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Orianna2000
11-25-2012, 12:44 AM
Awhile back, I was researching how to make a leather mask for one of my novels. What I came up with was using a bronze cast head for the mold, boiling the leather, draping it over the face, and placing a sandbag over it to mold it to the contours of the face while it dries. I was doing further research on this today and found a site that describes boiling leather for making Roman armor. Good stuff! However, I was disturbed to find that the boiling process tends to darken the leather. It also seems to harden it considerably, which is contrary to what I learned before.

I had intended for the mask to be a buff-colored calfskin that's stiff, but soft to the touch. How dark will a 60-second boil turn it? I tried Googling this, and the few results I could find suggested that leather will turn dark brown, almost black. But it didn't specify how pale the leather was to begin with.

Is there a way to keep my mask buff-colored? I know other methods of hardening don't darken leather, but the boiling process seems to be the best method for the time period and circumstances. (1880s, limited resources.) Also, how is the boiling going to affect the leather's texture? Will it stiffen, but remain soft to the touch? Or will it turn hard and smooth?

Brutal Mustang
11-25-2012, 12:52 AM
I've boiled leather a few times before. It kept its shape and color, while remaining pliable. That said, I highly doubt I boiled it as hot or as long as the Romans did for armor. I recommend buying scrap leather from Hobby Lobby, and experimenting with it. It's the best way to answer your questions.

Orianna2000
11-25-2012, 01:22 AM
That said, I highly doubt I boiled it as hot or as long as the Romans did for armor. I recommend buying scrap leather from Hobby Lobby, and experimenting with it. It's the best way to answer your questions.

According to the research paper I was reading, they boiled the leather for less than 2 minutes. Any longer and it would become too brittle.

I wish I could buy calfskin at Hobby Lobby, but they don't carry it. I looked on eBay and I can't afford even someone's leftover scraps! The prices are absurd.

Bushrat
11-25-2012, 01:43 AM
Are you talking about boiling a green (untreated) hide or actual leather?

If you braintan a hide, it comes out lightcoloured. Braintanning is an ancient method of making leather, and if worked enough, it'll be pretty supple.

Orianna2000
11-25-2012, 02:09 AM
Are you talking about boiling a green (untreated) hide or actual leather?

If I'm understanding correctly, it needs to be already-tanned leather, not a raw hide. The mask must be stiff, not loose and supple, which is the reason for the boiling.

Bushrat
11-25-2012, 03:08 AM
Oh, okay :) As to how boiling affects leather, it depends on the tanning method used as far as I know. Some leathers become like cardboard after they've been wet, others not.

But I don't really understand why you'd start with finished leather for this. The process of tanning, no matter what method used, ends with working the tanned leather back and forth over a wooden block or something like that to achieve the desired suppleness, because tanning leaves a hide wet and once it dries, it stiffens.
So if somebody wanted to make a mask, the best would be to take leather at this unfinished stage and work towards the desired pliablity rather than trying to make supple leather stiff again.

Canotila
11-25-2012, 04:18 AM
You could try shooting a message to one of the many leather mask makers out there, like this one
http://merimask.deviantart.com/art/Golden-Wolf-leather-mask-113561093

Is the buff color there the one you wanted to achieve?

thothguard51
11-25-2012, 04:44 AM
Do not cut the eye or nose slots until the leather has formed to the desired shape. If you cut them out before hand, this will affect the shrinkage factor around those areas. The edges may also harden more so than the rest of the mask.

Once the mask is formed and dried, use a good leather oil on both sides of the mask to protect it from moisture.

Leather for a mask is going to be thinner than that used to make armor, so the boiling time will not need to be as long.

Orianna2000
11-25-2012, 06:28 AM
You could try shooting a message to one of the many leather mask makers out there, like this one
http://merimask.deviantart.com/art/Golden-Wolf-leather-mask-113561093

Is the buff color there the one you wanted to achieve?

It's not exact, but close. A medium Caucasian skin-tone is what I'm hoping for. I sent that artist a message, so we'll see if she can help.


Do not cut the eye or nose slots until the leather has formed to the desired shape. If you cut them out before hand, this will affect the shrinkage factor around those areas. The edges may also harden more so than the rest of the mask.

Good to know, thanks.

Manuel Royal
11-25-2012, 07:30 AM
Will it stiffen, but remain soft to the touch?I don't think you can have it both stiff and soft. (A piece of leather, that is.) The boiled leather for armor (cuir bouilli) that I'm familiar with is hard and smooth. Perhaps it could be covered with a think layer of suede or velvet?

Really, for a mask, I'd more likely expect parchment, perhaps stiffened with glue, maybe lacquered. Or it could be a rubber mask, but I guess that wouldn't suit your needs.

