Suspenders are making a big comeback. Why? My simple theory is that they look cool and they keep your pants and skirts from falling down.
I started making my own pairs of suspenders because I did not like the quality of the pieces available in stores. In this tutorial, you can see how I make custom men’s braces and if you want, you can follow along at home.
Please note, all my contact details and social media profiles are at the bottom of this post. Further you can see all of Bespoke Unit’s “How to” projects here.
You can also learn more about men’s suspenders by visiting some of the other resources on Bespoke Unit below:
- Everything To Know About Men’s Braces
- How To Wear Suspenders
- How To Put Your Suspenders On
- How To Retrofit Pants With Suspender Buttons
The Materials & Tools Needed For DIY Suspenders
Making suspenders can be as simple or as complicated as you like. The most basic pair can be made with as little as a sharp blade, a needle and thread. To make a pair like mine, you will need the following:
- Leather punch – used for making rivet holes
- Utility knife – the sharper the better
- Decent pair of craft scissors
- A rivet setter
- Some leather chisels – you can improvise these tools with any awl or punch. I have also made use of a modified dinner fork…
- A leather gouge – this shaves off thin layers of leather where the stitching goes, but is not necessary
- Leather dye – applicable if using naked leather and want colour. Note: if you purchase light-veg tanned leather you can dye it with anything, even Sharpies…
- An edge sealant, like Edge Kote
- A leather sealant or polish
- Some form of strap fabric – I use polyester and cotton webbing, but anything flat can be used
- Metal hardware – I use belt hardware, but you can buy suspender hardware as well
- Quick rivets – if you don’t want to stitch everything
- Leather; I use 9-10 oz veg tanned leather, but you can use anything. My first pairs were made from up-cycled upholstery leather. The darker brown stuff came from some really nice Italian and Scottish couches…
Instructions For Making Suspenders
The first thing I do is make some patterns out of stiff cardboard. This not only lets me experiment with size, but lets me envision what the finished pieces will look like.
I have written some measurements on these, but I will lengthen or shorten pieces depending on leather thickness, the hardware I use, and the width of the suspenders straps.
The easiest way to trace is with a light pencil or with a pointy edge, like an awl or needle. I trace out all my patterns and make sure to conserve space. For this design I need 3 stirrup sections with matching buckle section and 2 back piece sections.
For the back pieces it is super important that they are exact mirrors of each other. I trace one, and then flip the pattern piece to ensure the mirror-image cut. This makes lining them up face-to-face much easier later when I’m stitching.
Start to carefully cut the pieces out. This is where a brand new, super sharp utility blade comes in handy. Picking and choosing the direction of the cuts is really important to avoid slicing into nearby pieces as well. I like to start on the end of straight edges and cut half way in to prevent this!
I like to punch all the holes and make all button cuts before I use dye, but this is up to you. When punching holes , it is really important to take into account the thickness of the hardware. Thicker hardware requires more length between rivets, otherwise they will not sit flat when I press them together and won’t set properly.
I always cut an extra long piece of practice leather when using new hardware to size it. I wrap it around the loop and simulate where the rivets will sit flat by finding the spot where my fingers can pinch the two sides of leather together and mark it accordingly to transfer to the pattern.
Next comes dyeing and polishing. I have watched lots of tutorials on dyeing, polishing, and edge-coating. I have found a lot of people who suggest smoothing and sealing edges, then dyeing and polishing. I did this for a while but found a drawback. If I accidentally got any edge-coat on the face of the untreated leather, it would soak in. When I dyed this portion, it would not absorb any colour. When it is polished and sealed, the edge coat on the face flakes off revealing un-dyed leather. As a result, I started dyeing and polishing first to prevent this.
After everything is shiny and pretty, I make some grooves for stitches. This isn’t necessary, but I like the look. It also makes punching uniform rows of stitch holes WAY easier!
If you don’t have a groove, a ruler or other straight edge works to make a very shallow cut with your knife, or even use the needle again to leave a shallow indentation.
At this point I feel safe putting the edge-coat on. There are special tools and applicators you can buy, but I find rolling a q-tip along the edge is just as easy.
The little wheel is used to slick down the edge after you apply the edge-coat but I can pretty much use anything smooth, like the side of a pen or that fork from earlier.
This next part is where finesse and accuracy count. For every hole I punch for stitches, there has to be a matching hole immediately across from it for the stirrups. This can be done easily with the leather chisels which are about $15 or I can use an awl and a straight edge to line them up.
For the back pieces it is a bit trickier. Because they are attached back-to-back, the holes need to be mirrored. My method for getting it right involves putting them side by side. On the left piece, start at a corner and work counter-clockwise. On the right side, start at the same point, but you have to work CLOCKWISE.
