As mentioned in my post about making a Norman kite shield, my grandfather was a bit of a horder when it came to certain things. This is why my father found a roll of thick leather last year, and asked me if I wanted it. Since I’m kind of a hippie, I generally avoid leather. However, I thought I might as well make something with the remains of this poor old cow, rather than let it go to waste.
The question was: What should I do with approximately a square meter of 3-4 mm thick leather?
The answer, obviously, was armor!
Now, leather armor has existed historically – lamellar being one example – but it’s never been anywhere close to as popular as movies and video games would have you believe. There’s an obvious reason: Linen gambesons are superior in more or less every way. Despite this, I wanted to make a leather harness. Because it’s cool.
So yeah, this is purely fantasy, and primarily intended for LARP. I played a character in the summer of 2017, Bera Dagdottr, who I liked very much. However, for future adventures I want to turn her into something like a ranger rather than the fighter she was perceived as when wearing mail. Leather armor, I thought, would fit her very well.
First off, I needed to decide what the harness should look like. I started out with some sketches (including the rest of this particular character's armor and clothes), and decided that I wanted to go full-on fantasy. That is - nice, curved edges and no historical references what so ever.
When I had found a basic design I was happy with, I took measurements from other garments I own (including the coat I will wear underneath this harness) and drew the shape I wanted on a sheet of newspaper. Carefully, I taped two of these together, cut one open along the middle, tried it on, and adjusted the shape according to my findings.
Next step was transferring the template to a more durable material, i.e. cardboard.
Cutting the pieces apart, I put them together in the intended way and tried the result on. This gave me a first idea of what the design would look like in 3D, so to speak.
I decided to make a second iteration of cardboard prototype, to make each part more precise. I also wanted to try out a version that had pieces at the sides that went around my body - something that had been hard to sketch up in 2D seen from the front.
Using the type of rivets shown in this picture, I figured out how the pieces would be fitted together. The best part of using these is that they make it easy to take the pieces apart again, so that they can be used as templates.
This is what the second prototype looked like from the front...
...And the back.
I would recommend anyone who wants to make a similar armor to number the pieces properly and transfer the numbers to the leather pieces when drawing them, since some may end up looking fairly similar and it's easy to get confused.
There was juuuust enough leather to fit all the pieces. I actually had to make two of them slightly smaller, and I chose the part in front of the armpit to give me more flexibility. Fortunately, I had a bit of wiggle room in all pieces, so the slight overlap here and there was not a big deal.
I used a carpet knife for the cutting. My hands were really tired after this...
When all pieces were cut, I used sandpaper on the edges to make them smoother, and to give the armor a bit more of a worn look.
Then began the work of putting all pieces together. I first made holes with a slot punch, and then used a sturdy needle and thick waxed cotton string.
I started with the back, then the sides and the front.
When all five "rows" of patches were done, I put them together and added the shoulder parts.
Finally, I added stitches to all edges and a way to tie the harness together in the front.
The finished result from the back.
Here is the ranger, in all her sneaky glory.
The biggest take-away is actually that fantasy games/movies/books putting rogues in leather armor have no idea what they're talking about. This armor is very, very squeaky - louder than my mail hauberk. Not a good choice for someone who wants to sneak!
Greasing the harness might help, though. The leather is, after all, several decades old.
Have to say I'm pretty happy with the result. I have to come up with a better way to close it in the front, however. Very counter-productive to have an opening right in to one's vulnerable abdomen...