Kali's right front is ready to rumble!
In case you didn't see the last 3 Kali Instructables, I'm re-making an old aluminum walker into Kali, the multi-armed Hindu goddess of time and empowerment. Her "skin" is being made out of leather scraps. In this portion I'm finishing up her front.
Check out Building Kali's Back, Smoothing Kali's Back and Kali's Left Front if you'd like to see what led up to this tutorial. To see more mobility art, check out the Jazzy Peacock Scooter Instructables (all 17 of them) or take a peek at Opulent Mobility if you want to know why I make such fancy scooters, walkers and wheelchairs.
Here are the tools I used for Kali's right front:
An ironing board
An old orange hoodie as an ironing board cover
Silver jumbo spandex front pattern
Leather scrap from jackets, pants, sofas and upholstery samples
Office binder clips
Sharpie pens in black, blue and red
Clear plastic rulers
Sewing machine and a size 14 leather needle
Black polyester thread
A blue store mannequin torso
A padded bra and bust pads
And the back of a wooden spoon.
Step 1: Pattern Checking and Separating
The leather pieces for Kali's left front were still on the mannequin when I started working on her right side. I pulled out the remaining pattern pieces for her right front and checked them over the form. The pieces looked all right, but I really couldn't tell how smooth the fit would be. Since I planned to re-fit the leather many times over, it wasn't a problem. I pulled the pattern pieces over to the ironing board to unpin them and re-mark my lines.
Pro tip: even with regular checking of pattern pieces, it's not always possible to tell how something will fit until it's made in the final material. Using a similar material to make the pattern is no guarantee either. The weave may be a little bit different, the stretch may be just a little off or maybe the loom was tighter in one spot and not in another. The key to getting a good fit on a tricky pattern is to re-fit frequently.
Making adjustments, picking out seams and altering lines is not a sign of failure. It's part of the process that helps turn you into a pro.
I unpinned the bottom right side and hip to separate them from the right upper bust patterns. This section had a lot of pieces and it was easier to break the patterns down into distinct areas before cleaning up my seam lines. Once the bottom and top parts were separated, I unpinned all the upper pieces and drew in their new seam lines with a blue pen. The first 4 or 5 pieces looked pretty clear, but the last few were a mess.
Step 2: Upper Pattern Labeling and Redrawing
I cleaned up my new lines and then numbered the first 5 pieces, moving from left to right. Numbering pieces is a great way to keep track of them! After labeling and unpinning piece #5, I drew in one side of the new lines for piece #6 and took a closer look at the remaining pattern pieces.
Piece #6 was actually made up of 2 pieces, but I wanted to simplify this pattern a little bit. So I drew in a new line that extended all the way down to the edge (see picture 4) and pinned the extra seam flat (picture 5). That was a much cleaner piece! Then I unpinned piece #6 and started on piece #7. I cleaned up the lines, unpinned the edges and drew in a new seam line at the bottom (picture 6) and then pinned the extra seams flat (picture 7). I repeated the same steps on piece #8. Now my patterns were much cleaner. It was time to dig through the leather scrap bin and decide which ones to use next.
Step 3: Pieces 1-5 in Leather
The leather for pieces 1-5 came from (in order) a pair of suede pants, armchair remnants, an upholstery leather sample, brown suede from The Sword and the Stone and a green jacket sleeve. The pieces for this section were relatively short, so I had lots of options to choose from.
I trimmed the pattern pieces along their new lines, laid them out on their respective leathers, drew in a 3/8" seam allowance all the way around each piece and cut them out. Then I sewed the pieces together one at a time using a straight stitch and a 1/4" seam allowance. I kept the pattern pieces with the leather until they were ready to sew. That way I didn't lose track of them! After sewing each seam, I trimmed the seam allowances down to a scant 1/8" and smoothed out the seams with my fingers.
I wanted to test fit the leather before moving on to the next few pieces, so I used office binder clips to fit them over the mannequin.
