The art of leather braiding originated in the River Plate (Rio de la Plata) area in Argentina about four centuries ago. Aborigines and gauchos used rawhide, the skin right under the hair of cattle (not tanned leather) to make straps, flogger fall, ropes, straps, reins, belts and other leather equipment used for working with large farm animals. They later used colt leather strips called “tientos” for stitching and braiding.
Luis Ortega (1897-1999), who grew up near a ranch in Sta. Barbara, California learned the art of leather at the age of twelve from a 104-year old Native American vaquero (cowboy) named Fernando Librado. Ortega became a full-time braider in 1932 and was given the recognition of Master Traditional Artist by the National Endowment for the Arts during a special ceremony 1986. It paved the way for the art not to be lost and forgotten.
These braided bracelets became the rage in the 1980s when rock band members were seen wearing them. From then on, braided leather bracelets have been a much-sought after item. They do look good, especially when worn by men. Leather ages beautifully, lasts long, is durable and never goes out of style.
To make a men's braided leather bracelet yourself or as a gift for a favorite man in your life, below are the instructions on how to make a three-stand mystery braid.
You will need the following:
• A flat, wide strip of good leather, 1 mm to 1.2 mm thick and 190 mm long and 15 mm wide
• Closure strip that is 200mm ling and 4 mm wide
• Sharp and pointed craft knife
• Metal ruler
• Single-hole puncher
- Knot one end of the closure strip. Make the knot as close to the edge as you can and pull it tight. Cut the other end to a taper point about 35 mm long.
- Reverse the leather strip you will use for the bracelet and measure 14 mm from the top edge and mark it. Do the same on the bottom edge. This will mark the start and end of your cuts.
- Divide the width of the strip into three (5 mm each). Place marks on the top and bottom to where the cut will start and end. Make 2 cuts down. You now have 3 strands of the same width.
- To make it easier for you when you start braiding, you can make a removable marker and mark the strands, from the left with 1, 2 and 3.
- With the right side of the strap facing you, pick the bottom edge, turn it over and pass it through the gap between strips 2 and 3. The strips will be twisted at this stage.
- Starting at the top, cross strand 1 over strand 2, strand 3 over strand 1 and strand 2 over strand 3. This is one complete braiding cycle. Pull the bottom edge, turn it over and pass it through the gap between strands 3 and 2 which is on your left.
- Cross strand 1 over strand 2, strand 3 over strand 1 and strand 2 over strand 3. You will notice that the strands, after this braiding cycle will be flat again. Pass the bottom edge, through the gap between strands 2 and 3 on your right.
- Continue the braiding cycle, alternating the passing of the bottom edge from left to right until you have worked 15 cycles. If you find it hard to pass the edge before you finish, you can stop after 10 cycles with a looser braid.
- Punch a 2 mm hole on each end of the braided bracelet. With the right side facing you, thread the tapered point of the closing strip through one hole and out the other hole. The knot should be on the right side. You now have an adjustable closure that can be knotted later.
Ensure that the strand lies flat with the right side up as you braid. If you use softer leather, you can make more braiding cycles for a tighter braid. The mystery braid is not that mysterious, after all, isn’t it?