Friday, May 7, 2010

Making an armbinder - Part 1 Cutting & Assembly

Today I'll be taking you through the making of an armbinder - step-by-step. I thought this would be a good project to share, as it relatively simple construction-wise, and because it's an item that benefits a great deal from a custom fit.

We start with the pattern, which has 3 main parts: a main panel, a tongue and a reinforcement tab. This patten was modified from a master pattern I have to accommodate the tight fit required by the model. She is flexible enough to handle an armbinder that holds the elbows together, which is quite impressive.

Here's a closeup of the reinforcement tab pattern, just a simple D-shape.

The leather I am using is a nice shiny black 4oz. full-grain leather. It's very pretty stuff. Medium thick and soft.

Here are the pieces laid out on the hide. These parts use about 6 square feet of leather.

Here are all the pieces cut out: 2 sides, one tongue, 2 reinforcement tabs. The only other part we need from the leather are the straps, which I'll cover later.

First I sew what I call the back seam, which is the side opposite the lacing side.

Here is the first seam: bulldog clipped and sewn:

The next step is to break out our handy disposable glue brushes. Say hello to my little friend:

Glue both sides of the seam:

Press the seam down after the glue has turned clear, then hammer gently with a mallet. Here's the inside view:

And the outside:

I like how at this early stage you can already see the shape of the hand pocket.

On to the sewing machine to topstitch both sides of the seam.
Now I sew the other side of the hand pocket, but just a couple of inches at the end. The rest of the armbinder will be closed by the laces:

Now it's time to finish the rest of the seams. Glue along the outside edge except at the fingertips of the hand pocket and the strap-end connections - those we will handle later.

The seam pressed down after the glue has set up:

A close up: after pressing but before tapping the seam with the mallet. Next, we'll topstitch the whole seam.

After topstitching:

I always love the finished look that topstitching gives. It is one thing that having a walking-foot sewing machine makes much easier to accomplish. I hope to talk in more detail about sewing machines and other equipment in upcoming posts.

Next up is a little detail that is small but important: a little D-ring to be attached at the end of the hand pocket. This leather is tough enough that we only need a single thickness of leather to hold the D-ring in place.

Since we are working inside-out, the ring needs to be inside the armbinder when we sew it in place. I show in the photo below where it will be positioned, with it's little tail sticking out.

This is one of those stitches that are almost impossible unless you have a really strong sewing machine, as you are going through up to 6 layers of leather. I remember trying to do these with a little portable Singer, and it would bog down the motor and basically refuse to penetrate the leather. You could always hand-sew the thicker sections, which is also something I used to do as a workaround. Here's a closeup of the finished seam. (Actually two seams, for a bit of reinforcement.)

Now we have the main body of the armbinder complete, it's time to set in the tongue. This is one detail that you see left out on some armbinders, but I hate being able to see "inside" the binder through the laces. I think a full-tongue looks much cleaner, more finished and sexier!

Here is the binder and tongue:

And the tongue placed in position and held with masking tape. You want to leave enough room for the lacing grommets between the edge of the armbinder and the tongue.

Once held in position with the tape, I usually topstitch the tongue in place using the previously topstitched edge as a guide.

Now to connect the other side.

Use clips to hold the tongue in place:

Topstitch carefully, especially when you are close to the end of the hand pocket. You don't want to sew through to the other side! At this point I trim and glue down whatever seam allowance is left after sewing. This makes the inside neater, provides reinforcement, and a clean flat surface for the grommets to be set in stages to come...

This concludes part 1 of our armbinder project. Tune in next time, where I'll be covering strap making.

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