In this tutorial, Kali gets her crown.
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.
In case you have been following the Instructables, I took the better part of the year off from Instructables due to medical issues, trauma, and personal work, and chose instead to focus on artmaking and political activism. Kali is complete now. You can find her online at Opulent Mobility.
Here are the tools I used:
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
Kali hair (sculpted ethafoam base with leather covers)
Quilting and safety pins
Sharp fabric scissors and utility shears
Scrap Pellon and Sharpie pens
Sewing machine, polyester sewing thread, and a size 14 universal needle
Heavy-duty black thread and several hand sewing needles
Leather from upholstery samples, jackets, and remnants
Plastic needlepoint netting
A jar to hold broken pins, needles, and blades
Check out my other Instructables to make some mobility art of your own. Take a peek at Opulent Mobility to find out 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: A Little More Hair
Warrior goddesses need lots of hair. It's a tough job fighting off demons, and some locks might get torn out in the heat of battle.
There were a few places in Kali's hairdo that didn't look full enough, so I carved up some more foam hair pieces and covered them with leather. I pinned them into place and sewed them down, using a sewing machine where I could and hand sewing with a leather needle and heavy duty thread where that wasn't possible. The hair leather came from a very 1990s jacket with embossed paisley print accents. Fancy!
For full details on hair making, check out the Kali Hair and Hand Belt Instructable.
After adding in the hair, I marked the sides of the hair with safety pins to note where to attach the front and back hair together. The plan was to sew the hair together after figuring out the tiara and the facial structure. Oh, and maybe the neck and torso supports. But at any rate, there was a lot to figure out before I sewed the hair sides together and it didn't hurt to mark them with pins.
This was my philosophy for most of the making of Kali. I had a lot of plans about how things were going to go and about what methods I would use. Almost all of them had to be tweaked or re-thought or thrown out completely and re-started. There were many steps that I had no idea how to accomplish. But eventually, she was completed.
Kali would not be rushed.
Step 2: Tiara Breakdown
After finishing the hair I moved on to Kali's tiara. The front was already patterned and all the pieces were drawn in, so that was ready to go. I pulled out the materials I wanted to use: shiny metallic leathers, hair-on calf scraps, pebbly deep red leather, and plenty of zippers to use as edging. These were all leftover from past projects and donations.
I took out the center panel pattern for Kali's tiara and cut out each piece along the drawn lines. It looked a little like a garlic bulb. My plan was to start at the center of each bulb and work my way out to the sides. I pulled out the center pattern and used a Sharpie to trace around it on copper metallic leather. The top edges were going to be finished off with zipper teeth, just like Kali's eyelashes, so the only area that needed seam allowance was at the bottom. I added 3/8" to that edge, cut out the leather along the lines, and pulled out a red zipper with golden teeth to use for edging. Then I prepped the next set of pieces.
The side front pieces were drawn out on hair-on calfskin. (That's calfskin with the hair shaved down very short but left on, unlike most leather that has all the hair removed.) These pieces needed seam allowances added to both the inside curves and the bottom. I drew these on the fuzzy side of the leather, which was an enormous pain. The lines didn't come out well, and it was a mess to cut.
Next time, I planned to turn the patterns over and draw any furry pieces out on the back side of the leather.
Step 3: Zipping Up the Center
Red zippers made a nice, crisp edging for the middle of the tiara. I turned the center piece over, pinned the zipper so that the teeth just peeked out past the edge of the copper leather, and then used a narrow zigzag stitch on the edge of the leather to hold the zipper in place. I trimmed the zipper fabric down to about 3/8", pinned another zipper to the opposite side of the leather, and repeated the process.
I used a #2 machine foot to sew the zipper. This foot lets me sew right next to the edge of the zipper teeth. A regular, flat machine foot would also work, but it's wider, so one side of the foot would have to ride over the zipper teeth. Sometimes that is fine, and sometimes the foot slides off the zipper teeth, leading to skipped stitches and broken needles and a lot of cursing.
