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Shaped Leather Headwraps 
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Joined: Wed May 05, 2010 3:26 am
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Location: Central California
Unread post Shaped Leather Headwraps
Vegetable tanned leather works really well for making headpieces that need to have a solid look to them, such as the headpieces worn by the Gella sisters.


Selecting the Right Leather:

- Vegetable tanned leather (tooling leather) tends to be very thick and fairly stiff. It comes unfinished, so you have a lot of options. It can be shaped, carved, stained or painted. These hides can be purchased from places such as Tandy Leather in various sizes. I usually buy a whole side so that I'll have plenty on hand for projects, though you can get smaller pieces such as shoulders or quarters for the occasional project.

Making Patterns:

- Leather is thick! Why does that matter? Because when you shape it around a three dimensional form, it will take more leather than you probably anticipated. Make sure you take that into account, or you might waste a hide and end up with a bunch of too-small pieces!

- It is a good idea to draw and cut out patterns on heavy paper for a test-fitting before you try cutting your leather. The thick paper will help mimic the thickness and stiff qualities of the leather, giving you better results when you transfer the pattern onto the leather.

- If you are going to buy leather in person, take your pattern with you. That way you can lay out the pieces and make sure that the hide section you buy will have enough surface to fit all of the pieces. Hides often have holes, brands, or scratches that reduce the amount of leather you can acually use in your project.

Cutting Leather:

- Exacto knives work, but a sturdy utility knife is much better. Cut on the front side of hide. Score once lightly, and then cut deeper following that line. It's best to cut all of the way through the leather so that the 'suede' on the back doesn't tear. It gives everything a more professional look.

- Take your time. Once you make a cut on leather, you can't take it back again. Be careful! If you're trying to make a straight line... use a good straitedge and make sure that you hold it down firmly for the whole length of the cut. Don't let the straightedge lift as you cut; that would let your line curve.

Shaping Leather:

- To shape a piece of leather, first cut a piece of leather to the size and shape that you need it. You can cut what you think is the exact size, or you can be cautious and leave some extra on there just in case you need it. The extra can be trimmed away alter. One you have the leather cut out, soak it in COLD water for a few minutes. It will become very pliable. Leather can be shaped by compacting some areas and stretching others. Wrap the damp leather around your head (and headpiece!) and begin shaping it by compacting some areas and stretching others. Be careful not to let the edge of the latex cause a ridge in the leather. Keep working at it until you're happy with the results. What it looks like now is how it will stay... so if there's a wrinkle or lump you don't like, fix them or they will be permanent! When you've got the wrap finished correctly, it's best to keep it on your head a while longer so that it will dry exactly in the right shape. You don't have to wear it until the leather is completely dry.... just until it becomes stiff again and won't lose its shape. Your body heat will speed up the drying process well enough. The leather will hold its shape well when it dries.

- Remember, the leather will swell as it absorbs the water and then will shrink again when it dries, so make sure to allow for that shrinkage when you shape and cut your designs.


- Leather pieces can have designs embossed on their surface. (Think about leather belts, bags, and saddle skirts!) To create these designs, first draw them on tracing paper. Then place your leather on a firm surface and lay the tracing paper over it. Tape or clip the paper so it cannot shift, and then trace over the design with a sharpened pencil. It will leave an impression on the leather below. (If the leather is too stiff to accept the design, you can dampen it slightly to soften it up.) Once the design has been transferred, lightly moisten the leather with a damp sponge (don't soak it!), and then use tools to firmly press the design into the leather. Special tooling equipment can be purchased, but any modeling tools or household items with the right shape can be used. I've even tooled leather pieces with a butter knife and the back of a spoon! Remember, the leather will shrink as it dries again. This means that the patterns you embossed will shrink as well. If the design fades too much, you can simply re-wet the leather and go over it a second time to make the lines deeper.

Painting Leather:

While you can use acrylic paints to paint leather, I prefer to play it safe and use paints that are specifically designed for leather painting. Yes, they're quite similar to acrylics... but it can't hurt to be cautious when you're painting something that you had to wear damp around your head for an hour! Painting leather is pretty simple... just use a soft brush, and be sure to work out the brush strokes because they do show up when the paint dries. When you're finished painting, let the headpiece sit overnight to give the paint time to dry and cure well before you handle it.


