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UncommonCate

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costume

Mouse Hide Amulet Bag

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Mice have delightfully soft fur. They are also prolific, easy to catch, and easy to skin. The first time I ever even heard of mouse use for hides was last summer at the Echoes in Time skills gathering. One of the basket girls had a tiny mouse hide bag. I thought it was a wonderfully creative and adorable idea, and, being a maker, I wanted to try making one myself. Mouse hides are the perfect size for amulet bags.

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The first part was the mouse hides. Mice are generally trapped anyway because they are often a nuisance, so instead of disposing of the mice from the traps as usual, I threw them in a bag in the freezer. When I had a few I decided to try skinning them. It was much easier than I thought it would be. I thawed them just enough, so that the innards were still mostly solid, but the skin was supple. The skins are very thin and therefore delicate, but they peel right off. The most difficult part was figuring out where to cut the ears and the lips to get the face off intact. I discovered that a cut right under the ears will bring them off nicely, and a pre-cut along the edges of the mouth makes the whole face much easier to deal with. It took me three tries to get a good one with the whole face and no holes (the one pictured).

I then soaked the hides in Earl Grey tea for a few days. Tea contains tannic acid which treats the hide and because the hides were so small, it was much easier to use tea than bark. This is essentially bark tanning. I do not know much about bark tanning, but I find braintan.com‘s section on bark tanning very informative. It’s a highly interesting process. I then rubbed oil (walnut oil mixed with beeswax to be exact because that’s what I had at the time) to soften the hide.

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To make the bag, I folded the back end of the hide up to the ears and whip stitched the sides closed. I then sewed a piece of buckskin lace under the fold of the flap (on the backside of the ears). To make the fold nice, I left the bag with the flap folded down under a book for a while.

“Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…” – Clement Clarke Moore, A Visit From St. Nicolas

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Yucca Fiber Skirt

Yucca fiber processing is an ancient art. I first became interested in yucca fiber in my time at The Clovis Site (an important archaeological site on the high plains of New Mexico). People have used yucca for ages past in every form. From raw leaves, to finely spun yucca yarn, the leaves have been used in every form. The book Treading in the Past: Sandals of the Anasazi showcases many excellent examples of yucca fiber in all forms as used in sandals. Yucca is also used for cordage, bags, nets, and really anything fiber related.

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I start by chopping down a yucca plant. I happen to have access to narrow leaf yucca. All I use is an ax. The difficulty with yucca is the pointed tips, so I begin by gathering the leaves up, holding them up with one hand, leaving the base of the plant exposed. With the other hand, I chop the plant down as if it was a small tree.

After the yucca is cut, I peel the leaves away from the main body so that each leaf is separate.

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From here there are three options that I have heard of to liberate the fiber. One is to beat the leaf with a rock, stick, or hammer pulverizing the flesh and leaving the fiber. The next is to allow the leaves to soak in a bucket of water for several weeks until the flesh of the plant begins to rot off, and then scrape off the remnants of the flesh. The third is to boil the yucca in a pot of water for several hours until the flesh becomes soft, and then scrape the flesh off. The last method is my favorite. The first method is more manual labor, and I have a tendency to pound the leaves too much and damage the fiber. The second is all to easy to allow the yucca to rot too much, also damaging the fiber. But, I think that which way is best is a matter of personal taste.

After the fiber has been liberated, it’s nice to wash off any remaining flesh. The fibers will become a whitish color when clean. The longer the fibers are scraped and peeled apart, the finer they become. Dried yucca fibers will preserve for a long time, so it’s no hurry to used processed yucca fiber. To work the fibers into something, I first soak them in water until they become soft again. My skirt contains about one and a half narrow leaf yucca plants.

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The skirt is made in two pieces. I think of it as two opposing aprons. To make the skirt I took a buckskin lace and folded a small bundle of fiber over the top, tying it in by weaving through the bundles at the top. I repeated this until the skirt was as wide as my hips. I then repeated this for the back. I then came back and added another layer of weaving a few inches down to hold the fibers together.

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Jester Halloween Costume

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A jester’s costume is supposed to be eye catching, but it also has to be flexible in nature. That might be hanging out at a Halloween Party, or it might be doing handstands and back handsprings, or both. Whatever you’ll be doing should be kept in mind as you create anything that’s meant to be worn!

Durability, comfort, and (of course!) appearance are all factors that need to be considered. I chose a stretchy fabric, which is good for flexibility, but more difficult to sew, or at least require more patience. For women’s size 10-12, I used 1 yard of red, 1/2 yard orange, and 1 1/3 yards yellow fabric, costing about $15 (US). I should note that I used pretty cheap fabric because that’s what was available and affordable, but I always regret it because it breaks down so fast. This was just a Halloween costume, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but I was sad when it started to tear apart around the seams.

