Kali's front is ready for leather!
The entire front will take 2 segments because there's a whole lot of wee pieces.
In case you didn't see the last 2 Kali Instructables, 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. In this portion, I'm building her left front, using the pattern I made here.
If you want to remake leather scraps into something new, there's a world of materials out there. Try your local thrift store, yard sale or even your back room for old leather clothing, dead purses, unfortunate cushions or bits of sofa. Most smooth leather cleans up nicely with a soft leather conditioner (like Lexol) or a plain, unscented lotion. Use bits of old t-shirts to wipe the lotion on and wipe it off. Fresh material awaits you! For suede, it's better to brush it off with a clean, soft nylon shoe brush or cleaned up old toothbrush. That will take off most of the ugly bits. Avoid areas that are too nasty to contemplate and you will be fine.
Here's the tools used:
An ironing board
An old orange hoodie
Silver jumbo spandex front pattern from "Building Kali's Back"
Leather scrap from jackets, pants, sofas and upholstery samples
Office binder clips
Sharpie pens in black, blue and red
Clear plastic rulers
Sewing machine and a size 14 leather needle
Black polyester thread
Step 1: Disguising Stripes
I pulled out the mess of pattern pieces for Kali's front and laid it out on the ironing board. And then I stopped.
My ironing board has a striped cover over its very worn base. The cover helps a lot and I didn't have another one on hand. Unfortunately, the stripes in combination with the many pieces of jumbo spandex was a little dizzying. Making a new one wouldn't be hard, but it would take valuable time. Not to worry! I had a bin of old clothes ready to use as fabric or to donate. A stained old orange hoodie fit the bill.
I pulled the hoodie over the top of the ironing board back side up, zipped it up underneath the ironing board and tucked the sleeves into the hoodie's pockets. That took care of the top edge. An old piece of cardboard left over from a framing project filled in the rest of the ironing board. Voila! The ironing board was now a much nicer surface to work on. It was easy to see all my pieces clearly, and I wasn't worried about staining the hoodie with pen marks or bits of leather.
I use old clothes as material and for reference. Sometimes I take them apart and turn them into patterns. I strip them of notions (like zippers, buttons and laces) and use the fabric for new projects or as rags. Old t-shirts and towels make excellent cleaning rags. Worn out and torn jeans are great for repairing other jeans that need only a little TLC. If the pieces are in good shape and I don't want them any more, I donate them to organizations like Dress For Success or I bring them to clothing swaps. I also save really battered old clothing to research how they wear and tear, which helps me when I need to distress clothes for a show. (Distressing means making things look old, battered or worn before their time.)
But I'm geeky that way.
At any rate, I got out the blue Sharpie pen and started re-marking my lines on the very first pattern piece for Kali's front. Then I unpinned the pins and got ready to cut the pattern out of leather.
Step 2: Prepping Piece #1
This time around I took more detailed pictures so it's a little easier to follow how I went from the spandex pattern pieces to the finished leather pieces. (In the first Kali Instructable I breezed through those steps.) If you're clear on how I added seam allowances, skip this step. Otherwise, continue on!
First up I found a scrap piece of leather (part of an old pair of pants) that was large enough to fit my pattern piece plus the added amounts noted on the pattern. In this case, I needed to add 2" to the side seam, 1/2" to the bottom edge and my standard 3/8" seam allowance to the inside edge, top and armhole.
I trimmed off the pattern piece along the clean new blue pen lines I drew in the last step and laid the piece down on the leather again, right side up. I measured out 2" from the side seam edge with a clear plastic ruler and marked my seam allowance with the blue pen. At the bottom, I measured 1/2" away from the edge with the ruler and marked it in pen, then added 3/8" to all the remaining seams and marked those as well. I joined the underarm seam with the side seam by lining the ruler up with the pen marks and filling in the line with the pen. Then I cut out the leather piece along the fresh new lines and laid it over the mannequin's left side seam to check the fit. It seemed all right, but it was too soon to tell.
I figured I would need to put a few pieces together and then check the fit. The plan was to add a little bit to the bust, but I wasn't sure how much. In hindsight, this would have been an excellent time to make that decision and to pad out the bust, but that is not what I did.
Hindsight is 20/20.
Step 3: Piece #2
Piece #2 was processed the same way as piece #1. I trimmed the pattern off along the new blue lines, laid it out on an old green suede jacket sleeve, drew out the new seam allowances and cut out the leather. Then I took pieces #1 and 2 to my trusty Bernina 1020 sewing machine and set the stitch length to 2, which is a relatively short and sturdy stitch. I used a Teflon foot on the machine to sew all of Kali's leather pieces.
Pro tip: specialized machine feet can help speed up your sewing, but they aren't cheap. For most regular sewing, you only need a standard foot and maybe a zipper foot. If you do a lot of chiffon or satin hems, though, a roll hemmer is brilliant. A ruffling foot will make short work of gathering on miles of ruffles and an embroidery foot is great for embroidered details. There's a wide range of special feet for just about any task.
A Teflon foot makes sewing leather or vinyl a breeze because Teflon doesn't stick to the materials. (Regular metal feet will stick to vinyl and to some kinds of leather.) It's also nice for sewing velvet. But it's expensive, and if you don't sew these materials often you may not want to pay the extra bucks.Take a look online for to see what kind of feet are available for your sewing machine, and see if it's worth it to you.
I matched up the edges of pieces 1 and 2 and (starting from the bottom) lined both edges up with the edge of the Teflon machine foot. On most standard machine feet, including the Teflon foot, the distance between the foot edge and the needle is 1/4". It's a quick and easy way to measure a 1/4" seam allowance. I backstitched at the bottom, sewed up the seam and backstitched again at the top edge, then clipped my threads and took the pieces out of the machine. Then I trimmed off my seam allowance to a scant 1/8".
