Friday, August 17, 2018

Leather Weather 2.0

Over the past five and a half years, I’ve had the pleasure of sharing my ventures into doll fashion creation with all of you. When I start this blog there was very little Information on 1/6th scale clothing construction so I found myself often making things up as I went along with nothing but basic dressmaking to back me up. As I quickly discovered, many of the rules for making full sized clothes must be modified for the doll…particularly when it comes to specialty items like….leather wear for example.

In 2013, I did two posts on the subject: “Warm Leatherette,” working with vinyl, then two months later, “Leather Weather." I explored working with real leather and literally glued each garment together. This exercise gave me a clue as to why doll companies do not sell leather clothing. And while those two posts satisfied my dolls’ appetite for full-sized women’s leather goods, it was far from perfect. Over the last few years, however, my leather work has improved! One fine day, while admiring the work of another artisan on Instagram, I learned her secret to making consistently good leather wear.

Thin is in!
“I use glove weight, kidskin leather,” a friend told me. “It sews just like fabric.” Yep, the success of leather goods for dolls depends on the quality of leather! Of course it would!!! Skins that are between 1/64-1/32” is perfectly scaled to the doll! But where to find it? Me, I’m lucky. Each time I’m in Paris I head for my favorite store: “Au Gentlemen des Cuirs (4 bis, rue d’Orsel), situated in the fabric district where I can buy small scraps. BHV-Le Marais department store in Paris, also has a bin of leather scraps in the basement! And..the last time I was in New York City, Mood Fabrics (225 W. 37th St. 3rd floor)  had a small box of scraps where a found a few interesting skins. Otherwise, search online for “thin leather.” I found a vendor, Rio Rondo who, besides its very “cowboy-general-store” catalog,  also caters to miniature leather crafters. They sell a product known as “Skiver” (thinly shaved leather) sold in squares. There is a limited number of colors, but they say all of their products can be dyed. I also took a peak at an old, American brand, Tandy Leathers which sells something called “Lining Leather.” These are paper thin skins used to line the interiors of wallets! Like everything else, there are vendors on Etsy and EBay. Do a search for “thin leather” then look for 1oz weight, though 1-1/2 to 2 oz (a little easier to find) is okay as well. If you don’t see any indication of the leather’s weight….don’t buy it because it is probably too thick!

Lay It Out
Leather as thin as fabric means you can make just about anything. Glove weight leather will drape around the body with ease and can be fashioned into high fashion looks. Slightly thicker skins mean you should stick to a super simple pattern with few pieces. Princess seaming is not only okay, it’s a great way to get a good fit. Unless it’s a pattern you’ve used it before, make your garment in muslin first to ensure everything fits.

Leather has no real “grain,” but it does have stretch. You don’t have to worry about each piece laying exactly straight, but you will want to ensure each piece has stretch where you want it.

No placing a pattern on the fold. Use single piece patterns (the back all in one piece, for example) instead. You cannot pin your pattern to the leather. So place your pattern on the backside and to trace off the pattern with chalk.

If there many pieces, number each one so you know what goes where and what side is up when ready to assemble.

Use very sharp shears to cut. Use tape or clips to hold the ends together as you assemble.

For thicker leathers (1.5-2 oz), choose patterns with as few pieces as possible. My simplified one piece skirt pattern is still a favorite!

Sew It Up

The wonderful thing about super thin leather is that it sews as easily as fabric on a regular domestic machine. Use “leather” needles (12/80) which are wedge shaped and super sharp to keep from ripping the material. You’ll also want to use a slightly longer stitch than usual.
1 & 3. If you have a Teflon or roller foot for your machine, all the better, otherwise you can improvise by putting a bit of scotch tape on the bottom of your regular pressure foot. This helps to keep the leather sliding without getting stuck.
2. Tape your pieces together and just before the stitching arrives near the tape, remove it and continue sewing.
5. Or place the tape on the sides, out of the way of the stitching line.
6. Personally, I have not had those issues. Instead I usually have problems with the leather getting stuck on the bottom feed plate. put tissue paper on the seam lines and sew. Rip away when you are finished. I should point out, there are no “do-overs.” Once the needle pierces the leather, it’s leaves a hole. So be really careful. Tip: Angle the end of the seams near intersections so that when you sew, there is less bulk to sew through.
 6b. You cannot iron the seams flat (and even if you can, they'll still pop up), so apply rubber cement to the seam and the area it will fold onto. Let the rubber cement on both surfaces dry a bit.
7. Press the seam open with your fingers and press down.
8. This is what it looks like on the right side.
9. Angle the seams near points of intersection. This helps reduce bulk at points when you have two sets of seams coming together.

Of course straight seams are easy. But what happens when you add sleeves??!!!

 1. This is why thin leather is way better. It is easier to control! First, be sure to turn up the hem of the sleeve and use rubber cement to hold in place. Then use a threaded needle (double thread, knotted at the end) and a thimble. Using the same color thread as your garment, make a running stitch on the cap of the sleeve. Gather slightly.

2. Place tape to hold the sleeve onto the garment armhole.

3. Again, using a threaded needle and thimble (to protect your finger as you push the needle through the leather), baste the sleeve to the garment using a running stitch. Stitch the sleeve cap into the jacket as usual.
4. Fold the garment down, matching the underarm seams and tape. Then sew as usual.

5. Put a pencil through the sleeves. Apply the rubber cement along the seams.

6. Press the seams open.
7. Attach a safety pin to the seam allowance of the sleeve hem. Close and push the pin through the sleeve until you can take hold of it on the other end.

