Monday, December 30, 2013

Making Bracers/Vambraces/Gauntlets Part 3: Assembling the Bracers, How to make thin leather into thick leather (or at least act like it)

See Tutorial Part 1 and Part 2 here 

The 5 part tutorial is here.

Assembling the Bracers
STEP 1: Cut out your pieces
You will now cut out your bracer pattern in leather, in your 'sandwich filling' quilting medium (batting or felt or fleece. I found felt to be a bit stiff for me, and batting to be too expensive, so I used fleece. A fleece blanket actually...), and in canvas/broadcloth etc whose color roughly matches your leather. I was using brown leather, and I used a brown twill canvas that was already somewhat broken in (my favorite skirt in college...).
Leather, Canvas, and Fleece

Now I found that trying to assemble all 3 pieces together at once meant pieces shifting around, etc. which is a pain. Especially since even if you rip stitches out of leather you have a little trail of needle holes.
It saved a lot of time if I quickly sewed the filler/fleece to my bottom canvas piece first, so to make the next step simpler when I sewed it to the actual leather.

Ta-Da, Fleece sewn to canvas.
 Note, if your fleece sticks out a bit past your canvas, trim it to the canvas. Its like, we don't want the sandwich filling to be coming out the middle (especially in my classy bright blue) so we want the top and bottom sandwich pieces to be bigger than the filling.

You'll want to put the "right sides together" which means, the side of your leather you want showing, against the canvas side. So on the outside you see the wrong side of your leather, and the fleece. It's like sewing a pillow case. And like a pillow-case, you'll want to leave one side open so you can flip it inside out.
I sewed across the wrist, down one side, across the bottom, and stopped at the other side.
Note, I left one side open.

Now, we'll flip it inside out, (or rather, right side out). we'll sew down the open side.

Now its looking a lot more like a bracer. But note in the picture below how "puffy" it is, it looks like a sleeping bag, and not like a thick piece of leather.

Puffy sleeping bag effect.

This is where you make it look like a thick piece of leather. It will now behave like one piece, and less like a puffy sleeping bag with the opening sewn shut.

Top-stitched all around the edges.

No more puffy effect. Acts like a thick piece of leather.
 This technique works with thin leather for everything, even making hauberks out of thin coat leather. The trick is in the topstitching (and quilting does it even more) in anchoring the thin leather to a thick base, so it bends like its thick (and doesn't shift and wrinkle)
I should have used it more in Josh's Faramir 1.0 hauberk, instead I left it at the 'puffy sleeping bag stage' and so while the thin leather was attached to canvas, it wasn't anchored, and thus still shifted around and wrinkled when my son pushed on it.
Here, it looks great, because there's not little toddler putting stress on it.
Here, you can see how its wrinkling---because I didn't anchor it to the canvas properly. Thus when Isaiah stuck his hand there, he could get the leather to still wrinkle and look thin. If it were anchored better to the canvas, it would not have wrinkled.

In the next post, we'll cover quilting the leather, putting in grommets (without a hole punch...who has 1/4" hole punches lying around their house?), and weathering/dyeing it.


First off, use the thin cheap(er) leather to quilt. You don't want to be forcing hauberk thickness of leather through your sewing machine. You can (with grit and determination) hand sew the thick stuff. Killing your sewing machine is not worth saving a little time. Test on a scrap, if your sewing machine sounds like its straining, don't do it. (Also, thick leather won't quilt very well anyway)

I CANNOT STRESS THE IMPORTANCE ENOUGH, OF USING A BIG NEEDLE. Thinner needles will bend (especially with all the layers of fabric, quilting etc) and cause you all sorts of tension problems. SO. NOT. WORTH. IT.
You can get a pack of sewing machine needles(6 needles) from Walmart for 2 bucks. There will be some size 11 (quilting cotton), some size 14 (jeans), and some size 17 or 19 or something (I forget).
I never paid much attention to needle size, and spent a lot of frustration on bent needles and messes of thread that ensued. This size 19 (or 17?) one has lasted me through 8 sets of bracers without bending so far. So much time saved.

Another thing sewing with leather (if it isn't all suede-like) is that the 'waterproof' side has friction issues with my presser foot. I could probably get some fancy foot that would fix this, or sew with a layer of tissue paper, etc, but all I did was sew with my cloth side up, and my leather side against the face-plate (which didn't have as many friction issues.)

I fiddled with stitch length, I liked something between 8 and 9 stitches per inch, it seemed to give a darker 'line' and thus seemed a tad more like tooling. (But not so tight that you essentially perforate the leather, and make it tear easily). Figure out what stitch length you want on a scrap, with the proper layers of quilting.

A NOTE ON QUILTING: It is essential that you don't quilt the lines too close together, or the design doesn't really have space to "puff" and look 3 dimensional. I found that when I quilted lines closer than 1/2" apart, the whole thing just went flat and boring.
Also, the design seems to puff up more as you vigorously rub it with shoe polish on a cloth when you are done quilting. If you don't want to dye or polish it, just rub it with a cloth at the end. It helps the whole thing fluff up and look cool.

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