Introduction: Kali's Left Arm (1 of 4)

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

Welcome back! It's time to pattern one of Kali's left arms. (Eventually she'll have 4 of them.)

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.This segment is about patterning one of her arms over a fiberglass arm form. I will reverse the pattern later and use it to make one of her right arms too.

This time around I used muslin fabric to mock up the arm. A "mock-up" is a test version of a finished piece. Instead of using the final materials (which might be limited or expensive) a mock-up fabric is used to test out the shape. When I draped the body I used jumbo spandex for my mock-up, which was not my best choice. Muslin was a better way to go.

For more mobility art, check out the Jazzy Peacock Scooter Instructables or take a peek at Opulent Mobility online.

Here are the tools I used:

A fiberglass store mannequin torso

Fiberglass mannequin arm forms with separating hands

A padded bra

1/2 yard scrap muslin

Marking pens in several colors


Safety pins

Kali's leather body from the past few Instructables

Iron and ironing board

Let's get going!

Step 1: Freeing Kali's Armholes

Before I could even start draping the arm, I needed to free up the armholes.

My store mannequin arms are removable. They fit into holes built into the torso's arm base. Unfortunately, part of those areas were covered up with elastic and leather, and the arms wouldn't fit with all that mess in the way. The left armhole was fine, but the right side needed a little work.

I unpinned the elastic at the right shoulder and the 2 pieces holding the leather together across the bust. I moved the bra strap out of the way and took out the scissors. The body leather didn't need to be longer than the armholes, so I trimmed the leather to the armhole edge. Once the front armhole and shoulder were trimmed, I re-pinned the elastic over the shoulder. That would hold the leather body in shape while I did my patterning. I then finished trimming around the underarm and tucked the free bits of bust elastic underneath the leather. That was the trick! My arm fit into its slot perfectly and I was ready to drape.

Pro tip: usually I would leave a little extra material around the armhole as seam allowance. This is standard when trimming off excess on the form. You leave whatever seam allowance you want to have for sewing the arm to the armhole later.

In this case, I knew I was going to fit 4 arms onto each side! There was no way to tell how much seam allowance I would need. After all, those arms would add a lot of weight to each side, and the shoulder leather was definitely going to stretch out and grow. There was no need to add any extra. In the meantime, leaving the armholes free meant I could work on the arms without having to lift any excess leather out of the way.

There are a lot of standards in sewing, patterning and draping. The thing to remember is that they are just standards, not absolutes. It's more important to make what you plan on making than it is to follow rules that don't apply to your project. There are easily a million and one ways to do anything. And all of them are right, depending on what you're trying to create. Pick the ways that work best for what you plan to do. If you don't know what way is best, take a good guess. You can always figure out another way later.

Step 2: Prepping for Patterning

First off, my muslin needed a little care and attention.

Muslin is a traditional draping fabric. It's woven (like an ordinary button-down shirt), inexpensive, lightweight and really plain. it's easy to drape over forms and to draw design lines on. When I draped Kali's body, I used jumbo spandex. If you've seen the first few Instructables about Kali, you already know that I didn't make the best possible choice. Since I do try and learn from my mistakes, I decided to use muslin this time. I had some scrap left over that I'd used as a drop cloth, and it was the perfect size. All it needed was some ironing and prepping.

  • Woven material is made up of vertical and horizontal fibers. The vertical fibers are the weft fibers, and they make up the lengthwise grain of the fabric. The horizontal fibers are the warp fibers, and they make up the cross grain of the fabric. The horizontal fibers weave in and out of the vertical fibers to make up the fabric. The lengthwise grain is the strongest and the least likely to shrink. Since the cross fibers weave in and out, they can shrink up or "warp" the fabric.
  • You can usually tell the lengthwise grain of the fabric because of the selvedge (or self-edge) on the sides. When the warp fibers weave across the weft, instead of cutting them off at each side the fibers are turned around to weave in the opposite direction. That creates a finished edge on each side. The cross grain isn't finished off in any way.The other important grain of the fabric is the bias grain. That's on the diagonal between the lengthwise and crosswise grains. You can get a true bias (a true 45% angle) by matching up the selvedge edge with the crosswise grain.
  • Why is this important? Woven fabric usually doesn't stretch unless it has stretchy fibers woven into it. It does stretch a little bit on the bias, though. When the fabric is on the bias, the fibers can gently ease back and forth. This grain makes a lovely drape and is wonderful for fine dress details and decorating. It's also an almost perfect match for the stretch of lightweight leather. This made it perfect for my draping.

I ironed the muslin and held it up to the arm at the bias grain. It draped around part of the arm easily, but there wasn't enough room between the arm and the mannequin's torso for me to fit my fingers. Not a problem. I took the arm off the mannequin and got to draping.

