Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Making of Melinda May: Part 3 - The Leather Vest

At onset, the idea of making a vest is a simple one. I've made vests before with very little trouble. However, what I didn't take to account that I was working with leather, and leather has it's own little idiosyncrasies which can be very frustrating. There were other issues along the way (i.e. a broken sewing machine) so, I had to take a couple of short cuts here and there to make my deadline of finishing this costume for Fanime 2014.


So, my primary lesson is...START SEWING EARLIER THAN YOU EXPECT! I did start early, but a lot of time was eaten by setbacks  and a lot of handsewing leather I had to do for this outfit that I hadn't expected.

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Before I even worked with the leather, I made several different mockups using muslin as my primary fabric. I just wanted to get the fit "correct". With leather, you don't have any "do overs", and once leather has been pierced with a needle or awl, the mark is permanent, so mistakes need to be minimal or non-existant.

I found a good blue leather hide at Tandy. It was big enough to just manage to create everything I needed for the vest. First, it was marking out the pattern pieces, using pencil and a light sharpy pen.

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You can't really "pin" leather together, but I do use binder clips to hold things together. In making the four pockets for the vest, I used the binder clips to hold the leather into shape, then attach the lining into the bias tape, and then sew it all together. 

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For the body of the vest, I attached the bias tape directly into the leather so I can sew the lining into the bias tape when I'm done.

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In addition to making patch pockets for the vest, I had to make two double welted pockets for an inner pocket with zippers. This weight of leather was not very conducive to actually making welt pockets. I used some black denim for the inner pocket. 

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It didn't turn out as well as I had hopped, but it worked well enough. 
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(As a side note: do you know that in order to "press seams" on leather, you use a mallet?" There was a lot of pounding out frustrating & aggression for this costume).

Unfortunately, I ran into an unforeseen problem while sewing. Our Industrial Sewing Machine (ISM) started having problems, the point of severe frustration and a lot of swearing on my part. Due to the weight of the leather, I couldn't use my regular sewing machine (I know, I tried). I managed to sew about 50% of the project before it became nearly unusable.  We took it to a nearby shop, and it took the shop a while to fix the industrial machine, which ate a bit of sewing time.

I was getting very anxious as the deadline to finish was creeping up on me! However, the shop found some major issues with it and were amazed I could even sew at all. (I was afraid it was all me!) Now, the ISM purrs like a kitten and I was able to get things sewed quickly.
While the ISM was in the shop, I finished making the lining on my regular sewing machine and I did lot of hand sewing the leather, which was slow-going. For example, I had to hand sew the belt loops into the outfit -- four layers of leather. It took nearly two hours to sew two belt loops because I had to stop & rest my hands from using the awl.

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While hand-sewing was tedious and slow, it got me closer to finishing the outfit while I wanted for the shop to fix the ISM.

I realized too late that I had picked a leather that was much too heavy for the purpose I wanted. The color was correct, but the thickness was not. I should have skivved (i.e., thinned out the leather) or found another blue hide of the correct lighter weight). But, I worked with what I had. It was going to be a fairly durable garment piece.

Here's the vest at about 75% done. I realized that I didn't have quite enough leather to do the detail work around her shoulders, so I opted to just "turn" the armscye inwards. As mentioned in previous posts, I went for "good enough" instead of screen accuracy. (Plus, I think I might remake this outfit or do better on the black vest version of her costume)

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(Partially complete outfit, sans belt loops, pocket closures, belt, and lining)

By the time the ISM got back to me, I only had to make the belt and top-sew the collar, which was about an hour's worth of work on the ISM.

Here's the finished outfit with the glasses (which I think added the extra touch for the Agent May outfit). I think it worked out really well, especially standing there with Nick Fury! 

There are a lot of little problems that I need to fix for the next iterations. For example, I should have used a thinner leather or have skivved the hide to make it easier to work with. Plus, I eventually found some screencaps of the back of her black leather vest, which would have made my life easier (as I had to guess how they did it). But that I'll incorporate into her next vest.

The End (for now....)