the paper was fitted exactly to the leather, and when I removed the paper off the leather, the lines I drew were visible so I could use a carving tool over the lines later.
NOTE: Do not use a pen directly on the leather; it will be considerably more difficult to paint or dye over it if you do. Always use a pen-like tool (preferably metal, like a modeling clay sculpting tool) to make marks on your leather and don't push hard, just light enough to see the faint lines so you can use other tools over the lines.
Once the leather had all the lines grooved in with the modeling clay tool, I used a swivel knife [link]
to trace over the lines I grooved so they are about halfway through the thickness of the leather. TAKE YOUR TIME ON THIS PART because if you screw up it's almost impossible to fix it and you will either have to start over (expensive and time costly), or your project will look messy.
After I traced over all my lines with the swivel knife, I used a hand tool called a beveler stamp [link]
and stamped all the way around the lines I just carved with the swivel knife. Take care to stamp all the edges in the same way. For this breastplate, I wanted the gold edges to seem raised up, so I used the beveling stamp on the OUTSIDE of the gold edges (when you're looking at the picture of the breastplate, the stamp was used on the red side of the gold edges). I used a mallet [link]
like this to use the beveling stamp tool and I went slow to make sure I didn't cross over the edges. When you use the beveling stamp, you should have the slanted edge down into the crack of the line you carved, holding the tool level (so the slanted part will make an angled dent in the leather, which will make the edge appear raised without having to smash down the entire inside part).
Next I used a bone folder [link]
to smooth the stamp lines so it didn't look like I had used a tiny stamp a million times in a row on the edges. To use this tool, just rub it horizontally across the leather on the INSIDE of the edges (right over the stamp marks you just made) to smooth out any ridges made by the beveler stamp tool.
Now you are ready to paint the project.
I used acrylic paint, and no specific brand I've tried so far seems to work particularly better than another, however, I tend to use Americana brand acrylic paint because it is available in many colors at several different craft stores. When painting, make sure you test the color on a scrap piece of material before you buy a ton of it or paint the whole thing and realize that it isn't the right color. Try not to mix paints to create custom colors unless you are experienced because if you run out, you must recreate that custom color and it could make the project look bad if it's different shades.
Use nice quality paintbrushes if possible; it will make the paint job look much nicer and you'll be less likely to find brush bristles in your paint later. Use what's called a dry-brush technique... pour a little paint onto the brush or the area you are going to paint (slowly) and spread the paint continuously over the same section until the paint begins to dry. Continue brushing it in all directions very lightly until you can't see brush strokes anymore. Practice on scraps for a bit until you get this down, because although it's a small detail, it's details like this that separate amateurs from the pros!
Make sure to use acrylic sealer (available at craft stores) after the paint has dried COMPLETELY. Do not try to rush the paint drying, it usually turns out bad. I use MATTE acrylic sealer in a spray can because the glossy stuff makes it too shiny and in pictures light reflects off of it too much. Again, be sure to give the sealer plenty of time to dry in a well ventilated area (the fumes from that stuff are nasty, try to do it outside if at all possible).
Once all the pieces are done drying after their paint jobs, you can begin assembling them (assuming that there are multiple pieces to be attached to each other the way my breastplate was assembled). Be sure to spend lots of time putting each piece where it belongs before you permanently attach them because once you have punched holes they're hard to fix. Have someone help you fit the pieces to yourself or a mannequin so that they are symmetrical and even. Use the clay modeling tool to make faint marks to indicate where holes will be punched for rivets. Glue is helpful, but in projects like this, it is typically not used to hold the entire project together, even though leather contact cement is super strong, it is usually flexible too, and doesn't last forever when it's under the strain of being worn. I suggest using glue to temporarily hold pieces where you want them while you rivet the pieces together though, because they won't slip that way.
Here is the kind of contact cement I use for my leather projects: [link]
When you decide where you want each piece to be riveted together, use a leather hole punch (I highly recommend this one -> [link]
) to make the holes for the rivets. I strongly recommend making the holes on the top piece first, then laying the top piece over the bottom pieces and marking a hole in the bottom piece using the top piece's hole as a guide so they line up perfectly. Be sure to check each piece two or three times (or more if you want to be extra cautious) BEFORE you punch holes.
I use double cap rivets [link]
because they are easy to use, and when properly attached, last a long time and hold very securely, plus they aren't bulky. They come in nickel, gold, brass, and black and vary from small to large in size. I used large gold rivets for my breastplate because I was attaching two 10-12oz thick pieces of leather together (about 1/4" thick when put on top of each other). You can use a standard metal hammer and a hard solid surface (preferably a marble slab or a metal anvil [link]
) to set the rivets, or you can purchase a rivet setter which makes the rivets kind of domed [link]
After you have all the pieces riveted together you may need to add things like straps and buckles depending on the project. If so, give yourself more material than you think you'll need just in case you mess up and need to cut some off. Practice with scraps first. Both straps should fit the width of the buckle comfortably and not be larger or a lot smaller than the width of the buckle. For example, if you have a buckle that is 3/4" wide, your straps should also be 3/4" wide. When you go to cut the hole for the buckle tongue to fit through, you will need to "crew a hole", which means you will make an oblong hole shaped kind of like this (====
. Leave yourself about an inch or so of extra material on the end past the oblong hole so you can fold it over itself and rivet it down. The other strap will need to be a little longer (the idea is that the buckle will sit directly in the middle of the two straps, so measure accordingly), and it will need to have several evenly spaced holes punched into it so it can be adjusted. Start the first hole about 2in from the end of the strap, and make the holes approximately 1in apart and directly down the middle of the strap. A ruler will make this step easy. Buckles in many shapes, colors, and sizes can be found on Tandy's website here: [link]
under BELT BUCKLES and craft stores like Michael's and JoAnn Fabrics will also have many buckles. Choose your buckles wisely, and check the measurements on them before buying them. If you can find a local craft store, I suggest going to it instead of ordering online so you can see what you're buying in person.
You can also choose to line your projects with soft leather like suede if the insides of them are going to come in direct contact with skin or delicate fabric (the backside of cowhide is a bit rough). If you want to line your project, put a moderate layer of leather contact cement on the back side of the project and also on the backside of the suede, let them both dry for a minute or two so they aren't super wet but are still tacky, then put the sticky sides together and trim off the excess around the edges with scissors.
And that's about it! I know the tutorial is long but hopefully it was detailed enough for you all to experiment and practice on your own. I tried to give links to every tool I used to make this project so you can make one too. Leather is a unique material and each piece of leather can be different than another. I highly recommend trying to purchase leather in person, not over the internet, because you will be able to feel it and see it and determine whether it's the right kind of material for your project.
Good luck to everyone! Feel free to message me with any questions.