Introduction: Peacock Scales and Skirt

So close! This is the second to last tutorial on the making of the Jazzy Peacock Scooter. If you'd like to see what the peacock looked like while on exhibit, take a virtual walk-through of Opulent Mobility. I'm working on an exhibit catalog site and will share it as soon as it's ready.

In this tutorial I'll show you how I made the peacock's scales and skirt.

If you want to follow the project from start to finish, check out my other instructables. Making the peacock feather "eye" was part 1. I formed the "spine" and "ribcage" of the feather in part 2, uncovered hidden golden trim in part 3, sewed down the velvet with gold in the 4th, brought in some blue in the 5th, fully fronded the feather in the 6th, quilted the eyes in part 7 and quilted the fronds in part 8. In part 9 I stabilized all that quilting and velvet backed the fan. I finished the peacock fan and seat cushionin part 10 and made lumbar supports in part 11. Part 12 was all about combining the seating. In part 13 I reinforced the fan, slipcovered the scooter and made a little change in direction. Part 14 was the peacock head and body and part 15 was the peacock's crest. This is part 16. Welcome!

Here are the tools I used:

Scissors: sharp fabric shears, kitchen shears and embroidery shears

Donated drapes, tapestry scraps and remnant velour (about 3 yards total)

Donated sheer fabrics: chiffon and sparkle sheer (about 3 yards total)

6 yards of 1" thick polyester batting (leftovers from a car and boat upholstery shop)

Red Sharpie pen

Millinery hand needles

Navy pre-cut waxed thread (also called polymide thread)

Pale green, bright green and turquoise polyester thread

Sewing machine with a #14 universal machine needle

Quilting pins

Steam iron

The peacock fan and decorative seating from steps 1-13

The slipcovered scooter seat from part 13

The peacock head and neck from steps 14-15

And a whole lot of trial and error.

Step 1: Dry-fitting Peacock Parts

To begin the process, I got out the scooter seat, found all my peacock parts and started rummaging through the fabric bin. I wanted to test out pieces on the seat before deciding how to put everything together. I had some donated silky drapes that matched my color scheme, so I used one to loosely cover the scooter chair. I pinned it in place, then put down the peacock lumbar support and seating. I tied the peacock fan to the head rest with the fancy side facing the seat. I wasn't sure how that would work with a peacock body coming off the back of the chair, but it was a good place to start.

A friend donated a lovely beaded skirt a long time ago. I wasn't sure what to do with it at the time, but it was too fabulous to get rid of. Now was the time to use it! I opened up the back seam, gathered the top together with safety pins and pinned it to the base of the chair. It would look great right under the peacock body, and I figured I could drape it so the skirt wouldn't catch in the scooter's back wheels.

My first 2 attempts at peacock feathers weren't quite right for the feather fans or the seating. I got a little too fancy and jazzed them up with an outline of magenta thread. But when I put them together and draped them over the top of the headrest, they made a nice bridge between the drapery and the feather fan. Excellent news.

Then I put the peacock body on the back of the scooter. The placement was good but something was missing. The draped fabric over the scooter was nice, but it needed something to make a smooth transition into the texture of peacock's body. Okay. Back to the drawing board!

Step 2: Prepping the Padding

I wanted to add some quilted texture to the back of the scooter. That meant adding padding. And unfortunately my old pillow batting wouldn't do. It would take way too long to individually stuff areas, and I had a date with a photographer to take glamour shots of my peacock! So I went with 2 pieces of 1" thick sheet batting. There's an upholstery shop just down the hill from me, and they often let me buy extra pieces off them.

I liked the drape fabric I used, and luckily a friend donated me 4 panels of the stuff! I took out another piece and laid it on the floor, shiny side down. Then I laid out my batting sheets, one on top of the other. I drew out a circle at the bottom of the batting, about where I wanted the peacock base to be. Then I took the peacock and tried to line up its base with the circle. It wasn't quite right, so I took out the red Sharpie again and traced around the peacock base. It got a little messy, but I figured I could use the inside lines. Then I laid the peacock back down to mark the top. I wanted the quilting to extend just over the head and to cover the headrest. Marking about 1 1/2" above the head seemed right. I drew a rough line across the top of the batting at that level.

I used kitchen shears to cut right along the top line and about 1" inside of the circle at the base.

Pro tip: Kitchen shears work well on batting. Regular scissors get dull very quickly if you use them on padding of any kind.

I left myself extra room at the circle because I wasn't sure how much the batting and fabric would compress when it got quilted. It's usually easier to trim of the excess than to add in extra later on. Once everything was trimmed, I pulled the fabric underneath the padding to keep it nice and smooth and pinned the layers together. Now I could move on to the skirt.

Step 3: Skirt Prep

Of course, I prepped the skirt without taking enough pictures. Hopefully the ones I have will give you the information you need!