Alessandra Kelley
11-25-2012, 07:39 AM
I don't think you can have it both stiff and soft. (A piece of leather, that is.) The boiled leather for armor (cuir bouilli) that I'm familiar with is hard and smooth. Perhaps it could be covered with a think layer of suede or velvet?

Really, for a mask, I'd more likely expect parchment, perhaps stiffened with glue, maybe lacquered. Or it could be a rubber mask, but I guess that wouldn't suit your needs.

Parchment is rawhide.

When I boiled some cream-colored parchment scraps (to make sheepskin glue to use as paint for a medieval-type manuscript), they swelled up and turned slippery and rubbery, like lanolin-scented pasta.

The liquid was jello-like and when dried became the glue. The parchment scraps shrank back down to little hard yellowish chips.

frimble3
11-25-2012, 08:06 AM
If you were to shape the leather with the suede side out, and then work the suede over with a wire brush, I wonder if the suede would come back up again? Would that get you the desired 'soft to the touch' effect? Maybe the leatherworker could advise? If not, maybe someone with a suede jacket or shoes?

Orianna2000
11-25-2012, 06:11 PM
The mask doesn't need to be soft. I wrote it that way because I was told that the leather would stiffen, yet still be soft to the touch after boiling. But I'm more than willing to change it. From what I've been reading, it sounds like it will turn hard and slick, perhaps like the soles of leather shoes?

As far as using other materials, I don't think they had the facilities for producing rubber masks back in 1881. At least, not by a private citizen. He wouldn't want a full slip-over-the-head rubber mask anyway. He has to wear the mask daily, and he has refined tastes, so he wants something precise and elegant . . . and breathable.

So, now that the question of texture is answered, that just leaves the question of color. One site on Roman armor-making said leather turns dark brown or black when boiled, but I haven't been able to find corroborating evidence to support that. I would prefer him having a buff-colored mask, as it's more subtle. Less noticeable if he's walking around the city where he might be seen. If need be, I can say it's black, but I would much rather keep it skin-toned if that's possible.

WriteKnight
11-25-2012, 09:06 PM
You can simply paint the mask whatever color you like. Leather masks can be covered in gesso, then painted.

thothguard51
11-25-2012, 09:18 PM
You can also glue a soft fabric to the inside so the leather does not chaff the skin...

Orianna2000
11-25-2012, 09:59 PM
Ooh, interesting. Can boiled leather be painted? I would have thought its surface would be too slick to bond with paint. Or is that what the gesso is for?

Several questions: First, a quick Google search shows that leather is painted with acrylics, but they did not exist in the 19th century. Would there be an alternative they used back then? Assuming there is a Victorian substitution, how would the paint affect the texture and sheen of the leather? Would it be prone to flaking or rubbing off? And can you oil leather that's been painted? The MC regularly oils and buffs his masks to keep the leather from drying out, so how would the paint affect that?

ULTRAGOTHA
11-26-2012, 12:19 AM
Oil paints would probably do it. Or gesso. Or milk paint. Or dyes.

Boiling leather can shrink it, too.

ClareGreen
11-26-2012, 05:25 PM
Dye would be a better way to go than most paints, if you don't want the leather sealed. Acrylics are used because they flex, unlike many paints; there isn't a lot of flex in boiled leather, but there's enough to cause problems for most paints. Dye doesn't have that issue.

Orianna2000
11-26-2012, 07:14 PM
I thought you couldn't dye something lighter than it already is? If the boiling process turns the buff leather dark brown (which is still in question) can it be dyed back to a lighter buff color? I thought only bleach could lighten something.

Dgullen
11-26-2012, 07:22 PM
I've made a good few leather masks, and armour, so this is based on my experience. First, don't actually boil the leather, this will cook it and make it brittle, and it will crack. Instead, use very hot water - my rule of thumb is water that is just bearable to your hands.

You can only shape veg-tanned leather. Chrome-tanned leather cannot be shaped. 2mm leather is a decent thickness. Any heavier and it is harder to shape finely.

Drop the cut mask shape into the water, and leave it there until the bubbles stop. You've now got a few minutes when the leather is verys soft and flexible. Shape it on a form - I use a polystyrene head - then let it dry and cool. The mask will be quite rigid, but flexible.

I'd disagree with Thothguard51 - I'd cut eyeholes etc before shaping - as well as do any carving you want to do. Personally, I find it easier.

Hot shaping will darken the leather a little, but only by degrees. You can paint leather with acrylics, or use proper leather dyes.

Cheers,

David

Orianna2000
11-26-2012, 09:09 PM
I've made a good few leather masks, and armour, so this is based on my experience. First, don't actually boil the leather, this will cook it and make it brittle, and it will crack. Instead, use very hot water - my rule of thumb is water that is just bearable to your hands.

What sort of texture does this method produce? Same as boiling? (i.e.: smooth and slick?) Also, would the leather absorb his body heat and be warm to the touch? And would the mask be shiny or dull in appearance? I assume it will gleam when he oils it, but what about the rest of the time? Does the heat treatment cause it to become shiny or will it stay matte?