Step 4: Altering the Leather
Pieces 1-5 were pretty loose fitting. I needed to do a lot of alterations to make them fit better over the bust! Luckily, the leather I used wasn't very thick so it was easy to pin. I used quilting pins to mark my new seam lines on the form. Then I took off the binder clips holding the leather to the mannequin and got ready to sew the seams.
When I'm sewing an alteration on an existing seam, I like to start on the old seam line a bit below the first pin. This way I can gradually work my way into the newly pinned seam line. I do the same at the end of the alteration, gradually working my way back to the old seam line. Abrupt jumps and bumps in your stitching make for lumps and bumps in your finished work. When in doubt, work towards smooth lines.
I started sewing on the old seam line about 1 1/2" below my first pin and gradually worked my way to the pinned line, taking out each pin as I sewed. When I reached the end of the pins, I gradually worked my way back out to the old seam line and backstitched. I clipped my threads and started on the next seam.
The next seam was just pinned, not sewn. I started at the bottom, backstitched and worked my way up the seam, pulling out the pins as I sewed. When I reached the area where two seams met, I flattened out the seam with my fingertip and carefully sewed up to that point, moved my finger and continued sewing down to the end. I backstitched, clipped my threads and then trimmed my seam allowances down to a scant 1/8". I smoothed out the seams with my fingernails and got ready to test fit the leather again.
Step 5: Re-fitting and the Benefit of Bras
I did another test fitting of the leather over the form. The fit was fine at the waist and hip, but the bust area was way too loose. More pins to the rescue! Pulling up the leather at the shoulder and pinning in at the mid chest and by the armpit helped. It still seemed a little loose, though.
And then I remembered that I meant to add bust padding. Oops.
I unpinned the shoulder and got out an old padded bra that I picked up at a clothing swap. It had an unpleasant dotted pattern of orange, purple and cream on a tan background, but the shape was good. Now I could put it to use! I put the bra on the mannequin, added some bust pads I had left over from a costume design gig and pinned the shoulder seam back together.
Excellent! It was a much better fit. I could move on to the next step.
Step 6: Pattern Re-check and Re-sew
While I had the leather on the form, I figured I could check out my patterns again. I test fitted pieces 6, 7 and 8 on the mannequin. Pieces 6 and 7 looked like they would work, but I wasn't sure about piece #8. Not to worry. I could always check the fit again later.
I turned the mannequin over on its back and checked my pinning to make sure it worked over the padded bra. It needed a few adjustments, but the bust area fit a whole lot better than before. I re-pinned where necessary and trimmed my shoulder seam allowance down to about 1/2". I also re-trimmed the edges around the armhole, since that area was looking a little sloppy.
Once it was all pinned, I took off the binder clips and re-sewed all of the pinned seams. I trimmed my seam allowances down to a scant 1/8", smoothed the seams with my fingertips and got ready to test fit once again.
Pro tip: test fit your shapes as often as you need to and make any changes that seem necessary. Maybe the fit isn't right, maybe you want to adjust the shapes or maybe you don't like the look or color of one piece and you want it replaced.This way, you get to change your mind at every step along the way!
Step 7: Once More With Feeling
The bust area was looking a whole lot better. It was a great time to test fit my pattern pieces again, both the ones at the top and the side and bottom ones. Since the front was fitting more smoothly, I would get a much better idea of how those pieces would go together.
I tested out pieces 6 and 7 at the top. They worked out beautifully! I didn't even need to use piece #8, which was great news. There was more material there than I needed, but I figured I would adjust the right shoulder seam later on in the process. After all, Kali still has 4 pairs of arms. I might need a little extra room, and my mannequin's right shoulder is much lower than her left.
It's probably meant to be an action pose.
Next I held up the side and hip patterns to the leather to see how they fit. It was a little awkward, so I pinned the pattern pieces to the leather. I was able to pin all the pieces in place. The old seam lines didn't work any more, but that wasn't a problem.
