Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Gray Butterfly Straitjackets

My last post had the hood in gray leather, but I also made a couple of butterfly straitjackets in the same leather at the same time. I keep pushing the butterfly straitjacket design as far as I can, in this case making one version pretty true to the pattern, and a second with slightly smaller arm-pockets and open-breast cut-outs. I tend to keep making things smaller and smaller, until they just don't fit anymore...

I may need to post the pattern for this, as I think it's a really good starter project. Let me know if you are interested. It's not too difficult to sew, although setting in the sleeves can be a little tricky the first time. Here we have all the pieces for the jacket: collar, arm pocket panels, arm pocket side strips, and 2 front and 2 rear panels.
The first parts clipped for sewing: the front middle seam, and 2 arm pockets with the sides attached.
Next, we sew the 2nd side to the arm pockets, and the sides and shoulder seams to the body.
I'm skipping ahead, as I've already covered making this jacket before in more detail on the blog. Here we have the arms and collar sewn to the body. This is the place where I am trying something new with setting in the zipper.
My notes for the order of the steps I want to take - I basically want to enclose the end of the zipper in the rolled-edge seam, and to do this requires a slightly different method than I normally use.

In case you can't my chicken scratch:
1. Fold edge of opening
2. Sew strip along bottom
3. Trim tab & fold flap in
4. Set zipper & sew in
5. Fold up rolled edge & topstitch

So, our first step is to fold the leather along the rear opening.
Step 2 is to sew the strip that will become the rolled edge along the opening. I make this strip about 1.75" wide.
The collar gets the same treatment.
The stitch is about .2" from the edge.
Next, (step 3) we trim the tab that folds around to be tucked-in.
Here's the tab viewed from the outside:
Step 4: set the zipper and sew it in.
I'm starting the zipper so the separating mechanism sits just above the rolled edge. It is a little tricky to sew right up to the edge because of the thickness of the rolled seam. But sewing it now makes it easier than if it is rolled all the way.
At this point, the zipper runs beyond the end of the jacket's collar.
Using clips and tape, I sew the zipper for the other side in place.
Now I trim the zipper to length, and burn the cut edge with a flame to keep it from unraveling.
Now that our zipper is trimmed to length on both sides, we can finish rolling the edge over - trapping the cut end of the zipper inside.
This is topstitched, holding the rolled edge in place, and securing the zipper ends as well.
Here is a shot with the tongue sewn-in.
And a close-up showing the zipper tucked into the rolled edge seam. This nicely integrates the zipper and edge into one unit.
Voila! Another one done...
Actually, two: One the classic look:
and one with open breasts and (even smaller!) arm pockets. I would love to show you this one on, but couldn't find anyone willing to show their boobies online. Take my word for it, it looks smashing. Maybe next time...

Stretching leather

I recently finished a group of 3 hoods - 2 in lamb and one in a cow hide in a sort of pearlescent gray color. The lamb leather is so soft and pliable, it has no problem stretching to conform to a head shape. But the cow leather, on the other hand is stiffer - and can use some help to take a more spherical shape. For this I use my carved wood hood-last and shoe-stretch spray.
In the distant past I have experimented with wetting leather with water in order to stretch it, but the problem is it can leave the leather stiff when it dries. Vegetable-tanned leather can be molded with water, but that won't work with garment, upholstery or aniline-dyed leather.
I found that this commercial leather shoe-stretch spray is a good way to get the leather to stretch more than it would if it was dry, but without affecting the surface finish, or leaving the leather stiff.
I usually apply this a couple of times, pulling the laces tighter each time. I'm always surprised by how much it will stretch the leather, and have been happy with the results.

Not-so Mass Production

I just finished watching every available episode of "How it's Made" on Netflix, something achieved through weeks of binge-viewing in which I consumed 3-5 at a time. Afterwards I could mentally picture most of the items I'm surrounded by every day in a kind of 3-D explosive disassembly/re-assembly animation.

I kind of love those programs that take you through how things are made, and have since I was a little kid. There used to be a show on public television called "Hot Dog" (I think) and it really blew my 7-year-old mind to see things like bowling balls being constructed out of raw materials. I was also keen to take apart and attempt to put back together whatever I could get my hands on. Most of the time I was successful, with minimal "leftover" parts. I don't take as many thing apart nowadays, but I definitely still love to know how things work, or are put together.

