Functional Costuming: Burning Man Goggles

Steampunk goggles are apparently really controversial. My view is that they’re great if they fit the character, but probably not for every steampunk costume. But for Burning Man, goggles are pretty essential. There’s dust, there’s heat, there’s massive amounts of sun, there’s people with crazy reflective outfits… You really want your eyes protected. Why not make your own goggles, instead of buying the standard welder’s goggles and screwing on some jewelcrafter’s lenses? ($40 for welder’s/science goggles and jewelcrafter’s lenses, as seen on tons of steampunk websites, reminds me of this song.)

Beautiful. But you really need eye protection out there.

Beautiful. But you really need eye protection out there.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any in-progress pictures for this project, so it’s more of an inspirational thing. But I can tell you what I used, and describe how I put them together, since my method differs from any of the ones I’ve seen out there.

Materials I used:

-Scraps from a reclaimed leather jacket (I am a vegetarian now, but I wasn’t when I made the first mockup of these goggles [they looked opposite directions. It wasn’t good.])
-Pieces from a set of old, broken mirrored aviators: lenses and a piece of the broken-off earpiece
-Two metal rings from the hardware store — you could use anything metal and round, from mason jar rings to old soda can bottoms with the middles CAREFULLY cut out.
-D-rings: These were just for looks. If you’re making them for someone other than you, you might want to make an adjustable strap from D-rings, or just a buckle.
Hose clamps
Elastic: if you actually want to be able to use your goggles and not just wear them on your head, you might need some elastic to account for the fact that your head is not the same size when the band is stretched at an angle over your skull as it is when the band is stretched behind your head and over your eyes.


-Thick needle and sewing thread
-Medium-grade sandpaper

Total cost: Under $15

What I did:

First, I got my rings. Then, I carefully popped the lenses out of the old sunglasses. Side note: One day, this bag of cheap, ugly and/or broken sunglasses appeared in my house. Two years later, no one has taken credit for this.

Then, I dremeled/sanded the lenses down to fit. This step took the longest, as my method was to eyeball everything, test it, and dremel some more. Always be careful when using power tools, obviously. And wear a mask, unless you feel like inhaling UV-protected plastic dust. If you don’t have access to power tools, sandpaper will work… eventually.

I was able to pop my lenses into the metal rings and have them stick without glue, due to the thread on the inside of my rings, but I had planned to glue them.

Halloween and goggles 093

Then I took my leather and made two cylinders that fit around the rings. I cut them at an angle to fit my face (wider near the ears, narrower at the nose). If I were making these for a commission, I wouldn’t leave the edges all nasty like you see there; I’d add some binding or else take thread and make a buttonhole stitch all the way around. Or maybe glue/sew on a fake fur edging. That last idea wouldn’t be good for Burning Man, however, as it is hot, sweaty and dusty, and you probably wouldn’t want fake fur next to your face.

Sewing the eyepieces around the metal rings

Sewing the eyepieces around the metal rings

I sewed the eyepieces in place around the metal rings, sewed the straps, added a strip of leather in the middle, and called it good for about two years.

Unfortunately, my goggles weren’t really nice: the leather didn’t make a good nosepiece (probably because my eye cups are flexible), and my goggles looked in two different directions. I put up with it until some guy freaked out in the line for a music festival, and made some unflattering comparisons to a bug.

When I got back home, I took my goggles completely apart and started experimenting with the pipe clamps until just about two days before Burning Man, when I had an “aha!” moment.

Summer 2013 055

Then, I dug out the old sunglasses and broke off a piece of the earpiece with pliers, just bending the metal where I wanted until it broke.

Then I carefully bent the metal piece on each side (only bending it once didn’t weaken it too much!), and stuck the bent edges into the hose clamp slots.

See the bent piece there?

See the bent piece there?

Then I just screwed the hose clamps down tightly, pinning the leather eye cups between the metal pieces. I liked this solution because I wanted the parts that rested against my face to be soft, and not have rigid eye cups. Plus, I happen to think hose clamps look neat.

Halloween and goggles 101

You opinions may differ, of course. But I like the extra bit of hardware. I also really like the mirrored lenses because they have gotten cooler looking over the last two years with wear and tear.

Summer 2013 215

Want to see some other tutorials? Some of them are way more detailed than mine.

Happy Steampunking! Have you ever made your own goggles? Did they work, or were they more for aesthetic? Does it bug you when someone has goggles and they don’t really fit their character?


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