Breastplate part 1

Time taken: 15 hours.
Materials: 1-1.2mm leather in brown (approximately 8sq feet), expanded PVC foam board, Wonderflex, wool batting, waxed nylon thread*, 9mm 810 cap nickel domed rivets, contact glue, hot glue, Rub ‘n’ Buff in silver leaf, thread, previously made belt.
Tools: Craft knife, pen, heat gun, metre ruler, scissors, edge beveller, speedy stitcher, mallet, rivet anvil.
Techniques: Leatherwork, sewing, plastic thermomoulding.
Difficulty level: Hard on the hands, involves a bit of shaping and tailoring, otherwise straightforward.
This part takes a lot of fitting. Making a costume for myself is easy because I’m always available, but hard because fitting stuff on yourself (especially your back) is hard. Making one for someone else has the exact opposite set of advantages and disadvantages.

I used these reference pics to make this part:

cullen4Cullen back viewSo anyway, I started with the template that I made way back in this post, and used it to cut the PVC foam board to shape, then used a heat gun to mould it.

breastplate003IMAG0915Then I used hot glue and Wonderflex scraps on the back to reinforce it. This technique is described in more detail in the shield fabrication tutorial, because they are remarkably similar. However, after fabrication is the point where the breastplate and the shield diverge. With the shield, the next step is decoration. But this has to fit on a person, and be blended with a bunch of other parts.You can see in the pictures that the breastplate is stitched onto the leather jerkin at the front, which implies that it fastens at the back. Behind, the jerkin appears to be attached to a red jacket of some kind, and there are sleeves sewn into the armholes, which have chainmail to protect the armpits. I figured that the breastplate is also held in place by the codpiece belt, which stops it from gaping at the bottom.

That’s a lot of stuff, and a lot of dependencies in terms of fitting. So first, fit the breastplate itself on your model. Make sure it fits well and is shaped to hold its place without being pulled tight by straps, or it won’t sit right and will be uncomfortable.

I also cut some pieces of wool batting from a pattern I have for a basic sleeveless jacket. They were huge, but that’s ok. While I had my model there, I got him to hold the breastplate on himself while I pinned the pieces of batting on his shoulders and got the basic shape for them to fit front and back. I also added the belt at the bottom, to see how that would fit.

It turned out I’d made the breastplate quite a bit bigger than it needed to be:

IMAG0916Drawing around these gave me the amounts to cut off the breastplate, and also the basic shapes for the jerkin. Luckily PVC foam board is easy to cut, and I was able to make the breastplate smaller quite easily. I also cut the slots where the leather straps that hold it on behind will go.

IMAG0918The next step was adding the heraldry on the front, using the same technique I used for the shield. The breastplate got a bit more smoothing with clay and gesso, because it’s supposed to be finer than the shield. But it’s still a little bit Wonderflex-pitted because I like that texture. YMMV.

IMAG0922Once the heraldry was on, I punched holes around the edge about 6mm apart. This is because stitching through plastic sounds like some kind of torture and even with a speedy stitcher I didn’t want to go to that much effort. Punching the holes was easier than expected, and I went right round the outside because eventually there will be stuff stitched to all of it.

The other thing that’s good to get done at this point is to put on a coat of Rub ‘n’ Buff. This is because the stitching will then go over the top of it and that basic coat will be there without risking either getting stuff on the rest of the costume, or not going right up to the edges. Also it means that when the weathering is added, the stitched bits will look more natural as there’ll be buildup in those corners.

Finally, I added the bits of leather that hold the pauldron straps and back straps on. These won’t be bearing a lot of weight, since the pauldron ones are riveted to the jerkin and the back ones go through the breastplate. However, to make it look authentic I stitched around the outside of the leather (not onto the breastplate as my hole punch won’t reach that far from the edge). Then I glued them on using contact glue, and added a rivet in the centre to match the picture.

IMAG0930This bit then got put aside and it was into the leatherwork. First, using the wool batting pieces, I cut four front and four back panels from the leather. It’s probably not necessary to use leather for the inside lining, but I had some kicking around so I used it. It makes it authentic (also, heavy), but polar fleece or something soft like that would probably work too. Note that the pieces were cut an inch larger all around than the wool pattern bits, to allow for them to overlap where they’ll be sewn to the other parts.

I should note here that when working with leather it’s important to bevel the edges – it just makes the finished job look better. I didn’t do it with these at this point because they will be cut again before it’s done.

IMAG0921And then there was sewing. The speedy stitcher makes this so much easier. You’ll see in the picture below that instead of sewing the two bits together as if they were fabric, they are done with a flat overlap and two rows of stitching like jeans. This helps the seams sit flat.

IMAG0924First I stitched the tops of the shoulders together, then tried it on my model. Then I stitched the side seams that go under the arms, and tried it on my model. My model is very tolerant! It is really important to fit this right because the fit of the whole upper half relies on it, so fitting at every step just makes sense.

Once I had the inner and outer fitting well, I tacked them in place and used some hot glue in spots to hold the wool lining so it was sandwiched between the pieces of leather. This is to add bulk but again, if you wanted to save money or weight, you could leave this out.

IMAG0925And then, after yet another fitting, I called it good and stitched around the neck. This is kind of the point of no return, because before this your outer and inner weren’t joined. Now they are stitched together for better or worse. After that, a final fitting to determine exactly where the leather would be stitched to the breastplate, and a row of stitching to delineate this. At this point I also added a black felt lining to the breastplate using hot glue.

IMAG0931After this, the leather was stitched to the breastplate using the pre-punched holes. The outer went on the outside and the inner on the inside, with the previously-stitched row pressed hard up against the edge of the breastplate. This allowed the leather to overlap the breastplate by 2.5cm with an edge of maybe 4mm, and the finished result was a double row of stitching.

IMAG0932You’ll note here that it’s now sitting on a form. This is my only form, a headless young male one known as The Hoff (long story). The Grey Warden was on it, but now I need it for storage of this costume and hanging while it’s made. Unfortunately it’s not adjustable and it’s too small to represent my model.

Anyway, the last step in this stage was to add the belt to the bottom. First, I added two layers of binding to the top of the belt so that I’d be able to sandwich the plastic between them the way I did with the leather:

IMAG0933And then I stitched it on the same way. Simple! But very hard on the hands. All that tensioning of waxed thread, hole punching etc makes them hurt. Never mind how often I stabbed myself with the awl..

IMAG0934In part 2: the back (fabric regalia jacket part, back straps) and sleeves (more fabric and chain mail).

* While I would like to use linen thread, I’ve not had much luck with it under the kind of tension I need for stitching leather. It breaks at the eye of the speedy stitcher needle, so I have resigned myself to using nylon thread. Woe.

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