Patterning always (I think anyway) starts with measuring. Just to keep my measurements organized and quick to refer to, I lettered them

A: Waist circumference = ________inches

B: Hip circumference (______inches) + 12 inches (for gathering) = ______inches

C: Skirt length (waist to end of skirt) = _______inches

D: B divided by 12 = ______inches

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The skirt is made in twelve identical sections of alternating color. The pattern for these sections is a rectangle with a triangle on the end. I made a pattern of newspaper, then add on the triangle to one end. I added a half inch for seam allowance around all the edges. The skirt lining is exactly the same size and shape as the skirt, but I cut this piece out in two pieces instead of twelve because its a solid color and its less sewing if you use bigger pieces.

For the waist band, I made a rectangle is A inches long by 2 1/2 inches wide.

E: Neck circumference + breathing room = ______inches

F: Wrist circumference divided by four = ______inches

Picture of Pattern Making - Collar and Cuffscollar.tiff

The frilly part of the collar is six diamonds with the ends cut off. The neck band was cut at five inches wide, but got folded over in the end.

I used a pattern from another dress to make the basic shape of the bodice of this dress.

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I sewed the skirt outer pieces together along the long seams, adding one piece at a time until all were together. I then sewed this to the lining inside out. I turned it right side out and top stitched the lower edge to keep the edge creased in the right place. I then sewed the waist band to the skirt, because it was stretchy, I didn’t have to worry bout gathering the skirt.

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Next, I pieced together the bodice, and marked where I wanted the skirt to attach.

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I sewed the cuff and collar frills together inside out and then turned them. The cuffs have no band and just get sewn to themselves, but the collar was sewn to the neck band and closed with a snap.

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I liked the idea of small golden bells on the ends of the frills, but I didn’t like the idea of jingling as I walked, so I got a package of jingle bells, pried open one of the sides, removed the jingle inside, and closed the side again. I then sewed these on to the ends of the flaps.

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I sewed the skirt to the bodice and put a zipper up the back. I also sewed on the collar.

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Halloween fun!

 

Simple Buckskin Dress

hidedress13I have always wanted to be able to wear buckskin clothing. Buckskin is soft and fluffy, but also very durable. Buckskins have been worn as clothes and made into bags, shoes, and so much more for millennia. This dress is a very straight forward design, only requiring two deer hides (in fact, the dress is only two pieces). Luckily my hides were just big enough to get a dress out of. I was definitely on the edge of not having a large enough set of hides. Unless you have really big hides, any dress that will be larger than a size 8-10 would probably need at least one more hide (but more on that in the next step). All seams are laced together with buckskin lacing.

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I began with a dress. For a pattern, I used a fabric dress that I had made from an old scarf. Around the edges on the sides, I left about an inch for seam allowance. I left the necklines very high and cut them down to shape later. Something to remember when sewing buckskin is that there’s no need to leave a hem allowance because the edge won’t fray like fabric, although binding the edge can be a very nice touch. To cut the hides, I used a very sharp scissors that I keep for cutting fabric and leather.

Cutting and sewing buckskin is not like cutting and sewing fabric. Buckskin is very three dimensional and varies in thickness. This is all very important to keep in mind when cutting because if you cut your pieces out of the edges of a hide where it’s wavy and thin it will result in a final garment that is not as strong as it should be, is difficult to sew because of the thickness, and will not lay smoothly on the body. It is worth not squeezing every possible inch out of the hide and just using the good thick consistent part.

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The sides of this dress are laced. Lace is made but cutting a thin piece off an edge of a hide. In simple terms, lace is leather string. I used an awl to punch holes along the side of the dress and threaded the lace through. It’s just like sewing fabric, but on a much larger scale.

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To check the fit, I tried the dress on, cutting a slit in the neck line to fit my head through. I discover that the dress needed a dart in the front and the back on the arm holes because there was a loose wrinkle as the shoulders curve into the arms. I also cut the neck to shape. The lower edges that I had left rough at the bottom, I cut smooth. The back laces, to shape the back without making darts, are threaded though the side lacing. I considered darting the back to fit the curve of the lower back, but then the waist would have been too small for my shoulders to get through without adding an opening and buttons.

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“Buckskin is more than just a beautiful leather and an amazing clothing material, it is also part of the evolutionary history of the human species.” –Woniya Thibeault Buckskin Revolution

Leather Belt Bag

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quiver38This lovely little bag was made to match the Leather Quiver from last post. It functions as either a belt bag or as a quiver bag. It was made to be a quiver bag for the most part, but I have found myself wearing it as a trendy little purse alternative instead. At about six by six inches, it is perfect for a cell phone and wallet.