After sewing down the zipper, I pinned a side front piece in place so it overlapped the center by 3/8". I zigzag stitched it down, took out the pins, and repeated the process for the opposite side. The next step was to edge the side fronts with more red zipper. Once those edges were stitched and the fabric backing was trimmed, I drew out the final pieces of the center panel (the side side fronts) onto pebbly dark red leather, adding a 3/8" seam allowance to the inner curves and the bottom edges. To make layout easier, I drew lines on the outside of leather to mark where the zipper teeth would line up. That made sewing much faster since I could line up the edges without turning the pieces over to the back side. I was able to zigzag stitch the side side fronts in place without using any pins.
Technically speaking, I could have sewn the zipper edging and the side panels in place all at once. That doesn't usually work out so well because it's so easy for one of the pieces to slide out of place. The leather is strong enough to handle two layers of zigzag stitching, and the seam is stronger and more crisp looking, so I would rather take the extra step and sew it twice.
After sewing, I test-fit the panel and it looked good.
Step 4: To the Side
Now I was ready to move on to the side panels.
Since the tiara had so many pattern pieces, I labeled them all. Starting from left to right, I numbered the pieces F1 through F17. I trimmed out each pattern piece, pulled aside the side panel patterns (F4-6 and F12-14) and the leather I wanted to use, turned the patterns and the leathers over to their backsides, and drew out my pieces on the leather. I added seam allowances only where needed: on the bottom edges and wherever each piece would overlap another piece. After drawing the pieces, I cut them out, turned them to the front sides, and got out the zippers.
The centers of each side panel were edged in red zipper using the same method as the center front panel. I pinned the sides of the side panels in place and zigzag stitched them down after trimming off the excess fabric backing for the zippers. Then I test fit the side panels over Kali's tiara base and ran into a problem.
I am not sure what happened. Maybe I traced the pattern incorrectly or slipped up as I was patterning, but on the left side, there was an area where the leather really didn't match up to the base. There was not enough copper leather for me to re-cut the piece and have enough left over to cut out the remaining panels, and I was not in the mood to redesign the entire tiara. So I decided to leave the leather alone and change the shape of the base.
Step 5: Zipper Edging Pointers
Since the side panels didn't fit that well, I went back to the center front panel. My plan was to outline each panel with zippers, using a gutsier zipper on the outside edges. I figured that would add some width to the panels, so I might want to check the fit before moving on to the rest of the tiara.
I zigzag stitched zipper to one side of the panel and stopped right after the first join. The zippers I used in between each piece extended all the way to the tip of my panel, and they would definitely get in the way if I tried to keep going. I used round-nosed pliers to pry out the topmost zipper teeth just far enough down so they wouldn't break my needle. Then I sewed the outside zipper down all the way to the point.
Sewing on top of metal zipper teeth = broken needle shards near your eyes, which is not fun.
I mitered the point by pivoting the zipper down from the point to the other side, turning the piece over to the backside, folding the fabric smoothly, and then pinned it in place. Once the panel was turned back over to the front, I pulled out more zipper teeth that threatened to get in the way of my stitching, and then zigzag stitched the opposite side of the zipper down. After that, I turned the panel onto its backside again to trim the zipper fabric away.
With the center panel done, I zipper edged the side panels.
Step 6: Final Fronts
Once the side and center panels had zipper edging, I test fit them over the tiara base. The edging made each panel a little wider than the base, but it looked all right once I pinned the pieces together. It was close enough to move on to the final front panels.
I went through the same process as I did with the center and side panels: using the patterns to draw out the leather pieces with seam allowances added where needed, cutting them out, adding zipper edging, and trimming off the excess zipper fabric. I then took the extra step of test fitting the new panels against the pattern. The fit was good.
In hindsight, it would have been a good idea to test fit ALL the panels against the patterns. I didn't, though. At this point, it was pretty clear that I would not be able to use the cardboard tiara base to stabilize the finished headpiece. So it wasn't that important to have each panel match the pattern. The leather and zipper tiara front looked great, and I was not about to re-make it. Making a new base seemed like the easiest option.
However, the pattern was worth saving. I lined up the pattern pieces and pinned them to a board.
