Intro: Peacock Struts and Scooter Slipcovers
In this tutorial I'm reinforcing a peacock feather fan and slipcovering the seat of a mobility scooter to make a very fancy mobility device: The Jazzy Peacock Scooter. The glamour photos of the finished scooter are in their final edits, so you can see the end results soon!
If you want to follow the project from start to finish, check out my other instructables. Making the peacock feather "eye" was part 1. I formed the "spine" and "ribcage" of the feather in part 2, uncovered hidden golden trim in part 3, sewed down the velvet with gold in the 4th, brought in some blue in the 5th, fully fronded the feather in the 6th, quilted the eyes in part 7 and quilted the fronds in part 8. In part 9 I stabilized all that quilting and gave the fan a lovely velvet backing, in part 10 I finished the peacock fan and seat cushion and in part 11 I made lumbar supports. Part 12 was all about combining the seating. This is lucky part 13. Welcome!
This is a long segment, but it's got some good tips and tricks. Plus a major blunder that turned into a boon.
Here are the tools I used:
Size 14 universal sewing needles.
Black polyester thread
Millinery hand needles
Grey and navy pre-cut waxed thread (also called polymide thread)
Navy button/carpet thread
A sewing machine (my trusty Bernina 1020)
Quilting pins (the long kind)
A blue velvet thrift store skirt
Bent nose pliers
Plastic baggie and rubber bands (for saving screws)
Remnant blue fleece and black twill from a TV day gig (about 2 yards of fleece and a half yard of twill)
The peacock feather fan from parts 1-10 and the seat cushions from parts 10-12.
If you want to know why I'm re-upholstering a Jazzy Power Scooter, check out my mobility art at Dreams by Machine. The Jazzy Peacock will be part of a group exhibit I'm co-curating called Opulent Mobility. (There's full details on the site.) Come on out and visit the Jazzy Peacock Scooter in person! The exhibit runs September 9-19th at California State University, Northridge's West Gallery and the artist reception is Saturday, September 12th from 4-8 PM.
Step 1: Setting Up Struts
The peacock fan was lovely and pretty sturdy, but it's still just made of fabric and stuffing. It was a little limp and floppy. I wanted to reinforce it so the ends would stand up like an actual peacock tail. But what should I use? Wire tends to bend and kink, steel corset bones are kind of expensive and metal rods would make the fan really heavy.
Luckily, a friend was working on a project that used carbon fiber struts and saved me leftover pieces. I picked through the bits, laid them out against the back of the fan and found six struts that would make excellent fan supports. They were sturdy and lightweight and I didn't even have to cut them!
A deep blue velvet skirt I found at the thrift store was an excellent choice to cover the struts. Both sides of the fan were going to extend over the top of the scooter's head rest, so the struts needed to look good. I cut the skirt down one of its side seams to get a nice long section of fabric and laid my first strut on top of the wrong side of the velvet.
By the way, the side of the fabric you don't use is often called the wrong side. The other side is called the right side, the garment side or just "the side I want to use". Technically speaking, there is no wrong side to any fabric. There may be a side that was intended to be on the outside, but that choice is always up to you.
After I laid down my strut, I positioned it so it was about two inches from the cut edge of the fabric. I folded over the velvet to fully cover the strut and leave myself some seam allowance. Then I pinned the velvet together, fuzzy side up, just outside of the strut. I pinned a few more times so I would remember the width, then slid out my strut. I took the velvet to the sewing machine, double checked that the pin marks would leave me enough room to comfortably slide the strut through later, and sewed the velvet with a straight stitch along my pinned lines.
After sewing, I took the velvet out from under the machine and got back to my work table. I slid the strut into its velvet slipcover (or casing, if you want to get technical) and trimmed the seam allowance off to about 1/4". I used the blue velvet skirt to make casings for the other five struts, trimmed off the seam allowances and got ready to pin them into place.
Before pinning each strut down, I rotated the casing seam around so it faced the back of the fan. That way when I stitched the casings down, all the fuzzy cut edges would be hidden. Then I pinned the struts down, starting with the outer edges.