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It began as six pieces. The front, the back (identical to the back), the closure flap (identical to the front and back except slightly shorter), the belt loops, and the sides and bottom strip. I began by sewing the belt loops to the back panel (saddle stitch as usual).

quiver31Next, I attached the closure flap to the back panel. The belt loop tops are sewn into the same seam as the closure flap.

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The front and back panels were sewn to the sides and bottom strip inside out. I then turned the bag, hiding the seam and creating a more rounded look.

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A button loop and antler button finish off the bag.

     quiver39 quiver40 quiver42 The bag can now be worn at the belt or it can be attached to the quiver by a small strap. The strap is narrow enough to fit under the side lace of the quiver to hold it securely in place. I considered using a small buckle on the strap, but I decided to go low tech. As an adjustable buckle alternative, I punched holes along the strap and then used a piece of lace to tie through the holes, holding the strap at the proper length.

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Leather Quiver

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I tried to make this quiver versatile for use in different environments. The top angle is meant to shed rain and natural forest debris as well as to protect the fletchings from general wear and tear. Since having the arrows totally covered is not as convenient when actually shooting, I decided to design for the top to be folded down for easier access when shooting. On a similar train of thought, I like to carrying a back quiver, but shooting from a belt quiver. So, I made sure to make straps that allow the quiver to be switched from one type of carry to the other quickly and easily.

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A plan was, as always, the first step. Dimensions were next. My arrows are around 28 inches, so I made the apex of the top 30 inches to completely cover the arrows. The circumference of the bottom is about 10 inches.

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I sketched out a cutting pattern on some big paper. The leather is oil tanned cow hide, which has a really nice color and texture.

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For decoration I decided to applique a pattern on the outer surface. It is in no way functional, but I think it looks cool and adds some dimensionality. I cut out the decorative applique from the scraps around the edges. Because this is a repetitive pattern, I made a pattern for each of the five types pieces with the stitches marked so that they would all look the same.  After laying out the pattern on the main quiver piece, I lightly marked where each piece went and labeled each place and piece with a corresponding letter to ensure that each piece ended up where it was meant to be. Each piece was then saddle stitched down.

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To close the sides, I punched a matching line holes along each edges and then laced the side up, tying the lace off at the top on the inside.

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The bottom is a slightly squared oval. I made a paper model first, and then trimmed it down until it matched the bottom of the quiver. I then cut a leather version. The edge is once again held together with a saddle stitch. The sure up the side closure, I made sure to catch the end of the side lace in the seam at the bottom.

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The straps are one inch wide with a buckle to allow the length to be adjusted and clips on the ends to allow the strap to be remove easily. The clips strap attachments are a quarter inch narrower than strap, so the strap is tapered in to accommodate this. A small loop, about 6 inches around, is attached to the top clip of the shoulder strap. This is used to suspend the quiver from a belt. 

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To make the quiver shorter for shooting ease, the top shoulder strap clip is un-clipped, the top is folded down, the D-ring to which the shoulder strap clips is passed through a slit in the quiver top, and finally the clip is re-clipped creating a whole different style. Either style can be carried at the back or the belt.

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Matching belt bag coming soon…   

Ulltuna Helmet (Viking Helm)

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I made this helmet just because Vikings and their earlier ancestors are fascinating people, and it seemed like a fun project. It’s great for reenacting, renaissance fairs, or accidentally scaring the neighbors while taking a photo shoot. This style of helmet is nice because it doesn’t require large pieces of leather or pieces or leather of uniform thickness, so it can be made from scraps. The mask that covers the lower face is also completely removable for a different look. This is one of my favorite costumes.

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This style of helm dates from 6th to 8th century Sweden. It evolved into the Spangenhelm in later centuries. The surviving historical examples seem to be made of metal, but it doesn’t seem unlikely that leather ones also could have existed particularly among poorer and less skilled people. I first discovered this helmet type through the website of a re-enacting group called The Ravens Warband.

Materials: Scrap leather (vegetable tanned cowhide preferred) between 5 and 10 oz weight.

Tools: razor knife, leather hole punch, ruler, bristol board or card stock for patterning, edge beveler, leather lacing or a leather lace cutter, large pot of boiling water for hardening, tongs or similar (also for the hardening process).

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I first made a pattern from thin card stock.

