With all of my DragonCon costumes completed in terms of sewing, I spent last week exploring the world of leather working. For my first project, I worked on the suspender-like straps that Booker DeWitt wears in Bioshock Infinite. This would be the final piece of the Booker costume for my husband, except for the China Broom gun our friend is making for us.
Let me preface this post by saying I have never done any leather working before, and don’t really have any idea if I have the process right. I have a book that I have been reading, but that is the extent of my knowledge.
From what I could figure out from pictures and such, the straps for this Booker costume (the green vest version) include the following components:
- 1 “rounded X” piece for the center back
- 2 1″-wide straps
- 4 small pouches
For the pouches, I used this guide that I pinned a while back. I ordered leather from Amazon, along with a bunch of different tools, dyes, cleaners, preservatives, and shiny liquids. I better do lots more leatherworking in the future! Honestly, I intend to… I feel like a big amateur at this still. Must. Level. Up. Leathworking. Skill!
1) Create pattern and cut the leather. I used a pair of sewing scissors. It’s easier to cut when the leather is wet.
Below are some samples I cut for a pouch – 3 pieces.
2) Clean leather and apply preservative stuff. Bought this “kit” from Amazon for treating the leather. Supposedly the preservative helps to prevent cracking. Throughout this process I was also making sure to wet the leather with a sponge or spray bottle (depending on how soaked I wanted it) and practiced folding and molding it. I was also trying to discern which side of the leather was the outside and which was the “skin side”. I decided that the fuzzier uglier looking side was the “skin side” – the right most strap in the picture below.
3) I let it dry overnight, since I soaked the leather pretty thoroughly cutting and cleaning and preserving. The next day, I wet the straps and tried my hand at tooling the leather. Again from Amazon, I had purchased a set of 6 different stamping tools, and a small rawhide mallet. After wetting the leather with my spray bottle, I went to work. I covered my precious dining room table with a towel, and then placed a granite stone (I got a sample from Home Depot for a few bucks) on top of the towel as my tooling work space. Since it was my first project, I opted for a single stamp and just added a border to the straps.
4) Next up was dyeing the leather. I used Fieblings Chocolate dye. In retrospect, I probably should have ordered a medium brown as opposed to a dark brown, but oh well. You use little wool daubers to apply the dye. I also wore rubber gloves to prevent myself from dyeing my hands. I added cardboard to my table protecting mechanism so that I didn’t dye my towel. When done applying the dye, I let the pieces dry thoroughly, and then applied a second coat the next day. I definitely recommend the second coat, as the first coat looked very uneven. A third coat might not be amiss either, but second coat evened it out enough for my tastes.
5) The following day I applied a coat of some material that is supposed to make the leather shiny. I applied several coats, and while the appearance of the leather got better, I feel like shiny was a misnomer. Maybe I bought a not so good product? The Lexor kit came with a shiny liquid as well, and it did not really help either. I’m guessing what I really need is a wax or an oil to get the finish to come out as shiny as your standard belt? Anyway, after the “shining”, I used a stitch spacer tool to mark the edges of the pouch pieces for stitching. Once the edges are marked, you use your awl to poke the holes all the way through the leather. Hand sewing needles are ginormous for leather.
6) Once the holes are poked, you can begin your stitching. I recommend a thimble. Also, if you have snaps to add to the leather pouches, do it before you begin stitching. The snap process is very similar to installing grommets on a corset. You’ll want to use waxed thread for the stitching as well. Guess where you can buy it? Yep, Amazon. I began the pouch in one of the bottom corners. The instructions I was using said to actually attach a needle to both ends of your thread. This was certainly useful for starting in the corner, but did occassionally get confusing. No real reason, in my opinion, not to just knot the end like normal hand stitching.
7) After days of prepping the leather, hours of hand stitching, and sore fingertips (I didn’t have a thimble …), I was able to call one of the pouches complete! I used fabric glue to attach the loop to the back of the pouch so it could hang from the strap. Before gluing it down, I made sure to appropriately mold and shape the loop.
For a first project, I think it is going fine. I’m sure I won’t be completely happy with it, but I am a perfectionist and first projects are always like that. Three pouches to go!