I used another piece of my lovely drape material to line the skirt. Before I lined it, though, I gathered the skirt together on top using heavy duty off-white thread and a milliner's needle. Since the fabric was heavily beaded, heavy duty thread was key. I sewed 2 lines of gathering and sewed in between the beads wherever possible so I could scrunch the fabric together tightly. Then I knotted off the threads securely.

I spread out the drape fabric, shiny side down, onto my work surface. Then I spread out the skirt on top. I pinned around all the edges and cut the drape fabric 3" away from the edge of the skirt on the sides and bottom. That left me enough room to fold over the excess and make a nice drapery border on the outside of the skirt. I re-pinned the skirt to the lining, about 2" inside the edges, and folded the cut edges of the drape over twice and pinned it to the front side. It took a while to pin the folded border, since I was working on a curve. Every so now and then I took out a steam iron (set to low so I wouldn't melt the fabric or scorch the table) and steamed the folds in place. I pinned at least every 1/2" and maybe even more. I carefully took it to the sewing machine, set the machine to zig-zag and sewed that folded edge in place. Then I took out a whole lot of pins and steamed the edge again.

Pro tip: when pinning a finished edge around a curve, the outside edges will be bigger than the edges you're pinning to. Use your pins to help "gather" in that excess.

Once the bottom and sides were finished, I trimmed off the extra drape fabric above the gathered top. This time I only added a 1/2" to the edge. I turned the skirt over and hand sewed down the lining to the inside of the skirt. The top part would eventually tuck up underneath the base of the peacock, so it didn't need a border. Excellent! Now I was ready to work up a quilting pattern.

Step 4: Quilting Research, Drawing and When Sewing Goes Awry

I took out my trusty peacock research to figure out what kind of quilting to make! There's an interesting, scale-like shape to the feathers right behind a peacock's body at the base of their feather fans. It's not hard to see where they're related to dinosaurs.

I also pulled out a couple of other fabric options. The drape fabric was nice, but using only one might make the back boring. So I found a great tapestry piece, some iridescent green taffeta and olive green velour left over from making the seat and lumbar support pieces.

Boring is not what you want. At least, it isn't what I want.

I took out my red Sharpie and the pinned down padding from step 2. I drew fanned out scale shapes all around the circle cut out, then spread out the scales to start filling in the rest of the padding. I stopped once I got close to the top and side edges, figuring that I had enough scales. Then I went back to the fabric bin to find some sheer fabric.

Padding (or batting) isn't a great surface to sew on. It gets caught in the sewing machine foot and shreds. Sewing from the opposite, fabric covered side isn't much better. Padding also gets caught in the feed dogs underneath the machine foot. Feed dogs are the little grooved metal plates underneath the needle that move up and down to help push fabric along while sewing. Covering the batting evenly with a sheer fabric means that you can still see your markings and that the machine foot will slide right over that fabric without catching.

I found some light, sheer fabrics and lay one piece down over the padding, pinned it in place and got ready for machine sewing. I planned to start with the center circle and sew on the drawn lines, using a straight stitch. That was the plan, anyway. This did not go well. The piece of padding was too large. Any attempts I made to shove it under the machine wadded up the drape fabric, the sheer fabric or both. It was a real mess. Hand sewing each scale was not something I had time to do, even if I could sew them all nicely.

It was time to re-think the process.

Step 5: Breaking the Quilting Down

When all else fails, break down the problem into smaller pieces. Smaller pieces of the padding fit under the machine without a problem. I could use different fabrics for each section and piece them together later.

Sometimes I get so excited about seeing the light at the end of the creative tunnel that I try to do everything at once. This means making a lot of mistakes that take up a lot of time. The plus side is that each mistake can actually turn out to be a more interesting choice than the original plan.

I took out all my pins, peeled up the sheer fabric and shoved in the hole to keep it out of the way. Then I started cutting out the first layer of batting along the red scale marking lines. I made a sort of egg shape around the hole. I moved the cut out bits of the top layer out of the way and cut the bottom layer of batting to match. When all the extra batting was out of the way, I cut the drape fabric so it was about 1" larger than the egg shape and pinned all the layers together smoothly.

This piece was so much easier to sew. I used a straight stitch to quilt in the scales, then used a narrow, tight zig-zag stitch and went over each seam to make each scale stand out. The stitching was clean and the fabric didn't bunch up as I sewed. Since my first try at sewing the scales was so far off, I didn't worry about keeping on the lines I had drawn. As long as my sewn curves were nice and smooth, it didn't matter.

After all, no one would see those Sharpie lines but me.

Step 6: First Batch of Scales

To finish off the first set of scales, I turned the piece over to the back side. You can see the stitching really clearly in the picture. It's also easy to tell where I didn't follow my drawn lines. The sewn lines were smooth and looked like scales, so all was well.

