Imaya

Looking For Alternatives To Veg Tanned To Save Money

Recommended Posts

So, I have roughly a gazillion tabs open right now, trying to find the cheapest veg tanned leather for my project, and in the process, have considered trying some alternatives.

I am making a plague doctor mask, and hate the way paper mache looks. Like pretty much everyone who is trying to make plague doctor or general leather masks these days, Tom Banwell has been a HUGE inspiration! His classic plague doctor mask is close to what I am going for, but I am making more of a cosplay replicate for my themed costume. I am going for the general plague doctors from Assassin's Creed II and Brotherhood, as pictured here:

214px-Doctor.png

640px-As_Good_As_New_5.png

(this last one is pretty big, just click the link: http://img1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20121008171913/assassinscreed/images/4/4b/You_Should_See_The_Other_Guy_5.png)

Now, some things to note about this costume is that it is very 'authentic', and true to the times. I want to maintain that look as much as possible, so I won't be using rivets or anything that wouldn't have been used in the 15th century/ Renaissance time. All hand stiching for this mask. I have some spare welder goggle glass lenses somewhere, and will use those instead of acrylic. That is about as far as I have gotten with almost a week of looking at potential mask materials.

Tom makes his masks out of 5/6 oz Veg Tanned, which is what I looked at and am basing my material comparisons on. Awfully expensive. My budget isn't a set number as much as it is "I am dead broke, but haven't been to a party on Halloween since I was a kid, and REALLY want a cool costume cause I love costumes and this is a HUGE party." It's selfish, but I don't have the luxury of going crazy. It is going to hurt later when I have to pay it back off when I have the money, so I want to do as little damage as I can. So is life!

Past experience has me divided on trying to do this on a budget. I have succeeded in finding cheap alternatives for things before, and have also failed miserably and ended up spending the money to get the right thing, while having wasted money on the cheaper alternative I tried. Obviously, I don't want the latter to happen, which is why I am here asking for help!

I am not sure if anyone has tried Kraft Tex paper, which was the first thing I saw that made me think I could do this cheap. On small items, it looks really cool. However, after seeing some larger items that used it, I found it looked like... well, paper. Maybe it just needs some love and paint to look right? I would be willing to use that if I can truly get it to replicate the look of leather, but I am afraid it really will look as cruddy as other large projects. I have white cold press, heavyweight paper (not sure which poundage I have at the moment, most likely 80# and maybe some 100# or 40#). If that is all Kraft Tex is, I can just use what I have instead.

The other alternative to save some money is rawhide. I have a bit of an inkling that perhaps some of the traditional masks WERE made of rawhide. Since this mask is white, bleached rawhide could be a good interpretation of it. I poked around some guides on working with rawhide, and it sounds like a bit of a bull to deal with. Shrinkage is a major concern, and I also want to make sure I get the correct weight. Splits are cheaper, and if they are easier to work with and have roughly the same result, that is obviously what I want to use. I wouldn't mind putting a light stain or acylic layer on it to make it more opaque (I think the splits might be quite translucent, but it is hard to tell). And I would need to seal it, since the mask would become a stinky mess if it got wet. I have regular artist grade acrylic seal (aerosol) and varnish (brush-on), and am unsure if one might cause a bad reaction on the rawhide and melt it. Maybe an old fashioned oilskin treatment with boiled linseed oil and wax?

Poking around on Ebay has found lots of leather, and a surprising amount of it appears to be from actual online leather suppliers using EBay for clearance items. One piece in particular is from a leather and supply website, and is a clearance piece of white 'oil tanned' leather, 6oz weight. It *looks* supple, but at 6 oz, I am confused why. Is the oil treatment one that turned it into more of a supple garmet material? Is there a way to stiffen it to use it for a mask? There is also another 'oil tanned' piece that is 10 oz, in a neutral 'sand' color (will need to be stained or lightened somehow), and appears quite a bit stiffer than the other piece, seeming to be something firm enough for a mask. Once again, can an 'oil tanned' (it isn't specific about the type) piece of leather be shaped somehow, as well as stained a bit lighter?

