Here’s how to make your own dragon scale arm cuff! This is a great DIY fantasy accessory for cosplay, Halloween costumes, or kids’ dress-up, and it makes a really nice elegant-yet-dangerous addition to any medieval/renaissance outfits. You can also round off the scales on the bottom to make a mermaid scale design, and add some dragon/mermaid scales to a headband, shoes, purse, belt, etc. (I included a bit about how I attached scales to the matching dragon dress at the end of the tutorial.)
I used a metallic gold vinyl placemat to make this arm cuff. This vinyl is a very inexpensive material that is easy to cut with a pair of scissors, and won’t unravel. I will give you some tips on sewing with vinyl, and I have uploaded a free PDF pattern for you to download and print, to make it even easier to make your own fun dragon or mermaid accessory!
These placemats that I found on Amazon come in several metallic colors and have a reptile skin texture, which I think is perfect for this design. I chose gold, but the silver, bronze, or really any color would look amazing.
I only needed one rectangular 12″ x 18″ mat for the arm cuff, but I used several more placemats to make more scales that I attached to the bottom of the matching dragon dress. The four-pack of placemats will be plenty to make an outfit similar to mine, but if you want to go crazy and cover an entire dress with scales, then you will need more than one pack.
If you want to save yourself some time cutting and applying separate scales, you can choose one of these placemats that are already printed with dragon and mermaid scales. The effect won’t be as 3-dimensional, but I think it’s still very eye-catching and interesting. (You’d just cut out the cuff shape, following as closely as you can to the edge of the scales. Then make the holes, lace it up, and you’re done!)
I used some gold soutache braid to lace the cuff closed, but almost any cord will work.
And I added a stripe of silicone on the top inside edge, to keep the cuff from sliding around while it is being worn. You can skip this step at first if you want to, and add the silicone later if you find that the cuff slides around on your arm while you’re wearing it.
Now, to make your cuff! Click on the button below to download or print the PDF pattern:
Once you’ve printed the template, cut the large pattern piece out of the paper and wrap it around your arm to make sure the size looks good. Keep in mind that the holes will have cord laced through them, so when you test the fit, make sure that the ends of the cuff don’t overlap (so that the cord will be able to pull the cuff tight around your arm).
See how the holes on the pattern piece are about 3/4″ (2 cm) apart when I wrap it around my arm? That means the cuff will be able to lace tight around my arm after it’s done, so this is a good size for me.
If you don’t like the way it fits, try scaling the pattern up or down and printing it again. If it was too large, try printing it at 90%, or if it was too small, you might try 110% and see how that fits. If you go with a larger cuff, you might have to print it on 2 sheets of paper and tape the two pattern pieces together.
Once you’re happy with the size, use the paper template to cut the cuff out of your placemat. You will need to use the leftover placemat scraps to make the scales, so cut carefully around the cuff shape, preserving as much of the rest of the placemat as you can.
I used a leather punch to make the holes in my arm cuff. (Side note: my leather punch is crazy old, it appears to have been made in 1903 from what I can tell by the numbers stamped on it. It has been WELL used, and doesn’t cut that cleanly because the dies are so worn down, but I think it’s cool and I still use it.)
When you use a punch, it’s easiest to put a little scrap of placemat under the piece you’re punching holes in, so that the punch cuts all the way through the cuff piece and then sinks into the scrap.
If you don’t have a punch, you can heat up a nail using a lighter and carefully use the hot nail to melt holes in the vinyl. (Kids, don’t try this without an adult!) Go outside, hold the placemat over a fireproof surface such as concrete or a puddle, and whatever you do, don’t burn yourself. Hold the nail with pliers to keep it away from your fingers, and don’t breathe the fumes that result from melting the vinyl. Practice first, using a scrap of the placemat, to make sure that the holes will be neat and tidy.
Alternately, you can carefully make holes with an awl, the point of a compass, or even a large needle. This method will result in holes that are smaller, ragged, and less stable, but it’s an okay substitute if you can’t use the first two options. Whatever method you use, be safe and keep your fingers out of the way!
Unless you are using one of the placemats that already have scales printed on them, you will need to cut scale shapes out of the rest of your placemat. You can round off the bottom of the scales if you’re looking to make a mermaid arm cuff, or change your print settings to a different proportion (such as 90% or 110%) to give yourself smaller or larger scales, if you prefer.
I lined the scales up on the cuff as I went, to give myself a good idea of how many scales I’d need. I ended up using 88, but you may want more or fewer rows of scales on your arm cuff, and you may have printed out a different size of cuff than I did. Just lay out the scales on your cuff and see what looks good to you; there are absolutely no rules here!
So, let’s be real. You can’t pin a vinyl placemat. Even if you successfully got the pin through both layers, the pin would leave permanent holes that will show on the finished cuff. But vinyl is slick and slippery, and the scale pieces are tiny and hard to hold on to! How did I keep everything from sliding around?
I used this temporary spray adhesive to keep the scales in place while I sewed them down. The temporary adhesive will turn surfaces tacky, like the sticky part of a post-it note, so you can keep them lined up right where you want them. It also won’t gunk up on your needle like some glues will. I use it all the time, and it’s very helpful when I sew unconventional materials that are slippery or difficult to handle like these vinyl placemats, my mylar space blanket ironing pad, this metallic foil fabric swimsuit cover-up, or when I’m working with really small pieces like the dragon scales, these fabric flower petals, or maybe even that one time I made a tote bag out of clothing labels.