- Wear latex gloves! Put them on before you even open a bottle of leather dye or stain. Both are notorious for leaking down the sides of the bottle, and you don't want to end up with blotchy brown hands. Always test the dye or stain that you have chosen on a scrap piece of leather cut from the same hide you are working with, and let it dry. The dye will look considerably lighter when it dries, and may change shades. Testing will assure you that you will be happy with the finished color before you use it on all of your leather pieces! Always dye the leather BEFORE you glue or sew pieces together. Doing this produces a more even finish. Also, if you were to glue a piece first, anyplace the glue might have run or smeared will interfere with the dye. The dye will not soak in because of the glue, and you will be left with light splotches. Use a good sized sponge or a piece of wool cloth to spread the dye. (A 3 inch round sponge is what I prefer.) Using the little 'applicators' that often come with dye is an invitation to end up with a splotchy finish on your leather. Use a larger applicator that is well soaked with dye or stain, and then spread the dye in long, sweeping motions and don't let any pools of dye stay on the leather. They will soak in and you'll end up with a darker spot. Make sure to dye the sides of the piece to give it a more finished and professional look. Edge coats are a good way to finish the sides of leather pieces, or rubbing them with beeswax and a burnishing tool (like the side of a pen) also produces a finished look.

Joining Up:

- There are a number of glues that are sold specifically for leather, but I have always been happiest with Contact Cement or Barge glue. Spread the cement on both sides where they are going to touch, and then let the cement dry. Repeat the application and let it dry for another 20 minutes, and then press the two pieces together. It is difficult or impossible to make adjustments after the pieces have been pressed together, so make sure you get it right the first time! Leather can be riveted, but if the piece is going to be under any stress, make sure to place washers under the rivets or the connections can tear free.

- It's a good idea to 'skive' leather when you connect two pieces. This involves shaving away some of the leather so that the joint isn't so thick. The easiest way to do this is with a skiving tool, which is a handle that holds a blade at exactly the right angle.

Here's an example of a leather headwrap. This was soaked and shaped over my head as I described above. The decorative lines (which you can't see in the bright light... d'oh!) were made with the tip of a phillips screwdriver, and I painted the headpiece with white leather paint.

Image Image

Pam :-)


Tue Jun 15, 2010 5:35 am
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Joined: Wed May 05, 2010 3:26 am
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Location: Central California
Unread post Re: Leather Headwraps
Here's an example of how I make one-piece leather wraps:

First, I started by making a template out of heavy cardstock/posterboard paper. I folded it in half so that I would know where the front center line was, cut out the general shape I wanted, then snipped and trimmed the edges until I was happy with the design. Then, I took a second folded sheet of paper and traced the best side of the first cutout onto that. I cleaned up the lines, and then cut it out with the paper still folded, so that one side would be a mirror image of the other. That pattern was then traced onto tooling leather and cut out, making sure to leave extra leather at the ends in case I needed it to be longer than expected. (That's a 1 inch grid in the photo.)


I cleaned up the edges, soaked it in cool water in the tub until it was saturated, and then put it on over the top of my lekku headpiece. It took a bit of pressing and adjusting, but within a short time I had the leather shaped to match the curve of my forehead. At that point I wanted it to stay in the right shape for a while so it could begin to dry, so I wrapped a long piece of lycra fabric around the leather, turban style. I left that on for a while, and my body heat quickly began the process of drying the leather. After about twenty minutes, I took off the fabric, eased off the leather, and set it to dry with a towel underneath to support the shape. I let it dry overnight, and then trimmed the ends to overlap each other.


The leather was then dyed, sealed, and I put industrial strength velcro on the back to hold it closed. The ear buds came out a little bit higher than I wanted them, so I cut those holes back a bit further, and then put a decorative second layer of leather around the buds to hide the uneven holes. I had planned to put some decorative designs on this headpiece, but I ran out of time and left it plain. I'll probably make another sometime with some designs... or perhaps some pretty bits and pieces glued onto it.

All hail the brown trouser socks! (I had one pair on my lekku, and another pair was being used as fingergless gloves. :-D)


Pam :-)


Wed Dec 22, 2010 2:28 am
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Joined: Sat Nov 06, 2010 5:06 am
Posts: 45
Location: California
Unread post Re: Shaped Leather Headwraps
I don't have much new to add to this, but I thought I'd share my progress. I followed Pam's directions for the shaped leather head-wrap. Thanks also to Kulu for sending me her head wrap pattern. I used her pattern as a starting point and then cut it into a different shape.


I've dyed leather before with no problems, but this time I had nothing but problems! I had issues with an orange residue that discolored the brown and came off all over my hands every time I handled the head wrap. I tried buffing it out with a cloth which helped initially, but then I ended up with a blue iridescent cast to it. I worked with it some more and while it it has more streaks and flaws than my jedi belt (which gave me no issues), I think I can live with it. I put satin sheen over the top and so far it looks like it has sealed the dye so I don't get orange stains all over me (or my lekku!)


I still need to add velcro and a strap. I'll post more photos when it's finished.

Sat Mar 19, 2011 7:46 pm
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