Introduction: Kali's True Hands

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

Kali still needs hands. In this tutorial, I cover what worked (and what didn't) in making them.

All 8 of them.

In case you haven't been following, I'm re-making an old aluminum walker into Kali, the multi-armed, three-eyed Hindu goddess of time and empowerment. All of her parts are made of re*used materials. That's my thing. So is making mobility devices amazing.

Here are the tools I used:

Cutting mat

2 work tables and a protective sheet cover

Kali's padded mannequin torso and face from the past few Instructables

Paper bag to use as pattern paper

Old cardboard box and a safety blade

Kali's belt from here

Quilting pins

Sharp fabric scissors and utility shears

Iron, ironing board, and press cloth

Sewing machine, polyester sewing thread and a size 14 universal needle

Heavy duty black thread and several hand sewing needles

Bent-nose pliers

Leather upholstery samples, shirts, jackets, and remnants

Sharpie pens, white colored pencils, #2 pencil with eraser, and ball-point pen

Plastic needlepoint netting

Scrap batting (both sheet and loose batting)


And bandages for the many nicks, cuts, and pokes I got in the process.

Check out my other Instructables if you'd like to make some mobility art of your own. Take a peek at Opulent Mobility if you want to know why I make such fancy scooters, walkers, and wheelchairs. Or check out the DIY workshops I offer for altering, patterning, and crafting your own projects.

Step 1: Hand Samples and Pattern

I made a lot of sample hands in a previous tutorial. They didn't all turn out well, but that didn't matter. It was great practice, and they all got used for Kali's belt. As I practiced, the hands got progressively better, and I developed a hand that incorporated all the details that worked best.

My very first sample went into the scrap bin. The second sample hand was based on a glove pattern, and it looked lifeless and creepy (picture #1). Another attempt had different finger colors (picture #2). That looked good, but the shaping was off. I added curved seams on the palms, which helped, but it still wasn't quite right. I liked the curved seams, though, because they looked like the heart and life lines that palm readers use to tell your fortune.

My next samples (pictures #3 and 4) had separate finger colors and the same heart and life line seams too. I added tiny seams on the inside of each knuckle crease, which helped curve the fingers inward and to give them shape. That turned out much better, but I still wasn't sure about the palms.

The best looking sample hand had separate finger colors, knuckle creases, and heart and life lines sewn inside of the palm. I used that idea and made myself a brand new pattern.

Step 2: First Hand Cutting and Marking

There were many hands to make, but I started with one.

First I chose leather for each finger of the first hand. I decided to use the same leather for the backs and fronts of each finger because that way I could keep track of what finger was what! For the palm side of the hand, I added 1/8" seam allowance all the way around each piece. I then turned the pattern pieces over to make the back of the hand. On that side, I added 3/8" seam allowance all the way around each piece.

The idea was to make the outer hand larger than the inner hand. On all the Kali research I saw, her fingers curved in towards her palm so they could hold things like weapons and demon heads. I planned on easing the back of the hand into the smaller palm, which would naturally make the fingers curl inward. It worked for the last couple of sample hands, anyway!

I traced the knuckle creases and palm lines onto the inside of each palm piece (picture #2), using the pattern to help me mark them. I laid the pattern on the leather, added my 1/8" seam allowance, and used ballpoint pen to mark the ends of each crease line. I then removed the pattern and joined up the lines, occasionally looking at the pattern so I would remember where to curve and where to draw a straight line. The ballpoint pen wasn't a great choice for the darker leathers, so I switched over to a white colored pencil to mark those pieces.

I sewed the palm pieces together, using a 1/4" seam allowance. I set it aside and then sewed the outer hand pieces together with the same seam allowance. After trimming those allowances down to a scant 1/8" I ironed the seams from the back, using a press cloth so I wouldn't scorch the leather. I then set the palm out with the crease lines showing and got ready to stitch the knuckles.

Pro tip: making the outside bigger than the inside is the same principle used for making linings for nicely tailored coats, dresses, and skirts. Standard practice in high end garment manufacturing is to cut the lining a little smaller than the outside pieces. This means that when the lining gets sewn to the outside, the smaller pieces will pull the edges of the larger pieces towards the inside of the piece of clothing. That makes the outside edge look nice and crisp, without little bits of lining poking out.

Cheaper clothes use the same pattern for the lining and the outside because it's faster, but the lining will bulge at the edges. Like most things, you get what you pay for.

Step 3: Stitching the Creases

The next step was all about sewing along the lines.

I picked the inner hand up by the thumb and folded along the first thumb crease (picture #1). I then sewed a tiny tuck along that line, using maybe a 1/16" seam allowance and back stitching at both ends. After that, I worked my way around the top of the palm, sewing tucks at all the knuckle creases (pictures 3 and 4). I trimmed the thread ends and then moved on to the palm lines.