Final small note, Tandy Leather has their 4/5 oz veg tanned single shoulders on sale for $30, plus $13 S&H. Still a bit of an 'ouch' there, but if veg tanned is truly the only way to go, would the 4/5 oz be too thin for a mask? I looked up tutorials, and found one where someone made a plague doctor mask out of a thin veg tanned leather (they didn't specify the weight), and I thought it looked like crap. The nose was caved in on the sides, and none of the mask looked 'filled out' or stiff, despite the fact they did soak it and mold it. It looked like it was made out of stiff fabric instead of sturdy leather.

I don't think I need too many tools. A pack of needles, some waxed thread, sinew, and something to punch holes. Rotary punch or mallet and punch? Something to cut with too, I think I have a medium to heavy duty box cutter somewhere I can use. Sounds about right, yes?

Anyways, sorry about the long post. I tend to ramble when I am overwhelmed. :P Any advice with working with these alternative materials would be helpful! Thanks!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll take a stab at this one. Hopefully some others will chime in as well. I'm a leather mask artist and have an especially good following with Bioshock cosplayers. I'm a huge Assassins Creed fan and created an Edward Kenway costume for my son last Halloween.

I'm teaching a mask class this weekend at my local Tandy store. I start the class by teaching about leather selection. I don't think there's a good leather alternative to veg tanned leather. Something in the 6 ounce range is easiest to mold but not quite as easy to cut. I know that there are other non leather alternatives, but I've never used them, nor do I know what they're called. 3-4 ounce is good for curvy, swirly, Venetian style and filigree masks. I prefer a solid 6 ounce for my carved and tooled masks. The 4-5 ounce shoulder might work, provided you bake at the proper temp for the right amount of time and are good at sculpting & wet molding. Mask sculpting with an oven isn't like baking cookies. :) My masks go in and out of the oven a minimum of a half dozen times while I perfect the molding and the mask dries. If you leave it in too long or bake too hot, it shrinks or burns. Not long enough, it can warp after you think it's done.

That said, a plague doctor mask is a very difficult mask to create, particularly if you've never made a mask or worked with leather. Other than being a full face mask, it has a beak which is not as simple to pattern & mold as you may think. Then you have to sew & paint it. You also have to plan on some form of ventilation in the beak, so you can breathe.

When I look back on my first few masks, I can't believe how bad they look to me now. I still haven't gotten around to doing a plague doctor mask. I recommend that you try a small, simple mask first... Learn and practice some wet molding and saddle stitching, just to get a feel for leather working before taking on such a large project. I'm absolutely not trying to discourage you, just lending a bit of advice from someone who has trial and error experience in this particular medium. Hope this was helpful to you, and wish you the best of luck! Feel free to email me.

Renee

Bezidesigns.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks!

Well, I only consider myself a novice with leatherworking, not sculpture. I suppose I should have mentioned I have a BA in Fine Art, where my studies had an emphasis in Sculpture and Painting. I haven't worked with ceramics or clay for many years, but have worked with a large variety of mixed medium. Going through the process is something I know how to do, so I am not jumping into this completely blind (and perhaps is partially why I am so apprehensive... because I know the kind of mess I am getting into!)

After going through all my resources last night, I started a basic paper model. My original plan was to modify a nice pattern I found online. However, close inspection of the reference images revealed that this particular mask is almost all one piece. The only seam is along the 'mouth' of the beak. No stitching on top or connecting the nose to face...

I found a very close match this guy made in leather:

http://griffinleather.deviantart.com/art/Plague-Doctor-Mask-1-179856943?q=gallery%3AGriffinLeather%2F25261085&qo=42

He mentions that he likes to do a lot of molding in leather, but doesn't go into details about his process. So it CAN be done... just not sure if I can do it too :P

After struggling to make a paper model in one piece, I have decided to make a model to play with. I ordered various cheap quick-dry modeling stuff (plastercloth, plaster of paris, and some paperclay), and will build a mockup face to stretch stuff over. I will pop over to the store and grab a cheap plastic mask to stick on the head model I have. Depending on the material I end up with, I also plan on practicing before messing with the real thing. If I order a small piece of leather, I will throw some scraps in with the order. If I use an alternative, I will use a piece of that.