I lined up one strut so it followed the line of a peacock feather all the way out to its tip. On the other side, I lined the strut up with a main seam joining two feather portions together. I didn't worry about matching the bottom edges of the struts together, since I still had 4 more struts to put in!
Step 2: Strut Stitching
After I pinned the outermost struts down, I slid another strut into a casing and laid it out on the back of the feather fan to pin it into place. This one followed the line of another peacock feather. Once that was in place, I realized that I would have a difficult time sewing my struts down if I pinned them all first!
It's kind of hard to sew a fully structured fan. If everything's pinned into place, there isn't a lot of room for the fabric to flex in between stitching lines. Threads will catch on the pin heads and you're guaranteed to poke yourself a lot with the pin points. So... I laid out the rest of the struts without their casings to decide where they should go. Then I took them away and just stitched the ones I had already pinned.
I used the navy blue polymide thread (the pre-cut, pre-waxed stuff) and a milliner's needle. I doubled the thread, knotted it and used a combination whip/slip stitch to sew the edges of the velvet casings down. (That stitch is described in Part 12, Peacock Cushions.) It was pretty easy to sew the casing down the side that only had one strut. The side with 2 pinned struts was an enormous PIA, since I kept having to untangle my thread and move pins around. After that, I figured I would lay down each strut one at a time, pin it, sew it and then move on.
So that's how I did the rest of the struts. I put each one in its velvet casing, pinned it down, then sewed it before moving on. At the ends of each strut, I left a little extra velvet casing to fold under and sew down to make nice finished edges. The sewing got tricky at the very bottom, where all the struts were close together or lying on top of each other, but it was just possible to sew them all down.
Naturally I had to test it out at the end. Yay! The fan stood up beautifully. And it makes quite a breeze!
Step 3: Padding the Base
My plan was to put the fan on the mobility scooter's head rest, so the top would fan out overhead. It was easy enough to figure out the rigging: all I needed to do was attach some straps to a couple of the fan's struts and tie them around the base of the head rest. Unfortunately, the bottom of the fan was really bulky. And if it went as planned, all that stiff bulk would end up right at a rider's shoulder blades!
It was a simple fix, though. First I finished off all the ends of my strut casings. Then I cut out a pie shaped wedge of the skirt velvet to cover the base of the fan and all those strut ends. I folded the cut edges of the velvet under to make a nice clean edge, pinned it into place at the top and down one side and added some stuffing. I pinned the open edge back down and slip-whip stitched the velvet to the fan base. Voila!
Then it was time to groom the fan's front.
Step 4: Grooming Gold(en) Fronds
I turned the fan back over to its fancy side and took a look at my feathers.
The golden trim took a beating while I quilted, stitched and backed the fan. I didn't use a very tight stitch when I sewed the trim down, since I wanted to see the gold instead of the thread. This worked well, but meant that the trim had a lot of chances to slip and slide while I worked on the rest of the fan. Some of the pieces were trying to escape the stitching and most of them got a little bit wiggly.
I took out a pair of small, bent-nosed pliers and started pulling on the ends of each piece of golden trim. It worked! This smoothed out the gold and made it nice and crisp. It was tedious, but the fan looked so much better after I groomed the gold. Sometimes the trim pieces pulled all of the way out, and sometimes they got stuck midway because I accidentally caught the trim with a stray stitch. For the most part, though, it was pretty easy to clean up all the edges.
After I'd pulled up as much of the gold trim as possible, I trimmed off any messy or fluffy trim ends. The trim was made of a core of plain yarn wrapped around with metallic threads, and some of the wrapping got mussed up in the stitching and pulling process. So I gave the trim a haircut. Then I went over the rest of the fan and trimmed off any other thread ends that were looking sloppy. I took out my trusty lint roller and got rid of the cut-off ends. Excellent! It was ready to test out on the scooter.