Eventually, all the patterns became artworks. But that's a tale for another day.
Step 7: Getting the Front Tiara Together
I sewed zipper edging to the outside edges of the final front panels, trimmed down the excess zipper fabric, and fitted the panels over the tiara base. Pinning the panels together was tricky because of the thickness of the zippers and the leather. My pins kept bending and breaking, so it was hard to get a good smooth fit.
I carefully took the panels off the tiara base and sewed the panels together as pinned. When I laid the tiara out on the work table, it looked nice and smooth. It did not once I put it on the tiara base. It wasn't bad, but there were some areas that looked too large. And when I checked it out from the back, the differences between the tiara and the base were really clear.
It was time to clean up the front and make a new pattern for the back.
If I do this again, I will definitely use stronger pins, or maybe I will staple the edges together. Staples make excellent temporary pinning tools.
Step 8: Front Tiara Detailing
To make it easier to fit the tiara, I took Kali's hair off of the form. With the hair out of the way, I could get up close and see the fitting issues more clearly. I pinned the tiara to the base as smoothly as possible and checked out the problem spots.
The copper piece at the center had some extra material, and so did some of the joins where each panel met. I started with the joins since it would be relatively easy to make those seams tighter. I pinched them in with my fingers until I got the fit I liked and pinned them in carefully. I then went back to the center panel, pinched out the leather until it fit smoothly, and pinned the fold.
I unpinned the tiara from the base and took it to the sewing machine. Using a straight stitch this time, I sewed the pinned areas at the joins and at the center front. After sewing, I unpicked the old seams that joined the panels together so that the new seams could lay flat. Then I re-pinned the tiara to the form.
Step 9: Prepping Pellon for the Tiara Back
Once the tiara front was fitting nicely, I put Kali's front hair back on. Sure, I could have left it off, but it's a lot easier for me to see the total picture with most of the parts in place. I checked to make sure her hair covered the base of the tiara, pinned it down securely, and moved on to check out the back.
The cardboard base for the tiara wasn't quite matching the front, but the overall shape was okay. It was the panel tips that were off. I figured I could drape over the base shape and adjust the points to match the front panels. Luckily, there was plenty of Pellon left over. I unpinned Kali's back hair to get it out of the way and began draping.
Starting at the center back, I pinned Pellon to the base, smoothing it out as I went. I worked from side to side and then from top to bottom. As I worked around the bottom curve of the tiara, I trimmed the Pellon down to about 3/4" past the curve and clipped the curve so it lay smoothly. Then I went up to the one panel that was dramatically off from the front tiara. I scored the cardboard with a safety blade and folded it over so that it followed the shape of the front. Then I cut off the extra cardboard. After that, I continued draping, pinning together seams as needed to make the Pellon fit the form.
Step 10: Back Tiara Patterns
Once the Pellon was in place, I turned the mannequin around to the front and trimmed the excess to about 1" outside the edges of the tiara. Then I turned the mannequin back to the backside and drew in the base panel lines. Because my worktable faces a window, I had great lighting, and it was easy to see the outline of the front panels and trace their shape onto the back.
After drawing out the panel shapes, I drew in my design lines, using a slightly different approach then I did for the front of the tiara. I labeled each piece, numbering them from left to right and adding B in front of each number. Yes, F means "front" and B means "back". I like my patterns to be easy to remember.
I unpinned the back tiara pattern and cut out each panel along the lines. Then I cut each pattern piece out. Starting with the centers of each panel, I drew my pieces out onto metallic copper leather, adding no seam allowances. After cutting them out, I took out the hair-on calf leather, turned it over onto its backside, and pulled out the next set of pattern pieces. I then drew out the next set of pieces, using the backside of the patterns. I added seam allowances at the bottom edges and at each overlap and used a razor blade to carefully cut the pieces out.
This is a classic trick for cutting fur, fake or otherwise. Slicing gently from the suede side without cutting all the way through to the fur means that the fur doesn't have that "ugly haircut" look. Another trick is to shave the seam allowances down so they don't get caught in the stitching.
