Reverse Leather Applique

In case there was any doubt in anyone’s mind, I love working
with leather. I think it can add a very sophisticated touch to a costume, and,
let’s face it, the number of people who do leather work is limited. I’ve been
wanting to try the reverse applique leatherwork technique shown in Patterns
of Fashion (in one of the men’s doublets – the one with the gillyflowers – I
forget whose that is) for several years now. Many things are approaching deadlines
at work, which means that I’ve been doing some massive sewing therapy lately.
Last night, I decided to scrap the nice, easy peasant design I had been planning
on, and use it as a simple test of the general reverse applique technique as
it applies to leather. (If you’re wondering, “reverse applique” is where you
sew one fabric over another, sew around the applique areas, then cut the upper
fabric away from them. So instead of applying fabric, it’s more like removing
it. This works out very neatly with leather, because you don’t have to seal
the edges. And since you are applying the leather as a whole piece and not in
small shaped pieces, you don’t have to worry about stretching the shapes out
of shape.





I found that sewing from the back side of the fabric (with
the right side of the leather downwards) made it fairly easy to control the
leather, but the leather did stretch a little and also the stitch length didn’t
stay consistent. I have had better luck with the stitch length before by putting
tearaway stabilizer over the leather and sewing with the leather/stabilizer
on top, but I don’t think that would work well for complex patters because the
stabilizer tends to want to shift. So I guess it’s a tradeoff. I also have decided
that I will have to find thinner leather (this is about the weight you would
use to make a leather couch), especially if I want to do a more complicated
design. My sewing machine will go through the leather fine, but it’s hard to
snip neatly when you’re done (as should be obvious, from the state of the semi-finished
article). I think that the base fabric should also be heavier – this is on a
lightweight cotton. I did not use leather needles for this, which might also
help the over all effect. But now I know that it is possible, and reasonably
not difficult, so I will have to work on a more impressive application of the
technique! :)

Also, the last picture up there is an attempt to show the lacing
plackets that I’ve been playing with lately. (Unfortunately, a black placket
with black buttonholes doesn’t show well against a black lining.) But lacing
plackets are a nice way to make an internal closure so that you don’t have to
much up the outside of the dress. This is lot like the eyelet strips shown in
Patterns of Fashion, but it uses buttonholes instead (my machine has a buttholer,
which I have finally mastered, but it does not make eyelets – think of them
as really long, straight eyelets if that makes you feel better about the whole
thing) and I add a line of stiffening (short think cable ties, in this case)
along the outer edge of the placket because I am always paranoid about one of
the lacing holes ripping through under stress.

Incidentally, this is not really going to be a period bodice/costume.
It’s more ethnic germanish than anything I think. (Not that ethnic anything-in-europe
doesn’t bear striking similarities to 16th century fashion, but…) I have no
evidence of reverse leather applique being used for such a simple design, or
by the lower classes at all. On top of that, the bodice is designed to leave
a V opening in the front, which is perfectly period for venetians, but not so
much for the english, who seemed to prefer a straight edged opening if anything.
It’s also going to be worn with a chemise with embroidered flowers (courtesy
of the top of an old fancy bed sheet that I picked up at a garage sale – you
can sort of see it in the front pic) which will likely be tied up at the shoulder
(at least during the FoF feast, which is not normally the neatest venue for
costume preservation – many people should be very happy to know that I have
finally come to my senses and will *never* wear noble to a feast day again!
Assuming I’m thinking, that is…..). So, really, it’s only going to make a
passing nod at “period”, but I think it will fit right in at a ren faire. Well,
except for the flowers. But they’re cute, and I like them lots. ;)

Results and Notes: The leather applique went better than I thought
it would, as did the cutting away of leather from the negative areas. However, I think
that for any more complex pattern, I will need a lighter weight leather. The lacing placket
was somewhat satisfactory, but I think needs refinement. It likes to gap a little along the
lacing edge.

Would I do it again?: Yes.

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