The life and heart lines didn't quite match up, so I split the difference. Instead of folding exactly along each line, I folded in between them. I then sewed the lines with an 1/8" seam allowance because I wanted the palm area to curve in more than the knuckles. When all the lines were sewn, I turned the inner hand over and pressed the seams out from the front, using my press cloth.

Step 4: Inner to Outer Hand

I laid the outer hand on the worktable with the seams on the outside, and then laid the inner hand over it with the finished side up. After matching up the wrists on the pinky side I took both hand pieces to the sewing machine.

I lined the wrist edges of the leather up to the 1/8" marking on the machine plate (picture #2), sewed for about 1/2", back stitched, and then lined up the pinky edges. I pulled the smaller inside pinky tight so it would stretch out to fit the larger outer pinky, and then sewed the entire seam using a 1/8" seam allowance. I back stitched at the pinky tip and then turned the hand over to check my work.

The larger outer pinky eased into the smaller inner pinky nicely!

I then moved over to the thumb side and repeated the process, stitching from the smaller, inside hand side and easing the larger side in as I sewed. I then lined up the area between the thumb and forefinger and sewed that together using the same method. This was repeated in between each finger. I turned the hand over to the back, made sure that my seams were secure, and then trimmed all of my seam allowances down to about 1/16".

This makes it sounds much faster and smoother than it actually was. I had to go back and double stitch in between each finger several times. I trimmed the seam allowance too close a few times and had to re-sew those areas too. It was annoying. But the end result was good.

Step 5: Hand Structure

My sample hands were stuffed with batting. It worked pretty well for the fingers, but the palms looked puffy and weird. I wanted some kind of structure in the finished hand to give them internal support. After all, my hands have a structure. They have bones and muscles and tendons and such. I didn't want to build an entire skeletal system, but I figured that I could work something out.

I laid the leather hand over a piece of cardboard box and marked the sides and in between each finger. Then using the markings and my own hand as a reference, I drew a fist shape onto the cardboard and cut it out. It needed some definition, so I marked lines in between each finger. I sewed those lines with the sewing machine and test fit the cardboard over the back of my hand. The sewn lines helped the cardboard curve over my hand nicely.

The inside of my wrist curves in a little, so I re-cut the cardboard to give it a wrist curve too.

Step 6: Palm Padding

Once I got the cardboard figured out, I used it as a pattern. I traced around it on cardboard to make 7 more palm structures. To create left and right sides, I used one side of the cardboard for half of the pieces, turned the cardboard over, and traced the back side for the rest of the pieces. I made little marks above and below the finger lines, and then used those marks to line up a ruler and draw in matching finger lines on all the cardboard palms.

The cardboard was great, but it wanted some padding. I pulled out some sheet batting and pre-cut it into squares a little larger than the palm pieces, and then laid cardboard palms onto each square of batting. I changed my sewing machine needle to a size 16, took a pair of palms to the machine, and sewed along the lines all the way through the cardboard and the batting. I did the same to the remaining 3 pairs of palms.Trimming the batting down to the edge of the cardboard cleaned up all the loose thread ends from sewing.

Pro tips:

When pattern pieces say "cut 2", it usually means that you cut 2 opposing pieces- one right side and one left. It's not always that way, though, so check your pattern to make sure- or label it if you only want one side made!

It's possible to sew through cardboard, but it takes a bigger needle. A size 16 is usually used to sew jeans, so it's strong enough to make it through a layer of medium cardboard and 2 layers of batting.

Step 7: First Hand Stuffing

My first attempt at hand stuffing was okay, but not great. I tested out a few methods, most of which didn't work, and I didn't take many pictures. Not to worry! There are many detailed pictures in the nest step... and even more later on.

These hands took some time.

I put the palm padding into the hand and shoved it up towards the first set of knuckles. The plain cardboard side went towards the palm and the padded side faced the back of the hand. I then added loose batting to fill each finger. This took a long time and wasn't so successful, since the batting tended to get stuck in the middle and not fill out the fingertips. I stuffed and un-stuffed a few times until I got a good technique down: tearing off tiny bits of the batting and shoving them up one by one into each finger.

After filling the fingers, I shoved more batting into the palm area of the hand and added a little to the back. I wasn't sure that I liked the way the fingers curved, and the palm looked puffy. But I had a few more hands to stuff, so I set it aside and moved on to another hand to get the details worked out.

Step 8: Stuffing Step by Step

After the first hand, I got much better about taking photos at each turn.

I took some loose pillow batting and tore it into tiny bits. Little by little I shoved those bits into the thumb so they completely filled it from tip to base, using the eraser end of a pencil to help me. After that, I put the padded palm piece into the hand with the plain cardboard side facing the palm. To get the cardboard through the wrist hole, I folded it along the stitching lines and smoothed it flat once it was inside. Once it was in, I checked how the hand looked from the back side.

