Wearable Utility with Leather

I chose to start with a dark green leather that I found in a scrap bin at Global Leathers. I was not sure exactly what I was looking for, so I got several pieces to test different thicknesses and colors.

Picture of leathers

After settling on the design a bit more I was able to start working with leather. I traced the pattern pieces I made with muslin onto card stock, then traced the paper onto leather. It was easier to work with card stock than muslin because I couldn't pin the fabric to the leather to keep it from sliding around. The paper was easy to keep in place and gave me very crisp lines when traced.

Paper pattern pieces

After cutting out the pieces my next challenge was to figure out how to attach the buckles. It is important to me that the harness is adjustable, because I want to allow many people to try it on and give feedback. I also imagine this harness being with someone for a long time so I want them to be able to change the fit as they need.

Marking my buckle holes with pen Marking my buckle holes with pen

This past week I took a trip to Pacific Trimming and Metalliferous in the garment district, so I have a lot of great hardware to try out in my design. I tried out a few styles of buckles to get a feel for what works.

detail of side buckles

After I cut the leather, the harness came together very quickly. Aside from the buckles, the entire piece is only held together by rivets and very minimal stitching. It was very satisfying after how exact I had to be with cutting.

front of assembled harness

This leather, while really beautiful and easy to move in was actually too flimsy for my purposed. The shoulder buckles worked fine, but the buckles on the sides were awkward to use. I think part of the problem could be solved with little bands to tuck the ends into, but I decided not to spend time on it, since this was just a prototype.

back of assembled harness

My favorite part of the garment is definitely the back. I'm really happy with how it turned out. The only thing I plan to change is the stitching at the top. I think it would look much more elegant with rivets instead.

Modular Utility

Originally, I planned to identify a set of "most useful" tools to accommodate in my design. From my research, though, I realized versatility was really a key requirement. Everyone I talked to had such different answers based on what they were working on at the moment. Crafters move between projects, learn new techniques, and acquire new tools all the time. I am acutely aware of this fact now that I started working with leather. In only the past few years I've learned to knit, weave, felt, do soft circuitry, and freehand embroider. I also sew, cross-stitch, collage, bind books, and I'm learning to crochet. Luckily, I don't do all of these things at the same time.

I was also really inspired by a belt I saw last year at an exhibit at The Met titled The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky. The belt belonged to a young girl, but featured a collection of ornate charms and bearing tools for survival.

girl's belt set from Plain's Indians exhibit at the Met Girl's Belt Set, 1884

Creating a modular system allows the harness to transform to fit the wearer's interests. Each addition to the harness is like a badge the crafter can wear proudly. I will attach them using a system of snaps and buckles.

For now my priority is to include:

  • soft breadboard (shoulder)
  • pin cushion (shoulder)
  • needle book (waist)
  • chatelaine (waist)
  • small pockets for components (waist)
  • harness for scissors (under arm)
  • knitting needle organizer roll (back)

Shoulder Pieces

I started out by adding snaps identically placed on each shoulder. These are for the breadboard and pin cushion. I evenly spaced them between the rivets attaching the shoulder piece to the strap.

snaps and rivets on shoulder

Then I created pieces that snap onto the shoulder. I used the suede side of the leather for some nice contrast. I think the hexagonal shape works well with the rest of the design.


Chatelaines were a popular wearable utility from the Victorian era. Their popularity was largely aligned with that of the pocket watch. Victorian women would wear ornate metal chains dangling from their waists with all their tools for daily work.

victorian chatelaine

I picked this form factor for small tools that need more room to move. I chose to include a tape measure, a magnifying glass (this is a personal choice related to my vision issues), and a thread cutter. I plan to use the outside loops for a continuity tester.

I made my own thread cutter using leather and a blade from a rotary cutter. The blade has a hose in the center, so I placed a rivet through the center to hold it together. So far no one has been stabbed, so I think it is pretty successful.

my chatelaine

I will definitely need to lengthen the chains, and look into making all the pieces detachable. I also want to make a leather protector for the magnifying glass and a cover for the tape measure.

harness with shoulder pieces and chatelaine

Harness with shoulder pieces and chatelaine