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The two most important parts of the helmet are the crest band and the brow band. The brow band is the part that wraps around the head, passing over the tops of the ears and the forehead. The crest band goes over the top of the head, connecting the to the brow band in the front and back and also extends down below the brow band in front to make the nose guard. My final helmet has an inner and outer brow band and crest band, hiding the ends of the woven pieces and the laces between the inner and outer. The outer bands will need to be about an inch longer than the inner bands to account for the thickness of the leather in between them. The remainder of the helmet consists of a basket weave of leather strips.

In my helmet, the crest and brow bands are both 1 3/4 inches wide, and the woven straps are one inch wide.

The pattern fit quite loosely because the hardening process will shrink the helmet by about ten percent. The paper mock-up felt huge, but it ended up almost perfect in the end. I used six 1-inch wide straps on each side to make the woven portion. I evenly spaced all ends along crest and brow bands. It took me a while to work out the right pattern. I numbered the woven straps and their places on the brow and crest bands will help to stay organized when putting it back together in leather. I took the pattern back apart to trace on to the leather. It was hard to take it apart after putting so much work into putting it together.

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I used the thickest leather I could find for the crest and the brow to maintain the structure as best as possible. One of the crest bands included the extra 2 or 3ish inches for the nose guard.

I cut two of each of the weave pieces. Cutting both the leather pieces off the same pattern kept the woven portions more symmetrical. I almost forgot to flip the pattern over when cutting the second set, which would have left me with two of the same side.

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I laced the ends of the brow band together so that it forms a circle, and then attached the crest band on opposite sides of the brow band so that it formed a half circle (see picture). For the visible portions of the helmet, I put the grain side (smooth side) out for a better appearance.

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After that, I punched six holes evenly spaced on each side of the crest band, and in the end of each weaving piece. Then I laced them on to the crest matching the hole in the end to the corresponding hole in the crest band.

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I repeated the process with the brow band and other ends of the weavers.

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To tighten the whole thing up, I decided to punch holes in each intersection in the woven areas and run a lace around the helmet going through each hole. This makes a sort of thin inner net that becomes part of the woven areas, but I were to make this helmet again, I wouldn’t do this step. In the hardening process, the thin exposed lacing spanning the holes in the weaving became very brittle because it hardens so much faster than the thicker leather in the rest of the helmet.

Picture of Outer Bands and Neck and Cheek Guards

I laced the brow band in the front, and the crest band over it, leaving the nose guard sticking down below the brow band.

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Next, I cut five neck guard rectangles, approximately 1 1/2 by 6 inches, and cheek guards, approximately 6 by 3-4 inches.

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I cut tabs of corresponding width to each neck and cheek guards, and then laced them into the bottom edge of the brow band. By hardening the helmet separately and lacing on the the guards later, the unhardened laces act as hinge so the guards can move freely. The cheek guard tabs have an extra hole in the front to attach the mask later on.

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Beveling the edges (basically rounding the edges) made the overall appearance a lot cleaner. It tricks the eye into missing the smaller imperfections. Burnishing the edges a little bit smooths things out as well.

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Hardening makes the leather very stiff and a little brittle. It also darkening the leather. For an even darker color, a little tea in the water will dye it quite nicely. I didn’t dye this helmet, but I did dye some arm guards I had made previously to match the helmet by soaking them in some cooled Earl Grey tea. When hardening, I think it’s better to err on the side of too soft because leather can always be re-hardened, but if it gets over cooked it can become far too brittle and structurally weak.

I began by wetting the the leather until it was thoroughly soaked through. This helps it to shrink less in the hardening process. I boiled enough water to cover the helmet. When the water was boiling, I dipped the helmet in using a pair of tongs, and held it in the water for somewhere between 10 and 30 seconds.

It shrank slightly and pulled out of shape. While it was still hot, I re-shaped the helmet by pulling it into the proper shape, and when it was cool enough, I put it on my head. (No pictures for this part because I didn’t have enough hands for the camera). Wet leather shapes very easily, so it wasn’t too hard to bring back to the right shape. I’ve had a couple of the thinner bands crack a little, but luckily they didn’t crack all the way through and are not really visible.

I repeated the hardening process for each of the neck and cheek guards as well as the face guard. The bottom of the neck guards curve out to accommodate the outward curve of the shoulders.

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The neck guards and cheek guards laced onto the corresponding tabs.
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I later knitted a nice little wool hat cushions the inside of the helmet, and fills in any left over space. It also allows air to circulate under the brow band. The wool hat makes all the difference it the world when wearing the helmet.

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All the hard work paid off in the end. This helmet is both scary and awesome (I think so anyway). It’s also all the more awesome for being completely hand made. It’s very satisfying to say “I made it” when someone asks where I bought it.

 

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