One of the great features of working with real leather instead of a woven or knit fabric is that the cut edges don’t ravel. This allows for a unique kind of creativity. I was always curious about braided belts and bracelets made of leather that were closed ends.
When working with real leather or fur (or any animal products) I try to make the most efficient use possible with the materials. I saved the remaining leather from the bag I made a few months ago and used some of the scrap to make a few mystery braided leather bracelets. Leather has some stretch to it normally and when braided it had quite a lot of stretch. The back side of the leather is very soft and these features make for a very comfortable accessory.
Not only will I walk you through how to do a mystery braid in photos, I’ve also included a video of the whole process!
Basic Leatherworking Kit
-Straight edge blade (I used a rotary cutter for this project)
-Thread for sewing Leather/Fur
Closure – I used a buckle
Flexible Tape Measure
Step 1) Measure your wrist
This is a double wrap bracelet so wrap the tape measure around your wrist twice to determine your wrist measurement. You need to add some ease for the thickness of the leather and for comfort. I added 1 1/2″ (4cm) to the bracelet length to accommodate for this.
Step 2) Determine the size pieces to cut from leather
The width of the bracelet is determined by the size buckle (or whatever your chosen closure is) that you are using.
The overall length of the finished braid will be slightly shorter from the original cut length of the leather. There is an easy mathematical way to determine how much extra length you need.
For every 12 inches of finished length, add 1″ (For every 30cm, add 2.5cm).
Example 1) If you are making a belt that has 24″ (60cm) of braiding, you need to add 2″ (5cm) of braiding length.
Example 2) My wrist measurement for a double wrap bracelet was 13.5″ so I added 1″ of braiding length.
The final length for the bracelet:
Wrist measurement + wrapping ease + 1″ braid ease + room to attach the buckle & keeper + tail
I ended up adding a total of 5″ to my wrist measurement.
Step 3) Cut a Keeper
A keeper is a narrow loop used to hold the tail of a belt or strap in place. Since I used a buckle for my closure, I incorporated a keeper into the project for a tidy way to hold the tail in place. If you use a snap or button closure, a keeper is unnecessary as you can place that closure near the end of the leather strap.
For the keeper, cut a piece of leather 1/4″ (0.7cm) wide and 3 times the width of your bracelet. My bracelet is 5/8″ (1.6cm) wide so I cut a keeper 1/4″ x 1 7/8″ (5cm). It will be trimmed for an accurate fit later but this is a good starting measurement.
Step 4) Punch a hold for the buckle
To determine the best placement for your buckle (if you are using that type of closure) slide it onto one end of the bracelet, place the keeper approximately where it will be just inside the buckle, and fold the cut end over to a length that will be easy to sew in place (about 3/16″ to 1/4″ | 0.5 to 0.6cm past the keeper). Mark where the buckle latch is when everything is positioned how you desire.
Test the leather punch on scrap leather to determine the best hole size for your buckle latch. Use a leather punch to punch a nice clean hole through the leather.
Step 5) Sew the keeper
Position the buckle and what will be the keeper as it will be when sewn. Bring the other end of the braid (the tail) up to the buckle and stack the layers. The keeper needs to be large enough to hold all layers but a snug fit to hold the tail of the braid securely. Wrap the piece of leather that will be the keeper around all the layers and trim it so it will create a snug loop.
Using your leather needle (and pliers for grip strength) pre-punch 2 sewing holes at either short end of the keeper. It can be very helpful to place the keeper on cork panels for resistance that you can stab into.
Cut a 12″-18″ (30cm-45cm) long strand of thread for sewing leather/fur. Place an overhand knot at one end and thread the other end through a leather needle. Sew the keeper into a circle with the edges touching but not overlapping. Finish the thread with another overhand knot to the inside of the keeper. Leave the thread attached and set aside.
Step 6) Make cuts for braiding
With the buckle in place, mark the edge of the fold back leather. This will be one end of your braid. From this line, measure the length of your twice wrapped wrist+ 1 1/2″ (4cm) as you determined in step 1 and mark the other end of the braid.
Between the ends you just marked, divide the width of the bracelet into 3 equal parts to create 3 braid strands.
Using a ruler longer than the length you are cutting and a straight edge blade (like a rotary cutter), cut between the marked ends to create the 3 braid strands.
Step 7) Braiding
How to do a Mystery Braid:
1) Bring the bottom of the braid up and through the gap between the center and right-side strands to create a twist in the strands.
2) Braid the strands left over center, right over center, left over center (like a classic 3 strand braid).
3) Bring the bottom up and send it through a gap between the left-side and center strands. This will create a second braid repeat. Work the strands so the second braid that was created is toward the top and the strands at the bottom lay flat and straight.
4) Repeat these steps until you have worked your way to the close end of the leather strand.
5) You can leave the braid loose or you can reposition the strands starting at the top to lay in a tighter braid. If you reposition the strands for a tighter braid, you will end up with a bit of extra room at the bottom again to repeat the braid a few more times. Braid and position the strands until you are happy with how it looks.
Here is a video of the braiding process:
Step 8) Attaching the buckle.
Slide the keeper onto the end of the bracelet.
Position the buckle in place with the latch through the hole you punched in step 4. Make sure everything is lined up nicely and use the thread/needle still attached to the keeper to sew the leather fold-back in place. For best results, pre-punch sewing holes from the front side so you can control the placement of the stitches.
Step 9) Finishing the other end
Punch a hole about 1/4″ (0.6cm) from where the braiding ends. Using sharp scissors, shape the end of the bracelet as desired.
**********Here is a video where I make a bracelet (start to finish!).*********