Spray the cuff with the temporary adhesive (you really should put down some newspaper first to protect your table from overspray) and stick a few dragon scales to the bottom edge in an even row. (The bottom edge is the shorter curve, like it shows in the picture.) Don’t get too far ahead of yourself sticking the scales down: you can only do one row at a time! You might even find that doing half a row at a time makes it easier to keep track of everything. You need to sew the whole bottom row first, then move on to the next row above that, offsetting each scale so that the point goes right between the scales on the previous row.
Prepare your sewing machine with matching thread and a size 16 sharp needle (the needle may be called a size 100, depending on where you live, or it might be sold as a denim or jeans needle. They are all the same thing.) I used a long-ish straight stitch, about 3 mm (8 stitches per inch). Don’t use too short of a stitch length, because you don’t want to perforate your vinyl more than you need to.
Sew a couple scrap pieces of placemat together first, to test your settings and thread tension. My sewing machine didn’t have any trouble stitching through the vinyl, and I didn’t need to change my settings at all. But if your test scrap isn’t feeding right, try lowering the pressure on your presser foot. Because the vinyl is soft and slightly grippy, your presser foot might sink into the surface a bit and get stuck if your presser foot pressure is too high, and that will result in poor feeding (it’s kind of like trying to push a wheelbarrow through soft sand).
Since this probably isn’t a machine adjustment you need to make very often, you might have to check your manual to find your adjuster. Most newer machines I’ve seen have a dial on the side or the back, near the lever that lifts the presser foot. Some machines, like my vintage Lady Kenmore, have a post on top of the machine that goes in and out to change the pressure. And some, like my favorite vintage Kenmore 1914 that I used to sew the cuff, have a dial inside the cover near the light bulb. Before you make the adjustment, you may want to take note of the current setting, so you can put it back the way it was when you’re done.
When your test scrap looks good, you’re ready to sew the dragon scales onto your cuff.
Place the first scale on the bottom row under the needle, and lower the presser foot. The presser foot should be touching the scale, not the cuff itself (it would stick to the spray adhesive, lol.) Sew a few stitches forward and back, at the flat edge of the scale. You can stitch along the flat edge, or going towards the point of the scale, like I did. It doesn’t take much to hold the scales on, since they are very light and the seam won’t be under much stress. But you do want to be sure to lock your stitches by taking a few stitches in reverse.
Then lift the needle and presser foot, move the cuff over sideways, and sew the next scale in line.
Keep sewing until you finish the row, and then take the cuff out of the machine. You will have thread on the front and back, connecting each line of stitching (these are called “jump stitches”). Take a small pair of scissors and cut the in-between threads after you sew each row of scales.
When you have sewn all of your scales to the cuff, it should look like this. Now for the final step, which is to add the cord to lace it closed.
I used some really pretty gold soutache, which looks sort of like a flat fishtail braid, but almost any cord would work. You might even want to use a contrasting color to make the lacing stand out more… it’s totally up to you!
As I mentioned, I added a line of clear silicone along the top inside edge. This is optional, but it does make the cuff very grippy so that it stays put on your arm and won’t slide down. You can always add the silicone later, if you find that your cuff isn’t staying up all day, or if it shifts when you dance or clap your hands or whatever. I strongly recommend getting a squeeze tube of silicone like this, because it’s much easier to control than the big round tubes that fit inside a caulking gun. If you have any silicone left over, you can put dots of it on the back of throw rugs to keep them from sliding around (like I did when I made this bath mat out of t-shirts)!
I made this arm cuff as part of the Dragon design from the Flights of Fancy collection, so I attached scales to the matching Dragon dress, and added some finishing touches with jewelry. Every look in the Flights of Fancy collection was inspired by something that flies, and you can see the rest of the outfits in the collection by checking out my post about RVA Fashion Week!
I used my extra placemats to cut out larger dragon scales, and attached them to the bottom of the dragon dress. I wanted an asymmetrical group of scales starting at the hem and traveling up the dress, as though the model was turning into a dragon.
See how I used painter’s tape to hold the dress down to the tabletop? That made it much easier to plan out my design without accidentally shifting my work.
I sewed the scales to the dress the same way I sewed them to the cuff. The line of stitching on each scale went from the top of the scale, down towards the point, so that the dress would still stretch and move the way it was designed to. If your dress isn’t stretchy, you can sew a line of stitching along the flat edge of each scale, and this will keep them in place better without the scales being able to flip under the ones on the row below as you walk.
Then, I assembled a really fun metal headpiece (which is adjustable, and can also be worn as a necklace) to go with the dragon outfit. Here, I’ve pinned some chain to a piece of cardboard to hold it steady, while I attach metal pieces to the chain using jump rings.
And when the Flights of Fancy collection went to Atlantic City Fashion Week, the model who wore the dragon design (@officialsophiaarielle) was so petite that I had to put the cuff on her leg instead of her arm! Here’s proof that it still looked fabulous, and it stayed put very nicely.
That’s it, I hope you enjoyed the tutorial and have the inspiration to make a fabulously fierce accessory of your own!