8. Pull the pin through.

9. Keep working it until the sleeve is right side up. Remove the pin.

Finish it off

Most of the leather clothes I make for my dolls are unlined. I feel the leather is bulky enough without adding another layer.
1. Leather doesn't fray. I've simply turned down the edges starting with the hem. On the front edge of the jacket, I trimmed away that little bit of the hem that overlaps front edge.
2. Fold (and glue) the front edge.
3. Trim away the part of the front edge that extends beyond the hem for a clean finish.
4. For curved edges, clip before folding over.

As I stated earlier, you are not obliged to finish off the edges or the hem. It all depends on the look you are going for.
Princess seaming adds shape and fit to the jacket. The leather is thin enough to drape a sarong skirt. Even though I have not turned up the hems of either, the suit still looks complete.
For the sake of this project, I decided to line one of the dolls' existing jackets.

Remember, linings add structure and bulk. So you might want to reserve them for more loosely fitted or more tailored garments. If you are using a super fine leather, you can do a edge to edge lining the same way you would do for a fabric garment.  For Vanessa's jacket, however, my leather was a tad bit thick (2oz) so I decided to use a method I noted in one of my own leather jackets. The idea behind this--when you dry clean the jacket--different chemicals are used for the leather and others for the lining. Also, the lining will become soiled before the outer part of the garment. I am using this method because it makes stitching the lining in by hand easier on the fingers.
1. Use bias tape or cut a 1/2" (1cm) bias strip of cotton fabric. Hold in place with tape. Or here...I've used those doll-sized clothes pins.
2. Baste the tape along the neckline.
3. Put rubber cement along the seam line of the neckline, leaving the fabric loose. You are gluing down the seam but not bias strip. Make two more strips and baste to the front edges of the jacket. Fold and glue the edges down.
4. When you are finished, the inside of the garment will resemble this.
5. Make your lining. Finish the hem. Then fold and iron or baste the edges down.
6. Pin the lining to the fabric strips around the jacket, adjusting it until it fits the inside of the jacket. Sew the lining onto the fabric strip with the exception of the hem. Leave the lining to swing free from the hem of the jacket. Tack the seam of the lining sleeve to that of the jacket sleeve. (If you are making a jacket with set in sleeves, you can omit the lining sleeves, turn the armholes down and lining to the armhole seams of the jacket.

Of course, you could forget about the lining and simply leave the edges as is!
You'll still end up with a pretty good looking garment!

You can still use velcro to close dolly's leather wear if you so choose. But you have other options as well.

 1. For front closing garments, you can always use buttons and buttonholes! Here, I use brads (found in craft stores). Bend the stems to leave a little space between the surface of the jacket and the head...which, by the way, you can paint to match the garment.
2. Cut tiny slits (with a razor or seam ripper) on the opposite side of the front opening, just wide enough to bring the button through! Instead of buttons, you can always thread small bits of leather through a hole then knot on both sides to create your own buttons as well!
3. This jacket was made using a vinyl square I found at the craft store. The same rules for making leather garments apply to faux leather, plether or vinyl! I used a brad for the button.
4. For this jacket where the jacket meets together at the center front, I didn't have a separating zipper, so I hand sewed in a tiny hook and eye.

Collars present another challenge. Unless you are working with very thin leather and can add a facing to the collar, there is a shortcut.
1. The shawl collar is an ideal solution for when you want to add a collar.
2. This is a modified version of the shawl collar used to give the illusion of a notched collar (found in many tailored jackets). It is the same as the shawl with a notch cut out. What I have done is to start out with a V-neck collarless jacket.
3. I draped this collar around the doll's neck to get the shape and with width I wanted to come up with this pattern. I have put a center back seam so I can adjust it if necessary. But if you know the collar is a perfect fit, you can easily make a pattern where it is in one piece without that seam.
4-5. The collar is then added to the jacket along the neckline. I lay the collar wrong side up against the underside of the jacket and topstitch in place. I turned down (and glued in place) the outer edge of the collar. When you are finished, the collar is rolled back over the neckline and looks perfect!
6. Again, this leather was a tad bit thick, so I had to hammer the edges (and seams) flat. Place tissue paper over the inside seams then use a mallet or hammer to bang everything flat.

Buttonhole pockets in leather garments are very easy to create and they look great!
1. Start out by first deciding on the width of your pocket. Then, using a blade, carefully slash the placement of the pocket. Cut out a small square, the same width as your pocket with. For the final length of the flap, you need to multiply 3 times. Fold two-thirds and glue, leaving one-third free.
2. Slide the flap through the slit upwards. Diagram #2 shows what this looks like on the inside of the garment. The flap is facing upwards. The red lines indicate the part of the flap exposed on the other side.
3. Right side up this is what it looks like. Glue the top part of the flap to the inside of the jacket. Note: if you include a vest pocket, the flap goes in the opposite direction. That is, the flap points upwards on the outside (downwards inside). 

Hammer Time

With super thin leather you can iron the seams on a low setting (cover the leather with tissue paper first), but for anything thicker (2 oz) it’s best to glue down the seams and hems with rubber cement then hammer it flat. Again, protect the leather by putting a cloth over it before hammering.

Finish it Off
The jean jacket in metallic leather! The level of detail makes this jacket something special!

Assuming you have a steady hand…topstitching adds a nice finish to structured styles (jackets, coats). Tip: If you’re adding patch pockets, it’s better to topstitch them first then glue or hand tack them in place on the finished garment afterwards.

Patch pockets are tricky! Here's a tip. Cut the pockets out and top stitch them before you put them onto the garment. Then simply tack them in place. This way, if you make a mistake, you don't ruin the entire garment!

Finally....everything we discussed today....can be applied to faux leather! But just remember to choose those which are lightweight and scaled to the doll!

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