This is my halloween costume, and I already got the rest of the pieces. So, I gotta make a plague mask happen somehow! I am meeting with a costuming group tomorrow, but I have a feeling they are more seamstress types and won't be able to help with leathercraft.

Either way, working with leather is something I have wanted to do for many years. I know I did some minor stuff as a kid, embossing and staining book marks, keychains, that kind of stuff. But I really am interested in it as an artistic medium, and have always found it to be quite an entrancing material! It is one that just draws me in, makes me want to look closely at the item made from it, and imagine all the things I could do with it. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Have you checked this out yet? It might be of some assistance you in getting the idea and approach down to where you want to go.

https://www.leathercraftlibrary.com/p-1748-steampunk-plague-doctor-leather-mask.aspx

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Now, I assessed the tools I have available to bake the leather, and this may change the project if nothing will work.

My oven only goes down to 170F. From what I researched, ideal is something like 130F, 150 is ok if you watch it. 170 sounds like it will be too high? Maybe crack the door while it bakes?

Alternative options include leaving it outside (today it is still over 100F, but it will drop to the high 90s by the end of the month). It is also very dry here, usually no humidity. Other options are a heat gun or a hair dryer. I have both. I also have a toaster oven, a decent sized one... but I think once I get the mask done, it still won't be big enough.

Can I make this work?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

170 is the minimum temperature that I use for baking masks. My filigree masks are 3-4 ounce & bake at 170. The weight I use most (6-7 ounce) handles 225-250 just fine.

You said, "150 is ok if you watch it." My masks go in and out of the oven several times while sculpting and refining the shape. When you first put the wet leather in the oven, expect it to slump. When the leather is warm, I manipulate the mask and place it back in the oven. I do this repeatedly until the mask is dry.

If your temperature is too low, your mask will dry but not be firm. My first attempt at mask making was dried near my woodstove. It is very soft and has not held its shape. I also attempted one using my blow dryer. Same soft effect.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Phew, thank you!

I watched a couple tutorials on youtube, and both actually had ovens that went down to 150, so I was afraid mine would be too hot. The tutorials went over the importance of putting the mask in for a few minutes, shaping, putting it back in, and repeating. One also made a point to mention burning, tips to avoid it, and made it clear she pretty much watched her masks like a hawk to ensure they were not burning. If anything, I may end up not baking it enough out of fear of warping it. So I will make some sort of sample piece with scraps first to make sure I get a process down!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Burning is not fun! My daughter did a very intricate edge on leather too thin for the design, did not watch it like a hawk and the edges burned. I bring it with me when I teach mask class to illustrate what not to do. With 4-5 ounce leather and clean lines, you should be alright.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Alright, cast is done (no eye holes, didn't line up on the cast. I will figure that out later)

More or less correct, I think I will add a bit more curve to the nose when baking. It doesn't need too much more.

post-55699-0-75872000-1412743357_thumb.j

post-55699-0-29730300-1412743358_thumb.j

post-55699-0-78520100-1412743358_thumb.j

Once it dries properly, I will sand out the lumps too, and add the proper curve back in the bottom from the base to the center (it was collapsing, I added more than I wanted). Still a bit damp due to all the plaster cloth.


Oh, and some better reference pictures I found later:

AC2_Doctor.jpg

Intervention-memory.png

Edited by Imaya

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

More pictures of the cast to come, I am just bumping this thread for any more input.

After stepping away and looking at the cast, I was not happy. I fussed with it quite a bit, tearing half of it off, and eased the angle on top of the nose quite a bit, getting it fairly flat on top. I will study the pictures closely before the final layer, and decide how much of a ridge, if any, to add in. It seems the beak is quite flat and wide, so I need to fire up the game to confirm all the angles.

The cast is drying now, and I think it is a much closer base than it was before.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Only have had a bit of time off from work to poke at this, but I made a shrink-wrap plastic mold around the plaster one, then cut it and measured it to get an idea how much leather I need. Roughly 18" x 18". I will make another cast with the proper face fit, eye holes, etc to use as the actual pattern.

