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How to make western chaps

Updated November 21, 2016

Old fashioned western chaps are an eye catching and flashy example of a time long past, when riders needed these heavy leather protectors covering their legs as they rode through heavy underbrush in inclement weather. Chaps were created as a type of armour--the thick leather could handle thorns, calf hooves and even the bites of snakes and pigs. They became a fashion statement as the years passed and are now used at rodeos and at old west ranches and towns to add a taste of the antique old west.

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  1. Begin by measuring the fit. You need a waist measurement, a thigh measurement, an inseam measurement and a calf measurement. It is important to record all this information and have it at hand. Use a standard measuring tape and record your measurements in inches, right down to the centimetre.

  2. Select your material. For authentic old chaps, heavy leather, such as bullhide that has been well tanned, is the preference. For a more cost-effective material, choose ultra-suede--it is cheaper and easier to maintain.

  3. Using an awl and your washable marker, measure and mark the material you are using. You will need a belt measurement for the waistline, a mark for the hips, thighs and calves, as well as the inseam. Using your marker, lightly trace the outline of the chaps onto the leather. Make sure you include a scoop/half-moon shape in the material between the belt and the upper thighs. This will accommodate the room you need to cut into the material to leave room to access the pockets of your jeans or trousers.

  4. Cut the material with your heavy shears. Before you cut, make absolutely certain your measurements are accurate and you have checked and rechecked the design. Once you have cut the leather, there is no going back, and it can be very costly to replace leather enough to make a pair of chaps. Quality chaps are made from one piece of hide, and although they can be sewn together in pieces, they will not be nearly as strong and will not put up with the abuse a single hide pair can handle.

  5. Sew your chaps with a heavy duty carpet needle, or--more commonly--a heavy duty sewing machine. You may leave extra room in your measurement, and in your pattern to create fringe. If this is the case, make certain your sewing is based along the measurements that hug your leg, and not the outer edge of the garment itself. By sewing this way, you leave the extra hide that can then be cut into fringe.

  6. Add your decorations. These can be as simple as a pair of conchos sewn in on the hips, or as complicated as ornate leather tooling done with a craftsman's skill. Old fashioned chaps were often as simple as they were tough, so the authentic look is a less complicated one.

  7. Tip

    Take as much time as you need to make sure you have measured your chaps properly, and marked the design you want. There is nothing worse than ruining several hundred dollars worth of hide because of a measurement mistake!

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Things You'll Need

  • Leather or ultra-suede
  • Heavy duty sewing materials
  • Heavy duty shears
  • Leather tooling materials (optional)
  • Conchos (optional)
  • Other decorative materials
  • Washable marker
  • Awl

About the Author

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