Faking Leather
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Faking Leather

When you simply must have the 'real leather ' look but can't get or afford it- use this costume technician's trick.  It takes time, but doesn't cost much money.

Make your armour or costume pieces out of industrial felt if you can get it. It is sold by places such as http://www.centralshippee.com/pages/colorcards/feltcolorcard.htm

Otherwise, try an upholstery manufacturer or repairer- you may get small quantities through them, as it is used as padding under fabric and leather upholstery. If you can't get hold of that, get old woollen blankets from a thrift store and wash the s*#!t out of them in HOT HOT water, then dry them in the dryer on High. Some synthetics will also felt successfully. You want a matted appearance. If you need to reinforce this, iron on high to further compress the fibres.

You will need:- French Enamel Varnish (FEV)- this is just a fancy name for 250 gm (1/2 lb)shellac dissolved in 500ml (16fl oz) methylated spirits. You buy it at the hardware store in paint section. If you need to colour your 'leather' buy a transparent dye - either a spirit wood dye or liquid leather dye. Tint the FEV accordingly.

Note: this is very good for dying metal or plastic, also.

- A pint of White Wood Glue, mixed with equal quantity of water.

To Make:

Either a) make up your armour/jerkin piece and put it on a plastic coated tailors dummy, or b) apply the process to your cut out pieces and lace them together afterwards.

Apply a coat of glue solution, making sure it soaks in completely. Let dry overnight but it need not dry completely. Begin to alternate layers of the FEV solution and glue solution, without drying between. Repeat this until a leather texture starts to form. As soon as the piece looks sufficiently 'leathery', let it dry - This might take up to two days.

This gives you a mottled, uneven surface that looks nicely aged. If there are shiny spots, dull them with soap or shoe polish....

In a pinch, you may be able to use canvas, and rub it hard with bar soap to cover up the grain of the fabric before painting.

Moulded Armour

Industrial Felt can also be used to make Moulded Armour - usually on a tailors dummy or dress form, covered in plastic and padded to allow room for clothing. You need felt with a lot of wool in it to get the shrinkage. Cut the felt to size, allowing for shrinkage. Soak thoroughly in a mix of 2pts white wood glue to 1pt water. Place the piece on the mould and press it firmly into place, stretching till smooth. Using long pins attach it to the dummy. Allow to dry thoroughly- this may take a few days. Once dry, remove from mould and apply a layer of FEV to the inside and outside of the piece. Decorations can be glued on now. After applying these and drying, paint the whole piece, proceed with texturing and finishing the piece. You can use metallic rub-on pastes from craft stores to get the highlights.

If you need to attach straps and buckles- use long-shanked rivets and reinforce them at the back.


These can be made by the same process. If you can get them, it is traditional to use hardhat 'liners' to model headpieces over, so they are comfortable and adjustable.


Adapted from:  pp 376, ' The Costume Technician's Handbook' by Rosemary Ingham/Liz Covey, 1992

Additional information from Naomi

Construction Paper

I crumpled heavy-duty black construction paper, then flattened it out  again. (This provides the "grain" look, which unfortunately is necessary to lend authenticity to the look. No smooth leather here!) Then I stippled dark brown acrylic paint over the entire surface,  shading to simulate the colour variation in real leather. Over it all  I put several heavy coats of Mod-Podge, drying between each coat and again stippling and sponging off the excess with a crumpled paper towel. Once it's dried, the paper is flexible but resembles leather enough to provide an economic costume-quality pair of vambraces.

== Megan

Craft Foam

Inexpensive craft foam can be cut and painted to fake leather. 

Check out the Armor section for craft foam tips there when we talk about it's use for faking both metal and leather.

Aging Vinyl as Fake Leather

Take it outside, drag it around the yard, down the drive, rub against tree-NO-I am not kidding! Use sandpaper along the long lines-where you would expect to see wear & tear. You can work the brown in where you abrade the vinyl from roughing it up. I have done a full length duster in vinyl and it turned out great

==Jules K.

I distressed my doll strider costume (made from pleather) by diluting various shades of brown & grey acrylic paint (with water) and just wiping it on (and wiping any excess off). Made it look like it was dirty and covered with mud! Dale

== Dale R

Painting Vinyl and Pleather

While these may give the look of leather, the need to be painted differently because they have a non-porous surface.  While leather  dyes (the color sinks into the surface), paint sits on top of the plastic surface of these plastics.  Even if they have texture, and the paint pools a bit, it still sits on the surface. 

The fabric needs to be clean.  Even a bit of oil or dirt will cause the pain to not stick.  A light wash with soap and water will prep the surface.

The paints need to be flexible to move with the fabrics.  Paint needs to be applied in thin layers and let to dry completely.  Don't use too many coats or the paint may peal.

== Cat

Vinyl can be tricky to paint, at least in my experience, since it's flexible, nonporous and plastic. I haven't tried fabric paint (which is essentially an acrylic paint base) on vinyl - though I have tried it on craft foam (flexible and a plastic but it's porous unlike vinyl). The puffy fabric paints will peel off if you really wear at it, but otherwise fabric paint worked well. But obviously you'll test some fabric paint first.

A lot of regular paints/enamels/lacquers/varnishes react with vinyl - there's some sort of chemical reaction that causes either the vinyl or the paint (can't remember which) to melt after a little while, so leave your test for a couple days if you can. If it reacts it just won't dry and the surface remains tacky forever (I have specimens that are several years old and still feel sticky!).

On some of the sites where they discuss making models they mention that acrylics are a good base for painting on vinyl, so fabric paint might be a good place to start. If it's something that doesn't need a lot of detail work I noticed that there are spray paints specifically made for vinyl (don't use regular spray paint - it really doesn't work!). I've also noticed something called 'vinyl dye' for sale on the web. I might suggest heading into a hobby or model shop and get some advice about specific products for painting vinyl - they would be the kind of people that do that a lot.

== Jen

I just used a paint on a pleather which is basically like vinyl. I got it at JoAnn's.  It is called Patio Paint by DecoArt and it worked great.

It dries fast and it doesn't crack or flake off when the fabric is bent (provided you don't put like 50 layers of paint on) .

== Verdaera

Reading the labels is nice but misleading.  Color Steps a paint that is made for painting on vinyl is worse then useless.  Acrylic based paints work the best.  I use Paramount Scenic Paints mixed with other paints.  Your basic acrylic works well.  Metallic and gloss paints require a sealer.  Two thin coats of varnish works best.  I use FolkArt water base varnish satin finish made by Plaid.

With vinyls less is more.  Two thin coats of the base color with a sealer if you need it.  Paints to avoid.  Squibbles-doesn't wear well, and over time melts the vinyl.  Avoid oil based paints and aerosol paints they do hideous things to vinyl including melting it.

You can create effects by painting through a mesh like the plastic canvas.  You can also stretch and mush plastic mesh bags that you get your onions in to create fish or lizard scales. 

Your can use metal leaf on vinyl as long as you seal it with varnish and have it in an area where it isn't rubbed a lot. 

Never paint thick layers, they crack and peel off with wear.  I have done a lot of painting on vinyl for klingon costumes, fake leathers, parts of lizard costumes and parts of large elaborate latex pieces. Everything has been used, and not kindly.  The paint is still on and intact after close to twenty years.


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This page was last updated 04/22/08