I did yet another dry-fitting of the seat cushions with the fan tied to the head rest. It looked pretty good, but it was clear I needed to slip cover the seat first. The vinyl was too slippery and it just wasn't pretty! Fortunately I had some lovely royal blue fleece on hand.
Step 5: Patterning Slipcovers
I started patterning a slipcover for the scooter a while ago, before I decided to turn it into a peacock. So I dug around in my work bin and pulled the pattern out. I used an old sheet to make the pattern. There aren't pictures of me pinning it into shape, unfortunately, but you can see the finished pattern on the seat. Luckily I labeled it so I could tell where all the pieces needed to go even though I patterned it months ago!
Pro tip- label all of your patterns! Label them even if you don't think you have to. If you save them without labeling them, you will forget where the pieces go and will be sad and annoyed later. At least, that's how it works for me.
I laid my pattern pieces out on my remnant royal blue fleece, adding 1/2" of seam allowance around all of the edges. I cut them out and sewed parts of them together. I sewed the seat cushion top and sides, then the seat back and sides. The bottom of the seat cushion and the back of the seat would be sewn by hand.
The seat on a Jazzy Power Scooter can be removed from the engine. This was great. I was keeping the scooter outside, and It was about 110 F. Not a great time for hand sewing! (Plus the engine wasn't working and my extremely handy boyfriend needed the seat off so he could change out the motor.) So we unhitched the seat and I brought it into the house for some serious pinning and slip stitching.
Step 6: Prepping and Pinning the Seat Base
There are a lot of attachments on a mobility scooter, and some of them had to get moved out of the way before I could really get started slip covering!
First off, I turned the seat over so the bottom of the seat cushion was visible. That rectangular structure with the little cross bars helps secure the seat to the motorized base. I didn't want to try and sew around it, so I got out my crescent wrench and started taking off the bolts. The bolts screwed through the rectangular metal frame, into shaped washers and then into the wood base of the seat. I wanted to make sure they didn't get lost, so I did the time-honored trick of putting the screws and washers into a plastic baggie and securing them to the frame with a rubber band. Then I stored the frame under my work table and got out the blue fleece seat cushion cover and some black poly cotton twill fabric for the bottom of the seat. I chose twill because it's durable, and a poly blend because it's stable and less likely to burst into flames than cotton. This part of the seat goes right on top of the motor, after all, and it's not great to put really flammable stuff on top of motorized parts.
(Yes, the fleece was also polyester. Yes, polyester can melt if it catches fire. It just melts and smells horrible instead of igniting like cotton does. To be even safer, use a spray flame proofing agent on the whole project or use flame proofed fabric.)
I cut the twill so it was a little larger than the seat bottom. I folded over the top and bottom edges of the fabric and started pinning it down to the blue fleece. I alternated my pinning from top to bottom and back again so that I could maintain even tension. The fleece stretched just a little and the twill didn't stretch at all, so I had to adjust my pinning several times. Pinning right near the edge where the seat cushion almost touched the seat back was a little tricky, but possible.
Before I pinned the sides of the twill down, I wanted to mark the placement of my bolt holes. That way I could cut little holes in the fabric at just the right spots when it came time to put the frame back on. I peeled back the twill to find the holes. There were a lot of holes, and not all of them were useful. I found the ones with a clear washer imprint around them, laid the fabric back down and marked the holes with a piece of blue tailor's chalk. Then I finished pinning down the sides.
Step 7: Final Pinning and Sewing the Seat Base
There were a couple of spots that I couldn't pin because the metal framework of the seat was in the way. So I folded down the twill over those points and pinned the fabrics together on either side.
Once everything was pinned, I laid the seat over the work table/ coffee table so I could work on it easily. I got out my hand sewing supplies (pins, thread, scissors and needles) and got started! When the fabric is prepped and pinned well, the sewing part is a breeze. I threaded up my needle with a single length of heavy navy button carpet thread, knotted off one end and whip/ slip stitched the edges down.
