When I saw that Staedtler had developed a realistic, and flexible, faux leather that started out as a polymer clay I knew I had to do something LARP related with it. I settled on making faux leather holy symbols that one could wear. Here’s how I did it.
The first thing I did was order a block of the material and experiment with it. I created strips with varying thicknesses and cooking methods and measured their various properties. I found the material should be cooked hanging, and if it is to be folded it should be cooked in the median position between being unfolded and folded (or in its fully folded position if it weren’t to be unfolded).
I also found that the material is at its optimum flexibility and strength between the 3 and 5 gauges on my pasta maker.
I found the contraction of the material to be 3% by measuring it before and after baking. Because of this, small holes had to be made slightly smaller than they’d actually be in the final product. Because of this contraction, imprinting didn’t work below a certain depth, or when the surrounding area was too curved. Also imprinting too deeply caused the baked product to crack.
I also found that they needed more pressure to cut them, and they would re-bind when baked, requiring spacing cuts and possible re-cutting after baking (as well as the removal of flash material, especially from inside cuts. On that subject, the resultant leather was very easy to cut and behaved like ordinary leather up to a certain extent (wider pieces cracked and whitened when folded, but other than it behaved almost identically).
The baked product took to acrylic paint and sealant very well and I saw no cracking or fading upon bending, wetting, or being rubbed.
Making templates, cutters, and stamps
The templates were originally designed in Fusion 360 and laser cut from 1 mm ply. This was laid on the flattened clay then cut around with a scalpel.
This cutting took on average two minutes, and I went through several different designs before I settled on one that worked. In order to speed up the process, I designed a cutter by creating a 3 mm locus around each edge, then using the bevel extrude tool on Fusion 360. The tips of the print came out rough and blunt because of the limitations of the printer (you can’t make an infinitesimally narrow edge or point with a 0.4 mm nozzle). Nothing could be done about this other than making the tip wider than necessary then filing by hand.
This was very effective, and reduced the cutting time to less than a few seconds; the cutter simply had to be laid onto the flattened piece, then pressed down with a rolling pin!
Due to the high-details of the required patterns, the stamps had to be cut from 10 mm acrylic. The stamps were cut as 20 mm by 20 mm squares with the stamps vectors being limited in size to 15 mm at their longest x or y direction. They were cut as a 5 by 3 grid, with a border around them, and tabs to prevent them from falling into the cutter bed. I cleaned them up with pliers, and wet sanding.
After making a large enough batch to experiment with the finished product, I moved onto testing the finishing touches. I first tested the quickest method of stitching, and found that 460 mm of white thread tied in a loop with two needles was the most efficient length that was also convenient. I also found that it was more quick to spiral the knotted half of the thread first, to prevent having to pass the knot through narrower already stitched gaps.
The leather could be blackened very easily by painting with watered down black acrylic, then wiped clean with a moist cloth. I found that painting the stamped areas was easier done with a very fine brush than by splodging and wiping. Everything was sealed with matte acrylic sealant.
The best method I found for stringing the 830 mm of 3 mm faux leather braid was for the necklace to be folded over the braid, then stitched shut.
The product has received overall positive feedback from play-testers, who have pointed out the following positives:
- Very cheap
- Very durable
- Eco / animal friendly
- In keeping with the theme of the game system they were designed for