"Scant" is a sewing term for "just under", so a scant 1/8" is just under 1/8". I didn't measure the exact amount, but it would be somewhere in between 1/8" and 1/16". Maybe 3/32"?
After trimming down the seam, I test fit the 2 pieces on the mannequin. They looked okay, so I moved on to piece #3.
Step 4: Piece #3- Cutting Around Pins
I took pictures of each step involved in cleaning up pattern piece #3. If you're clear about how the pieces are prepped, skip this step. If not, read on!
I pulled out some leather pieces from the bin that seemed large enough for my next 3 pieces, decided on which one to use next (dark green from a thrift store jacket) and got my pattern pieces ready for prepping. I marked each side of each pin with blue pen and unpinned piece #3.
This piece had a very small tuck that needed flattening. I pushed the spandex down with my fingers and re-pinned the tuck smoothly, then re-drew my lines following the blue pen marks. I trimmed along the new lines at the top and most of the way down to the pinned tuck, then stopped. I carefully pulled the pin point away from my scissors, cut over the pinned tuck, then pushed the pin back in so the opposite edge was clear. I finished cutting along the new blue lines all the way around the rest of the piece. Now I could use it as a clean pattern.
Step 5: Cut and Fit Piece #3
I laid out my pattern on the dark green leather and drew out my new seam allowances. This piece had 1/2" added to one side of the bottom edge and 1" to the other side, so I added that. All other sides got the usual 3/8" seam allowance added. Unfortunately, one side of the leather had a little snip that extended into the seam allowance. Not to worry! That part would eventually get cut away when I trimmed my seam allowance.
I put piece #2 and piece #3 under the sewing machine so both edges lined up with the machine foot edge. I started at the bottom, backstitched, then straight stitched my way up the side until I got about 1" away from that little snip in the leather. From that point on, I sewed with the leather edges just outside the machine foot edge. The piece would get a little bit smaller, but I could correct for that later on. I sewed the rest of the seam, backstitched, cut off my threads and took the pieces out from under the machine. Then I trimmed the seam allowance down to a scant 1/8". The snip disappeared without a trace.
Pro tip: fudging seam allowances is a classic trick. Sometimes you don't have enough fabric to make all your pieces have perfect seams. You can usually get away with sewing one side with a generous seam allowance (meaning a little bit bigger) and the other side with a scant seam allowance. Instead of breaking down and getting more fabric, ask yourself where you really need the extra fabric.
Once the pieces were sewn, I test fitted them on the mannequin. It fit pretty well, although there was a fair bit of excess at the shoulder. Not a problem. Shoulder seams can be trimmed.
Step 6: Prep and True Pieces 4, 5 & 6
Since the leather was fitting pretty well, I figured I could prep the next 3 pieces without worry. I re-marked the lines and unpinned pieces 4, 5 and one side of #6. These pieces had lots of notes about adding extra to the bottom edges and I wasn't sure how accurate the notes were. It was time to true up the patterns.
Truing up the pattern is short for "making the pattern pieces be true to each other". This means checking that each pattern piece matches up accurately to its corresponding pattern piece. The easiest way to do this is to flatten out each piece, clean up their lines, cut off the seam allowances and line them up side by side.
I trimmed pieces 4 and 5 along their new lines and pinned down their tucks, then matched up their edges. The pieces looked smooth and the notes were fairly accurate, so I unpinned the other side of piece #6 and cleaned up its lines. Then I checked piece #5 against #6. So far, so good. To be absolutely sure, I brought the leather pieces over and matched up piece #3 against #4. Since the leather piece had a 3/8" seam allowance added to its side, I pulled the spandex pattern over the leather so it overlapped that amount. That pattern was a little short, but after my last test fitting I knew there was a lot of extra at the shoulder anyway. All was well.
Step 7: Cut, Sew and Fit Pieces 4, 5 & 6
Next up I pulled out leather to use for each of the prepped patterns. Piece #4 used to be the back of Driven, the Edwardian Cyborg Wheelchair, and pieces 5 and 6 (respectively) were rock and roll leftovers and armchair scrap. I drew in the seam allowances and additions to the bottom edge for pieces 4 and 5 and cut out the leather. Then I cut out piece #6, first testing out the pattern's fit on the leather scrap.
I sewed piece #4 to pieces 1-3, trimmed off the seam allowance and test fit the leather over the mannequin again. The fit over the stomach, waist and bust was good. It was ready for the next 2 pieces.
Step 8: Fitting 'Round the Bust
I sewed pieces 5 and 6, trimmed my seam allowances down to a scant 1/8" and test fit the leather over the form again. The bottom, waist and under bust looked pretty good, but it was hard to tell what was going on at the top. I pulled out the office clips and started clipping the leather to the various elastic straps to hold it in place.
The upper part of the bust buckled a little. I knew I would need more pieces in place before I could really check my fit properly. But before I continued, it was time to test fit the leather along with the rest of the pattern pieces. Hopefully that would avoid a whole lot of adjustments later!
Pro tip: it's hard to check the fit of something that is meant to stretch over a full area without having all the pieces in place. This is particularly hard when you can't pin into the form. Clipping the pieces doesn't apply even pressure across the body. Test fitting each step helps, but sometimes you have to go back and pin in the old pattern pieces to make sure they still work. This is slow, but it's still faster than unpicking and replacing leather pieces later.
Next time, I'll finish off the rest of Kali's front.