Step 3: Rough First Drape

To start draping, I took the left arm off the torso. I then laid out the muslin on my work surface and laid the arm down on top. I angled the arm so the top was just under the top corner of the fabric and the rest of the arm was laying diagonally across the fabric. This made sure I would be draping on the bias grain.

I pulled both sides of the fabric around to the underside of the arm and safety pinned the sides together. The goal was to get a good fit around the arm, but not to worry about making it super tight. That's something I could adjust later. I pulled the fabric up towards the top of the arm and added a few more safety pins to the underarm. Then I did the same at the forearm.

With any draping project, you get a better fit when you apply even pressure from side to side AND up and down the fabric. Working from the middle towards the top and then down towards the bottom gives you smooth, even tension around your form. This is particularly useful when working with a bias grain, since it stretches a little bit both horizontally and vertically. Starting in the middle also means that you don't have to try and make everything fit all at once. You can concentrate on one section at a time.

When most of the arm was pinned, I turned the arm over and checked out the fit. It was all right, but there were a few wrinkles at the elbow and wrist. I re-pinned the underarm to make the fit a little bit tighter and tugged on the fabric at the top and bottom to smooth it out. This worked pretty well on top, but the wrinkles at the wrist got much worse. It seemed like a good time to remove the hand.

Step 4: Finetuning the Drape

I pulled up the muslin on the bottom to get to the hands. Conveniently enough, the hands on my mannequin are removable too. They attach to the arms with long rectangular metal tubes that insert into holes at the wrist area. In the second picture, you can see the seam where the arm and hand join together. I pulled the hand out from the arm, pulled the muslin back over the wrist area and continued to drape.

There was too much fabric on the top of the arm, so I pinned a curved dart to fit the fabric smoothly to the arm's top curve.

Darts can be curved, triangular or football shaped and can be any size. Darts all have the same function, though: they take out excess fabric in one area and fade out to a point on one or both sides. Darts are great for taking in excess at the armpit and leaving fullness at the bust, or taking out extra fabric at the waist and leaving extra at the butt or the tummy.

I pulled the extra fabric on top of the arm snugly around its base and pinned the edges together over the base. That kept everything in place. I re-pinned the top dart more snugly and pulled up on its center to make the fabric smooth. I then trimmed off the extra fabric about 1/2" away from the safety pinned dart, pulled the top of the dart around to the base of the arm and pinned it down. This gave me a smooth, even fit all the way around the top of the arm.

Step 5: Clarifying the Seams

The next step was to trim off the excess fabric and to clean up the fit. I cut the excess off of the underarm seam just above the safety pins, leaving maybe a 3/8" seam allowance. After that, I trimmed off the extra fabric at the wrist, leaving about 2" extra at the ends. I knew I wanted to add fabric to cover the hand later on, but I wasn't sure how much. The extra 2" would give me a little bit of wiggle room later on.

I added extra safety pins to the underarm, fitting the muslin around the arm as snugly as I could. I turned the arm over to its outside to check the smoothness. It looked good, so I took out some colored pens and prepared to mark my lines. I chose 3 different colors: a green highlighter to mark the seams and black and blue Sharpies to mark my design lines. I traced the outline of the top of the arm first, using the green highlighter. The ridge at the arm's base was easy to follow with the pen.

I turned the arm back over to reveal the underarm seam and traced one side of the seam with the pen, following the pin lines. I turned the arm around and traced the opposite side of the seam, then did the same with the dart lines at the top of the arm.

Step 6: Drawing Design Lines

When the seams were set, I was ready to put the arm back on the mannequin and draw in my design lines. I put the arm back on and then stepped back to take a look.

The body had some nice curving lines that swept across the bust and followed the body's curves. I wanted to do the same thing with the arms but wasn't sure where to put my new lines. That's why I draped the whole arm in a plain fabric and put it back on the form. I could look at the body leather and decide what lines to draw that would accent the arm's curves, but also look good with the curves I had already sewn.

I used curves that made the most out of the bicep and forearm, but that curved down to points at the elbow and the wrist. I drew the lines lightly with a black Sharpie, because I couldn't reach under the arm with the pen and I knew I might need to change the lines later. After I drew most of the lines on top of the arm, I took the arm back off the mannequin and finished off the lines at the underarm seam. If I didn't like one of the lines, I crossed it out and drew a new one.

Pro tip: crossing out or squiggling out lines is the universal pattern notation for "do not use this line". It's a whole lot faster than using white-out.

When the arm seemed like it was mostly done, I got ready to put the hand back on and deal with that part of the pattern.