I need to order the leather ASAP. What is the ideal weight of the leather? I have found good prices for everything from 5oz to 9oz, and just want to make sure I get the right balance of workability and stiffness.

Also, what tools will I need? I am pretty new to all of this, so I am keeping it simple and just hand stitching along the mouth. What do I need? And what should I look for in paints/ stains (need white, but it is ok if it looks a bit 'rough' or 'rustic' in the finish). I have a decently thick box knife to cut with as well.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you need white leather ... buy it pre-dyed white, or plan on painting. White leather dye is just about impossible to use. I found out the hard way.

http://leatherworker.net/forum/index.php?showtopic=56722&hl=%2Bwhite+%2Bdye

Hope that helps

Bill

Edited by billybopp

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

FWIW - the mask in the last two images posted definitely looks like rawhide and not leather based on the off white color and mottled appearance - regular cow rawhide from Tandy and others should work fine and the thing is you DO NOT Have to bake it, just let it air dry completely before removing it from the form.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The mask in the images is from a video game. It's an animated image, not rawhide or leather on a real human. That said, I would imagine that molded and dried rawhide would feel pretty darned uncomfortable on a real human face! Eek!

I use paint when I make white masks. Liquitex, Jacquard and Golden paints all have great flexibility and adhesion on leather. You'll need multiple coats, then apply a leather finish over the paint and lightly antique for an aged look. I recommend a spray sealer once the antique is the way you want it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here are the promised pictures. The white cast:

post-55699-0-07311100-1413416894_thumb.j

post-55699-0-22693600-1413416904_thumb.j

post-55699-0-50208000-1413416918_thumb.j

And the shrink wrap pattern, which I used the cast beak and a dollar store halloween mask. Fits great, the eyeholes just need to be carefully cut out with the lenses.

post-55699-0-80941300-1413417087_thumb.j

post-55699-0-63193200-1413417075_thumb.j

The rawhide does seem to match quite well, but I am concerned with it for a few reasons, mainly just it's reaction to water and uncertainty with the types of paints/ chemicals and sealers I can use on it. Comfort is easy to work in with a nice lining, so that doesn't concern me. The price is only a bit less than the veg tanned, however, so I am not sure if it is worth it. Might be easier to work with in some ways, harder in others.

How many layers of paint will I need? I have a tube of Windsor and Newton acrylic, but it is almost out. Any excuse to buy more paints is a good excuse for me, however! I also have some white acrylic gesso (decent quality, but not top shelf), as well as cheap enamels. Plenty of good quality oil paints too. Does one brand or type perform better than the other in this application? Any sort of priming I should do? What do you mean by 'leather finish' (just aging or wiping off, perhaps?) For antiquing, you just mean to lightly brush on some darker colors to age it, yes?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The images I noted above don't appear to be painted, but any good acrylic or even earth paint will work on rawhide. To seal and waterproof American style rawhide goods I make I use a good quality satin finish (or gloss if you choose) varathane or the more traditional spar varnish.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I recently came across this tutorial:

http://www.instructables.com/id/Leather-Plague-Doctor-Mask/

Craft store paint has a tendency to crack, which is why I recommended the paint brands that I use. I've never used the brand that you mentioned.

White is a pain right in the butt and requires more than one coat. How many? Honestly? When it looks like its done. There is no accurate way to tell you how many coats it'll take. Antique in your case may be best achieved with darker paint and a sea sponge. I like Liquitex sealers, but I've also used some from Tandy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Windsor and Newtons (aka, Wintons) are artist grade acrylic. Better than Liquitex, not as good as Golden (as least the student grade stuff I have isn't). There isn't anything wrong with Liquitex, but it is pretty low quality in terms of artist paints, and is pretty inexpensive, which is why I ask if one is better than another. Obviously, I would grab Liquitex if all is equal, as Golden can be spendy. But It isn't like I wouldn't use up the rest of the tube on my own paintings, of course. :)

I ask about gesso since it is made to be applied to canvas directly as a sealer and flexible opaque base. However, it is of a lower quality than actual paints, so there may be good reasons not to use it on leather. I also imagine it would go on pretty thick!