Step 11: Back Tiara Pieces
I drew the last set of back tiara pieces out onto dark red leather, adding seam allowance to the bottom edges and the overlaps. After cutting them, I laid all the pieces out in order and pulled aside the center panel.
The copper leather for the center panel was edged with a grey-blue zipper with gold teeth, the same zipper I had used for the front tiara's outer edges. I then tried to figure out the overlaps with the next set of pieces, the ones I cut out of hair-on calf. This was a little tricky because my design lines were so different from the front of the tiara. I was able to use the same technique for some of the joins, pinning from the back so the pieces overlapped the zipper teeth by 3/8" and zigzag stitching down the edges. At the bottom, I needed to fold over one side of the furry leather and sort of slam it into place. It worked out all right, but it made for a bulky seam.
The next two pieces were exactly like the front panel. I edged the hair-on calf pieces with zipper, pinned the dark red leather with a 3/8" underlap, and zigzag stitched the edges down. Once the pieces were sewn, I used my round-nosed pliers to pull zipper teeth away from the outer edges of the panel.
As is usually the case, the back center panel went about twice as quickly as the front center panel. It's almost always faster the second time around.
Step 12: Testing Tiara Techniques
I edged the center panel with a heavy duty tent zipper I found at a local surplus hardware store, using the same mitering and trimming technique I used for the front tiara panels. This zipper gave the panel extra body and weight. When I test fit the panel on the base, though, I had the same problem that I had in the front: it was too large. Luckily, it was an easy fix to pin out the excess and sew a dart in the center of the panel.
Moving on to the side pieces, I tried out a new technique. Instead of overlapping my bottom seams, I sewed them from the back side and flattened them out. I then sewed the zipper edging on the copper pieces, laid them on top of the dark red sides, pinned them in place, and zigzag stitched the center down. The end result was a little puckered, but it looked pretty good, so I felt confident about testing it out on the form.
Step 13: Finishing, Backing, and Crowning Glory
After edging the side panel in tent zipper, I test fit it on the form. It looked good, so I did the remaining panels in the same way, test fitting each one after edging them with zipper. When all the panels were finished, I pinned them together on the form. This time I used safety pins, which was a much better choice than the quilting pins I had been using on the front of the tiara. There were still some bent and destroyed pins at the end, but not nearly as many as before. I checked the fit one last time and unpinned the tiara front and back from the form.
Generally speaking, while dull pins and needles can be sharpened, it does not work very well. The steel on modern needles is not very strong and it won't hold up. If you have a stockpile of older needles, they will last a lot longer because the metalwork is of a higher quality. I throw my used pins, broken needles, and dull safety blades into a jar labeled "dead sharps". When the jar is full, I seal it tightly with a lid and put that in the recycling bin. Check out your local trash company to see their policy on sharps disposal!
Since the cardboard base for the tiara didn't work anymore, I made a new one. I used leftover pieces of plastic needlepoint boards as a stiffener for both the front and the back, cutting it into shape and sewing the pieces together with a zigzag stitch where needed. Then I whipstitched the plastic needlepoint board to the backside of each tiara section. I sewed the plastic to the zipper fabric only so the stitching wouldn't show.
After stiffening the tiara, I whipstitched the front and back together with heavy duty thread, keeping my stitches in the creases in between each zipper tooth. I then stuffed pillow batting from a thrift store pillow in between the laters to create a wedge shape. I cut the old cardboard tiara base away, pinned the newly supported tiara in its place, and checked the fit.
Eventually, I built a support for Kail's face and sewed her face, her hair, and her tiara securely into place. But that is a story for another time.
Step 14: Kali, Complete
These shots are from Kali's glamour photo shoot. Heidi Marie Photography did the pictures, and I couldn't be more pleased with them. Heidi is amazing.
Kali took 2 years to complete. She was an excellent choice to focus on for a very difficult period in my life.
Most of the work I see on Instructables that becomes popular is cute, gross, funny, and/or short. My work is none of these things. So I appreciate you taking the time to look things over.
Good Solstice. May good fortune go with you through these tough times.