I trimmed off the extra bits of fabric on the inside of the center hole and around the outside edges, keeping just outside of my stitched lines. Then I changed the pale green thread on the sewing machine out and re-threaded with turquoise and bright green thread. I double threaded the needle and set the machine to a narrow, tight zig-zag stitch. I re-sewed about half of the scale lines in the new colors. This really made the lines pop and gave the quilted piece more depth and interest.

I used the same thread to zig-zag finish the cut edges around the outside and inside of the hole. Now I was ready to get to the next set of scales!

Step 7: Second Set of Scales

I cut the rest of the padding that I marked up with scale lines into three pieces: a left curve, a right curve and a top panel. Then I decided which fabrics to use for each section: iridescent green taffeta on the right, dark green tapestry on the left and olive green velour on top.

I spread out the tapestry and the taffeta shiny side down on my work table and put the two side curves over the fabric. Then I found more sheer fabrics to lay over each piece of padding. I didn't have enough sheer white fabric, but I did have a super bright blue-green piece of Sparkle Sheer! That did the trick. I pinned each section together smoothly.

Pro tip: sometimes I entertain myself by making goofy fabric decisions on the inside, unseen portions of my work. Sewing a lot of scales can get repetitive and dull. If you can find a way to get yourself interested in each part of your work, even the dull bits, you'll have a much better time making it.

After pinning, I started with the taffeta piece and sewed in my scale lines: first with a straight stitch in pale green, then with a narrow, tight zig-zag stitch over the scale lines. I trimmed all the edges close to the sewn edges but not too close. I wanted to do a test fitting to see how my pieces went together before finishing it off.

Step 8: Scale Blending

When I had the taffeta scales ready, I pinned the egg-shaped piece over it to see how it fitted. It looked good, but I was missing the extra pop of color. So I marked the taffeta with pins where the egg-shaped piece overlapped it and started zig-zagging scale lines on the taffeta in turquoise and green. I added color to about 2/3 of the piece this time. I left the areas just outside my pins alone, since I knew they wouldn't show.

Then I trimmed the outside edges more carefully and zig-zagged them to finish them off. I re-pinned the scale sections together at the pin lines. I smoothed out any bumps and lumps, then zig-zagged the overlapping edge of the egg-shaped piece over the taffeta.

When I was finished, I gave the whole piece a good steaming with the iron set to a polyester setting. I knew the drape fabric was polyester, because the fiber content labels were still attached to the drape's edge. The taffeta was maybe a blend, but the padding underneath was definitely polyester and I didn't want anything melting. Man-made fibers melt when they get too hot.

Ironing pro tips:

If you don't know the fiber content of your fabric, use a medium to low heat setting on your iron.

Another good trick is to use a sheer fabric as a press cloth. A press cloth is just what it sounds like- a piece of fabric to put over your work so you can press it without fear of the iron sticking, damaging the fibers or ruining the finish. Sheer fabric is great because you can see through it!

Irons can leave scorch marks and stains, depending on their condition and what kind of water you use for steam. Distilled water is the best choice. Filtered water is okay but may have calcium in it that can leave little white chunks all over your work. This is gross but not usually a problem, unless your fabric is delicate and gets scuffed up by the chunks. Regular tap water can leave calcium chunks AND rust stains, which suck.

Step 9: Fitting It All Together

After I did the first 2 scale sections, I sewed the left side curve and the top section scales just like I did in steps 6, 7 and 8. Then I did a dry-fitting. The left side curve (in the dark green tapestry fabric) stretched out as I sewed the scales, but that wasn't a problem. I was able to lightly gather it around the egg-shaped center. I pinned it in place, zig-zag stitched it down and steamed the entire piece.

Then I took out the olive green velour top panel, checked to make sure the back side was in good shape, turned it back over and dry-fit it on top of all the sections. I pinned it down and sewed it into place almost all the way around, except for a little area on the right side where the pieces didn't quite fit together. I steamed the whole panel out and did another dry fitting, adding the peacock and skirt into the mix. Luckily everything fit together pretty well. The hole for the peacock base was bigger than I wanted, but I knew I could fix that when I attached the quilting to the back of the scooter.

One of the things that happens when you manipulate fabric in any way (quilt it, pleat it, embroider it, whatever) is that fabric shifts when handled a lot. It can stretch out, change shape and grow or shrink up as you sew. As long as you test out the fit of each piece, this isn't a problem. There's so many ways to make adjustments. Spending time on dry fittings will save you time in the end.

Voila! The back of the scooter was textured, interesting and ready to attach to the chair base! I was in the home stretch. Which was a good thing, since my photo shoot was 4 days away...

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Bio: I re*make mobility devices and materials and give them new lives. I re*use often. And sometimes I staple drape.
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