During both the Greek and Roman periods, officers and rulers wore breastplates called lorica musculata. These breastplates were fashioned out of leather or beat from metal to resemble the musculature of a human male torso. The techniques used to make lorica musculata are practised today by various re-enactment societies such as the Society for Creative Anachronism or the Legion Six Historical Foundation. If you wish to wear this type of breastplate for costuming or as armour for re-enactment, you can create lorica musculata using authentic techniques.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Male mannequin torso
- Skill saw
- 1 hide vegetable-tanned leather, 1/4 inch thick
- Stock pot
- Candy thermometer
- Insulated rubber gloves
- Wooden paddle
- Detail knife
- Leather punch
- 6 belt blanks, 1 inch wide
- 6 buckles
- 18 brass screw posts
Cut the torso of a department store male mannequin in half at the sides with a skill saw so that you can lay the chest and back of the mannequin side-by-side. You may purchase a male mannequin from eBay, or from a store that specialises in mannequins such as The Mannequin Store.
Cut a leather hide in half. Each half of the hide should be large enough to drape over the torso of your mannequin.
Fill a stock pot with water. Place a candy thermometer on the side of the pot. Turn on the burner beneath the pot. Heat the water to 82.2 degrees Celsius.
Fill a bathtub with water. Soak the leather hide halves in the water until they become soft and pliant.
Place the leather in the stock pot. Soak the leather in the water for at least 30 seconds. This will cause the leather to shrink to 7/8 of its original size and thicken by 25 per cent. The longer the leather soaks, the more it will shrink and the thicker and harder it will become. Stir the leather with a wooden paddle.
Pull on insulated rubber gloves to work with the leather. The hides will feel like a steaming wet blanket at this point. Pull the leather hides out of the container with the paddle and the gloves and press each hide against a half of the mannequin's torso to shape it. The leather will hold the shape that you press it into and will dry and harden in this shape.
Trim the leather while it is still damp and pliant using a detail knife. The breastplate will fit over the torso as if it were a sleeveless T-shirt. Punch holes for buckles in each shoulder and at the top and bottom of the breastplate sides. Leave the trimmed leather on the mannequin to dry.
Place the six buckles into the six belt blanks. Fold the belt blank over the buckle and slip a screw post into each pre-punched hole. Twist the screw post and screw post backing together to secure the belt buckle in place. Cut 6 inches from either end of the belt and punch a hole into the centre of the cut end of each side of the belt.
Attach the buckles to the breastplate and the other end of the belt to the back piece using screw posts. The breastplate and back should buckle together over your torso.
Tips and warnings
- For a more custom fit, allow the leather to cool slightly before shaping. Press the leather to your own chest to form the breastplate to your own body. Add muscles in the torso by pressing into the back side with the elbow joint of a metal pipe.
- For costuming, you can shape the leather by simply soaking it in a bathtub of water for one to 12 hours before shaping. Leather will hold its shape and will dry slightly harder. Boiling leather will harden it for armour applications.
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