Thanks for the tutorial, I didn't see that particular one. The other ones I found didn't look very good. The idea to prototype in foam is a great one, I think I will pick up a sheet. It is cheap enough, and as close as I will get to leather!

I am still considering rawhide too, just nervous about working with it and things going horribly wrong...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Need to figure out how I am going to do this soon, so I am trying to narrow in the exact shopping list.

I discovered the 'Speedy Stitcher'. Seems to be quite popular on Amazon. Thoughts? The price is right, and seems like it might simplify this project. I am only stitching, not sure if I will have time to even make a belt strap. I might just sew on fabric or something to tide me over, since the straps will be covered. Anyways, all the tutorials show sewing that involves leather stacked on top of each other, lined up edges, simple. However, with the mask, I won't be lining up anything perfectly, and need to keep both layers properly aligned as I stitch. A rotary tool will mark the top piece, but the bottom one will require constant checking and adjusting. That is why I am thinking the stitching awl might not be the best idea, since the holes will not be prepunched. It seems I will need to punch all of my holes ahead of time. To save time, perhaps I could glue edges together with something? What should I use? Or, I have a dremel tool and some really small bits that can zip a nice hole through both layers if I line them up together. Prepunching both pieces individually with an awl seems like a lot more time than I need to be spending on that part. Of course, if I am using wet rawhide, sewing should be really simple.

I might throw a punch into the mix just so I have it if I decide to make a belt strap. I imagine craft stores will readily have some rivets and buckles available I can grab at the last minute if need be.

Edited by Imaya

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is one piece I am considering using. It is cheap, already distressed, dyed with a light color and probably doesn't need a full paint job, just some actual white stain or maybe some white oil paints will lighten it up and still keep the mottled effect.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Leather-Cow-Oil-Tanned-Project-Piece-6-1-Square-Foot-Sand-10-ounces-Buffed-N-/141417093695?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item20ed1d9a3f

However... it is oil tanned leather? Can it be formed and shaped like veg tanned, by wetting and baking? Is there another method that needs to be used? It is 10oz, but doesn't appear unreasonably thick.

Is it something I can work with?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have only skimmed through all of the posts, but the above listing is oil tanned and oil tanned will not work. It will not form and harden like veg tanned. Also, to keep the temp lower than 170 degrees when hardening in your oven simply keep removing it as it is drying. You should be able to hold it in your hand, barely. If it feels lik it will burn your hands, keep it out of the oven for a bit till it starts to cool.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you! I goggled around, but couldn't seem to get an answer on whether or not I could tool that thick piece of oil tanned leather. :)

I found a few tutorials on baking leather, and all use pretty much the same methods on baking, just as you describe. Pop it in on the lowest temp, pul it out, shape it, check for hot spots or burning, pop back in, repeat every four or five minutes.

I spoke about the mask to a friend who has made some leather armor, and he was insistent that the leather would not harden correctly in the oven, and that I must put it on a form, oil it, and let it dry over a few weeks. It doesn't need to be as hard as armor, but the quick method of using the oven seems like it does the job for masks... right? It was mentioned here, as I have read in other places, that masks don't harden enough if you don't use enough heat or if you try to air dry them. Should I be treating the leather (such as oil) with anything to assist with the hardening process, or will it be fine? The tutorials I went over did nothing to the leather beyond wetting, baking, forming, and ending with an oil stain. The only difference is I will use acrylic, not oil, to paint it. From my fine art background, I know you can't paint acrylic over oil without undesirable results, but you CAN paint oil over acrylic and achieve improved results over plain oils. Will not adding something with oil before or after the baking be bad for the leather?

He was quite insistent that the process I will use would leave the leather only stiff, not hard... so he has caused me to question my approach.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Heat will harden it pretty firm, not rock hard, but very firm. Oil will soften it, if you want it as hard as possible stay away from it with oil.

You need to practice, bad. Not on your mask, but something else. Make a bowl or something easy. Once you do it a few times most of your questions, including the ones you have not been asked will be answered.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now