You can only shape veg-tanned leather. Chrome-tanned leather cannot be shaped. 2mm leather is a decent thickness. Any heavier and it is harder to shape finely.I'm assuming that veg-tanning is the traditional, old-fashioned method, so it shouldn't be a problem for the 1880s, right? He uses calfskin, but I don't specify what thickness it is, only that it's very fine.


Drop the cut mask shape into the water, and leave it there until the bubbles stop. You've now got a few minutes when the leather is verys soft and flexible. Shape it on a form - I use a polystyrene head - then let it dry and cool. The mask will be quite rigid, but flexible.He uses a bronze-cast head, because (according to my research) it was the easiest method of creating a permanent, lifelike copy of someone's face back in the 1880s. Once the leather is draped over the head, which is lying supine, he presses a sandbag over it to help mold the leather to the contours of the bronze and to absorb water to help it dry faster. Does that sound okay?


Hot shaping will darken the leather a little, but only by degrees. You can paint leather with acrylics, or use proper leather dyes. So long as the heat won't considerably darken the calfskin, he won't have a reason to paint or dye his normal mask--he wants it to be as inconspicuous as possible. He might make a decorative mask for special occasions, but he'd have to use dye, as acrylic paints didn't exist back then.

Thanks for the help!

Snowstorm
11-26-2012, 09:21 PM
Do you have a leather worker who works on or sews boots, chaps, and so on near you? They may have some insight from years (or decades) of working with the leather that can guide you. (not to mention the shop smells heavenly) They also may have an idea that shifts what you're trying to do.

frimble3
11-27-2012, 02:29 AM
Something occured to me: Is he using the mask to hide his identity? If so, even if the leather does darken, why not just get matching gloves, and let people assume that he's a dark-skinned man? Unless I've missed a post and he is a dark-skinned man, trying to hide in the lighter-skinned crowds?

Dgullen
11-27-2012, 06:44 PM
Hi,


What sort of texture does this method produce? Same as boiling? (i.e.: smooth and slick?) Also, would the leather absorb his body heat and be warm to the touch?And would the mask be shiny or dull in appearance? I assume it will gleam when he oils it, but what about the rest of the time? Does the heat treatment cause it to become shiny or will it stay matte?


When it dries it will feel firm, yet flexible, not like skin, it won't be as warm as skin, but the lack of skin softness and immobility will be more of a giveaway. After wet-moulding the leather colour will be pretty much as it was before, fairly smooth, and the finish will be matte, and if it's undyed hide, it will have a natural flesh-tone. There are plenty of different types, so it would be easy to select a good-quality, blemish-free skin that has a good flesh-tone colour.



He uses a bronze-cast head, because (according to my research) it was the easiest method of creating a permanent, lifelike copy of someone's face back in the 1880s. Once the leather is draped over the head, which is lying supine, he presses a sandbag over it to help mold the leather to the contours of the bronze and to absorb water to help it dry faster. Does that sound okay?Using a bronze head sounds good to me. It would be easier to shape the mask with your hands though - and you'd get a much better shape. Sometimes you need to 'over shape' the mask to make it take an angle or a curve you want, so pressing won't do that for you. Best way to do this is have a play with some scraps - it's pretty easy.


Thanks for the help!You're welcome!

Orianna2000
11-27-2012, 10:39 PM
Do you have a leather worker who works on or sews boots, chaps, and so on near you? They may have some insight from years (or decades) of working with the leather that can guide you. (not to mention the shop smells heavenly) They also may have an idea that shifts what you're trying to do.
Someone recently mentioned to me the existence of a leather-working shop in town, but I can't drive (and our city's public transit is non-existent), so it's very difficult for me to get out of the house. I'll see what I can do, though. Thanks for the idea.


Something occured to me: Is he using the mask to hide his identity? If so, even if the leather does darken, why not just get matching gloves, and let people assume that he's a dark-skinned man? Unless I've missed a post and he is a dark-skinned man, trying to hide in the lighter-skinned crowds?
Interesting idea, but no, he's not trying to hide his identity. He's concealing a severe facial deformity. As such, he'd rather the mask be close in color to his skin, so that from a distance, he might not appear too weird.



Using a bronze head sounds good to me. It would be easier to shape the mask with your hands though - and you'd get a much better shape. Sometimes you need to 'over shape' the mask to make it take an angle or a curve you want, so pressing won't do that for you. Best way to do this is have a play with some scraps - it's pretty easy.

He does shape the wet leather with his hands, molding it to the bronze head and smoothing it out. Or do you mean not using a mold at all? Wouldn't it be difficult to shape a mask to the precise contours of someone's face without using a mold? He wants the mask to look as if it was his natural face without the deformity, so he uses the bronze head to get a precise fit.