In this article, I’ll continue my series on useful items to make with home-tanned leather (see “How to Tan a Deer Hide,” October/November 2016, “How to Make Your Own Moccasins,” February/March 2017, and “Craft Your Own Coonskin Cap,” October/November 2017) by explaining how to turn a deer hide into an apron you can use around your garden, in your workshop, or at your grill.
Hides from older bucks work well for apron making because they’re generally thicker than hides from does or younger deer. They’re also larger, so you can make an entire apron from one hide. The thickest part of the hide is on the deer’s neck and over its shoulders, so you should cut the straps from this part of the hide. Use the rest of the middle of the hide for the apron. Use the thinner areas along the sides of the hide for the pockets and gussets. The grain side of the hide (the side that once had hair) is the finished side of the hide. The sanded side of the leather is the membrane side.
You should be able to find all the tools and supplies required for this project at hobby and hardware stores.
Tools and Supplies
- Two snap clips with 1-1/2-inch loops
- Two 1-1/2-inch D-rings
- Two 1-1/2-inch belt slides
- Awl or four-hole leather punch
- Rotary leather punch
- Two leather-stitching needles
- Artificial sinew
- Leather shears or utility knife
- Large sheets of paper
- 1/4-inch rivets
- Rivet setter and anvil
- Flexible tape measure
- Small block of beeswax
- Binder clips
- Permanent marker
- Lighter or matches
Create the Pattern
Step 1: To begin, you’ll need to make a good pattern. First, measure across your chest from just below the middle of your armpits. Then, measure the distance from the base of your neck to just below your waist. Use these measurements to draw a rectangle on a large sheet of paper, and cut it out. This will become your apron pattern. Label one of the chest-measurement sides of the rectangle “top” and the opposite side “bottom.” Write “side” on the other two edges of the rectangle.
Make a midline from the top to the bottom of the rectangle by folding it in half so the edges labeled “side” touch and are even. Unfold the paper, and draw a line along the fold. Make the top edge of the apron 9 to 12 inches wide, depending on how much coverage you want. The top of my apron is 12 inches wide. Choose your width, divide that number in half, and make a mark that distance on either side of the midline at the top of your pattern. For example, for a 12-inch-wide top, you would make a mark 6 inches from either side of the midline.
To make the tapered sides, measure the distance from the base of your neck to the bottom of your sternum (breastbone). Make a mark that distance down from each of the top corners. Draw a line from these marks to the corresponding marks at the top of the pattern. Hold the pattern up to your body to check the fit. If you’re satisfied with the fit, transfer the pattern to the leather, cut it out, and lay the apron grain-side up.
Create the Straps
Step 2: To make the two short straps that attach the D-rings to the apron, you’ll draw two rectangles that are 1-1⁄2 by 5-1⁄2 inches on a thick part of the remaining leather. Cut them out. Fold one rectangle in half (grain-side out) around a D-ring. Make sure the edges are even, and then hold it in place with a binder clip. Starting about 1/4 inch from the D-ring, punch holes along the edges through both layers of leather using an awl or a rotary leather punch at the smallest hole setting (5/64 inch). The holes need to be about 1/8 inch from the edge of the leather and about 1/4 inch apart. Repeat these steps for the second D-ring strap.
Step 3: Position one of the D-ring straps at the top of the apron, about 2 inches in from the top left corner. Using the holes in the strap as a template, mark the position of the holes on the apron, and punch them out. With the D-ring in place, situate the apron between the two sides of the strap, and sew the strap to the apron.
Position the second D-ring and strap on the left side of the apron, 3 to 4 inches below the taper. Mark the holes like you did for the previous D-ring, punch the holes out, and stitch the D-ring and strap into place. This D-ring will act as the connection point for the strap that holds the apron close to your body.
Now, you can create the adjustable neck strap. To find the appropriate length, loop 9 inches of a flexible tape measure through the top D-ring, and hold it place. Hold the apron in place against your body where it feels comfortable, and take the tape measure around the back of your neck and down to the top of the apron. This will be the length of your strap (my top strap is 21 inches long). Again, on a thick part of the remaining leather, draw a rectangle 1-1/2 inches wide and the length of your measurement. Cut the strap from the leather.
Step 4: Now, you’re ready to connect the neck strap to the apron using rivets. Cut out a 1-1/2-by-2-inch piece of leather to act as a backing to reinforce the place where you rivet the neck strap. Place 2 inches of the strap onto the grain side of the apron, about 2 inches in from the top right corner. Place the leather backing in line with the strap on the opposite (sanded) side of the apron. Punch five holes for rivets — one in each corner about 1/4 inch from the edge, and one in the middle. Set the rivets, and then thread the belt slide and snap clip onto the end of the strap.
Step 5: To create the body strap, loop the tape 12 inches through the side D-ring and hold it in place, and then take the tape measure behind you to the other side of the apron, making sure that it’s snug but not too tight. Using this measurement as the length, cut out a 1-1/2-inch-wide strap from a thick portion of the remaining leather. Place 2 inches of the strap onto the leather apron, 4 to 5 inches below the taper, and repeat the procedure in Step 4 to rivet the body strap to the apron.
Create the Pockets
The wonderful thing about a DIY project like this is that once you know how to make pockets, you can add as many pockets as you like, and size them for your needs. For this project, I’ll describe how to make flat pockets and expandable pockets. You’ll sew the flat pockets directly onto the apron and then rivet them at the top corners. The expandable pockets will have a gusset, which is a strip of leather between the front of the pocket and the apron.
