Laced Up Leather

Aiming for a seamless pairing of ornamentation and utility, Laced Up Leather uses a laser cutter to translate a DFX file into physical reality. Lace was traditionally precious due to the laborious process of creation. Using a laser cutter to quickly create complex patterns allows for lacework to be integrated into utilitarian objects. The Laced Up Leather belt combines feminine ornament with functionality, which is often absent from women’s wear. Designed to be economical and reproducible, the pattern fits into a 17×23 inch rectangle with less than four square inches of waste.

When I set out to create this work, I wanted to learn how to use Adobe Illustrator to design a pattern to be laser cut, and learn how to use the laser cutter. I wanted to create a piece that could be reproduced by other people who have access to these tools, but unfortunately that aspect of the work never got resolved. The feedback I received from those I asked about the work were weary about the ability of other users to produce this product. I do hope to resolve this aspect eventually, but as of right now I do not have a working tutorial.

This piece is intended to be durable enough for everyday wear, and has held up well so far. The inclusion of nylon webbing in the final iteration has helped to combat the natural stretch of the leather, but in future versions I will use interfacing on the back sections of the belt to stabilize the material there as well.

This is the pattern, altered slightly for visibility and clarity, that makes up the belt. Because the laser does not remove material, and the leather does not fray, the pattern pieces can be right up next to one another.

Materials:

  • leather, 19×23
  • nylon webbing, 3/4 inch, 24 inches
  • snaps, 3
  • grommets, 7
  • belt buckle, 2 inches wide
  • thread
  • industrial sewing machine
  • laser cutter, bed size at least 18×24 inches

Once the leather is cut, the pieces are all sewn together on an industrial sewing machine. Hardware is then installed, which I bought at the leather shop at Queen and Cameron. The only thing beyond what was in the kit that I needed was a hammer. I have a hammer.

When I began prototyping, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted in my mind. So I cut a piece of canvas that was 18×24, the size of the laser cutter I would be working with and started sketching a pattern. I had worked with leather in the past, so I anticipated the stretchiness factor. To combat this, my original plan was a one inch fold at the top of the piece, and doubled leather for the rear section. This gave me a general idea of where things should go, and I started plotting on illustrator to create my layout. At the same time, I was tracing a sketch for the lace pattern from my sketchbook. This was maybe the most difficult part of the project for me, even though I chose to keep the design as simple as possible. I have a long way to go with illustrator, but my basic knowledge carried me through.

Once I had the file all figured out, I was ready to try it. I took my laptop and a USB stick over to Site3, and in my first evening managed to sample cutting on leather a little bit as well as make a fabric prototype.

This prototype really exposed what the problems were in my design including weak spots in the lace pattern, and design issues in the overall piece. I was able to integrate them into my illustrator file, creating a more refined layout. I then laser cut the design again, this time in leather and created a third prototype. I wore this belt every day for about a week, and once again design flaws became evident. The leather was too thin, the pocket was creating stress where it was snapped to the belt and it was hard to access my keys. The belt was too long for my body, even at the widest point of my hips, by nearly 10 inches. When I redesigned to solve these problems, I removed 6 inches from the diameter of the belt to create flaps that would be sewn onto the back of the pocket. This allows the pocket to slip on and off from the belt. I added a new piece, made out of leather that was disused in the previous pattern that would function as a key holder.

I really appreciated having so long to iterate this project. There were challenges every step of the way but with the luxury of time, a challenge is interesting and exciting instead of a reason to tear out your hair. I am proud of this project, I think it successfully achieves the majority of the goals I had set out for myself. That being said, rarely do I prototype so effectively, and the success of this piece is only because of the flaws of the ones that came before it.

I am interested in the possibility of manufacturing this as a product. It’s been a long (long, long, long) standing goal of mine to run a small business, but I never produced anything that would be particularly commercially viable. But I think I have finally developed something that is reproducible enough to manufacture with relative ease.

There are myriad examples of nifty utility belts and laser cut fashions. I have never seen them together, as of yet, making me feel innovative (even if I just jammed two ideas together).

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