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.