Step 7: Bringing Back the Hand

I drew a final design line at the wrist and pulled the muslin back up the forearm, and then re-inserted the hand and pulled the muslin back over the wrist area. From the pile of extra muslin I pulled out a piece of fabric big enough to cover the hand. I laid it on the bias over the back of the hand and roughly pinned it together to fit at the wrist. I then pulled the end of my muslin arm drape over the new fabric.

I pinned the two pieces of fabric together as smoothly as possible, and then smoothed the fabric over the back of the hand. I pulled the fabric tight so it lay nicely over the knuckles, and then pulled it together under the hand and pinned the sides together so I had a clean surface to draw on. The plan was to pattern the back and sides of the hand separately from the fingers, so I only tried to cover the basic surface without pinning in between the fingers.

Later on I realized that was probably my best choice. Those fingers were a serious pain to pattern. Real fingers are flexible and mobile, and it's not so hard to pin in between them. Fiberglass fingers? Not so much.

Step 8: Hand Design Lines

The next step was to draw in design lines for the hand. I extended some of the lines from the arm, crossing out a whole lot of lines along the way. I started with the back of the hand, drawing in shapes that flared out from her wrist towards the first set of knuckles.

The curving design lines I created for Kali's body were meant to give her a sense of snake-like movement. I also wanted to accent the shapes of each body part. So I tried to choose lines that made the most of her curves. Sometimes my first lines worked out well and sometimes they didn't, so I kept crossing out the ones I didn't like. That's one of the benefits of making a mock-up. You can change your design lines and shapes easily, and you don't have to worry about wasting your final fabrics or picking out a lot of seams.

I worked from one side to the other across the back of the hand, and then turned the arm to each side to continue drawing in my design lines. When those were set, I turned the arm over to work on her palm. When I was pretty satisfied with the lines, I picked up the blue Sharpie and re-traced them. That made it clear which lines to use later on.

Step 9: Cleaning Up and Hand Removal

I continued to re-draw my design lines in blue all the way up the arm. I also re-traced the underarm seam and the green line marking the top of the arm. When the lines were all re-drawn, I pulled back the muslin over the hand and wrist so I could take the hand off again.

The blue Sharpie was a new pen with fresh ink. This made great lines, but unfortunately the ink bled through the muslin and made spots all over the hand. Of course, there were spots all over the body and the arms, too. My blue mannequin has been through a lot, and it was time for me to give her a good sanding and re-painting. So I wasn't too concerned. I wiped off the marks I could with a damp cloth, took off the hand and moved on.

This is one of the drawbacks of drawing in lines on a form, and it's good to choose your drawing tools based on what you're making. A lot of people use chalk or pencils to draw on the form, since they don't bleed through the fabric. That's a great choice for simple design lines. Pencil and chalk lines are fuzzier, though, and can fade or rub off easily. If you're drawing a lot of lines, the first ones you draw are likely to rub off by the time you've finished deciding on the last ones. Colored wax or crayon lines rub off too. So-called "invisible" pens can be a good choice, but they all work differently. Some of the invisible pen inks fade with time or disappear when they're hit with steam or water. Some of them don't fade at all. Darker pen lines are easier to see on light fabrics, but they bleed through thin fabrics.

A good thing to remember is that your form is a tool. Good tools should be kept in good shape, but it's not important to keep them perfect. They are meant for work. This means they will get dirty, stained and battered sometimes. Clean them up as best as you can and keep working. A stained form means that you're actually making something instead of using it for decoration.

Step 10: Setting the Pattern Free

After taking off the hand, I unpinned the top of the arm at the base. I left in the pins at the underarm seams and pulled the muslin drape off by sliding it down the arm. I needed to tug a little bit when I reached the elbow area, but it came off pretty smoothly otherwise.

I labeled the top of the arm with an "L" to remind myself this was the left arm and set the muslin aside.Then I checked out the damage done to the arm form by the Sharpie. The pen bled through, just as I suspected, and left spots all over the arm. Honestly, though, my fingers were even messier than the form!

Pro tip: rubbing alcohol is a good solvent for Sharpie pen marks. It doesn't remove all of the marks, but it gets most of them off of hard surfaces. Use a scrap of towel or t-shirt material, get some rubbing alcohol from the medicine cabinet and put a bit on the cloth. Rub the pen marks with the damp cloth until the ink stops staining the cloth.

This doesn't work so well on fingers. It will get a little bit of the ink off, but your best bet is to wash your hands several times and to use lotion. Eventually it will fade. Your hands are tools too, and stains are a sign that you've done some work! Take pride in your stains, bruises, broken nails and minor nicks. It means that you're actually doing something.

Thanks so much for following along! Next time I'll make Kali's arm out of leather.