Making Patterns From 3D Objects Sans Computers or Fancy Math





Introduction: Making Patterns From 3D Objects Sans Computers or Fancy Math

I went to expensive school to figure out computer 3D modeling to make my inflatable sculpture. What a fool I was! I don't need computers or school! All I needed is a handful of mud, masking tape and a blade. The following pictures were taken while I was doing a residency in Haiti for the Nov 1st celebrations (a little bit like Day of the Dead in Mexico).

Step 1: Make or Find a Form You Would Like to Copy

I made my form from some clay dug out of a drive way. I used a a piece of wood to shape and simplify my form into planes, you dont have to do this but it makes for a simpler pattern. You could also copy a pre-existing object, say a detergent bottle or a fruit, but first ask your self if you could not simply peel the fruit and use the peel as your pattern.

Step 2: Cover in Masking Tape

I had a bit of trouble getting the tape to stick to the clay, but I persevered by using long pieces, careful smoothing, and layering. About 3-4 layers all over is good, keep it smooth and neat.

Step 3: Trace Cut Lines

I used a pen to trace where I wanted to cut pieces, a bit of mental work is involved here, so keep the following points in mind:

The most important thing is that the pieces should be able to lay flat when you free them from the form. If they do not then you will be able to make small adjustment cuts (later) until they do but that means more work seaming later so it is best to plan so the pieces come off flat.

What are the shapes, sizes, and properties of the material you will be using? if its 45" wide fabric then estimate how big the pattern piece will be when enlarged, will it fit? Will you need to piece widths together? how can you be most economical? I chose to make strip like pattern pieces that would be easy to lay along the length of fabric. If you are sculpting out of a (mostly) inflexible material like wood or heavy steel, then you will need to cut many more small pieces, if you are using a flexible material like fabric or thin metal then you can cut larger pieces and count on bends.

How can the perimeters of you pattern pieces AKA seams accentuate your form? I made some choices based on logic of how a skull fits together.

Since my shape is symmetrical I only needed to do half

Step 4: Cut

Using a sharp blade cut along the lines of each piece. Then lay the sticky bit down on a piece of graph paper, if it is not laying flat then make little adjustment cuts until it does. Be sure to make a special mark where you do this so you don't get confused later, and know to sew them back together as opposed to looking for some missing piece that does not exist.

Step 5: Enlarge

Use the old graph paper enlarging trick*, for that you will need a big ruler, a friend, and a chalk line to make "Jumbo graph paper", and then draw in the pattern while methodically counting squares, checking and rechecking your work. An opaque projector would have been great for me, but we had none. I used different colored pencils and drew the pieces on top of one another, I thought this was clever because that meant I wouldn't have to make so much "jumbo graph paper" and I could just use tracing paper to copy from the original, unfortunately there was no tracing paper so I had quite a headache separating the overlapped patterns.

*For more details on the graph paper enlarging trick see:

Step 6: Transfer Pattern

Add seam allowance ! or tabs or what ever your process call for, (I wont go into the specifics on piecing and sewing). Trace to material making sure that all pattern notation go with it. If you have an opaque projector you could project directly to the material and skip this and preceding steps.


Sew or weld or glue.

Note: I used a fabric that was gray on one side and purple on the other. So to make sure I came out with a mirror image halves I placed like sides together.

Step 7: Voila

Here is the finished piece. There is a fan in the back, the mouth is a zipper so one can enter, the cheek hollows are tied in with cord, nostrils regulate allow air to escape which prevents seams from getting overloaded and also have effect of breathing on you when you stand in front of it, the eyes are clear vinyl windows and I put a light inside so that at night the eyes would glow purple at night. The kids loved it.



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    I am a graphic designer in inflatable advertisement bussiness. So, that walkthrough is very helpful for me. Thanks for sharing.

    Very nice. :) I may not have read carefully and you might have already said it, but what material did you use?

    For your UV mapping, I suggest Blender 3D. it is free... and very good. you can make the items as simple or complex as you like.

    If you register at you can download some autodesk software free. Look at the web page there to if you are interested in robotics.

    I usually hate one word comments...but I can only really come up with "excellent".

    I have always wanted to get to Roswell. I would like to wander the crowd and dowse for aliens. That would be interesting. I will check out your website.

    I am not affiliated with McNeel and Assoc. who own Rhino, but I do use it and am the moderator of the Rhino forum and UV Mapper forum at and the UV Mapping forum at

    I think that everyone should try the Rhino. LOL 8) I do my uv mapping in UV Mapper Pro, but there is an new app in beta testing called UVLayout that looks much more promising for unfolding organic shapes like this. I was really attracted to this project because I used to help my mom make stuffed animals when I was younger and this reminded me of that. BTW you do not have to go to an expensive school to learn Rhino. We will help out anyone with a legal copy of the software who wants to learn it. Maya is among many considered the holy grail of 3D. Do you not get along with it? I like the idea of doing real sculpture as opposed to modeling on the computer and one day hope to sculpt a lifesize alien to display at Halloween along with a crashed saucer. Keep up the good work and good luck.

    1 reply

    RHINO: OK I'm going to check all that stuff out. I'm a Mac person, want to get a PC in addition though. MAYA: I liked it OK seemed pretty easy to use, I havent used it in a couple of years but it didnt unfold like Form Z and didnt have any physical properties like 3DSMax, it probably does now I suppose. SCHOOL: I was trying to make a funny about all the money I spent on graduate school which i suppose was useful for other reasons too. REAL SCULPTURE FROM COMPUTER MODELS: CRASHED SAUCER: Too bad you aren't in Roswell Right now. The UFO festival is going on.

    I would just be a whole lot easier to do the 3d route and unfold it in a uv mapping program, but this is cool for lo techies.

    1 reply

    hmmm "whole lot easier" depending on the shape you need, your skill in modeling, your access to software, hardware (note that this particular project was done in Haiti). But yes, I feel you other wise, theres nothing like the certainty of printing out a well executed paper pattern, I'm guessin' you are a Rhino enthusiast? or work for them? I was using FormZ, Maya, and 3dsMax, TouchCad before. Should I try Rhino?

    OK, I will. I guess that would probably help with the adhesion problems I had with masking tape on wet clay.

    foil first is best, especially that great heavy duty stuff , then duct, but many cloth tapes are good! also, if using wet or WED clay, sealing it with a sprayed coat of shellac or chilling it helps preserve detail.

    That's really useful. Thanks. I'll try it on some of my more complex puppet shapes.

    Nice. This could come in handy for all of those out there who like hoaxes or just some pranks. Oh, the possibilities of mind control robots... i mean decorations.

    1 reply

    wow I have no idea what kinds hoaxes/pranks/robots you are talking about, but do post pictures after it all goes down.

    I am slapping myself in the forehead. This is brilliant. I have wrestled with trying to create patterns for something more complex than a platonic solid or such. We overlook the simple things. I am now going out to buy TONS of masking tape. Thank You!

    1 reply

    aww thanks for the love! please let me know if you figure out improvements or alternate methods.