Step 6: This design includes three flat pockets and one expandable pocket in the middle along the bottom of the apron. To make the flat pockets, cut a rectangle 6 inches tall by the width of your apron. For my apron, this piece measures 6 by 22 inches. Mark the seams. (I divided mine into three equal pockets, so each is 7-1/3 inches wide.) Now, punch holes through the pockets and apron along the seams. You can use a rotary punch for the outside edges, placing the holes about 1/8 inch from the edge of the leather and 1/4 inch apart. You’ll need to use an awl or a four-hole punch and hammer for the holes in the middle of the leather. Sew the outside pockets. Start at the X’s and sew in the direction of the arrows. Rivet the upper corners.
Step 7: For the middle expandable pocket, measure and cut a piece of leather 6 inches tall by the width of your middle flat pocket. Add up the lengths of the two 6-inch sides and the bottom of this piece to calculate the length of the 1-inch leather strip that you’ll use as the gusset. Once you have the gusset strip cut out, punch holes along the length of the gusset on both sides (1/8 inch from the edge and 1/4 inch apart) so that the holes line up with the holes punched through the flat pocket and apron. With the gusset grain-side up, match up the holes on the outside edge of the gusset strip with the pocket holes. Sew the gusset to the apron using a saddle stitch (see “Saddle Stitching” below). You’ll be sewing together three layers of leather. Start at the middle of the bottom edge of the pocket, and sew half of the pocket and gusset to the apron. Then, start again from the same center hole and stitch the other side.
Step 8: Punch holes around the perimeter of the piece of leather you set aside to use as the front of the expandable pocket, and then stitch the pocket front to the gusset in the same fashion as the previous step.
Step 9: Now that you know how to make flat and expandable pockets, you can put other pockets on your apron. The top pockets on my apron started out as a 12-by-6-inch rectangle of leather. The two top pockets are 5-1/2 by 6 inches, and the pencil pocket between them is 1 by 6 inches. The strips of leather for these pocket gussets measure 1 by 17-1/2 inches. Here are the pockets before I stitched the fronts to the gussets.
This basic leather apron design has endless possibilities for customization, so you can fashion an apron that perfectly suits your needs. From supplies for the garden to tools for the home, with your apron, you’ll be able to carry what you need for the chores life throws your way.
Some Riveting Information
Rivets are an alternative to stitching, and can reinforce a seam. In this project, I use rivets to attach the two straps and to reinforce the flat pocket corners. A rivet setter has two parts: an anvil and a setter. You’ll also need a hammer. The anvil and setter have concave recesses that won’t mar the rivets. The rivets come in two pieces: a post (the long part) and a cap. The thickness of the leather and the spot to be riveted determines the size of rivet needed. For this project, use 1/4-inch rivets.
To prepare a rivet, punch a hole through all layers of leather. For 1/4 -inch rivets, the hole should be 5/64 inch. Push the post of the rivet from the back of the pieces to be riveted through all layers of the leather, and push the leather down onto the post. Make sure the top of the post extends out of the leather. Put the anvil on a solid surface, and place the post in the center of the anvil. Now, push the rivet cap onto the post until it snaps into place. Put the curved side of the setter onto the cap. Hold the setter straight on the cap, and give it a couple of taps with the hammer. Test the rivet by gently tugging the leather pieces apart. The rivet should hold firm.
All the stitches in this project are saddle stitches. To create this type of stitch, bring the pieces of leather together so the finished sides of the leather are on the outside, and clip them in place. Punch holes along the seam about 1/4 inch apart and about 1/8 inch from the edge. Using an awl or leather punch at the 5/64-inch setting, punch holes through all layers of leather.
You’ll be stitching with one strand of artificial sinew, which needs to be four times the length of the seam. Unspool the sinew, measure it, cut it, and thread one end through a stitching needle. Pull the sinew a couple of inches through the needle. Drag the sinew over the block of beeswax a few times. Pass the needle and half the length of sinew through the first hole, and even up the ends so there’s an equal length of sinew on both sides of the leather pieces. Thread a stitching needle onto the other end of the sinew so you have a needle on each end of the sinew.
Consistency is key to making a good saddle stitch. Pass the needle on the left side through the next hole in the seam and out the right side of the leather. Before pulling it tight, pinch the sinew toward the front of that hole. Pass the right-side needle through the back half of the same hole and out the left side, being careful not to snag the sinew already in the hole. Now, pull both lengths of sinew snug to the leather. Repeat this along the seam, always pushing the needle on the left side through first, and then passing the right-side needle through that same hole.
When you reach the last hole of the seam, stitch back along the seam for three holes. At the fourth hole, push the left needle through the left-side hole, and, rather than passing it through the right hole, angle the needle and push it out the seam from between the pieces of leather. Pass the right-side needle through only the right hole and out the seam between the pieces.
Remove the needles, and tie the ends together with a square knot. Make sure to cinch the knot down close to the seam. Clip each strand close to the knot, and use the lighter or matches to carefully singe the sinew to the knot. To set the stitches, lay the seam on a flat surface, and use a hammer to gently tap the stitches along the length of the seam a couple of times.
Dennis Biswell works for MOTHER EARTH NEWS and its sister publications in the information technology department. An avid outdoors enthusiast, he tans leather at home and finds ways to use the hides. He presents sessions on tanning hides at MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS around the country.