I was also looking closely for any unique, unusual or helpful tips that I could use when making my fetish gear. Now, the show didn't have a whole lot of information on making pervy gear in general (although there were segments on chains and leather), but I could glean some insights from some items which are made of leather (such as footballs, western saddles or firemen's helmets).

Unfortunately for leather gear, the only real time-saving steps are related to mass-production techniques, such as cutting out 50 (or 500) copies of the same part at one time. When you are making things "made-to-measure" as I do, the mass-pattern cutting doesn't help - each pattern piece is usually unique.

Another thing you see is assembly-line specialization, where one person only rivets the blade to the bottom of the skate, and that is all they do, all day long. These people often had to slow down to clearly show what they were doing on the program, but all I could think about was what a horribly boring job most production work of that type must be.

I had some other take-away thoughts from that show, like the realization that most of your processed food is never touched by human hands. Factories are so automated now, machines and robots do a lot of certain types of work. The way they bend the brass tube to make a trumpet is ingenious...

Some items are interesting in how much hand work there is in them, such as fly fishing reels, airplane propellers and winter jackets.

So the segue into my own workflow, which this past week included 3 hoods made at the same time. This is unusual for me, but since the same pattern was used (as they were all the same size), I decided to see how much this actually sped things up.

There were to be 3 hoods total: one for a client in off-white lamb, a second for me in the lamb, and a third hood in a gray leather to match a couple of butterfly stratijackets I am going to make.
Certain steps aren't any quicker when doing multiples, like trimming out notches in the seam allowance...

Things like gluing-up aren't that much quicker, although by the time you glue up the third hood, the first one is usually dry enough to work with. That's a little less time waiting around.
Turning over, stretching and topstitching all take a bit for each hood. For most steps, there are no real shortcuts.
There was a kind of groove or swing of things you get into, and overall the time to make 3 hoods was about 50% more than just making one... So there definitely could be some time savings with multiples.
Someday we'll probably to purchase or download plans to our in-house 3-D printers and have custom-made fetish items of all types a just a mouse-click or finger-swipe away... But, until then I'll keep doing it the old-fashioned way.

Thank You for the comments...

I want to send out a quick thanks to everyone who sent words of encouragement and support about my recent f'd up project. It is so nice to know I'm not the only one who has gone through this sort of thing. With leathercraft, there is no "command-z" or undo button.

You guys are the best.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Well, There's Your Problem...!

OK, I've been dreading this post, but I guess it has to happen eventually no matter how painful it may be for me... I promised myself when I started the blog it would be a warts-and-all learning experience, and that even if I screwed up I would share my mistakes as well as my successes, otherwise how would people learn? How would I learn unless I was honest enough to share the goofs along with the insights?

Well, my friends... I goofed, bigtime. On the awesome sleepsack I was putting together on the last few posts... Completely, f'd it up. What happened, you say?

It is painful to admit, but I made a kind of beginner's mistake. It was something I didn't even notice until I was ready to finish the back of the sack, and started placing the zipper... let me rewind a little bit.

You see, this sack is designed to both lace and zip up in the rear. And in order to keep the lacing panel somewhat centered, I offset the zipper to one side. This means the panels that form the rear of the sack are slightly smaller on the zipper side, and slightly larger on the lacing-only side. That size difference needs to be the same on all the rear-panel pieces: the hood, the shoulders, and the left and right body panels... Can you see where this is headed...? I ended up cutting the hood so the smaller panel is on the left-hand side, and the rear body panel with the smaller panel on the right. I didn't notice the mistake until I tried to sew in the zipper, only to discover (to my horror) what I had done...

It was as simple as flipping over the 2 pattern pieces for the rear hood panels. That would've fixed the whole thing. But the problem is, I didn't catch it until the parts were already sewn together.

Because the hood was already sewn to the shoulders, and the shoulders were sewn to the body, and all these seams were topstitched and trimmed, there was no good way to salvage the project, at least as it was intended to be. I may yet come up with a way to get something out of it somehow, but if not, I guess I can make some really nice wallets for everyone on my Christmas list this year.

I just have to chalk this up as another one of those painful learning experiences, and know that at least next time I won't make this particular mistake again. There, I feel better now. Thanks for listening.