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.
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.
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
This page was last updated 04/22/08