It wasn't important to make the sewing lovely. I didn't figure anyone would be taking the scooter apart to see my seat bottom stitching. (Anyone who pulls that kind of trick is not your friend, and their opinions don't count.) So I made it reasonably nice but strong. Sewing the edge where the cushion almost met the seat back was a little hard to manage, so my stitches were kind of messy. Hey! No worries. The fancy seat cushion would cover it up.
Once it was all sewn up, I turned the seat back over so it "sat" on the coffee table. So smooth and comfy looking! Then I tilted the scooter's "arms" up and got ready to slip cover the seat back.
Step 8: Prepping and Pinning the Seat Back
First I put the seat cover and sides over the seat and pinned them into place. I just stabbed the pins right into the vinyl and worked from the top to the bottom. I tried to keep the fleece as smooth as possible, and moved the arms up and down so the fleece could go around the sides to the back. As I got towards the bottom, there were some places I just couldn't pin! The metal frame holding the seat together just got in the way. No matter. I would pin the edges to the back piece and slipcover right over the area. The very bottom edge was tricky, but I could just pull the edge of the fabric under the bottom lip and pin them into place. Sure, it was a little sloppy, but I would fix that later on.
Then I took out the back of the seat and started to pin it into place. I started from the top of the head rest, folded over my seam allowance so I had a finished edge to work with, and pinned from side to side, keeping the fabric tension even. Sometimes that meant I folded under more than a 1/2" inch, but that didn't matter. The important part was making a nice smooth edge. I worked down from the top to the "neck" and "shoulders" of the chair back, again pinning from side to side. When the top portion looked good, I got ready to sew it together. I would pin and sew the rest of the back later.
Step 9: Final Pinning and Stitching the Seat Back
The area at the base of the headrest is what I called the neck of the seat. I had to clip my seam allowance and re-pin it a couple of times to get that sharp curve to lay down nicely, but eventually it got there. Then I threaded up my milliner's needle with navy button carpet thread again and got to stitching.
Fleece is pretty forgiving. My whip/ slip stitching was nearly invisible because the fabric was so fuzzy. There's a reason it gets used for plush toys and muppets! Fleece can cover up a multitude of lumps and bumps and still look good.
Once the top was stitched, I pulled the rest of the fleece down over the back and started to pin it into place. I thought for a while that I would have to do something fussy to cover the pocket on the scooter seat back, but the fleece was my friend and disguised the pocket easily. I pulled the fabric down to the bottom and stabbed my pins into the bottom of the seat vinyl. This kept the fabric tension nice and smooth, so I could figure out how to pin the sides.
If I used a little muscle, I could pull the fabric on both sides so it slid over the metal frame. I pinned those fleece edge together first, then worked my way up the sides. I folded under the edges as I pinned to make nice smooth edges to sew. Once I got the sides all set, I was ready to re-position the seat and get to stitching.
Step 10: Seat Maneuvers and Changing Plans!
I turned the seat over on its front so I could get to that tricky area right where the seat cushion and seat back met. There was metal framing and wiring to work around, so this area took a little while to prep. Once it was all pinned, though, the sewing went really fast! I did the whip/ slip stitch combo and it worked like a charm.
Then I turned the seat back up to sitting position. It was lovely and smooth! I could really get going on the cushions and the fan. I thought I was so close to finished. All I would have to do is drape up the back and add some trim.
And then I put the cushions and the fan back on. It looked like some kind of Tiki figure! All that effort I put into the feather fan was lost in combination with the seat cushions. The fan became a really unfortunate hairdo.
When faced with small disasters, it's time for a break and an outside opinion. I took a break and came back to the scooter, untied the fan from the head rest and turned it around so the blue side faced front and the fan faced the back. That looked better. I checked in with my boyfriend and out housemate. We all agreed. But what would I do to really finish the scooter off?
Of course! I would make an actual peacock head and neck! I did a quick sketch up and it looked right. Excellent news. Of course, I'd just handed myself a huge extra task, but that's just how it goes sometimes. The best laid plans can go astray, and can lead to even better results.
Next time I'll show you how I made the peacock!