The back of the hand looked a little stiff, so I added some more stuffing to fill it out. I then turned it back over to the palm side and added batting to fill out the area above the heart line and below the life line. I smoothed out the leather with my fingers, pinned the heart line down to the cardboard, and then did the same to the life line.

This hand still wasn't quite right. The fingers looked off. But it was a whole lot closer than before.

PS: in palmistry, the heart line is that curved wrinkle between the first and second finger that extends about 3/4" below the pinky. The life line is the longer curved wrinkle extending from below the thumb to just above the thumb's webbing. If you curve your fingers in toward your palm, you can see how the palm creases and where there's extra puffiness above and below those creases. That's the effect I wanted for Kali's palms.

I spent a lot of time staring at my hands and bending my fingers on this project. This looks weird when I do it in public. You may want to flex your fingers in privacy.

Step 9: Finger Structure

I was getting closer, but the hands needed some fine tuning. I pulled out the pins, took out the loose batting in both padded hands, and pulled out the palm cardboard pieces. The palms needed a little more bulk, so I padded the back sides of all the palm pieces and set all but one aside.

I test fit the newly padded palm in one of the padded hands. The fingers really needed some structure- something to act like bones. Thin strips of cardboard were my first thought, but the ones I tested didn't hold up well. I looked around to see what else I could use, and found a couple of sheets of plastic needlepoint netting. Perfect. I could cut it into strips and use it as boning!

I pulled all the padding out of the fingers for the second time, cut a strip of the netting with utility shears, and did a test fitting on one finger. It was a good idea, but it didn't quite work. I left some jagged edges of netting that caught on the inside of the leather fingers and tore one of the seams. I pulled it out, repaired the hole, and cut the rest of my finger "bones" as close to the long lines of netting as I could. That worked much better.

After trimming fingernail "points" onto the strips, I test fitted them against the leather hands and cut strips to fit each finger. Then I repeated the process for the rest of the hands.

Pro tip: when I run into snags in construction, I do a little brain storming. What does this problem require, and what do I have lying around that I could use? Taking a few minutes to look around and scout for materials can save me a lot of time, money, and effort.

Plus it's kind of a thrill to get that "aha!" moment of finding the perfect thing to use!

Step 10: Adding Finger "Bones"

I slid a finger "bone" into each finger. After that, I stuffed the pinky finger from the palm side of the hand, keeping the needlepoint toward the back. It looked great!

I then stuffed all the rest of the fingers with their "bones" and with batting. When that was done, I pulled the leather over the back of the hand to test the finger curl. It was a little bumpy, so I added some loose batting to fill out the back of the hand and cover the ridges left by the finger "bones". That did the trick.

My next trick was to figure out how to finish the palms.

Step 11: Palmistry Is Painful

My idea was simple. I would stuff the areas above the heart line and below the life life, pin them into place, and sew all the way through the lines. I figured that I could catch my stitching on the top layer of padding on the cardboard palm supports.

It was a nice idea. As usual, things didn't go that smoothly.

My first needle was a small, curved upholstery needle. The theory was that I could stitch along the palmistry lines and catch the padded layer of the palm support along the way. I knew it would take some effort, so I used heavy duty thread and a pair of bent nosed pliers to sew through all the layers. What I didn't count on is how much force it would take to push that needle through. The curved needle was really hard to guide and I couldn't keep my stitching on the line.

Fine. I tried another needle. The next one was more heavy duty and it was straight, which made it easier to guide. That needle snapped in two about 3/4" from the wrist edge.

After cursing for a while, I found a heavy duty tapestry needle and threaded it up.

Step 12: Sewing Life and Heart Lines

I sewed the life line with my third needle (!) and managed to make it all the way up to the end without breakage. It was not easy to poke through the palm structure and keep the needle point from going all the way through to the back of the hand, but somehow it got done. I sewed along the line, back stitched at the top of the thumb's webbing, knotted my thread, stitched to hide the knot, and cut my thread off.

Then I sewed the heart line after opening up one of the wrist seams so I could reach up into the hand better. That was okay, but still really difficult. My fingers hurt a LOT. I kept forgetting to use the pliers and occasionally poked the back of the needle into my fingers. Eventually I got wise and used a thimble and the pliers regularly. That was much better.

Once the lines were stitched, I re-sewed the wrist seam I had opened earlier. Then I pinned the wrist edge down and sewed the bottom edge shut as best as I could. This was to keep all the padding from escaping.

And then there were only 7 more hands to sew. What was I thinking?

Eventually it got done. in the next tutorial, I'll go over Kali's many arms.