I had more pen colors on hand.
Step 8: Third Line's the Charm
Time to draw in some new lines! Of course, there were a lot of lines drawn on the pattern already. I drew the first seam lines on my patterns in black and the second ones in blue. To keep track of the changes, I used a red Sharpie for the third set of lines. Third time's the charm, right?
Pro tip: it helps me to use several colors of pens and pencils. Each time I make changes to my pattern, I use a new color. That way I can (hopefully) keep track of which line I'm going to use.
It works most of the time.
I clarified my notes about how much to add to each side of the hem line and re-drew the armhole, shoulder and hip lines. I unpinned the patterns from the leather, laid them out on the ironing board and cleaned up the lines using the red pen. I labeled the side and hip patterns A-D to set it apart from the numbered pieces up top. Then I trimmed pieces 6 and 7 along their new lines and chose some leather for them: piece 6 was once a pair of suede pants and piece 7 was leftover from a rock and roll costume. I laid the patterns on the respective leathers, drew out a 3/8 seam allowance all the way around each piece and cut them out.
Step 9: Pieces A-D
Next I moved on to prepping pieces A-D, the ones that covered the right side and hip.
There were so many lines on the patterns that it got confusing. I used the blue pen and drew over the red lines to make them clearer. I also added notes about extending the pieces. The side seam needed an extra 1" and the hem line needed different amounts added to each side (1" at the side seam and 2" on the interior seam edge). Once the lines and notes were clear, I trimmed off the pieces along the new seam lines and trued up my edges. I laid the pieces next to each other on the ironing board and made sure the lines met up properly.
After that, I chose leather for each piece. Piece A was once a pair of black leather pants, B was made of leftover blue leather from Driven, C came from an upholstery sample and D was part of a green suede jacket. I laid out each piece on its respective leather, drew a 3/8" seam allowance all the way around them and cut the pieces out. I sewed the leather pieces together in sequence, using a 1/4" seam allowance, and then trimmed each seam down to a scant 1/8". After finger pressing out the seams, I checked the leather against the pattern. It looked just right. Time to continue with the upper pieces and get this front put together!
Step 10: Multiple Seam Stitching
I sewed pieces 6 and 7 together, using the standard 1/4" seam allowance, and then I sewed them both to the rest of the upper leather pieces. I trimmed the seam allowances down to a scant 1/8" again and laid all of my pieces out as smoothly as possible on the ironing board. Then I got out the wooden spoon and got down to some serious smoothing.
When joining pieces that are made up of a lot of little seams, it's a really good idea to flatten and open up each of those seams first. This may be slow, but it makes the joins much smoother and easier to manage. If the seams are left to their own devices, they get bulky and the leather can stretch out of shape.
I used the back of the wooden spoon to smooth open all of the upper piece seams (pieces 1-7) and repeated the steps for pieces A-D. After smoothing, I started from the bottom and sewed pieces A-D to the upper section, stitching slowly and carefully over each seam. I used a 3/8 seam allowance on this piece because it fit better that way. When I was done sewing, I checked both sides of the leather to make sure my seams didn't shift or get messy. They looked pretty good, so I trimmed down the seam allowance to a scant 1/8" and got ready to smooth some more.
Step 11: Smoothing and Re-Fitting
Multiple seams joined together means a whole lot of smoothing and flattening, For my final smoothing, I used a little more pressure with the wooden spoon than I did with flat, individual pieces. The under bust curve where pieces A-D joined up with pieces 1-7 took a while to flatten, but it worked out well in the end.
After smoothing out the troublesome seam, I did a final flattening of the remaining seams. Then I took the leather front back to the mannequin for a final fitting. The front looked good! The bust area fit nicely and the shoulders, waist and hip pieces made a lovely flowing pattern across the body. Kali was really starting to take shape.
Thanks for hanging in there for a long Instructable! Next time I'll stretch and smooth the front over the form.