I usually do one edge at a time on each piece and keep turning them both slightly to keep where I am punching side-by-side for accuracy.
Now we can assemble some hardware. I like to set the rivet pieces into the leather and then apply little tacks of glue to keep the leather together while I hammer. I do not use an anvil when I set the quick rivets so I make sure my rivet setter is striking the female end of the rivet (Note: the rivet end without the post).
I also make sure that the male ends are sticking through the “back” part of the buckle since the face of them will flatten when you set the rivet.
In the finished third picture you can see the “front” side with unflattened female rivets (side that the setter and hammer actually strike) and the “back” side with slightly flattened male rivets (which rests on my cutting mat).
Always remember to put the loop in before setting rivets. Believe it or not, I have forgotten once and come very close several other times at the end of a long day of leather work. The longer side does not need a loop in this design, because that is where the stirrup goes through.
I like to use a saddle stitch on all the leather work. This means that each stitch is passed through by two separate cords to prevent weakness if one should sever. There are some pretty good tutorials on Youtube. I usually do a few stitches and then pull it tight because it keeps the leather from opening up each time.
Now we need to measure the straps. Back straps are measured by finding the point in the center of your back between the shoulder blades. Take a few seconds to search for images on Google if you are unsure of the spot. It is also personal preference. Some people like it lower down near the center of the spine. Measure up from your waist band to this spot.
You have to account for three things after you measure this. Compensate for the length of the stirrup attachment first, which is probably 3″ or 4″. Also take into consideration the amount of strap used when you whip the bottom end -whipping is when you fold and sew the end of the strap to prevent fraying- and pass it through the loop to sew it to itself. This is roughly 1″ depending on your sewing machine and the thickness of the hardware and fabric.
For the front straps, measure from the same point between the shoulder blades, over your should to the front waist bands. Then measure back up to the middle of the chest where you want the adjuster to sit. Remember to subtract the stirrup length from this as well as the whip edge at the end. I am 5’9″ (175cm) tall and I cut 180cm of strap for my shoulders, so you can estimate around here. These are adjustable so there is some margin of error.
It is VERY important to keep in mind how to attach the front buckles. Because the strap is one solid piece and is folded in half at the back piece, the two front buckles need to be attached opposite to ensure they both face forward after the fold.
I make sure of this by first taking my front strap and whipping both ends opposite (Note: if you lay it on a flat surface, one whip should be up and one facing down). When I slide the double loop hardware on, the whip is fed through facing “out”. It then goes through the single loop hardware and back again.
Check out the photo because it can be pretty confusing.
After I attach the two front pieces I find the exact middle of the remaining strap. It’s easiest to adjust the slides to their longest setting to make sure all the webbing is available to measure. Fold it in half and crease it to leave a mark. I sometimes run it through the sewing machine once or tack it with hot glue to keep it in position.
The angle of the straps depend on your body shape. A narrow or steeper “V” keeps the straps straight if your back piece is lower or if you comfortably wear straps directly beside your neck. If you are muscular and have prodigious trapezius or have naturally sloped shoulders, you might want a wider “V”.
Again, it is best to have a model to try different angles on for the best fit. Mine are roughly 50-60 degrees.
I use little tacks of hot glue to position the straps. To make sure the straps are placed evenly it becomes a bit of a race to glue, apply the straps, and then turn it over quickly to slide it around before the glue hardens.
By using a tiny bit of glue, you can always pull it apart and reheat the glue with the gun tip and try again until it’s perfect. Then it’s just a matter of making sure both pieces are lined up with each other before saddle stitching the two sides together.
If everything has gone well, you are rewarded with a super dapper, ultra dope pair of custom suspenders. You can play around with materials, or add elastic sections too for further customisation.
If everything went terribly wrong and you have created some sort of Frankenstein suspenders, that’s ok too! If you need help, you can always contact me and we can help get your suspenders back on track.
How To Find / Contact Me
Editor’s Note / Final Look From Paul Anthony
I am a huge fan of men’s braces. In addition to allowing one’s trousers to properly hang from one’s frame, braces can add a unique touch to an ensemble (not to mention the superior comfort over belts!).
As an owner of many pairs of men’s suspenders, I must say that these custom suspenders among my favorite in the lineup. Of particular note is the ability to wear these braces with a more fun / casual ensemble by contrasting vibrant colours (as shown in photo below), while also being able to complement a more classic look if needed. Finally, it was an absolute pleasure working with Marc on the details, and I shall be placing an additional order soon!
More Resources For Suspenders
If you’re interested in learning more about how to wear and style suspenders, take a look at these pages below:
- How To Wear Suspenders
- How To Put Your Suspenders On
- How To Retrofit Your Trousers For Suspenders
- Suspenders For Men: Everything You Need To Know