Introduction: Cast or Pattern Anything With Duct Tape

About: I'm an animation director by day and Queen of the monsters by night. I picked up most of my costume and prop building skills through hands on experimentation with materials. Experimentation led to addiction,…

In this Ible I'll be showing you how to use regular ol' duct tape to duplicate an existing object, then create a 2-dimensional pattern from the duct tape duplicate. This may not be one of my more attractive Ibles, but the methods explained herein have infinite applications if you're a prop builder, costumer, or puppet maker. In fact, the woman who taught me this method worked for the Henson Co. for many years and said this was how they'd get patterns for "skinning" puppets after the forms had been carved out of foam.

This is a very budget friendly method for the following problems:

--I want to make a corset/costume, but I don't have a dress form.Just to give you an idea of the potential here, I've included a photo of a duct tape full body cast my friend, artist Deb Winslow, made in order to fit armor for a masquerade ball we attend.

--I want to re-upholster this prop, but I don't want to massacre the original to get a pattern.

--I have a cool object I want to duplicate, but I don't have the skills/ materials/ workspace to do casting and molding. Mold making putty works fine for small objects, as in my Glitter Grenade Soap Ible, but larger objects may be best served by this duct tape treatment.

I've used this process in my custom works many times and imagine it'll be helpful to a lot of you out there too!

Step 1: You Will Need....

The object you desire to duplicate or "skin" (cover). For my demo I've used a foam horn I got at an opera house costume sale. It's a simpler object i felt would demonstrate the method clearly. You can use this method on pretty much anything, from a cereal bowl to a piece of furniture to your own body!

Plastic Cling Wrap

Masking Tape

Duct tape


Optional Materials if you're choosing to skin your existing object:

Pencil, Pen, or Sharpie

Straight Pins

Covering Material of choice (fabric, foam, paper, etc.)

Step 2: Protect

The first step is to wrap your object tightly in plastic cling wrap. This accomplishes two major things:

1) Protects the surface of your object-- The cling wrap barrier will ensure that any special finishes or paint on your object remain unharmed by the adhesive of the duct tape. This is especially important if your object is fuzzy!

2) Makes freeing the object easier --When it comes time to free the object from the duct tape duplicate, the cling wrap will ensure that it slips right out and does not stick to any fibers or textures on the original.

Start at one end of the object and wrap tightly to keep the plastic true to form.You don't want excess folds and bulges because that will distort your final result.

When your object is fully wrapped, use masking tape to secure the binding. The shape of my object lent itself to one simple spiral of tape down the form, and a second going in the opposite direction. Your object may call for a different approach. Use just enough to secure the cling wrap --no need to mummify the whole thing!

Step 3: Bind

Now it's time for the duct tape. For the sake of some visual interest, I'm using my Halloween duct tape from the 2014 Halloween Decor challenge.

Use scissors to cut duct tape into working segments. For an object this size, I worked with pieces 6-10 inches in length. Do Not work with pieces over 1ft long as they are more more likely to get away and stick to themselves, bunch up, etc.

Wrap your object. Work from one side to another to get full coverage with no gaps.

Let the tape wrap as it will. Forcing the tape to go up when it wants to go down usually results in folds, bumps, and bulges that will distort the form. Periodically squish or press the tape to be sure you're getting a tight fit.

For fine/ small areas, like the tip of this horn, you may wish to use smaller pieces or tape to keep those places from getting bulky.

When your object is entirely covered, run a few strips of tape perpendicular to your primary direction. This cross-hatching will add strength to your tape form.

Step 4: Tape Shell Removal

Find the back-center of your object, or where a seam will be least noticeable.

Work the tip of your scissors underneath the edge of the tape and cling wrap and cut a notch here. Be mindful of your original object and take care not to scrap the finish or accidentally trim off any fibers.

Using that notch as a starting point, slowly work your scissors up the imaginary back seam, cutting a straight line all the way up.

Your object will probably come free of the shell 1/2 to 3/4 of the way up. You can remove and set it aside to make any remaining cutting easier.

When you've finished, you will have your original object and a sturdy, hollow duplicate.These "shells" are great for costuming or prop making because you can make things like giant horns and have them weigh next to nothing.Simply tape your seam back up and apply a hardener like Bondo resin or air foam clay to turn your duplicate into a solid, useable, paintable object.

Step 5: Making a 2D Pattern

If your goal is to skin the existing object, as in the puppet example, you've got one step left.

Open up your tape shell and attempt to make it lay flat on a table top. You can't. The tape remembers the curves of your object and will buckle and bulge where those curves should be. A few well chosen cuts, essentially darts, will alleviate those buckles and give you a flat, traceable pattern that will sew/glue back into the 3-D object.

Try to press the tape shell flat. Identify where your major bulges and buckles are at. My most obvious one was the horn tip, which I snipped in half to create 2 mirror image pieces with would then lay flat.

My other major buckles were at the base. Be conservative with your cuts. Try 1 inch first. If your buckle remains, cut another inch inward.You only want to cut far in enough to allow the pattern to lay flat, but not so much you've created an overcomplicated pattern and extra reassembly work for yourself later.

Don't worry if your cuts aren't exactly symmetrical. Try your best to eyeball it, but you can correct this later on your skinning material. The green lines in the last photo show my darts.

Step 6: Demo Re-assmbly

Even though your object will differ from mine, I figured it'd be a good idea to follow this through and prove that your 2D duct tape pattern will result in a fitted 3-D piece. In my case, I've made a plush fleece covering for my bare foam horn.

Use straight pins to secure your duct tape pattern to your material, just as you would a regular sewing pattern. The cling wrap layer should still be intact and will protect your fabric (or other covering material).

Trace your pattern shape, including the darts. Here we clearly see my two base darts are a bit different. To correct this, I folded my fleece shape in half and cut along just one dart. Since my original object was symmetrical, I can be assured that doing this will not adversely affect my final product.

*If you're skinning with fabric, make sure to trace a proper amount of seam allowance based on the stretchiness of the fabric.

Pin and sew darts first, then pin and sew along the back-center seam. Invert so the form is right side out. The flat fabric object looked like a butcher knife.

When fitting your skin onto your object, try to line up your back seam with the location you imagined it. This mental guide will help everything fall right into place.

Step 7: DONE!

Now my object has a snug fleece skin. It's a perfect fit because it was patterned directly from the source!

Like I said, creating custom patterns and casts with tape has many applications. The object I chose for this Ible was intentionally simple so I could demonstrate the process in a concise way. Know that you can do some really intricate, amazing work with those same few steps! The puppets in the 3rd photo were built out of foam and then skinned using patterns made with this method.

Doing duct tape patterns based on my mannequin head helps me establish the proper head size and face proportions for my masks. I can cut up the patterns and try different things knowing that mistakes only cost the price of a roll of tape.

Store your patterns flat if you think you might use them again!

If you found this Ible handy, please consider sending a vote in the Duct Tape contest or Crafting 101!

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